FAQ...So you want a water dog...what’s next?

Please note that all PWD breeders and all PWD litters are not equal!  Lately, there have been a disturbing number of PWD litters being bred where the parents are under age, and/or without ANY health testing, and/or one or both parents are on AKC Limited registration (a registration that denotes the sire and dam are not to be bred).  The “breeders” of these litters have not put any thought into the potential health issues lurking in every pedigree.  The quality of the puppy you get and the support you receive is directly correlated to the quality of the sire and dam used and the method by which the breeder raises, socializes, and places the puppies.  Buyer Beware!!!

Below is a general list of questions and answers about what to expect when looking for a PWD for your family.

How long will it take me to find a PWD for my family?  It depends, to simply find a PWD puppy will take between one and six month.  The breed is not that rare anymore, though it is certainly not as common as a Labrador Retriever which has approximately 120,000 puppies registered with the AKC each year.    There are now over 1,500 PWD puppies registered each year.  The bigger question is how long will it take to find the RIGHT PWD and the RIGHT breeder!  That could take anywhere from a few months to a couple years!

How do I find a Portuguese Water Dog breeder?  There are a few ways to connect with and meet breeders.  My first suggestion is to go to the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA) website (www.pwdca.org).  You will find lots of great information on the breed as well as well you will be able to view puppy information.  There is also PWDCA breeder referral.  The breeder list has names of breeders who have submitted information and paid a fee to be included on the list.  While the list is a good starting point it is important to recognize that the breeders on the list are in no way endorsed by the PWDCA.  There are many wonderful breeders who chose not to participate on the PWDCA breeder referral.  It is still very much up to you to ask the pertinent questions to ascertain if a breeder is one you would feel comfortable working with.  Another way to find out more about the PWD is to go to a dog show.  Dog shows are a good opportunity to see quite a few dogs, most dog shows have between 5 and 20 PWDs entered.  Lastly, if you make a connection with a breeder, they’ll often refer you to someone they know who may be geographically closer to you or may have puppies available.  Please note that just because you find a breeder’s name on a list or are referred to them by another PWD breeder it is still your responsibility to do your homework!

How do I know if a breeder is reputable?  A good breeder should be a member of the national breed club.  For PWDs that is the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America.  They may also be a member of a local breed or all-breed club.  They should be involved in some way in the sport of dogs, showing in conformation, obedience, agility, tracking, water work, etc.  They should be happy to allow you to tour their home and kennel and to introduce you to their dogs.  They should be able to explain the various health issues and be willing to show you the documented (or send you to a website to view) health testing in their dogs.   Go with your gut feeling....if something doesn’t feel right...move on!  Avoid breeders who readily speak ill of other PWDCA member breeders.  Avoid a breeder who is willing to ship a puppy of YOUR choice (based on photos and reservations) without spending the time to speak to you about the PWD temperament, and health. 

How many litters a year does your average breeder have? Most breeders average one or two litters a year.  Some, one every two to three years, while others may have four, five, or even more a year!  When a good breeder has a litter their lives change drastically.  For the first couple weeks after the pups are born they are rarely able to leave the house so they can keep a close eye on the dam (mother) and her pups.  For the next couple weeks a breeder’s job is a bit easier.  The pups are a bit hardier and mom takes care of their every need.  From that point on the breeder is hard at work caring for and socializing the pups.  This includes exposing the pups to different surfaces, noises, situations, and people.  As well, it is important that each pup get plenty of individual time.  During the 8 to 10 weeks that pups are kept, the breeders outside activities are vastly limited.  Besides caring for the dam and the pups, lots of time is spent talking to people on the phone about the breed, and interviewing prospective homes.   So as you can see the average breeder dedicates two to three months to a litter (besides the lifelong commitment).   If a breeder has many litters a year they are not necessarily to be avoided.  As well, if a breeder has many litters it may be difficult for them to offer you follow up assistance and advice.  Surely each situation, and breeder is unique.  Go with your gut feeling....if something doesn’t feel right...move on!

