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Introduction to the Water

The Portuguese fisherman's dog has been selective bred for centuries to be an accomplished swimmer and diver. The PWD has evolved with its fully webbed feet, a strong thick tail to act as a rudder, a thick coat and a broad chest to excel in the water and to assist its fisherman master. However Portuguese Water Dog puppies do not emerge from the womb knowing how to swim. Puppies usually need some gentle guidance to start swimming. We recommend that puppies be introduced to warm water in a shallow wading pool as soon as 8-10 weeks. The puppy should be allowed to splash around and you should try to tempt the puppy to put his/her head in the water with a favorite toy or treat. We introduce a puppy to open water once they have all their immunizations after 4 months of age. The small size of a young puppy makes the training easier. We have had the experience of teaching an adult show dog to swim. This was physically challenging since the swim student was a 70-pound PWD male who refused to use his rear legs causing his bottom to sink repeatedly. After several stressful water sessions he eventually learned to swim and even excelled at it, but it was a struggle and we also wished that we had taught him to swim as a puppy. It is extremely important to introduce your puppy to water in a gentle manner. Remember that a bad initial experience may make it very difficult to get the puppy ever to enjoy open water. A shallow sloping lake beach is ideal for teaching the puppy about water. Heavy pounding ocean surf should be avoided as it may knock the puppy down and the experience may dampen his/her enthusiasm for water work. An introduction to the open ocean should be done when the seas are calm and we use a 50-foot floating long-line or a Flexi Long Lead for control. A swimming pool may also work but please read the detailed section below. Always give your puppy a reason to want to swim. We have found that the simplest approach is to accompany your puppy and wade into the water together. Encourage the puppy to play at the water's edge, as this will increase his/her confidence. Then move farther out into the water. A favorite toy that floats is particularly helpful if your puppy likes to retrieve it. An older dog that swims can also be an aid in coaxing a hesitant puppy to follow him into the water. Hypothermia is a real danger for puppies, as they do not have as much insulating fat as an adult dog. As soon as you sense the puppy is cold get him/her out of the water and dry the puppy off. The combination of fatigue and hypothermia may lead to panic as the puppy increasingly struggles trying to swim. We recommend not even trying to introduce a puppy to water during the winter months unless you live in a warm climate where water temperatures are high.

Pool Safety

The same safety principles that apply to young children and pools apply to puppies and pools. JUST LIKE A CHILD A PUPPY SHOULD NEVER BE LEFT UNSUPERVISED IN THE POOL AREA. A pool fence that you can see through with a self-closing, self-locking gate is your most important safety precaution for both kids and a dog. PWDs are very clever about opening doors and gates so an automatic locking feature is mandatory. A floating pool alarm that signals both outside and inside the house when the surface of the water is broken is a great safety device. You need to teach your puppy pool safety just as you would a child. You have to be certain that the puppy knows how to get out of the pool should he/she fall in. The first thing to teach the puppy is the location of the pool steps to enter and exit the pool but remember that a puppy with his head just above water may not be able to locate the steps. Slick pool walls make it almost impossible for a puppy to climb out of the side of a pool. Panic can then lead to the puppy drowning. We feel that a pet escape ramp is mandatory. The Skamper Ramp® widely used in Florida is made from molded polyethylene. In our opinion it is the best pool escape ramp available. It is attractive, inexpensive and can be purchased at pool supply stores or online. The manufacturer's web site is If you purchase this type of ramp you will need to teach your puppy to use it to get out of the pool. If you choose not to purchase a ramp you need to mark clearly the location of your swim step entry with a flag or large potted plant so that the puppy can easily locate the steps particularly in dark conditions. In seasons when your pool is not used a solid pool cover is another important safety feature.

Formal Water Training

The PWDCA developed water trials to test the PWD's ability to perform the aquatic tasks that were required to assist their fisherman masters, including retrieving items from the water, carrying messages between boats, and diving for underwater items. There are four levels of testing beginning with simple exercises and extending to complex combinations of tasks that mimic the original tasks of a fisherman's dog. The four levels are junior certificate, apprentice, working and courier. A brief summary of the tasks for each level follows below:

Junior Certificate
• Retrieve dummy from shore
• Board boat and ride with handler
• Call dog from shore to boat
• Measured swim with handler
• Underwater retrieve
• Retrieve dummy from shore (deliver to hand)
• Dummy carry, boat ride and recall to shore
• Retrieve 10 foot floating line from shore
• Measured time and distance swim
• Gear bag retrieve
• Retrieve dummy from boat
• Retrieve overboard articles
• Retrieve dummy between two boats
• Blind retrieve of floating line from boat
• Courier pouch exchange
• Blind retrieve of floating line: shore to boat
• Directed double retrieve from boat
• Retrieve fishing net
• Buoy ball placement

The full requirements of each level can be found on the PWDCA web site: (You will need to download the PDF Water Trial Manual that is 51 pages long.) Two additional levels of competition are available courier excellent and versatility.

Lauren McDermott has a wonderful outline of the individual exercises on her web site Courier Canine:

Other Water Activities

Surf retrieving, kayaking, white water rafting, power boating, sail boating, and even windsurfing are water activities that PWDs have participated in. There are also PWDs working on fishing boats on the West Coast.

See the photoalbum below and don't limit your imagination when it comes to water activities with your PWD. Please note that personal flotation devices are not allowed on the dog during the actual water trial only a water harness.

Water Photo Album