Posts Tagged ‘portuguese water dog’

The Obamas got a new Portuguese water dog! This is Sunny:



Bo (with the white markings) and Sunny:

bo and sunny

Yeah. I’m a Democrat.

Yeah. I like dogs.

No need to get political.

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This dog is a Portuguese water with an “improper coat.” Those who have bred goldendooles know that it is possible to produce something very similar when breeding two goldendoodles together. The trait is an obvious recessive.

Portuguese water dogs with “proper” coats have the classic poodle or barbet-type coat.

However, this particular dog  (“Asta”) was used to create a genetic test for the trait. She just happened to belong to a geneticist, who bred her to a normal male who had been known to produce puppies with this coat type.

The litter produced two puppies with improper coat, and through examining the DNA of these puppies and other Portuguese water dogs of both coat types, the researchers were able to find the actual genetic basis associated with this coat. Through this discovery, a genetic test for the coat was developed, so that breeders could know which dogs carried the recessive improper coat.

Now, this is somewhat problematic.

All PWD alive today descend from 25 founders.

To cull a dog from the gene pool just because it possess this recessive trait is not the best thing for the population structure of this breed.

Further, the gene that controls this recessive trait is an important regulatory gene, and there are 30 other genes that lie in close proximity to it. One research scientist warned about using this genetic test to select against the trait:  “Removing this variant of the gene from the breeding population would remove a tremendous amount of genetic diversity in the breed. This would be very dangerous.”

But we now have the genetic test for the trait.  No one wants to produce these dogs because they shed as normal dogs do. They don’t look like classic PWD, and they certainly don’t conform to the standard. If anything, they clearly show some relationship between the poodle-type water dogs and the retrievers– they look like smaller St. John’s water dogs with long hair. No purebred dog breeder wants his or her breed to remind anyone of their target breed’s possible or imagined relationship to another breed.

But if you breed from good standard PWD that carry the trait, you will produce these puppies.

So what is to stop breeders from culling dogs that carry this trait?


Unless the improper coat becomes part of the accepted PWD standard, chances are very high that enough breeders will stop using carriers to cause real problems in the breed.

Of course, not all breeders are going to test for improper coat, but within this breed, there is very proactive movement to produce healthy dogs. They do their genetic tests and health screenings.

But that could be a blessing, for it is possible that within the breed at large, there are enough educated people around to understand why one must breed from carriers and why one must tolerate the odd puppy that looks like a flat-coated retriever or border collie.

However, I still think may take standardizing the improper coat to prevent possible damages that might result from breeders making a mad dash away from breeding carriers.

The carriers are vital to the long-term viability of this breed.

This isn’t a health condition. This is a cosmetic issue.

And surely we’re intelligent enough to understand that you cannot sacrifice the whole health and viability of another breed for something that superficial.

This breed could be doomed by our knowledge.

It can only be saved by having wisdom.

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The value of Bo Obama, the president’s Portuguese water dog, has been revealed.

The “rescue” dog is valued a$1,600. That is cheap for a Portuguese water dog, but if you got one from a rescue organization or from a shelter, it wouldn’t cost that much.

Now, I’ve never bought the line that this dog was a rescue. This dog was bred, raised, and trained for the president. Bo came is a nearly grown pup, which was a good cover against the continuous whining from the people who were demanding that the president had to adopt a dog.

I don’t know of anyone else who has had their rescues “appraised,” but my guess is they haven’t been valued at anywhere near that sum.

This dog’s status as a rescue should be considered a bit dubious.  The story behind Bo is that he was kept by a family, who then returned him to the breeder. That’s a plausible story, but I don’t think we can call this dog a rescue.

He’s a breeder return, not a rescue.

It doesn’t bother me that much, but it will bother some people.

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Last St. John's water dogs

There are two often postulated theories about the origin of the St. John’s water dog, and I just don’t think it’s probable.

1. Richard Wolters believed they were derived from the black St. Hubert hound. He claims that the St. Hubert hounds were used to retrieve from a from Turberville that says the St. Hubert hounds were commonly “blacke” and used for finding “farre straggled” game. I’m surprised Wolters latched onto that theory, because he apparently didn’t know that St. Hubert’s hound is what was called a “lymer.” Lymers were used to track wounded game, which is actually one theory about how the bloodhound got its name. It actually trailed blood spoor.  Wolters thought that this was retrieving. It’s not.

