Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Legacy Is Born

Twenty years ago today I brought home my first Portuguese Water Dog. I didn't know he was a PWD, in fact, I had never heard of the breed. I soon learned what a wonderful breed of dog this is.

One of the things I like most about PWDs is the variety. They're not cookie cutter dogs. In many breeds each individual looks very much alike. The colors and sizes are the same and sometimes the markings are almost exact. Not so with PWDs.

The size varies greatly from about 35 pounds to 65 pounds. The theory is that fishermen on small boats had small dogs and the large dogs worked the large boats. Whatever the reason, if offers a lot of choice to the owners. Samba is small, weighing about 50 pounds. Fudge is taller and weighs about 60 pounds. Their pups, all taller than their mom, range from Noah at 40 pounds to Sky at 62. Bentley was my big boy at 66 pounds.

The color offers choice, too. They can be black, black and white, brown, brown and white or all white. The markings can be varied, solid colors, traditional Irish markings of white chest and feet, or big splotches of white. The brown can be dark chocolate to light beige. There can be ticking, black hairs growing in white patches, or graying, white hairs growing in the black or brown patches. If the black ticking is very heavy giving a gray or silver appearance, it is called a silver fox.

There are two coat types, wavy and curly. This can get pretty confusing as there is a lot of variety within the types. A wavy can be almost straight with just a slight wave or it can be a pretty tight curl and anything in between. A tight curly is just that, similar to a poodle, or it can be a loose curly that is actually a looser curl than a tight wavy. Confused yet? The only time one can be absolutely sure of the coat is at birth when wavies look shiny and smooth like little seals and curlies are less shiny and have ripples. The coat can change lot as they mature.

To mix thing up even more, there are two recognized haircuts allowed. One is the retriever clip where the hair is trimmed evenly to one inch all over. The other clip is the traditional lion where the back end and muzzle are shaved and the front end is allowed to grow long. The dog may be shown in either of these clips in the USA. In Europe they must be shown in the lion.

In this country people who show PWDs have been letting the retriever cut get longer and longer. the coats are sculpted and sprayed and no longer look like working dogs. The written standard is specific about the length, but although they give lip service to protecting the standard, they ignore that part. On the few occasions that I show my dogs, I adhere to the standard. We may not win, but we have been true to the standard and will continue to be.

PWDs are strong dogs with large heads which they use effectively as battering rams. If one runs head first into your leg, you know you've been hit. They run into doors and walls without any sign of having done so. My pack races around the yard and often run into the fence in order to stop. They have large, webbed feet that they use as paddles in any body of water, including their water bowl,

and a tail that they carry curled over their back with the end left untrimmed in a flag. I love watching all those Portuguese flags flying as they run out the door in the morning.

The dogs were used on fishing boats to pull nets, herd fish into the nets, retrieve objects that fell overboard, rescue people that fell overboard and before technology replaced them, they were couriers that carried messages between boats or between the boat and shore. They are strong swimmers and divers. When the boat came into port at night, the dog stayed aboard and guarded the catch. They are great watch dogs. They have amazing vocal ranges, from a deep bark if a stranger approaches, to a high pitched bark when excited. Samba gives that high bark when she is heading out the back door. It makes you want to hold your head. They make a 'woo-woo' sound when trying to communicate with people. Fudge uses it when he's in trouble and trying to explain his actions. There are growls and lots of sounds in between.

If the boats were in port for awhile, the dogs were sometimes used to herd the flocks. My dogs have a strong herding instinct. It's handy if one doesn't come in with the others. I can send Samba of Norma Jean out to herd the other one in. Unfortunately, they picked up the habit of grazing from the flock. They pull grass up by the root to chew it and can leave some nasty bare spots in the lawn.

The original Portuguese standard for the breed, under temperament read as follows: "An animal with fiery disposition and a brawler by nature, self willed, brave and very resistant to fatigue." When the American standard was written for the AKC, the description was changed to the following: "An animal of spirited disposition, self willed, brave and very resistant to fatigue." Believe me, the Portuguese had it right. These dogs are brawlers by nature. They love to wrestle and chase each other. Many people are concerned when they see how roughly these dogs play with each other and the noise they make while playing. Yet, there is almost never any physical harm done.

PWDs are born thieves. They love to steal for the sake of stealing. They are well known as counter-surfers. Fudge used to love to steal the dish towels off the counter. He then had to parade in front of me with the towel in his mouth making humming sounds so I would be sure to notice. He didn't really want the towel, he wanted the attention it brought. One day I washed some pottery and had it drying on a towel on the counter. Fudge hadn't touched the towels in awhile, so I didn't think about it and left the room. There was a tremendous crash and Fudge ran by me at top speed. He had pulled the towel off the counter, bringing the pottery with it. Only one piece was destroyed, but it did cure him of stealing towels. He still does steal. If a lid to a Ben and Jerry's container is left on the counter, he gets it.

These dogs make eye contact, in fact, they insist on it. Mine will come put their faces inches from mine and look into my eyes. They seem to be trying to read my thoughts. Some other dogs don't deal well with the long hard stare from a PWD and there can be aggressive responses.

One of my favorite things about the breed is their loyalty. These dogs bond so closely with their human companion that they are referred to as velcro dogs. They are always at my side. As I type this they are scattered around the room sleeping. If I get up to walk out of the room, they all go with me. They are never far away. Samba would be next to me every minute of every day if possible. She makes a strangled cry when I shut the door to leave the house without her.

Perhaps their best feature is their happiness. These dogs never have a bad day. They wake up early and are ready to get going. If scolded for misbehavior, the either look pleased with themselves, or momentarily downcast and quickly toss it off. The worst punishment for this breed is to ignore them or withhold your attention. They want and need constant attention. This is not an easy breed to live with, but the rewards are enormous.

My Bentley (Boo) was the finest ambassador the breed could produce. He looked like a Muppet, could be a clown, but had great dignity and was completely attuned to my emotions. Samba is my dog. She doesn't leave my side. When Rob takes the others outside, she chooses to stay with me. She is my constant companion. Fudge is a goofy Muppet like character. He wants attention and is willing to cause trouble to get it.

The pups ( not really pups anymore) each have a different personality. Tess is high strung and wants to please. Lola is stubborn and doesn't like to follow orders. Bailey is independent and likes to track, Noah is a little tough guy on the outside and a sweetie on the inside. Sky is lazy. Norma Jean is like her dad in activity level and like her mom in that she wants to be touching me at all times.

I love this breed and can't imagine life without one. Twenty years ago today I had no idea the adventures in store for me, all due to that little black frizzy puppy that rode home tucked inside my jacket.


SissySees said...

What a lovely testament to a not-mainstream breed. (And that's a good thing... but I could go on all day what popularity does to a breed...) I'll have to share it with the Knight.

Lapdog Creations said...

I just love those fuzzy feet!!!!!!

Erin Gabrysz said...

What a beautiful post... and what a beautiful picture you paint.

We are awaiting the arrival of our first PWD at the end of May and I couldn't be more excited.

Thank you.

Erin Gabrysz