To truly appreciate the Portuguese Water Dog, one must be mindful of its history. The breed is said to go back to pre-Christian times. The Romans are said to have had a "lion dog" that was shaved to its first rib. The first written description of the Portuguese Water Dog is dated to 1297, and concerns a monk's report of a dying sailor who had been brought out of the sea by a dog which had a "black coat of rough hair, cut to the first rib and with a tuft on the tip of his tail". Due to the historical clip still in use, many writings describe the breed as a "Lion Dog". When the Armada fleets invaded other countres, their lion dogs aboard swan to shore and mated with the local dogs creating such breeds as the Kerry Blue Terrier, Irish Water Spaniel, and Poodle.
The Portuguese Water Dog seemed to have settled along the coastlines of the Algarve in Portugal. There, the local fisherman, enlisted their help by doing such tasts as diving overboard to fetch items that fell into the sea, herd fish into fishing nets, retrieve broken nets, and taking messages to other boats or messages to shore. Constant swimming and working with the fishermen accounts for the remarkable muscular development of their hindquarters. Their payment for a good day's work was usually in the fish to eat at the end of the day. Rarely did they live in the homes of the fishermen, they were street dogs that did a job each day with the fishermen. This well-balanced working dog was prized by the fishermen as a companion and guard dog. Their unique hair cut - shaving the face and the rear served a purpose, to alleviate the weight of their hair while swimming in the ocean, while leaving the chest to protect the heart and lungs. Tip left at the end of the tail is called the flag, and was used as a visual to see the dogs in the distance. Most likely this hair cut took place during the annual Spring shearing of the sheep. When the seas were too rough to go out, the dogs often herded and protected the livestock.
In the 1930's, Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese businessman with an interest in dogs, was introduced to the Portuguese Water Dog by friends. He was told of a "magnificent working Cão de Água" (translated dog of water), and although there were only a few dogs still working on the boats of the fishermen, he eventually acquired a dog named "Leão". "Leão" (1931-1942) was the founding sire of the modern breed and of which the original written breed standard was based. The first litter was born on May 1, 1937, at the Algarbiorum Kennels.
The great "Leao" shown here.
Leao was a great working Portuguese Water Dog. Its been said that he would break ice with his teeth to go for a mid-winter swim. He sired seven litters.
Leao was viewed as the perfect PWD.
Bensaude dedicated his life to breeding these dogs. He would only give his dogs to trusted friends. Upon his death, he left his dogs to a woman; Conchita Cintron, who already had a PWD, and was also very dedicated to the breed. She built kennels to house the dogs and began breeding. Cintron knew she had to place the dogs very carefully, so that the breed will continue and prosper. As Portugal was in poor economic condition, few fishermen could afford to maintain dogs, so Cintron was concerned that the breed in its pure form may not survive in Portugal. She decided to begin contacting people in the United States and in 1968 the first breeding pair was taken in by the Millers, who expanded breeding to 16 others, which then formed the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America in 1972.