Portuguese Water Dogs: What You Need To Know

The Obama family gets to know their Portuguese water dog, which daughters Sasha and Malia have named Bo. The puppy was a gift from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass), who has three
The Obama family gets to know their Portuguese water dog, which daughters Sasha and Malia have named Bo. The puppy was a gift from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass), who has three "Porties." (By Pete Souza -- The White House)
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Billy Rafferty
Certified Master Groomer, Owner, Doogy Dooz and Author
Monday, April 13, 2009; 1:00 PM

Portie (Portuguese Water Dog) expert Billy Rafferty was online Monday, April 13, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the breed, which has been chosen by the Obama family, and answer questions about care, disposition, size and hypoallergenic traits.


Billy Rafferty: Hi Billy Rafferty here to answer all your Portuguese Water Dog questions. Porties are wonderful dogs and I'm excited to answer your questions.


Chicago, Ill.: Is it necessary for the owner to live near water for a Portie to be happy?

Billy Rafferty: Although Porties LOVE water and some even

Billy Rafferty: Hi, although Porties LOVE water and are breed to work on the water with fisherman, they don't need to live near water. What's most important is that they receive a lot of exercise to channel their energy. I love to run with my Portie Zeke.


Baltimore, Md.: Is the Portuguese Water dog a rare breed? I've only ever met one, and it had a lot of health problems. I assume the Obama's dog had better vetting than my neighbor's dog.

Billy Rafferty: Porties have become more and more popular since they were first brought to the US in the 1970s. Here in Chicago, we see many. I groom at least 50-60 as clients and I have one too. All dog breeds have inherent health issues so it is important to see your vet regularly. Good Portie breeders are working to minimize genetic flaws.


Boston, Mass.: I have two older PWD's, Elly and Gordon, (12, 11)that are still very smart, vital, energetic, fun and curious. Though they respond well to commands about 75 percent of the time, Elly too often likes to snatch food from the counter and Gordon likes to lick grocery bags. Any thoughts on how to get them to end these habits?

Billy Rafferty: My dog loves to counter surf also. I resolved the problem by keeping my counters clear at all times and I remind any guests to do the same. Think of a Portie as a 2 year old and dog proof your home like you would with a baby. In fact, this is a good idea for all dogs.


Boston, Mass.: Love my two porties. Neither of them likes to fetch or play catch --any thoughts on other interactive activities?

Billy Rafferty: Jog, jog and then jog some more! Remember, though, your dog must be at least 18 months old and get the green light from your vet before you start exercising with him. My dogs inspired me to stop being a couch potato and we are all much happier and healthier now.


Cleveland, Ohio: We have owned two Portuguese water dogs, our current dog is 8. It has been my experience that this breed is not for newbie dog owners. As wonderful a breed though they are, they do require a strong alpha person, could you comment about your experience?

Billy Rafferty: They are very smart and they are working dogs, which is great because they think on their own. As long as the owner is consistent with training and aware of the high energy and gives lots of love, everything should be fine. With Gabriel, my first Portie, he was so full of energy you'd have thought he needed Velcro on his feet to keep him still. Rather than break out my sewing kit, I started jogging with him and it was the best thing for both of us.


Reedville, Va.: As very happy new owners of a Portie puppy after much research, we are surprised this has not been a more popular breed and in fact was almost extinct. Do you know why these wonderful dogs almost disappeared? Thanks.

Billy Rafferty: For centuries, fisherman in Portugal worked side by side with Porties. The dogs moved nets in the water and carried messages between ships. Some historians even speculate that Porties sailed with the Spanish Armada in 1588. In the early 20th century, however, technology made the Porties' jobs obsolete and as Portuguese fisherman began to become farmers, Porties were needed even less. In the 1930's a Portuguese shipping magnate decided to save Porties from extinction and thankfully, we can all enjoy them now.


Washington, D.C.: How hard are Portie's to groom?

Billy Rafferty: Porties are not hard to groom, you just need to be consistent. Because their coat is like human hair, it can tangle quickly and Porties hair also mat up rapidly. So, brush your Portie every day with a slicker brush, wash her when she's dirty and visit a good professional groomer every 4-6 weeks for a good shampoo, a haircut and nail and ear care.