2. Another theory goes that these dogs are derived from the French matin dog. A matin is an extinct dog that had features of the greyhound and mastiff– something like a Great Dane. It also was probably derived from the alaunt veantre. It is not and never has been a water dog. As far as I know it didn’t retrieve. Not a very good candidate. When I first read about this theory, I had just read a description of the French matin.  I don’t remember who came up with this theory, but the water dogs are no more likely to have been derived from this dog than they are from pekes or Afghan hounds.

The best and most logical theory is that these dogs are very closely related to the poodle type. Yes, even the big Newfoundland dogs most likely originally derived from something like a poodle. The most likely candidates are the Portuguese water dogs, Spanish water dogs, and the English rough water dog. These may have been interbred with the collie-types, setter and pointer types, water spaniels, and the Cao de Castro Laboreiro or something very similar to it. It is also possible that the large Arctic spitz from Labrador called the Labrador husky played a role. And it is very likely that some form of mastiff, probably the English mastiff, played a role in developing the larger strain of Newfoundland that was used mostly for hauling loads.

I am skeptical that the Great Pyrenees or its closer relatives played much of role, simply because the dogs lived deep in the mountains, far away from the coastal Basques who were visiting Newfoundland. And while a smaller guard dog, like a Cao de Castro Laboreiro, might be of some utility, a big one would be too costly in terms of the amount of food it would need to survive. Bringing a livestock guardian dog of that size across the Atlantic just to use as a watch dog simply wouldn’t have been economical, and these dogs were more valuable in the Pyrenees as flock guardians.

The best theory as to why these dogs lost their poodle type coat can be found here. And evidence of poodle-type water dogs in Newfoundland in the early days can be found here.

Farley Mowat traced his St. John’s water dog’s ancestry to the poodle-type dogs. In fact, he had reason to believe that they were related to the Portuguese water dog, which is often black with white markings– often exactly the same sort of white markings than were found on the St. John’s water dogs. It also occasionally has puppies that have coats a bit like a flat-coated retriever, which then would be very easily developed into a smooth-coated water dog. The Portuguese water dog’s temperament is very similar to that of a retriever. They are very friendly and eager to please. And many have very strong retrieving instincts.

Now, Mowat also traced the poodle-type dog’s origins all the way back to Russia. Now, here I disagree but only slightly. I think Central Asia is where they actually came from. The puli is a relative of this type and is a good example of what these dogs originally were. They are were herding dogs.  I can forgive Mowat, though, for at this time, most of Central Asia was under the control of Soviet Union.

I don’t know where people get these theories. I think it may be disconcerting for poodle-haters to accept that these all of their hunting dogs related to dogs of this type. They have be derived from hounds or mastiffs. In the case of these St. John’s water dogs and the Newfoundland, it is very common for people to hold onto the tired old story that Leif Ericsson brought them over. How these dogs managed to survive on their own for the nearly 500 years before the modern period of European colonization is a good question. They would have had to have survived on their own, because the Beothuks didn’t keep dogs.

Whatever, the reason, the fact that Portuguese water dogs are marked so similarly to the St. John’s water dog and posses the playfulness, retrieving instincts, and strong swimming ability associated with these ancestors of the retrievers means that we should look at them more closely. The Portuguese used the Grand Banks extensively until the end of the sixteenth century. The Portuguese, Spanish and French basques, and the English used Newfoundland as a base for fishing, and it is very likely that the water dogs from Portugal became common on the island, even after their original owners gave up on the fishery. Thus, the Portuguese water dog really should be carefully considered as a forebear of the St. John’s water dog, the Newfoundland, and the retrievers.

That Portuguese water dogs don’t often appear in duck blinds is immaterial.

Their conformation, temperament, and working instincts very strongly suggest that they are most likely the main ancestor of the St. John’s water dog, although I won’t rule out the Spanish water dog (which is actually used more often as a herding dog), the English rough water dog, or the barbet.

