Poodle vs Portuguese Water Dog

Is she a Portuguese Water Dog?

A question that caught me somewhat unawares when I was walking a family member’s black Standard Poodle. The dog I was walking was sporting a slightly longer coat, but most people’s first thought would still be Poodle. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to find out more about this alternative breed who may be my Poodle pal’s unknown twin.

Both the Poodle and Portuguese Water Dog are intelligent breeds. Both are favored for their alert, but non-aggressive nature and they do bear more than a passing resemblance to each other in some features. Read on for a comparison between the two in key areas such as origin, coat types, size, exercise requirements, feeding guidance, health, and cost.

Where did they come from?

They have a striking similarity in that they both have a history as a working water dog but what might be lesser known is how they employed their water-based skills for different professions.

Poodle Origins

The origins of the domestic Poodle are largely believed to stem back to 15th and 16th Century Germany where early accounts refer to the breed as a water dog utilized by huntsmen to receive shot game from ponds, lakes, and rivers. The name itself Poodle (or Pudel in German) arises from the Germanic word “puddeln” meaning “to splash” which is a testament to their skills in navigating the water.

Paintings and descriptions from the time suggest strong, robust dogs likely equivalent in size to the modern Standard Poodle. There are some alternative opinions that the breed may have also stemmed from France and could be a descendent of the French Water Dog, the Barbet. There are various reports in French history of a similar dog and the Poodle gained popularity and remains popular in France today.  

Fast forward to the early 20th Century and we see the Poodle gaining attention out of a traditional working dog arena. A circus career beckoned for this intelligent, athletic, and easily trained dog where audiences were delighted by an array of tricks and stunts. In addition, people began to seek Poodles as ideal companion dogs and as was the trend at the time for small lap dogs the Miniature Poodle began to emerge.

The Poodle has gone from strength to strength and become popular worldwide. The rise of desire for “Doodle dogs”, crossbreeds with a Poodle parentage has increased demand for quality purebred Poodles to pass on optimum genes to their offspring.

Portuguese Water Dog Origins

No surprises here, the Portuguese Water Dog originated in Portugal. These dogs certainly live up to their title. The Portuguese name of “cão de água” is a literal translation to “dog of water”. A fisherman’s best friend, these dogs were initially developed as a working breed capable of impressive feats such as bounding overboard to herd fish into nets and dive below the ocean to retrieve broken equipment.

Unfortunately, as the Portuguese fishing industry began to decline in the early 20th Century so did the demand for the breed, and numbers dwindled.  Fortunately for the Portuguese Water Dog, they attracted the attention of a wealthy shipping magnate and dog lover, Dr. Vasco Besuade in 1934 and he embarked on a crusade to secure some dogs and develop a breeding program.  They eventually made it to the UK and American shores in 1954 and 1958 respectively. Numbers remained low though and reached a crisis point in 1970 where they bordered on extinction.

This rarity proved to be the Portuguese Water Dog’s savior as it attracted widespread attention as one of the rarest breeds in the world. Numbers increased significantly in the 1990s and they have remained popular since however are still significantly less in number than the Poodle.

Colors, Coat Type and Maintenance

Anecdotally many Portuguese Water Dog owners will advise that on at least one occasion their pup has been mistaken for a Poodle or even some of the larger Doodle Cross Breeds. This tends to arise from the recognizable curly coat shared by Poodle and Portuguese Water Dog, but their coats actually have certain differences.

Poodle Coat Type

Adult Poodles have a single coat that is dense and comprises of tight curls that are naturally coarse.

The Poodle colour options can feel endless with multiple solid colors and also well-developed subtypes to explain the various combinations of mixed coats which may occur. In terms of solid color the Poodle comes in:

  • Black
  • White
  • Cream
  • Apricot
  • Red
  • Café Au Lait
  • Silver Beige
  • Brown/Chocolate
  • Blue
  • Silver/Grey

There are a plethora of different variations of mixed color patterns arising from crossing different colored parentage. In terms of solid color, black is the most popular variation with apricots and blues being rarer.

