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Snap out of it! Our Portuguese water dog reality check

So it's a pretty good bet that more people will want to make the Obamas' new pet their new family pet after all the hoopla and news coverage over Bo. You look at that cute black puffball in the rainbow lei and think, "I want one!" But hold up, wait a minute. What looks cute, awesome and placid in picture form, is actually a really energetic breed (although still cute and awesome).

So we asked an expert to give us a Portuguese water dog reality check, to talk us down from making any hasty decisions. Diane Keppen, a veteran Annapolis breeder of Portuguese Water Dogs, happily agreed to help us out.

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"Many of my friends who are breeders are very concerned about the fact that this wonderful breed will go the way of the Dalmatian," she says. "Like all the wonderful breeds that become popular, some people think 'look at that cute little dog on TV' … and don't realize that this dog likes to greet you with a body slam."

Keppen says that last part jokingly, but there is some truth to the quip.

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"They are a working breed, very athletic, very high energy," she says. "They need to work, and they need to have something to do, or they will find some thing to do, which may not be what you had in mind."

Keppen does not currently have any dogs available to adopt (we know you were wondering), but here is some of her tough love advice to prospective PWD owners:

  • Portuguese water dogs don’t come cheap: It’s a relatively rare breed and you pay for that rarity. They can cost more than $2,000. Why? The dogs were on the verge of extinction in the 1930s when a wealthy shipping magnate worked to re-establish the breed. But the gene pool is still limited. Many breeders conduct costly medical tests and procedures to prevent inbreeding and ensure healthy puppies. A dedicated community of breeders, low numbers and the recent perception that the dogs are hypoallergenic keep them in demand and out of shelters.

  • A huge time commitment: Keppen doesn’t recommend Porties for young families with children under seven years old or professionals with busy work schedules. Basically both recommendations boil down to a lack of time. The dogs, especially when they’re puppies, require constant attention. “If you leave them in the house, and you go all day long you’re going to be sorry,” Keppen says. “Because they need something to do. It could be the arm on the couch. It could be the door.” She says even mature well-trained Portuguese water dogs should only be left alone for about six hours max.

  • They’re called working dogs. They work, but you will too: Keppen says you don’t necessarily need a large amount of property -- waterfront or otherwise -- to own a water dog. But you must be willing to allow the dogs to exercise. Frequently walks or runs are a must. Keppen once placed a dog with a dentist who lived in an apartment, but he was a jogger and was willing to run with the dog often. “They don’t need to be exercised 24/7, but they do need to be able to get out and play … just like any big breed would need.”

  • Keeping it clean: Like Poodles, Portuguese water dogs have beautiful coats but that beauty needs constant upkeep. Keppen says the dogs should be groomed every four to five weeks. The dogs love the water (hence the name) and where there is water there is usually mud. And that means frequent baths.

  • More than just potty training: During our conversation, Keppen really stressed the importance of training. “You can’t love problems away,” she says. “You can’t say, ‘You know if I hug him he’s gonna be a good dog.’ No. He needs training.” Porties are bright dogs, but that intelligence needs to be focused. “You constantly have to let them know that you’re the one in charge. If you’re not in charge, they’re gonna be in charge,” she says. The training doesn’t have to be professional, but it if you do it yourself, you have to put in the time. And she says training shouldn’t only be for puppies. Just like a person, dogs need to learn different things at different ages.

(Above: Photo of some Diane Keppen's dogs courtesy of Diane Keppen)

FOR MORE:

Has the Bo backlash begun?

Playing the name game with Bo

PHOTO of Bo and the president during their first "workout."


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