This is the breeder’s first litter should I consider getting a puppy from them? It depends, every breeder has to have their first litter!  If the breeder seems knowledgable about the breed and breeding, has done the health testing, is a member of the PWDCA, AND has a good mentor (who is a long time PWD breeder, and is usually from whom the new breeder got their bitch from), and has the best interest of the breed in mind, they may have the perfect pup for you.  If the person is having a litter “to make their money back” or to “teach their children about birth”, or because their dog is “just the best” I would avoid getting a puppy from them.  Remember, your dog’s breeder is your best resource when it comes to answers about health or behavioral issues you may have with your puppy.  If the breeder is not knowledgable, how can they help you?

I was able to meet the Dam (Mother) but not the Sire (Father), is it customary to meet both? Most breeders use a stud dog that does not belong to them, so unless they have used a local sire, or one owned by (and living with) them, you should not expect to meet the sire.  In most situations you should expect to meet the dam.  I would be concerned if the breeder owned both Sire and Dam and seemed to breed them together over and over. 

How much should I expect to pay for a PWD puppy? Most breeders charge between $2500 and $3500 for a quality PWD puppy.  The average in New England is $3000.  A $2500 pup is not necessarily inferior to a $3500 pup and conversely, a $3500 pup is not necessarily superior to a $2500 pup.  Most breeders charge the same price for every puppy, while others price according to “show” or “pet” quality.  The price of a puppy should NEVER be the result of what color, coat type (Wavy or Curly) or what markings a puppy has. 

What if I want a puppy of a specific color, coat type, markings, or gender?  Certainly, each person is welcome to have a preference for color, markings, coat type, and gender, just realize that these preferences could greatly lengthen the time it takes to locate a puppy.  A good breeder is going to try and match the right puppy up to the right home, regardless of those other factors.  Coat colors or markings should never change the price of a puppy. 

Why does the breeder choose the puppy for me?  A good breeder has spent the last 8 to 10 weeks getting to know the puppies.  Even within a single litter, temperament can vary from laid back to high drive.  The breeder is looking to put the right puppy in the right home based upon what temperament would be most suitable for each family.  A family with young children would not be suitable for a dog with a dominant personality, just as a family searching for an obedience or agility prospect would not want a laid back cautious temperament.  Some breeders use an outside person to temperament test or evaluate the litter for show/breeding prospects, while others, who have more experience, may do this themselves.  Most breeders will listen to your preferences, and if possible they will attempt to place a puppy of your choice with your family.  The most important thing to remember is “It is not the outside of the dog that is important, it is the temperament that matters most”. 

What makes a dog show quality or pet quality? The difference between show and pet quality can be very minimal.  A low tail set, a lighter eye, smaller bone, misaligned teeth, or a less then perfect shoulder or rear angles.  An average litter can expect to have a couple show dogs, and the remainder quality pets.  An “All Show Quality” litter is rare.  Please keep in mind what one breeder may consider show quality, another breeder may feel is pet quality, and vice versa. 

The breeder wants me to show my puppy.  What does that involve?  First, unless you truly think you are interested in showing and understand the requirements, do not promise the breeder (or sign a contract requiring showing) you will do so.   The cost of showing a dog to his championship using a professional handler can range from $3000 to $10,000 or more.   While your dog is being shown you must make every effort to keep your dog in good condition.  He must be in good weight and muscle and you must take special care with his hair so that it does not become matted or damaged.  The better condition your dog is in, the better trained he is, the quicker he will finish his championship.  Plan on your dog being away most weekends for a few months.  If your handler lives far away then your dog must stay with him for the duration of time to finish his championship.  If a breeder promises you a puppy and requires it to be shown, think long and hard before agreeing to do so.  If it is not something you are interested in, explain that to the breeder and move on.  Don’t make a promise you are not sure you can keep.  Many breeders will place a show potential puppy in your home if you are possibly interested in showing, then if you change your mind you are not required to show the dog to his championship.  A good breeder should be there to guide you.  Do not make the decision to take a show puppy as the breeder dangles that puppy in front of you!   This should not be a last minute high pressure situation. 

