PWD history and characteristics...this will make you chuckle

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Jan 24, 2010, 3:17:35 PM1/24/10
to Maritime PWD Owners
Historical Roots

The first words of the Portuguese National Anthem are "Heroes of the
sea, noble people." While the Portuguese people are no longer the
seafarers they were in the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, the sea
remains important to their life and culture. Henry's own maritime
school was perched on a rocky point at the southern tip of Europe
along the steep cliffs of the Algarve. Along this rocky coast,
Portuguese Water Dogs, believed to have sailed with Portuguese
explorers, came to work as crew for the fishermen of the Portuguese
fishing fleet.

The life of a fisherman in the North Atlantic meant hard work, long
hours, vigilant attention to the moods of the sea and to those
formidable cliffs that led to home when approached with care, or to
death if thrown upon them by storm and fog. Bravery, persistent
attention to the work at hand, stamina, and speedy reactions to ever-
changing conditions spelled the difference between success and
failure, and ultimately between life and death.

Into this harsh environment and demanding life the fishermen rowed and
sailed their boats, boats painted gaily with colors that reflect the
cheerful and optimistic nature that sustained their work. Frequently
roosters, the Good Luck talisman of the country, adorned the bows and
fantails of these small and sturdy craft, much like those in VanGogh's

There was no room on these small craft for extraneous gear or being,
even for the comforting presence of just "man's best friend." The
Portuguese Water Dog was a contributing crew member. Records have been
found that show the owner of each dog being paid for the dog's daily
work--"one large cod and a bowl of rice"

What were their duties? Strong historical evidence is sketchy, but
references exist to pulling nets through the steep Atlantic chop where
the cod were to be found, carrying messages between boats, diving
underwater to retrieve gear gone overboard, and standing watch during
storms, perched in the bow where their keen hearing could pick up the
sound of waves crashing on rocky shores so they could bark their

What personalities could excel in this work? Like their owners, the
dogs became hardy, persistent, strong, alert and quick. Like their
owners, they became cheerfully convinced that success could be theirs.
They learned to quickly obey the commands given to them, to hunger for
an object to carry or retrieve, and to be quite vocal about the
unusual or unexpected that crossed their path. And they became not
only used to the close presence of humans in the confines of a
working fishing boat, they came to crave it.

For more than a century, PWDs served the Portuguese fishing fleet,
working in cramped quarters by day and stretching their limbs with
rowdy romps through the streets of the Algarve villages by night.

But radios came that carried messages faster. Power winches pulled
nets in faster, and without the need for more crew. As mechanization
came to the fleet, the jobs of the dogs became obsolete, and the dogs
themselves were unemployed. Though their work was gone, the dogs
retained the characteristics for which they had been bred, the very
characteristics which made them less likely to be popular as a
household pet and companion to children. Though their patrons like Dr.
Cabral and Dr. Bensuade and those to whom they entrusted their kennels
sought to keep them alive, the breed dwindled as all of Europe
suffered in the years following World War II. By the late 1960's only
16 Portuguese Water Dogs remained in the world.

Today in the USA

Followers of the breed imported dogs to the United States when they
could. The renaissance of the breed in this country gained momentum
through the leadership of Deyanne Miller , who imported her first PWD
in 1968. Mrs. Miller started Farmion Kennels and led the establishment
of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America as well as acceptance of
the breed into the American Kennel Club Working Group in 1984. The AKC
description of the breed contained in the breed standard is similar to
that used in Portugal, with the addition of a working trim for the

But what of the mind and energy of this breed, used to hard work by
day and freedom to roam by night? How does a muscular working dog fit
into in urban life in the US as a companion animal ? What IS a
Portuguese Water Dog, really? Perhaps the breed standard found at the
link above, written in laudatory terms by advocates of the breed,
could benefit from some rephrasing.

What It Really Means

General Appearance - Notorious as a brawler for centuries along
Portugal's coast, this seafaring breed was prized by fishermen for a
pushy nature and a robust, medium build that needed the mental and
physical demand's of a full day's work in and out of the water to
reduce its energy level to one that allowed it to hear and obey its
master's commands.

The Portuguese Water Dog seeks and loves to splash and wallow in mud,
water bowls, toilets with open lids, and any liquid--water, paint,
etc. It does this with great finesse and stamina, unendingly, while
aiding its master by retrieving any item that it sees and wants to
carry, regardless of size, delicacy, or ownership. Its incessant
retrieving instinct leads to a dog that must have something in its
mouth to carry, chew on, or swallow, whether that item be edible or
decorative, such as furniture.

It is a clinging companion and an incessant alarm barker. This highly
manipulative breed is distinguished by two coat types, either curly or
wavy, which require extensive grooming, bathing, brushing, combing,
detangling, etc. far in excess of the time that would be spent
vacuuming up dog hair if it were to shed, which it does not (carrying
dirt, twigs, dust, mats, etc. around with it until groomed).

It has an impressive head of considerable breadth and well
proportioned mass, which it uses for head and body rams; a ruggedly
built, well-knit body which enables it to counter-surf and jump onto
tables and over fences; and a powerful, thickly based tail, carried
gallantly or used purposefully as a rudder or to clear items off
coffee tables and destroy Lego constructions built by children on

Expression - Direct, rude, and demanding. The Portuguese Water Dog
likes to be at eye level with humans, resulting in an almost un-
extinguishable jumping-up greeting behavior.

Temperament - An animal with a mind of its own, brash, and ADHD. A
dog of exceptional ability to manipulate people and its environment,
and a strong desire to lead that makes it incessantly desire to be
around humans that it can bend to its wishes. If trained by a person
with patience, superior intelligence, and unilateral focus, it will
obey its master with facility and apparent pleasure until it decides
to test or until it devises an alternative to try.

Makes you think, doesn't it? This is a breed with little background as
a pet, and lots of background in having its own way. Its saving grace--
some say its only saving grace--is its love of humans. And that brings
us to our own commitment to the Portuguese Water Dog at Restora

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