Most importantly, NEVER wash your Portie or any canine with human shampoo or household products. I could tell you horror stories all day! :)


Boa tarde, Zeke!: Can the Portuguese Water Dog community keep the fine qualities of the breed from being diminished by puppy mills and other unscrupulous greedy breeders? With other presidential breeds, public demand has sadly resulted in a supply that included sub-par dogs.

Billy Rafferty: Like all good dog owners, I too am concerned and horrified about puppy mills. And yes, we should worry that public demand will mean puppy mills will start churning them out. This is why it is so important to know where your dog comes from. Do your homework and choose a breeder that truly cares about the breed and is not in it just for the money. A good breeder never sells her dogs to a pet store. A puppy mill is a commercial operation, while a reputable breeder is working to protect and promote the breed. Here's a good link with information about how to find a reputable breeder: The Truth About Animal Shelters and Responsible Breeders (The Oprah Winfrey Show) . The Portie Club of America is a good place to look too Portuguese Water Dog Club of America.


Christiansburg, Va.: So, specifically what "health issues" do porties' genes subject them to? What is the dog's average life span? The Obamas can afford massive vet fees, health insurance, etc. How much will it cost to keep Bo healthy for, say 10 years. Before we all go out and start looking for puppies at the puppy mill it would be nice to have the facts.

Billy Rafferty: When you welcome a dog into your life, there will be vet bills, food bills etc. Like people, you never know if you'll get sick. Feeding your dog the best food you can afford, grooming and caring for your Portie and keeping him healthy through exercise and vet care saves money in the end.

Repuatble Portie breeders screen for genetic disease and are working to eliminate them. For instance, Zeke is a carrier for Cardio Myopathy and I had to promise not to show him or breed him. He is healthy as a horse. A puppy mill would NOT even think twice about breeding Zeke.

By the way, you should NEVER look for your dog at a puppy mill.


Harrisburg, Pa.: OK, I'll bite. It never occurred to me to ever use human shampoo on a dog, but what happens if you do use it? What are some of the horror stories?

Billy Rafferty: Oh boy, where should I start. Here's a quick overview: dry skin, dandruff, hot spots, constant chewing--all things that make your dog miserable and are painful to your pocketbook. Then, there's the story of my client who tried to remedy her dog's dry skin by dipping him in baby oil. The poor dog was so itchy, he was chewing himself to pieces and his skin was lit up like a Christmas tree. It took me 4 or 5 baths just to get the baby oil off and the dog smelled like baby oil for weeks.


Washington, D.C.: How do the dogs see through that "fur" over their eyes? Should that be clipped?

Billy Rafferty: I keep Zeke and my client's Porties clipped so there is no hair in their faces. Otherwise, the dogs would only see shadows.


Fairfax, Va.: Do they train easily?

Billy Rafferty: Yes, Porties are extremely intelligent and some may say too intelligent :). The key to training a Portie is consistency. Start right away. Like all dogs, a Portie is more comfortable with YOU as the leader of the pack. Neither Zeke or Arthur tell me what to do and they are much more relaxed because of it.

Find yourself a good trainer. Ask the dog people in your life and your vet for recommendations. Interview and observe the trainer before you sign up.


Kensington, Md.: I have a 4-year-old PWD, and she's the smartest, sweetest dog in the world.

What will PWD breeders do to ensure this wonderful breed doesn't end up in puppy mills? I know they're pretty hard to find at shelters (which is a good sign), but with Bo's popularity I imagine this will be a problem.

Also, do you know if Bo is a wavy or curly haired? He looks wavy to me.

Billy Rafferty: Now wait a minute, I thought Zeke was the smartest, sweetest PWD in the world.)

I'm sure every reputable breeder, breed club and dog person will be working to keep Porties from the evil clutches of puppy mills. The PWD breeders that I know and deal with are very strict about who they give their dogs too-sometimes it's even harder to get one of their dogs than adopting a child!

We can help by talking about puppy mills and encouraging others to learn about the problem. I'm always amazed by how many people just don't know about puppy mills. Send people to the Humane Society's informative site: http://www.stoppuppymills.org/

From the pictures, I'd sat Bo is curly Portie.


