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A Brief History of the PWD

"Courage is one of the essential qualities of a good Portuguese Water Dog, and indeed it is a necessary facet for any good fisherman.

As much as his owner, the Water Dog must feel the imperative need to go to the sea, and should miss the deep waters. Once he is used to live on a boat and to share the life of the fishermen, the Water Dog will always remain faithful to its natural habitat: the sea!…"

From Prof. Fernandes Marques,

"O Cão de Áqua Português"–1938

A Brief History of the Portuguese Water Dog
Water dogs of many types have existed along the coasts of Europe for centuries. However, the Portuguese fisherman along the isolated southern coast of Portugal in the Algarve region developed a special dog, the Cão de Áqua Português. The breed was perfected by generations of fishermen breeding dogs to meet their unique needs–herding fish into nets, retrieving lines and nets in the cold south Atlantic waters and swim long distances between the small fishing boats carrying messages in an oilskin pouch on their backs. They created a robust, intelligent, athletic breed that could easily carry out the daily tasks of the fisherman and they became his indispensable working companion. To understand the character of the modern Portuguese Water Dog one must understand what these fishermen prized most in their dogs. They needed a dog who could be an independent thinker but who could also take commands. The dog needed to be exceptionally hardy to withstand the rigors of exposure of the small boats used for fishing which explains their thick, nonshedding coats. Excellent swimming and diving ability were necessary to perform their jobs—this required an extremely athletic breed. Once the breed was created it was highly prized in the Algarve and the dogs were never sold but passed on from one fisherman to another.

Surprisingly the majority of the nation of Portugal was unaware of these working dogs. Although there are descriptions in literature of typical Portuguese Water Dogs as early as the thirteenth century, the breed was almost unknown in its native land. Vasco Bensaude a wealthy shipping magnate became fascinated by this fishing dog of the Algarve and scoured the country for specimens. He was finally able to obtain what he considered to be the finest Cão de Áqua Português in Portugal–Leao. Bensaude was the Secretary General of the CPC (Clube Português de Canicultura), the kennel club of Portugal. He appointed renowned professor of veterinary medicine Dr. Marques and his friend Captain Soares in 1938 to develop the first standard for the breed. This original standard and its translation provided a blueprint for the breed, as we know it today. Naturally Bensaude's magnificent black wavy dog Leao was used as the template for the standard and he became the foundation of Bensaude's Algarbiorum Kennel. The first litter bred by Bensaude was in 1937 and over the next 28 years his kennel produced 38 litters but he was very selective in choosing progeny to establish the breed and only registered 116 dogs in the CPC LOP. He collected specimens of representative dogs from all over Portugal but would only allow them to be registered if approved for initial registration (R.I.) by the CPC breeding commission that consisted of five experts. Two of the five were veterinarians. All five examined the dog and compared it to the Portuguese breed standard only if it passes this examination is the dog granted a R.I. as a PWD. Bensaude's selectivity allowed him to establish a uniform breeding program. On Bensaude's death in 1968 Conchito Branco inherited the remaining dogs in his kennel and began using these dogs in breeding under the Al Gharb kennel prefix. She provided Deyanne and Herbert Miller with their original imports to the U.S. However by mid 1972 due to the political unrest in Portugal she was forced to put down the remaining dogs in her kennel. This ended the Algaborium line in Portugal but not in the U.S. thanks to the original imports. Fortunately, Dr. Antonio Cabral head of Lisbon's Municipal Veterinary Clinic followed Bensaude as Secretary General of the CPC. He possessed a great interest in all native Portuguese breeds but wanted to preserve bloodlines separate from Bensaude. He felt that Bensaude was monopolizing the PWD. In 1954 he registered his first LOP dog "Silves" and began his de Alvalade kennel. He only bred a limited number of litters but his line provided most of the PWDs existing today in Portugal. These two kennels provided all the dogs in our current pedigrees both in the U.S. and Portugal.

In August 1972 at Herb and Deyanne Miller's Farmion estate in New Canaan, CT sixteen PWD owners met to form the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA). These sixteen owned the only twelve PWDs living in the United States in 1972. These twelve dogs and the small number of dogs living in the one remaining kennel in Portugal were the only known survivors of the breed. These dedicated PWD owners realized that their beloved breed was on the verge of extinction. These sixteen individuals energetically set in motion a plan to regenerate the breed. All puppies were placed in homes that would allow them to be bred to reestablish the breed. They succeeded completely and by 1981 the studbook maintained by the PWDCA showed that 524 PWDs lived in the United States. These numbers allowed this previous rare breed to be admitted to the Miscellaneous Class by AKC in June 1981. The AKC accepted the revised written PWDCA breed standard. On January 1, 1984 the breed was granted full recognition by and allowed to compete in the AKC Working Group. On June 30, 1984 Ch. Charlie de Alvalade became the first PWD to win a Best in Show. Charlie was a brown curly whelped on May 16, 1978 in Portugal by Dr Cabral and imported to the United States by Deyanne and Herbert Miller, Jr. In 1991 the PWDCA held its first national specialty at Princeton, NJ. Since these early years the PWDCA has grown to more than 2000 members and recently held its 19th annual specialty in San Luis Obispo, California. Additional information on the breed history can be obtained in Kathryn Braund's New Complete Portuguese Water Dog, Carla Molinari's The Portuguese Water Dog and from the PWDCA website.

Created March 2006
Modified October 1, 2011