I want a female and the breeder wants me to breed her.  What should I do? If you are not interested in having anything more then a great family pet, do not agree to breeding your female.  If the breeder insists, move on to another breeder.  Do not make a decision to do something as involved as breeding while a puppy is being dangled in front of you.  It is hard to say no when a cute puppy is being shown to you.  Breeding takes a lot of time and responsibility (whether the bitch will have the puppies at your home or the breeders) so this decision should not be taken lightly.  Never make a promise to breed unless you are 100% certain you can do it!

Why do some breeders require a deposit?  Some breeders use a deposit as a measure of how committed you are to getting a puppy from them.  Others use it to tie you to them so that you won’t look any further for a dog.  What most people don’t realize is that by giving a deposit, the breeder is not necessarily guaranteeing you a puppy.  Some breeders take a deposit before a litter is even born, thus they have no idea how many puppies they will have.  Before giving a deposit you should always find out what a deposit implies. If you change your mind is the deposit returned? If the breeder doesn’t have a puppy they deam suitable. is your deposit returned?  Many breeders require a deposit, others don’t.  Just find out what the deposit means. 


Kris Cofiell


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A humorous video about working with pushy breeders. 

Why do some breeders require an in-person visit?  Just as much as a breeder should want to meet you, you should want to meet them, their dogs, and see where the puppies are raised.  The breeder wants to meet you and your family to make sure that you understand what the breed is about.  To see if your wants and needs are realistic as far as what a PWD is in energy, temperament, and grooming requirements.  They want to know what type of pup would best suit your family.  Please remember, just as they are interviewing you, you should be interviewing them!  Make sure their dogs are clean, happy, and healthy.  That they are forthright with information and seem knowledgeable about the breed.  Most breeders, whether they have an upcoming litter or not should be happy to have you over at a mutually convenient time to learn more about the breed.  Please remember this is not a “pet store” with hours of operation.  Most breeders have family, work, and many other events that take up their days.  

I just want a dog, why does all this health testing matter to me? Because, you want the best chance of having a healthy pet!  Through the proper use of genetic testing a responsible breeder can guarantee that your puppy will not be affected by PRCD PRA, JDCM, and GM-1.  As well, they can significantly cut down the chance (though not eliminate) of having Hip Dysplasia.  A responsible breeder uses available testing and pedigree research in hopes of producing happy, healthy dogs. 

What is Limited Registration? Limited Registration is an option provided by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in an effort to help breeders enforce spay/neuter contracts.  A dog that is placed on limited registration is not to be used for breeding.  Any puppies produced by this dog will not be registered by the AKC.  Most breeders use limited registration for any puppy being sold as a pet.  If at a later point the new owner decides they may be interested in show and/or breeding their water dog, the breeder MAY reverse the limited registration and grant full registration.  Please note that dogs on limited registration can do ALL performance events (Agility, Obedience, Water Work, etc.).

I work away from home 8 hours a day.  Can I still get a puppy?  Yes, as long as you make some changes to your schedule when your puppy is young.  I would suggest making arrangements to go home at lunchtime, or if that is not possible hire a dog walker to come in mid-day.  You must also adjust your schedule to make real time for you and your puppy for training, playing, and socialization. 

Why do so many breeders require a fenced yard?  Because a fully fenced (at least 5 foot) in yard is a safe yard!  PWDs are very curious, if you turn your back for just a second they have gone off exploring.  Some breeders will make an exception if you use invisible fencing (not optimal) or make other arrangements. 

Why does the breeder require me to sign a contract? Most breeders place their puppies on a written contract.  This contract is an agreement between you and the breeder.  Some breeders may have a three or four page contract while others may use a simple one page contract.  Please read the contract fully and ask questions.  The contract is really as good and honest as the people signing it.  Items in a good contract may include health guarantees, the requirement of spaying/neutering (a specific age may be specified), and the requirement that the puppy be returned to the breeder if they are unable to keep it.  A show breeding contract should be much more involved. 

In conclusion, the best way to find the right breeder and right puppy is to do your research, meet and speak to lots of different breeders, and pet owners, and be open and honest about what your family wants in a puppy and what your lifestyle is like.  There are many truly great PWD breeders out there.  The responsibility lies with you to make that determination.  Take your time.  Hopefully your PWD will be a loved member of your family for the next 12 - 14 years.