Arlington, Va.: Oh please lets stop the hard sell you must see a professional groomer every 4 to 6 weeks. You pro's say the same thing about rough collies. Mine have never seen a professional groomer and they don't get baths unless intestinal distress requires it. My older boy hasn't had a bath in 18 mos. and he is out working sheep and getting all muddy and smelly on a regular basis. Once his coat dries and mud falls out he is fine and doesn't smell.

Billy Rafferty: I recommend visiting a pro every 4 to 6 weeks, but if you wash and brush your dog you can stretch the time in between. If you don't brush a portie or any other dog for that matter, the coat will retain the dead hair and tangle and mat up. I just worked on a Cocker Spaniel that ended up at the Animal care and Control. This poor dog was full of mats and hadn't been cared for in years--obviously the extreme. I removed almost 8 pounds of dead coat and mats from the poor girl. She was suffering from serious skin problems too. Brushing stimulates the blood flow to the skin and can help decrease skin problems so it's very important. Besides, I think you should wash your dog as often as he's dirty--how would you feel if you dragged your head on the ground EVERYWHERE you went?


Zeke is a carrier for Cardio Myopathy and I had to promise not to show him or breed him. : So is he neutered?

Billy Rafferty: Of COURSE Zeke is neutered...and for the record my Cocker Spaniel Arthur is too.


Washington, D.C.: Why didn't the Obamas consider a Standard Poodle? These are also lovely dogs, hypoallergenic, don't shed, very smart, etc. Labradoodles actually dilute that trait somewhat.

Billy Rafferty: I don't know whether the Obamas considered a Poodle of any size. I love Poodles and they are wonderful dogs.


Northern Virginia: Could they add another dog or cat easily or is this a concern given Bo's failed first adoption (where he tried to suckle on the family's other dog, thinking it was maybe his mother)? Do Porties do well in multi-pet households?

Billy Rafferty: I've never met Bo, so I can't give you any opinion about his personality. However, I have 2 dogs and Zeke and Arthur love each other. They hate to be apart. I have many, many clients with multiple Porties or multiple dogs and everyone lives in harmony. Recently, I took Zeke to visit a friends farm in Indiana and not only does Zeke get along with other dogs, he loved the goats, horses and baby chicks too. He was very gentle.


They didn't get a shelter dog, but . . .: will they at least have their dog neutered (and perhaps publicize how this helps reduce the number of pets euthanized each year)?

Billy Rafferty: Yes, educating everyone about the importance of spaying and neutering is fabulous. Besides, through out the process, everyone has been talking about shelters and rescue and even puppy mills, so starting a dialogue is good too.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: I just wanted to commend the breeders for acting responsibility and taking Charley/Bo back and giving him a second chance. This is what responsible breeders do, no matter the age of the critter. I work with breed rescue and our local animal shelter and I just want to say "Yay" for everyone. BTW our adoptions have been sky high since Obama said they were getting a shelter dog.

Billy Rafferty: I agree! A responsible breeder always has the dog's best interest in mind. Many breeders keep in touch with the families that adopt their dogs for years and years. Many breed clubs, including the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America have a rescue network to rehome dogs.


Johnson City, Tenn.: What is the breed called in Portuguese?

Billy Rafferty: That's a good questions, I'll have to get back to you on that one. My Portuguese is a bit rusty--sorry.


Washington, D.C.: Hi,

I love dogs. I have Scotties, but am glad to see a new breed as "First Pet". Do porties have webbed feet?


Billy Rafferty: Yes, Porties have webbed feet.


Van Buren, Ar.: Define puppy mill.

Billy Rafferty: A puppy mill is a large commercial operation that is in business to churn out as many dogs as possible. These dogs live in horrible conditions and often never leave their cages. Please go to Stop Puppy Mills



Billy Rafferty: Thanks for all the interesting questions! I enjoyed chatting with everyone here today. Feel free to send me more questions on my blog www.happydogland.blogspot.com. I'll be happy to answer them there.


Rafferty (a certified master groomer and sanctioned grooming show judge) is one of the nation's most recognized experts on dog grooming and care, and is the owner and principal stylist at Doogy Dooz, a pet styling salon in Chicago. His clients include celebrities, politicians and Broadway executives. Rafferty is author of the forthcoming book "HAPPY DOG: Caring for Your Dog's Body, Mind, and Spirit."


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