All Poodle coats need regular at-home brushing as well as regular trips to the groomers to prevent their coats from developing painful matting. Dependent on the success of the home brushing routine it may be a trip to the groomers every 6 to 8 weeks. If home brushing is not effective enough it may be a trip to the groomers as frequently as every three weeks to keep a coat trimmed short and free from matting.

Many Poodle owners take great pride in maintaining their dog’s coats. So much so that a specific “Poodle Cut” is recognized by groomers and favored by those who feel it enhances the natural elegance of the breed. There are variations even within the subdivision of “Poodle Cut” but key characteristics include a shaved muzzle, feet, base of the tail, and varying sections of the hind quarts with a preference of a rounded pompom style tail.

Portuguese Water Dog Coat Type

The Portuguese Water Dog has a single-layered coat, which results in minimal shedding. There are two coat types.

  • Curly: Tight curls which are cylindrical and densely packed
  • Wavy: Softer wavier coat which falls gently.

In most dogs, there will be a degree of mixed coat pattern with a common combination being tight curls over the body but wavy over tails and ears.

In the color department, there is less variation than their Poodle counterparts. Portuguese Water Dog’s come in:

  • Black
  • White
  • Various shades of brown
  • Black with white
  • Brown with white

Purely white coats are rare with black and black with white markings being more common.

Portuguese Water Dogs have fast-growing coats and will need regular brushing two to three times a week to prevent matting from occurring. Generally, they will require a trip to the groomers to maintain a shorter coat monthly.

Perhaps the most striking difference in the coat appearance of the Portuguese Water Dog and the Poodle is when it comes down to the preference of some owners to keep them in a “lion cut”. In this striking grooming option, the hindquarters, muzzle, and base of the tail are shaved. The rest of the dog is left shaggy and approximately a third of the tail hair left long and flagged.

This would have been the traditional cut of the Portuguese Water Dog as the bulk of the coat around the chest protected vital organs from sudden shock in entering cold water, while the shaved hindquarter decreased resistance and drag when using the powerful back legs and rudder-like tail to propel them through the water.

More recently owners may choose instead to adopt an all-over “retriever cut” with an even 1 inch cut over the whole body for ease of grooming and coat management.

Size Differences

One of the key areas where these two breeds differ is in size or rather a size range. The Poodle has a vast range as a result of coming in three variations, Standard, Miniature, and Toy whereas the Portuguese Water Dog does not.

Poodle Size

The Poodle has been refined over centuries of selective breeding to offer the wide variation in color and size that we see today. Here is a table of the general sizes and weights to be expected in different Poodle breed categories.

Standard Poodle15” to 26”40lbs to 70lbs
Miniature Poodle10” to 15”10lbs to 15lbs
Toy PoodleUp to 10”4lbs to 9lbs

Portuguese Water Dog Size

Conversely, there is only one category of Portuguese Water Dog Size. The height and weight would suggest the Standard Poodle as the closest comparison.

Portuguese Water Dog17” to 23”35 to 60lbs


Both these breeds are favored for their hefty dose of intelligence which made them so invaluable in their working dog hay day. But what other components make up these individual breeds’ personalities? Read on to find out how they differ and where they have some striking similarities.

Poodle Temperament

Ask a Poodle owner to describe their pup and time and time again the words loyal, alert, intelligent, active, and mischievous will be heard.  Their intelligence lends itself extremely well to training and they thrive in being at the center of active households. If properly socialized they are known to live comfortably with other animals.

They are a common family pet choice and often their high energy, active streak means they may align themselves with younger members of a household. Sometimes mistaken for aloof due to their elegant appearance they often harbor a goofy side meaning they love to play. They are affectionate with their family and will be alert to their surroundings often sounding a warning bark at the sight of a stranger.

Portuguese Water Dog Temperament

The temperament of the Poodle has been honed through countless rounds of breeding. As the Portuguese Water Dog has not experienced this in the same volume, they can be a little bit more of a lucky dip. The common trait of intelligence they have in spades but in some, they can also have seriously strong will while others may be so laid back, they are horizontal. Most fall somewhere on that spectrum. Training and early socialization also are key to having a well-rounded Portuguese Water Dog.

