Portugese Water Dog

The Nation’s "First Dog" is an In-Demand Breed

"Bo," the Portuguese water dog adopted last year by the Obama family, recently had his official White House portrait taken on the South Lawn, where he posed patiently.

The new family pet  was given to President Barack Obama and his family as a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy, who took in the dog when its previous family decided they could no longer care for him. Bo was affectionately named after the First Lady's father.

Both the Obamas and Kennedy are fans of this rare dog breed, perhaps for some of the same reasons the breed's popularity has grown in recent years: a good-natured personality, its medium size build and a non-shedding, hypoallergenic trait.

Bo Obama

The Portuguese water dog is a breed similar to standard poodles. Their roots trace back to Portugal’s coast, where they were raised to herd fish into fishermen’s nets and to act as couriers from ship to ship or from ship to shore.

Some believe this Portuguese “fishing” dog’s origins began as far back as 700 B.C. along Asia’s central border where the dogs herded cattle, sheep and horses and then moved with tribes from Morocco to Portugal. It has been theorized that by the 16th century, Portuguese water dogs were working on the decks of the Spanish Armada fleet.

By the 1930s, the Portuguese water dog was on the verge of extinction when a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate sought to reestablish the breed. Years later, the breed was established in the United States and in 1972 the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was formed. 

Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese water dog is more than just an excellent companion. This breed is known to be intelligent, athletic, loving and loyal and easy to train in both obedience and agility skills. They present an ease around people and are well-suited with children.

The Portuguese water dog’s working nature lends very well to receiving direction and following commands. This breed thrives on being trained and has shown a habit to memorize extensive vocabulary as well as the names of objects.

Because of its tendency to bond with owners and enjoy the close proximity of people and activity, the Portuguese water dog is not meant to be left alone for long periods of time.

Portuguese water dog owners have noted that this breed characteristically interacts closely with humans, often walking, hopping or dancing on its hind legs whether greeting people or “counter surfing” for food in the kitchen.

This is a breed that needs constant attention from its family. A bored, restless Portuguese water dog — like many working dog breeds — can become destructive when left unattended for too long or without regular exercise or activity.

This breed is known to be intelligent, athletic, loving and loyal and easy to train in both obedience and agility skills.

Portuguese Water Dog

Like standard poodles and several other water dog breeds, Portuguese water dogs are have curly coats and webbed toes for swimming. They are robustly built, with stout legs, but unlike the standard poodle, do not have a docked tail.

Typically, Portuguese water dogs have brown eyes with either a black, reddish brown, white, or black and white wavy or curly coat. Male dogs weigh on average 40 to 60 pounds while the females weigh a little less, between 35 and 50 pounds.

One of the main reasons the Obama family is considering a Portuguese water dog is because of its hypoallergenic qualities. Its single-layered coat does not shed and has been known to cause fewer symptoms to people with dog allergies.

Keep in mind: your Portuguese water dog’s single-layered coat will need regular grooming as it tends to grow continually. Most Portuguese water dog owners will clip their dog’s coat very short, especially during the hotter seasons.

Portuguese Water Dogs

The Portuguese water dog, like most purebred dogs, has several known genetic health conditions. To ensure you are buying a healthy dog, do extensive research and find a reputable breeder through one of the national clubs, such as the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America and the American Kennel Club. In-breeding, the indiscriminate breeding of related dogs, can lead to an increased manifestation of genetic disorders in the breed.

Some genetic health conditions that may affect Portuguese water dogs include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and ingrown eyelashes (Distichiasis)
  • GM1 Storage Disease: this recessive, genetic disorder is caused by a deficiency of beta-galactosidase and is usually fatal. While possible, this condition has been nearly eliminated from the breed.
  • Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy: this rare disease is caused by an autosomal recessive gene that affects young dogs who fall victim to heart failure. A genetic linkage test with a high degree of accuracy is now available to help breeders determine if their dogs carry the gene.
  • Addison’s Disease: this malfunction of the adrenal glands is prevalent in the breed. The exact mode of inheritance is unclear but it is thought to be an autosomal recessive disorder. Addison’s disease is not often fatal but requires lifelong treatment.

Should a Portuguese water dog be the chosen breed for the presidential family, it will not be its first time in the spotlight. Senator Ted Kennedy is the proud owner of two Portuguese water dogs: Sunny and Splash. In fact, Splash is featured as the narrator in Kennedy's children's book, My Senator and Me: A Dog's-Eye View of Washington, D.C.

Extremely likeable, loyal and playful, bringing a Portuguese water dog to the White House would undoubtedly be an easy decision. The hard part: choosing a presidential-worthy name.