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(Source for photo)

This dog is a Portuguese water dog.



It’s a Portuguese water dog.

But I thought they had poodle-type coats.

Well, some do. This one is an “improperly coated” Portuguese water dog.

What’s improper about them?

Portuguese water dogs have two correct coats. One is wavy, and one is curled (like a poodle). Both are constantly growing coats, just as you’d find on poodles and other water dogs.

This particular dog has a coat that is more like a flat-coated retriever– more like a “normal” long-haired dog.

I know this particular query got people guessing in all different direction. Most people thought it was some kind of gun dog, but Christopher and Sam eventually figured it out.

The famous person who owns one is President Obama. However, his dog is of a “proper” coat, but Bo is the same color as this dog.


A dog with an improper coat cannot be shown. However, the correct coat appears to be in some way dominant to the improper coat, which means that correctly-coated Portuguese water dogs can occasionally produce puppies with these faulty pelts.

Where this coat comes from is open to conjecture. Portuguese water dogs almost went extinct. They were revived through outcrossing with the Spanish water dog (which is actually a herding breed that moonlights as a water dog). It is likely that other breeds were mixed in– some of which may have been long-haired dogs.

However, it is possible that dogs of the typical long-haired type always existed in the Iberian water dog population. I will get to some reasons for why this might be possible later on.

For years Portuguese water dog breeders have been trying to breed away from this coat. Now, no one breeds the improperly coated dogs. That is a given.  But this coat remains persistent in the Portuguese water dog gene pool.

A few months ago I was alerted to the discovery of the genes that determine what kind of coat a dog has. It turns out that it is just variation on three genes that determines the coat type.

Once that was figured out, it wasn’t long before a test was developed to determine whether a Portuguese water dog with a normal coat is carrying the genes for an improper coat. In fact, the test is based upon the same research that found the genes responsible from the coat type. (I have not looked it closely, but it seems to me that they are using an SNP chip.)

What is this going to mean for Portuguese water dogs?

Well, it means that the breeders have a tool  that will allow them to cull away from this faulty coat.

The problem is Portuguese water dogs have genetic diversity issues.

In the 1980’s, it was listed as the rarest breed on earth. They had to be saved, as I wrote earlier, through outcrossing with Spanish water dogs. The dogs do have some real issues with genetic diversity and genetic disorders. The breed club, to its credit, has a very nicely funded and pro-active health foundation to really understand these disorders.

The problem is that now that the breeders can cull dogs carrying this coat, it means that the genetic diversity of this breed is probably going to get even more truncated. Potentially, it would could eliminate the improper coat in just a few generations.

But because they have eliminated carriers of that coat from the gene pool,  they will have lost a part of the gene pool. It means fewer unrelated dogs from which a breeder can choose to outcross. It means a greater chance in bad recessive genes coming together.

Of course, it doesn’t have to happen this way. It is possible that some breeders will tolerated the odd improper coat in their lines just to hold onto some good genes. My guess is that this is very likely. The club is very clear on keeping carriers in breeding programs.

After all, white boxers are a byproduct of breeding for the much sought-after flashy markings for the show wrong. Predominantly white boxers are often pilloried in Boxer circles, but if they would stop breeding for flashy markings, they would eliminate the white coloration entirely.

My other hunch is that Portuguese water dog fanciers tend to be better informed about genetic issues. Maybe the breeders will tolerate the occasional appearance of a retrieverish Portuguese water dog in their litters just to hold onto some genetic diversity.


We’ll have to wait and see. It’s up to the Portuguese water dog fancy right now.

Right now the club is very clear in telling its members not to cut out carriers of improper coat from the breeding programs, but I wonder if people will listen. Just knowing that you have the ability to produce this coat is a powerful piece of information. I don’t know if people are going to be thinking of the big picture enough to not cull carriers. I’d like to think they are, but my own niggling suspicions are that the breeders will cull carriers.

Maybe President Obama needs to weigh in on this issue (LOL).


Now, as I noted earlier, there is a possibility that the long-haired genes were always in the Iberian water dogs.

My evidence comes from a somewhat unusual inference.

The Portuguese water dog is probably an ancestor of the St. John’s water dog. Canadian author and St. John’s water dog lover Farley Mowat believed he had traced the origins of his beloved Albert to the dogs of Iberia.