But it is clear to me that the St. John’s water dogs, the big Newfoundland, and the retrievers belong in this family. That they lack the non-shedding coats and the beards is immaterial. There aren’t that many genes that control the type of coat that a dog has, and it wouldn’t take very long for a poodle-type water dog to develop a smooth coat through selective breeding, natural selection, or both.

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Seriously, if all you can complain about these days is where the president got his dog, consider yourself lucky.

You haven’t lost a job.

You don’t have a kid fighting in the wars. (Note, that’s “wars,” not “war.”)

Consider it a good thing that Obama’s daughters get to have a dog. Every child should get to know a good dog. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a breed based upon shedding and temperament.

It’s just like how I would rather have my dogs easily trained and possessing of a very strong retrieving instinct. If I went to shelter, I could get a dog that had those characteristics. However, it won’t be exactly what I want. A retriever puppy has to be raised in the right environment for those traits to develop as they should. Further, the addition of one breed in that dog’s bloodline that doesn’t have the instinct or temperament could mean that this dog is not as good at it as the performance bred dog.

“But that’s ‘breedism.'”

Please take that somewhere else. Breeds vary in inherited behaviors and motor patterns. Dog breeds are not the same as human races. Human races aren’t that different from each other. Dog breeds are quite different from each other in too many way to elucidate here.

That’s one of the advantages dogs have. They vary so much that one can choose the breed or strain one wants.

Yes, it would be nice if there were no homeless dogs. It would be even nicer if stupid people didn’t breed them for stupid reasons. But the Obama dog wasn’t bred by a stupid person. That dog was bred by someone who TOOK BACK A DOG SHE BRED, as per the breed club’s bylaws and as per the contract on which the dog was sold.

What’s wrong with wanting a specific breed or strain of dog?

I could never live with a coonhound. I can’t stand the baying sound.

I could never live with a toy breed because coyotes like to eat toy breeds.

I like having more than one or two dogs, so virtually any breed of terrier or molosser is out.

I like a dog that can be trained really easily and at the highest levels, so sighthounds are out.

I like dogs that aren’t protective, so many herding and working breeds are out, as is the Chesapeake Bay retriever.

I like dogs that have retrieving instinct as part of their predatory motor patterns. There aren’t many breeds that are selectively bred for that motor pattern.

So I know what I want in a dog.

I probably can’t get that out of the shelter dog. I might be able to. I do know what I’m looking for, so I might be able to find it. I won’t be able to breed from it, though, and I have no way of finding a relatively renewable supply of such dogs.

I’m not saying that shelter dogs shouldn’t be considered as pets. However, if you want something specific, it’s better to deal with breeders. The only breeder to consider is a serious dog person who sometimes has a litter. That’s the reality of the situation.

So while it may make a certan demographic feel good about opposing the president’s choice for a dog, it really isn’t doing any good. We’re laughing at your self-righteous indignation. I hope that all of your dogs are rescues.

Most people welcome the choice. I was skeptical of the choice originally, because I was really worried about the Portuguese water dog’s genetic diversity and how that breed could withstand a popularity spike. Now, I see that the breed club has very strict rules for their breeders. Such strong rules might help keep this breed stable.

Of course, allowing outcrosses and doing away with strictly closed studbooks is something that will have to happen for this breed. However, I think the breed is unlikely to suffer greatly from mass-production as a result of this choice. In fact, the president set a good example by carefully selecting a breeder with the help of Senator Kennedy. He waited until his family became settled in their new digs, and he waited until his daughters were old enough to really appreciate a dog.

I hope this dog proves to be an excellent family pet for the Obamas. He’s already captured the nation’s imaginaton. Let’s hope this focused attention becomes a learning event for more responsible dog ownership.

And that’s where we should be focused– not whining with self-righteous bromides.

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Of all the breeds they could’ve chosen, the Obamas did choose a dog that is well-known for its trainability and good temperament. And they didn’t choose a cute, two-month old puppy. They chose a rehomed dog from a reputable breeder. They did provide a good example on how you should select a dog. Of course, knowing Senator Kennedy, who really does know dogs, certainly helps.

The NY Daily News has an article on the Portuguese water dog, which is quite informative for anyone not familiar with the breed.

