Sunday, January 27, 2013


Bella- the day she came to  us

Koko the day he came to us- with Bella
We consider ourselves very fortunate to have two Porties in the monastery, thanks to the generosity of a dear friend, who raised the breed for over 25 years and was considered one of the best breeders in NA. When I taught workshops across the country in the field of animal assisted therapy for children, I was often given a dog for the sessions to demonstrate techniques. When I came to the NW I met Joanne Forsythe (Helm's Alee Kennel) and her amazing PWDs.  My favorite was a gentle wonderful female named Summertime.  Later when I moved to Shaw, Joanne offered her to us, but at that point we had too many dogs and did not feel that a valuable show dog belonged on our rough and tumble farm..  After we lost our Kerry Blue five years ago, Joanne said now you are getting a PWD, and that is how our beloved (ISLA)BELLA came into our lives to be followed 2 years later by the inimitable KOKOPELLI. Little did I know when I fell in love with Summer that I would one day own her niece.

Bella rode in "style" to her shows

Bella's last show
The PORTUGUESE WATER DOG originated centuries ago along Portugal's coast. A PWD (or Portie) is first described in 1297 in a monk’s account of a drowning sailor who was pulled from the sea by a dog with a "black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft". This seafaring breed was prized by fishermen for a spirited, yet obedient nature, and a robust, medium build that allowed for a full day's work in and out of the water where they were taught to herd fish into fishermen's nets, to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as couriers from ship to ship, or ship to shore.  The Portuguese Water Dog is a swimmer and diver of exceptional ability and stamina.  They   are also spirited, self-willed and brave.
Isla Bella

Portuguese Water Dogs rode in bobbing fishing trawlers as they worked their way from the warm Atlantic waters of Portugal to the frigid fishing waters off the coast of Iceland where the fleets caught cod to bring home. Portuguese Water Dogs were often taken with sailors during the Portuguese discoveries.  It is little known that they were also used as herders. After the fishermen returned from the seas they would often go back to their family farm, where there was livestock, such as sheep and goats.

The couch-dog

The closest relatives of the PWD are widely thought to be the Kerry Blue Terrier, the Barbet of France and the Standard Poodle. Like Poodles and several other water dog breeds, PWDs are highly intelligent, can have curly coats, have webbed toes for swimming, and do not shed.

Another couch potato
Referred to as the Cao de Agua (dog of water) in its native Portugal, the breed started disappearing in the early 20th century when technology made his daily job somewhat obsolete, but Dr. Vasco Bensaude, a wealthy Portuguese shipping magnate and dog fancier, saved the breed.

Dr. António Cabral was the founder of the Avalade kennels in Portugal. He registered his first PWD in 1954, after Bensaude had pioneered the re-establishment of the breed in Portugal. Cabral worked with Carla Molinari, Deyanne Miller and others to establish PWDs in the US. The "Mark of Cabral" is a triangular shape of different color/textured hair, usually a few inches from the base of the tail. Both Bella and Koko have that triangle on their tails showing they go back to those early lines.

Koko's color his first year
Deyanne Miller is the single person most responsible for the rise of the PWD in America. In 1972, the Millers, along with 14 other people, formed the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, Inc.  She worked with dogs from both the Cintron and Cabral lineages to establish a stable genetic pool of PWDs in the United States at her Farmion kennels in CT.

The Guard
PWDs are loyal companions and alert guards (at least our Koko is) and are highly intelligent. Portuguese Water dogs make excellent companions as they are loving, independent, and intelligent and are easily trained in obedience and agility skills. Once introduced, they are generally friendly to strangers, and enjoy being petted. They also make  good therapy dogs.

Because they are working dogs, PWDs are generally content in being at their master's side, awaiting directions, and, if they are trained, they are willing and able to follow complex commands. They learn very quickly, seem to enjoy the training, and have a long memory for the names of objects. These traits and their non-shedding coats mean they excel at the various Service Dog roles such as hearing dogs (assistance dogs for the deaf), mobility dogs, and seizure response dogs.

Bella with M Dilecta- on the farm
A PWD usually stays in proximity to its owners, indoors as well as outdoors. This is typical of the breed. Though very gregarious animals, these dogs will typically bond with one primary or alpha family member. Some speculate that this intense bonding arose in the breed because the dogs were selected to work in proximity to their masters on small fishing boats, unlike other working dogs such as herding dogs and water dogs that range out to perform tasks.

A true water dog
In any case, the modern PWD, whether employed on a boat or kept as a pet or a working dog, loves water, attention, and prefers to be engaged in activity within sight of a human partner. This is not a breed to be left alone for long periods of time, indoors or out.

While they are very good companions to people who understand what they need, the PWD is not for everyone. Because of their intelligence and working drive, they require regular intensive exercise as well as mental challenges. They are gentle and patient and according to the literature they are not "couch potatoes", (photos of our 2 show a different story) and boredom may cause them to become destructive.

Bella's sire is the famous  Bo'sun an American/Canadian Champion and two time Westminster Breed winner (2003/2004). Bo'sun was the number 10 PWD in the US (2003) and the number 1 PWD in Canada (2003). He also earned his Working Water Dog Title and his Courier Title. Bo'sun is Canine Good Citizen (CGC), and is a TDI therapy dog.

 Bo'sun was bred by Joanne and shown under Agua Dulce Kennel in Olympia (where Bella was born). We decided to show her at  6 mo. just for the fun of it, since I had been showing sheep and llamas for years and loved the competition. Bella showed in 6 shows (sometimes as large as 1300 dogs, tho few PWD's.)  As a puppy her competition was sparse and she let me know early on that the ring was not for her- she longed for her farm life!

Ever the clown
Koko also comes from a line of show dogs (he was born in New Mexico out of stock from Joanne) and like Bella, loves the farm. He is also a more"typical" PDW. He loves water and would be in a thimble size pool if he would fit!  Bella hates baths, goes only up to her knees at the beach and generally avoids water except to drink.

 Their temperaments cannot be more different.  From the time we got her at 8 weeks of age, Bella has been almost "the perfect" dog.  Joanne would daily send me tidbits of information to watch for this or that re. Bella, but she just never fit the book. (Animals don't read the same books we do!)  Those who have known her from the beginning marvel at her kind, gentle manner.  We never heard her bark until Koko showed on the scene and even now it is rare- usually at a raccoon on the porch.

Koko truly fits the bill for this breed. He  has been a "hand-full" but finally having turned three, gets the picture! He is more openly affectionate to all in the Community, than the quieter Bella, but can be leery of strangers, especially men and he thinks he has to guard us. He is great with the 4H kids who come and like Bella loves to travel in the car, esp when birding.

They are not groomed like PWDs in the world as they live on a farm, which is sometimes muddy and yours truly is the groomer- so they sometimes look like breeds of another ilk. Those in the know can tell the breed by their tail, and its flag cut.

Koko's color today
Both dogs, along with their "big sister" Shanley (Chocolate Lab) bring
daily joy to the monastic Community and guests.

Isla Bella

Shanley- sunning in the vegetable garden

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