Like the Poodle they are reported to do well as family pets getting on with children and other animals alike. They will do well in any environment where they are not left on their own and have ample opportunities for exercise. A happy Portuguese Water Dog will repay his owners with a fun-loving and loyal disposition.

Exercise Needs

Neither of these breeds can even remotely be considered couch potatoes. While the Miniature and Toy variations of the Poodle may need slightly less when considering the Portuguese Water Dog against a Standard Poodle you best prepare to cover some miles.

Poodle Exercise Requirements

All Poodles are in the moderate to high energy range and will need daily physical exercise ideally supplemented with some mentally enriching games or training to challenge their brains too.  The key difference between the Poodle and Portuguese Water Dog is that the size variations of the Poodle mean people who cannot commit to longer daily walks may consider a smaller breed of Poodle.

Here are some general guides of exercise requirements for the different sizes based on a healthy adult dog. Puppy’s and some senior dogs will require less. These are only listed as a guide and some will tolerate and need much greater daily activity to meet their needs.

Poodle TypeDaily Exercise
StandardAt least 60 minutes a day covering between 2 and 4 miles
Miniature30 to 50 minutes a day covering between 1 and 3 miles
Toy20 to 40 minutes a day covering between 0.5 and 2 miles.

Portuguese Water Dog Exercise Requirements

Much like the Standard Poodle of equivalent size, the Portuguese Water Dog will need a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise. They are noted as great jogging companions and will welcome any opportunity to go for a swim. Just like the Poodle, if they are not adequately stimulated, they can quickly become destructive with a tendency to chew.

Feeding Requirements

The feeding requirements of the smaller Toy and Miniature Poodle are understandably less given their smaller size.  The Standard Poodle and Portuguese Water Dog in fact have very similar feeding requirements which are not unexpected given the similar weight, heights, and working dog history.

For example, an adult Standard Poodle and a Portuguese Water Dog of 55lbs will need somewhere in the region of 1200 to 1300kcal per day. Roughly speaking this would translate to between 2.5 and 3.5 cups of high-quality dog food per day.

Health Considerations

As with any dog, both breeds can have a predisposition to certain hereditary health conditions. Prospective owners should be prepared to do their homework and potentially pay a higher price for a puppy of either breed which demonstrates good parentage.

Poodle Health

Poodles are favored as an overall healthy breed however some conditions are more prevalent. Poodles do have a greater number of ailments that they may experience when compared with the Portuguese Water Dog. This is in part due to the long-standing and prolific breeding of Poodles which has not always been of the highest standard.

Some of the conditions that Poodle’s can be pre-disposed to are outlined below:

  • Gastric Dilatation-Volus (Bloat)
  • Cushings Disease
  • Legg-Perthes Disease
  • Patellar Luxation
  • Epilepsy
  • Optic Nerve Hypoplasia
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Addison’s Disease
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidsim
  • Sebaceous Adentis
  • Von Willebrand’s Disease

Portuguese Water Dog Health

Having not been subject to such extensive breeding practices over the years, the list of health complaints of the Portuguese Water Dog is lesser.

They share some commonalities with the Poodle as they have a shared predisposition to both Hip Dysplasia and Progressive Retinal Atrophy. The Portuguese Water Dog also has other conditions to consider such as Juvenile Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Storage Disease.

Cost Comparison

There are so many factors that influence the price to purchase a dog such as changing levels of breed popularity and demand for certain colors and genders. Area and parental history/pedigree will also factor in the price.

In general, the Portuguese Water Dog would be expected to be the costlier option. This is likely a result of the relative rarity of the breed although it is continuing to increase in popularity.

In Conclusion

In summary, both the Portuguese Water Dog and the Poodle lend themselves to being great pets for both active individuals and families. Both breeds portray intelligence that lends itself to them being keen learners who thrive on training. Both require a regular grooming schedule and plenty of exercise to keep them happy and healthy.

The Poodle does have a greater array of coat colors so if your heart is set on apricot that decision is made. Conversely, if you seek something just a little bit rarer and are willing to pay a little more then a Portuguese Water Dog may be the one for you.