Getting to Know the Portuguese Water Dog

By Samantha Johnson on Apr. 18, 2016

President’s Day is right around the corner, so it seems appropriate to shine the spotlight on the breed of dog that currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Over the years, many different dog breeds have called the White House home, from Lyndon B. Johnson’s Beagles (named Him and Her) and Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever (Liberty) to George H. W. Bush’s Springer Spaniel (Millie) and George W. Bush’s Scottish Terrier (Barney). Today the White House is home to the Obama family’s Portuguese Water Dogs (Bo and Sunny). Let’s learn more about this breed.

Get to Know the Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese Water Dog hails—not surprisingly—from Portugal, where the dogs historically helped fishermen on boats. The breed boasts webbed feet and a non-shedding waterproof coat that is mainly found in black, brown or white, or a combination of black and white or brown and white. The coat comes in two varieties: curly and wavy.

The Portuguese Water Dog is a strong, muscular breed that stands 17 to 23 inches tall and generally weighs 35 to 60 pounds.

According to the American Kennel Club standard, the Portuguese Water Dog should have a “spirited disposition” and the breed is known for its bravery, loyalty and intelligence.

The Portuguese Water Dog in History

In its native Portugal, the breed is known as Cão de Água, which translates to “water dog.”  According to the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA), the breed is sometimes known in Portugal as the Portuguese Fishing Dog; a logical name considering the breed’s penchant for water and historical significance as a fishing dog.

The breed standard states that the Portuguese Water Dog is an expert swimmer and diver and the breed historically excels at “retrieving broken nets, herding schools of fish, and carrying messages between boats and to shore.” The first Portuguese Water Dog was imported to America in 1968—a female named Renascenca do Al Gharb—and the PWDCA organization was formed in 1972. The breed achieved AKC recognition in 1983.

The Portuguese Water Dog Today

The most famous Portuguese Water Dogs in America today are undoubtedly Bo and Sunny, the dogs that share the White House with President Barack Obama and his family. Bo, a black-and-white 6-year-old male Portuguese Water Dog, joined the Obama family in 2009 as a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy. Sunny, a black 2-year-old female Portuguese Water Dog, joined the family in 2013. The Obama family apparently chose the breed in part for its hypoallergenic coat, due to Malia Obama’s allergies.  

The breed has increased in widespread popularity in recent years. The Portuguese Water Dog was 71st on the AKC list of breeds in 2003, but moved up significantly to 49th on the 2013 list. This could be due in part to the prominence of the Obama family’s dogs and the fact that the breed has become significantly better known in recent years.

Photo courtesy: American Kennel Club


About the Author
  • Samantha writes about the happy things in life—pets, home, family, food, and gardening—and thinks Mondays are the most wonderful day of the week. She is the author of ten books and shares her home with Peaches, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi; Toppy, a Holland Lop rabbit; and Maureen O'Hare-a, a Mini Rex rabbit.
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