If you hadn't heard of them, you've certainly heard of their most famous representatives: Bo and Sunny Obama, the presidential pooches, are both Portuguese water dogs. Learn more about the water-loving canines and their rich European history.
1. THEY HAIL FROM—YOU GUESSED IT—PORTUGAL.
There, the dogs are called cau de agua or "dog of water," and bred to be excellent swimmers. They were first trained to assist Portuguese fishermen while they were out at sea. The helpful dogs would pull in nets, fetch items that fell overboard, and even scare fish into the nets. The athletic dogs could dive as deep as 12 feet to herd the fish in the right direction.
2. THEY HELPED THE SPANISH ARMADA …
The skilled swimmers helped the sailors of the Spanish armada by carrying messages between ships in the 1500s. Some say that when the English took out the Armada in 1588, some of the dogs managed to swim ashore and mate with the local dogs—which means their bloodline may have influenced the development of the Irish water spaniel and the Kerry blue terrier.
3. … AND THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS.
When homerun balls hit from Pacific Bell Park fell into the cold waters of the San Francisco Bay for a couple of seasons (starting in 2000), it was up to an elite team of dogs to retrieve them. Known as B.A.R.K. (Baseball Aquatic Retrieval Korps), these six Portuguese water dogs were tasked with fetching the rogue baseballs. The retrieved balls, or “Splash Hits,” were auctioned off for big money by Pets In Need, a non-profit no-kill shelter.
4. THEY SPORT AN INTERESTING ‘DO.
According to the American Kennel Club, there are two accepted haircuts for the breed: Working cut and the lion cut. The lion cut means the dog’s hindquarters are completely sheared off, giving it the look of a majestic lion. This clip might look a little silly, but it was originally developed to help the dogs stay warm in the water by insulating the heart and lungs, without weighing them down. While it’s not that common to see Porties rocking this hairdo in the United States, it is the only accepted cut for European show dogs.
5. TED KENNEDY LOVED THEM …
The late senator Ted Kennedy was a huge advocate of the breed and would bring his two Porties—Sunny and Splash—with him everywhere. The doggy duo accompanied the politician on everything from boating trips to press conferences. Kennedy even wrote a children’s book in the voice of Splash called My Senator and Me: A Dog's Eye View of Washington, D.C.
6. … AND EVEN GAVE ONE TO OBAMA.
7. THE WATER IS THEIR FAVORITE PLACE.
These furry dogs were born to swim. They have flat, round paws with webbed toes that work like flippers to push them effectively through the water. A rudder-like tail helps them navigate, and a thick waterproof coat keeps them warm in even the coldest waters.
8. THEY ALMOST WENT EXTINCT.
As advancements in technology began to change the fishing industry, the need for fishing dogs began to wane and Portuguese water dogs were nearly wiped out. Luckily, in the 1930s, a wealthy shipping tycoon named Vasco Bensaud took an interest in the breed. He adopted a dog named Leao, who became the founding sire of the modern breed. Bensaud founded the Portuguese Water Dog Club and held the position of secretary-general for many years.
9. DON’T EXPECT THEM TO SHED.
Porties are closely related to poodles, and have a similar single coat. Their curly or wavy fur does not shed. As with other dogs that don’t shed, Portuguese water dogs are believed to be hypoallergenic, meaning they don’t irritate those with allergies to pet dander to the same extent as other dogs.