About Portuguese Water Dogs
With the recent popularity of the breed it has become much easier to find a puppy, and much more difficult to find a reputable breeder. There are more good breeders than there were even five years ago, but they are quickly become a smaller proportion of the breeders in the US.
A little history
The first Portuguese Water Dogs in the US were imported in the mid-1970s. These early dogs were the direct descendants of the dogs who were bred to work on the fishing boats in Portugal. They were smart, hardworking athletic dogs and loyal companions, but there primary job was not to be a family pet, but to be an important part of the crew on the fishing boats.
Before radios and radar were in common use, they were used to do some of the same kind of tasks. They swam messages from boat to boat and boat to shore. They retrieved objects that fell overboard, and would pull in nets and drop buoy markers. This seems to be the source of the stories about them herding fish comes from. They didn’t herd fish in the way we think of sheep being herded, but there were fish caught in the nets they pulled.
Their other important job was to guard the boats. Both the athletic, loyal hardworking traits and the instinct to guard have been passed down to today’s dogs.
About the breed today
The recent popularity of PWDs has created some changes in the breed at a much faster pace than we saw even 5 years ago.
As the demand for these dogs has grown, so have the number of breeders looking to make money selling them. It has become more important than ever to find a good, reputable breeder.
Finding the right puppy
Look for a breeder who is honest about their dogs and their temperaments. There are no perfect dogs. Remember just a few generations ago, these were hard working dogs. While some of those characteristics make them wonderful companions, it also makes them a challenge.
They are not the dog for everyone. They are not naturally as happy, go lucky as a Lab or Golden Retreiver.
They are quick, both mentally and physically, and many new owners are surprised by the challenge of living with them. They are not a dog that can be left alone in the yard. If they aren’t supervised and given some structure and activities they will create their own amusement.
While they are smart and learn quickly they are also mischievous and stubborn. They will constantly test their boundaries and their ability to manipulate you.
Think about what it would be like to live with a toddler, perhaps even one with ADHD, for 10, 12 or even 14 years. Although they do mature and physically slow down as they get older, they don’t change their attitude.
Generations of health tested dogs reduce the chance of problems. There are no guarantees in life, and like with people, there are no guarantees that a problem won’t develop.
Breeders with a commitment to their dogs, and to the breed as a whole, do comprehensive health testing for generations. As with any breed (or species) there are hereditary problems, but the PWDCA and the PWD community have supported the development of tests that have allowed us to reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia, to breed dogs that will never get PRA (progressive Retinal Atrophy) or Cardiomyopothy. (In spite of my saying there are no guarantees, tests based on DNA mutations can identify carriers of the disease and allow us to breed away from it.)
Knowing that there are some health risks that can be reduced, it’s important to find a breeder that does ALL of the testing available. These tests are expensive, some of them very expensive, but they are necessary. Breeders who are producing dogs just to make money are not investing in the future of the breed, or the people who buy their puppies.