If you look at these last two St. John’s water dogs, you can see some similarities with the improperly-coated Portuguese water dog in the photo at the top of this post:

The dogs are both black and white, and historically, the St. John’s breed came in liver, as do some Portuguese water dogs.

The Portuguese fishing fleet was among the first to fish the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Indeed, the name for Labrador (the place) actually comes from a Portuguese explorer named João Fernandes.  The Portuguese king gave him the title of “Lavrador” over the lands he discovered, which included Newfoundland and that place that became known as Labrador.

Portuguese water dogs were used to retrieve nets and lines from the sea, exactly as the St. John’s breed did. Indeed, the Potuguese water dogs were used as far north as Iceland, which means that they were very good cold water dogs.

Some of these dogs likely were left behind in Newfoundland, where they lost their poodle-type coats. Perhaps this happened due to cross-breeding. Perhaps it was due to natural selection.

But we do know that St. John’s water dogs that were being used on Newfoundland were mostly smooth-haired dogs– something like modern Labradors.

However, it is also likely that there were long-haired dogs of this type. I have a depiction of one:

This dog is listed in a mid-nineteenth century text as a “St. John’s Labrador.” It is long-haired.  I don’t think  it is a setter cross. The same text depicts as setter-retriever cross that has far less shaggy hair than this dogs does.

It seems to me that the “St. John’s Labrador” is the long-haired variant of the St.John’s water dog.  The long-haired dogs probably were more likely to be sold to English fishermen and traders. Short-haired animals were much more preferred in hunting game and working on fishing boats. They were more streamlined in the water, and they didn’t get bogged down with ice and frost when working in frigid conditions.

As someone who knows what happens to golden retrievers in the snow, I can say that this is not an idle concern. These dogs collect snowballs.

Take a look at the “St. John’s Labrador.”

Doesn’t it look a lot like the improperly-coated Portuguese water dog?

Perhaps these improperly-coated dogs were always part of the Portuguese water dog gene pool.

Perhaps they are the link between the St. John’s water dogs and the retrievers and the Iberian water dogs?

Portuguese fishermen may not have liked these dogs with improper coats, so they left them at Newfoundland or traded them to fishermen from other nations. And is from these dogs that the mostly smooth-haired St. John’s breed developed.


See Earlier Posts and Links:


I am intrigued that Mowat has an unpublished manuscript about these water dogs and his beloved Albert. I wish he would publish it, but I don’t think it is very likely.


Hat tip to Pai for alerting me to the test for improper coat. The historical part of this post has been in me for a while, but I have had a hard time finding good photos of Portuguese water dogs with improper coat.

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goldendoodle white

For the past five or ten years, a new fad dog has appeared on the scene.

I first heard of them in Bruce Fogle’s Encyclopedia of the Dog. That book had a section on what are now called “designer dogs.” Among them was a specially bred guide dog called a “Labradoodle.” It turns out that an Australian guide dog agency wanted to produced a guide dog that was hypoallergenic (which, of course, don’t exist).

Now, they could have used standard poodles, but I’m sure they already had a specially bred Labrador line for this work. Add a little standard poodle, the argument went, and you’d create a super guide dog that would not bother the visually impaired who also had allergies to dogs. (Today, there is actually a particular strain called an “Australian Labradoodle” that has other breeds crossed into it.)

Of course, it didn’t take long for people to start cross-breeding Labs and standard poodles in this country. And then it was just a slight jump to start crossing goldens and poodles. Because a lot of working strain goldens were deemed “pet quality,” I’m sure that lots of them wound up in the doodle breeding programs.  That was not a very good thing for working strain goldens, which already have some issues with genetic diversity.  If you want to know where many of the working-type goldens went, I’d look no further than the goldendoodles.

These dogs have been popular for a time, and because too many of them have been bred by people who have very little concern for health, the genetic conditions of both goldens and poodles have popped up in these dogs. Aggression issues that pop up in goldens also exist in goldendoodles.

In the next few years, the market for doodles is likely to get saturated. I would say that in the next ten years, there won’t be as many doodles as there are now. They are likely to follow the cock-a-poo or cockerpoo, which was the first “designer dog.” The fad will slowly fade, and the new “in” dog will be something else.

But what will happen to the lines of retriever that disappeared into the doodles?

Well, they will be gone.

I am not opposed to cross-breeding these dogs to make pets.

However, these dogs were never going to replace the purebred dogs.

I don’t think this fad has that much staying power.

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