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Norwich Bulletin - 7/19/2009

The President's New Dog

So the President has a new dog in the White House and it is a Portuguese Water Dog. The breed is destined to become the dog of the decade, but before you rush out to buy one, you need to learn about the breed and be sure it is the right dog for you and your family.

The Portuguese Water dog can be traced back to very remote times, going all the way back to pre-Christian times when the “water dog” was held to be nearly sacred. In fact, severe penalties came to those who dared kill a “water dog.” Although there are many theories concerning the foundation of the breed, everyone agrees that this remarkable dog has an ancient history, with the first written description of the breed is dated to 1297, and tells of a monk’s report that a dying sailor had been brought out of the sea by a dog which had a black coat of rough hair, cut to the first rib and with a tuft on the tip of his tail.

Because of this writing, the dog is described in many future writings as a Lion Dog. This breed existed everywhere along the coast of Portugal. As a working dog, it was prized by the fisherman as a companion and guard dog. These canines lived on the boats where they were taught to herd fish into nets, retrieve lost tackle or broken nets and to act as a courier from ship to shore, or ship to ship.

A truly remarkable animal, Portuguese Water dogs were excellent swimmers and sailors. The dogs were capable of diving underwater to retrieve fishing gear and to prevent the escape of fish from the nets. The breed standard still calls for remarkable muscular development of their hindquarters, exceptional intelligence and loyal companionship – always willing to serve a master well.

In the 1930’s Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese businessman who had an interest in dogs became interested in the breed and acquired a male named Leao, who ended up being the founding sire of the modern breed and became the model for the breed standard.

The first litter was born in 1937. The breed did not make its way to America until thirty years later when Deyanne and Herbert Miller imported the first Portuguese Water Dog in 1968. Chenze was the foundation female for the Farmion Kennels. From there the Breed Club was formed in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1972 and was accepted for registration in AKC stud books in 1983, competing in championship as a member of the Working Group in 1984, winning a best in show the same year.

A calm, intelligent breed of good temperament, healthy and robust, with a non-allergenic, non-shedding, waterproof coat worn long, it was the perfect dog for a child with allergies to animals, as was the case for the Obamas. The dog is known for a spirited disposition, is self-willed, brave and does not tire easily.

The Portuguese Water Dog enjoys working for his master and is obedient to those who take care of him. The breed’s colors are black, white and various tones of brown or a combination of black and white or brown and white. There are not a lot of known genetic faults with this breed because of the excellent breeding from what you might term the beginning of time.

But the dog must be trained and socialized – do not expect the dog to automatically be everything you want it to be. Time must be spent with this breed as its very existence is intertwined with its relationship to its humans. Please be sure to go to a responsible breeder and spend some time with the breed before you decide to get a dog “just like the President.” And like any purebred cat or dog, please do not get your puppy from a Pet Store. The only way to go is by going to a respected breeder and waiting for the right puppy to come your way.

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