The precise ancestry of the Portuguese Water Dog is not known. Some experts claim that this breed traces back to 700 B.C., to the wild Central-Asian steppes near the Chinese and Russian border. Early inhabitants of that area raised cattle, sheep, camels, horses and dogs. History has it that some of these rugged Asian herding dogs were captured by the Berbers, who slowly migrated across North Africa to Morocco. Their descendants, the Moors, came to Portugal in the 8th century, along with their water dogs.
Another theory is that the ancestors of the Porti came with the Goths, a confederation of German tribes. Some of them (the Ostrogoths) went west, and their dogs were known as the German pudel (today’s poodle). Others went south (the Visigoths) to fight the Romans, and their dogs became known as the Lion Dog. The Visigoths invaded Spain and Portugal (then called Iberia) in 400 A.D, bringing their dogs with them. Thus, the Poodle and the Portuguese Water Dog do share a common, but distant, ancestry.
This breed remained in its roughest original form for centuries on the Portuguese coast. However, by the start of the 20th century, the fishing industry in Portugal declined. Then, in the 1930s, Dr. Vasco Bensuade, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate and dog fancier, decided to rescue the breed. The Portuguese Water Dog Club was reorganized, as the Clube Portuguese de Caniculture, with his assistance.
Several Portis were brought to England in 1954. The Kennel Club (England) recognized the breed as a Working Dog, but registrations were few and far between. In 1958, Mr. and Mrs. Harrington of New York received a pair of Portis from England. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Miller, of Connecticut, also acquired direct imports from Portugal. The Portuguese Water Dog Club of America was founded on August 13, 1972, with only twelve of the breed known to be in the country at that time. By September 1982, there were over 650 registered Portis in America. The breed was admitted to the Miscellaneous class of the American Kennel Club in 1981. It was recognized for full registration in 1983, and became eligible to compete as a member of the Working Group in 1984.
The average life span of the Portuguese Water Dog is 11 to 14 years. Breed Health concerns may include Addison’s disease, follicular dypslasia, hip dysplasia, dilated carduiomyopathy, progressive retinal atrophy and glycogen storage disease.