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What Breed of Dogs Were Bo and Sunny? Famous Pup Facts

Written by: Kerry-Ann Kerr

Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by Kerry-Ann Kerr

What Breed of Dogs Were Bo and Sunny? Famous Pup Facts

During his campaign in 2008, Barack Obama promised his two daughters that whether he won or lost, they would get a dog. In April 2009, the male Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, joined the family and was a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy.

During his time in the Whitehouse, Bo was known as the “first dog.” The Obama family became so enchanted with Bo that Sunny, a female Portuguese Water Dog, arrived as a playmate for Bo in 2013. So, the answer to the question is that both Bo and Sunny were Portuguese Water Dogs!

Read on to find out about these cute dogs. Whether you’re here because you’re thinking of getting one or would like to know a little about the breed, we’ve got you covered.

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Where Did the Portuguese Water Dog Come From?

This might not surprise you much, but the Portuguese Water Dog originally comes from Portugal. They are closely related to the waterfowl retrieving dogs but weren’t classed as gun dogs because they were used for other tasks. Instead of being used as a retriever, they worked alongside fishermen and would move nets, herd fish, retrieve escaped fish, and deliver messages between boats.

They were also essentially used as a doggy foghorn. Thanks to their keen eyesight, they alerted their fishermen friends to shoals of fish and would bark to alert other boats of their presence on foggy nights.

Thanks to technological advances, they were no longer needed, and in 1960, the breed was on the verge of extinction, with only 50 of the amazing dogs left. However, due to a successful breeding campaign, they were saved, and by 1984, while they weren’t common, they were recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Personality of the Portuguese Water Dog

They might be active canines, but they’re surprisingly self-controlled. Maybe it’s a by-product of their history of sitting quietly with their friends in boats. They’re extremely trainable and are friendly, happy dogs that love their humans immensely.

They enjoy being in the middle of all the action, but without enough stimulation and exercise, they can quickly become bored and unruly, so if you’re thinking of getting one, make sure you have the time for training.

black portuguese water dog looking up
Image Credit: janeb13, Pixabay

Are They Easy to Look After?

Because they’re energetic, the Portuguese Water Dogs require at least an hour and a half of exercise daily. Letting them out in a small backyard won’t cut it either. They need the space to run free, explore, and sniff their surroundings, and if you don’t have a big yard, the Portuguese Water Dog may not be for you.

They love spending time with people, and games, interactive toys, and training will occupy their minds and keep them from getting bored. It’s even better if you can tend to that water baby side of them and find a safe swimming opportunity to take them to.

They’re a friendly breed with a calm demeanor, which makes them an excellent addition to an active family. They will even get along with other animals if introduced at an early age.

Did You Know?

The very first account of the Portuguese Water Dog was back in 1297. A monk reported that a dying sailor had been heroically rescued from the sea by a dog with a “black coat of rough hair, cut to the first rib and with a tuft on the tip of his tail.” You’ll be unsurprised to know that they’re drawn to water like a magnet and have webbed feet, making them amazing swimmers.

The breed is also considered hypoallergenic because they have a single coat that continuously grows without shedding. Although no breed is genuinely hypoallergenic, the Portuguese Water Dog may be ideal for owners with allergies or sensitivities.

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What About Bo and Sunny?

Unfortunately, in May 2021, the Obama family confirmed that Bo had died at the age of 12 from cancer. Bo was part of a litter related to Ted Kennedy’s pair of Portuguese Water Dogs. On Instagram, Barack Obama paid tribute to his beloved dog, saying:

“He had a big bark but no bite, loved to jump in the pool in the summer, was unflappable with children, lived for scraps around the dinner table, and had great hair.”

However, you’ll be relieved to know that Sunny is 10 years old now and still alive and living with her family.



Bo and Sunny are Portuguese Water Dogs: a highly intelligent, active, and gentle breed. The dogs can fit into any family that can make room for their training and exercise needs. As you can see from how beloved Bo was and how much his family misses him, a Portuguese Water Dog puppy will delight your family and become an integral part of your life.

Featured Image Credit:  The Office of the First Lady of the United States.  Administered by  The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

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