As the name denotes, the Portuguese Water Dog developed in Portugal and is known as Cao De Agua (pronounced Kown-d'ahgwa), "dog of the water".
The breed developed many centuries ago as seafaring working dogs and predates the Poodle. The Portuguese fishermen kept these dogs as a working part of their crews and paid them wages just as their human crewmates were paid. The Water Dogs would act as couriers, carrying messages between ships and from ship to shore, and would dive into the sea to retrieve broken fishing nets and equipment that had gone overboard. Often they would have to dive under water to retrieve submerged articles. The Portuguese Water Dog was a loyal fisherman's companion and alert guard. Modern technology and the radio caused the near extinction of this breed.
The breed first came to the United States in the late 1960's. In the early 1970's, there were only 25 known Portuguese Water Dogs in the world. Because of dedicated breeders, by 1981 there were over 500 dogs in the United States. Today, many thousand Portuguese Water Dogs live in the U.S. and around the world. The breed, while not common, is no longer rare nor in danger of extinction.
The Portuguese Water Dog was admitted to the American Kennel Club's Miscellaneous Class in 1981 and became eligible to compete in the AKC Working Group in 1984.