No breed is perfect, and Portuguese water dog’s biggest flaw is its very narrow gene pool. There are some genetic disorders The second biggest flaw it has coat that is hard to care for. It has to be trimmed, and not everyone is prepared for that sort of commitment.

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The Obama puppy will arrive Tuesday. My source is TMZ.

Here is his background:

He is a black Portuguese water dog, which means that Portuguese water dogs are very likely to become a fad dog. The narrow gene pool of the porty means that lots of improperly bred dogs are going to be on the market within the next few years, and the breed will develop lots of health problems.

However, some other facts might mitigate this problem. The first of these is he’s already six months old. He’s not a cute little lump of fur. He’s an adolescent dog, which means he’s more than just a little bit ornery.

As soon as he tears something up at the White House, the press will have a field day, and people probably won’t be as excited about buying the latest fad.

Secondly, he’s a rescue dog of sorts. His Texas breeder, who is friends with noted Portuguese water dog lover Senator Ted Kennely, sold him to a family a few months ago. For some reason, they couldn’t keep him, so they returned to puppy to the breeder. This means that the breeder of the Obamas’ new dog is a reputable breeder.

I would be a little upset had the Obamas chosen a very young puppy from a dodgy breeder, but in this case, they are upholding their promise to rehome a dog.

I’m sure the animal fanatics don’t like it. TS, I say.

And I’m sure that everyone hoping he didn’t get a dog from such a narrow gene pool is rather upset, too. However, there are some silver linings to this choice.

One them not often mentioned is that he’s chosen one of those old European water dogs, one of the ancestors of the retrievers and water spaniels. Dogs of this type existed in virtually every country in Europe, including England, where they were called rough water dogs or “water rugs.” The German, Russian, and French versions of these dogs became the poodles. The Spanish and Portuguese versions still exist as water dogs, although the Spanish variety is used as a herding dog and is still much more numerous as a working dog.

I believe these dogs are closely related to curly-haired herding dogs, like the Schafpudel and the Puli.  These dogs then were directed to collect shot arrows and then nets, and then whole strains were bred in various countries as water dogs. In Britain and Ireland, they were bred with spaniels and setters to make water spaniels.

When the Portguese and Basques brought dogs of this type to Newfoundland, they became stranded and interbred with various French and British dogs and the Cao de Castro Laboreiro. These dogs became the St. John’s water dogs. In fact, if you look at  a Portuguese water dog and a St. John’s water dog, they are quite similar in body type and color.

And that’s why Labradoodles and goldendoodles so closely resemble Portuguese water dogs, Barbet, and other strains of these old water dogs. All that is done in that cross is a reunion of two related bloodlines that were separated by geography and selective breeding.

I would have preferred that the Obamas rescued a Labradoodle. However, it’s hard to guarantee that Labradoodle doesn’t shed. And if they got a goldendoodle, chances are very high that it would shed. Portuguese water dogs shed a bit, but nothing like their golden retriever relatives.

Of course, the lack of shedding won’t guarantee that the dog will be hypoallergenic for the very simple reason that no breed is truly hypoallergenic. People are allergic to the dander of the dogs, and one of the reasons why people are often super allergic to golden retrievers is that they have long, oily hair that collects the dander. They shed lots of it twice a year, so if you are allergic to a dog, this is one breed that will make you have quite a reaction.

Update: Here is the first dog’s new website, and his eye-shine is such that it makes me think that he might be a Republican. (Just kidding).

Update Part Deux:  White House denies validity of the First Dog Charlie website. However, the dog featured in the website looks just like the dog in new White House photos and even has the rainbow lei.  Whatever the case, the Obama dog’s name is “Bo.”

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A puppy has been spotted at the White House.

Rumors of an introduction tomorrow morning are rampant!

This may not be a false alarm.

I’m hoping it’s not one of the puppies featured in the Politico story that features the rumor.

Here’s the update.

I hope it’s not a goldendoodle or porty, because goldens and porties don’t have the gene pools to withstand massive popularity.

*Update: Specific dog has been chosen and is undergoing training; however, dog will not arrive at the White House this week.

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The Obamas have picked a dog.

They are rescuing it. That’s the good thing.

Problem: it’s from a breed with really poor genetic diversity.

In 1975, there were 66 Portuguese water dogs and 85 worldwide.

