Meet the Portuguese Water Dog: The First Dog of the United States

The White House breed has a rich working background, and they don't care about politics!


Before Bo and Sunny Obama, most people had never heard of a Portuguese Water Dog. That is, unless they admired hardworking dogs who love water, play and people. But more people are getting to know this Poodley-looking un-Poodle!

More interesting things about Porties

  • The Portuguese Water Dog may be confused with the Poodle, but the Portie is heavier boned with a wider head and shorter muzzle, and is more likely to be spotted or partially white. It may also be confused with the Irish Water Spaniel, but the Portie is more square bodied, doesn’t have a rat tail and can be other than solid brown.
  • The Poodle and Portuguese Water Dog likely share common ancestors, but the Water Dog may also have Asian herding dogs behind them.
  • The first possible mention of the breed was in 1297 when a monk described how a drowning sailor was pulled from the sea by a dog with a “black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft.”

  • Excellent swimmers, they were used in Portugal to herd fish into nets, retrieve nets or lost equipment, or deliver messages between boats or from boats to shore.
  • Known in Portugal as the Cao de Agua, dog of water.
  • Owners often call them Porties.

  • The coat can be either curly or wavy. It tends not to shed. It grows continuously and must be clipped.
  • The coat can be clipped in the traditional lion clip, in which the back half is shaved except for a tuft on the tail; or in the retriever clip, in which the coat is cut uniformly all over.
  • The breed is claimed by some to be hypoallergenic, but no scientific study has shown any breed to be so.
  • Actor Raymond Burr was an early breeder of Porties in America.

  • Owners include Barack and Michelle Obama, Ted Kennedy, Charles Osgood and Carlos Ruiz Camino.
  • The White House Porties are named Bo and Sunny.
  • The Portie is in the AKC Working Group. It was recognized by the AKC in 1983.
  • A Portie has won the Working group at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show twice, most recently in 2013.
  • They are the 55th most popular AKC breed, up from 77th a decade ago.

Do you own a Portuguese Water Dog? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.

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