All Portuguese water dogs descend from these animals.

It’s not that this is a bad breed. It’s not.

It’s that it is a relict. At one time, nearly every European country had a shaggy, low shed dog of the poodle type. The British version of this dog, and the precursor to the retrievers and water spaniel is the rough water dog, also known as the “water rug.” And relicts don’t have good genetic diversity. All of these dogs descend from a mere 30 dogs. That means they these dogs don’t have as many genetic cards to shuffle to breed for good health.

The Portuguese water dog is so inbred that it is model organism for genetics research.

I would say that in ten years that Portuguese water dog will have the following problems: 1/3 will have temperament issues and the average lifespan will be about 6 years.

This breed will not be able to withstand the popularity surge that is sure to happen. This surge will lead to puppy milling and uninformed backyard breeding. Both of which will lead to less genetic testing for disorders.

Ted Kennedy may have a pair of them, and he was probably instrumental in choosing the dog for President Obama.  He might like them, but if he really understood  their issues, he’d reconsider having the president choose one.

They need to do some more vetting, because the Portuguese water dogs will need a vet or two in the future.

I hope that this dog is chosen for the right reasons. Bill Clinton got Buddy the wild Labrador because he wanted a dog that made him look like a family man. This dog arrived on the heels of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was chosen because Labs were (and still are) the number 1 dog breed in America. He couldn’t be a black one because that dog wouldn’t photograph well. He couldn’t be a yellow one because the dog’s color would photograph too well. So a chocolate was chosen. And to make matters worse, he was a working-type chocolate- the wildest kind of Lab you can get!

I don’t think Buddy was really President Clinton’s favorite animal. I’ve always felt that he was just a photo-op dog. If Clinton had really wanted a Lab, he would’ve done lots of research and found that the working-type dogs are very energetic. He would’ve provided a lot of room for the dog to exercise, or he would’ve gotten a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which is exactly what Reagan did.

Reagan received a Bouvier des Flandres puppy as a gift. The Bouvier puppy, named lucky, had very strong herding instincts. He also used his teeth to herd. The problem was he was herding the staff.

So Lucky got sent to Reagan’s Ranch.

And Reagan got a Cavalier named Rex.

(It’s not that Cavaliers are wonderfully healthy, but Rex fit their lifestyle far better than hard driving Bouvier. And for that, I do give the Reagans some credit.)

Update:  False alarm. Obamas still haven’t decided on dog.

The Portuguese water dog community can sleep soundly for now.

Update 4/13/09:  The Portuguese water dog community has proven to be very careful in the unveiling of the Obama dog. I doubt that this breed will be ruined as my earlier “chicken little” thoughts suggested.

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Rescuing a Labradoodle would be a smart move.

Rescuing a Labradoodle would be a smart move.

I think he should rescue a dog, simply because he already said that he wanted a rescue dog and “a mutt.” I don’t like it when presidents don’t keep their promises, and this would be a promise kept.

Why this breed over the Portuguese water dog?

Well, I don’t think the water dog could survive a massive jolt of popularity and mass production by unscrupulous and uninformed breeders.

Gerald Ford was a moderately popular president when he purchased a golden retriever named “Liberty.” She was of the old type, and it didn’t take very long for this breed to capture the public’s imagination. But then Ford had Liberty bred, and she had a litter of little golden fur balls at the White House. As soon as that happened, everyone wanted a golden retriever. One of the puppies, Jerry, actually became a seeing-eye dog. And this further cemented in the public mind that goldens were beautiful as adult, cute as puppies, and incredibly intelligent dogs that were useful for humanity.

I can only imagine what would happen if Obama bought a Portuguese water dog. This breed has a truncated genetic base, and it does have some really bad genetic disorders. This is a regional water dog, one of the many poodle-type dogs that once existed throughout Europe from Portugal to Russia.

These dogs are ancestral to water spaniels and retrievers, which have more efficient swimming styles and easier to care for coats. You don’t have to clip as Lab to make him a good water dog (but you might want to breed him with less bone so he can swim better).

Labradoodles are being mass-produced by unscrupulous people. This is very true.

However, by rescuing the dog, President-Elect Obama would be setting a good example about the best place to find a regular, old pet dog.

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