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Dog lovers fear Obama effect sprouting shady breeders, fickle owners

By jim Published: February 27, 2009

By Megan K. Scott
Associated Press

NEW YORK: It's nothing against the Obamas. But some Portuguese water dog owners aren't thrilled the breed is a front-runner for the first family.

The choice could mean a spike in the dogs' popularity — and that could mean a rise in shady breeders and fickle owners who don't understand the dogs and eventually abandon them, owners of Portuguese water dogs say.

''There's always the danger of something like that,'' said Stu Freeman, president of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America. ''It's 101 Dalmatians syndrome.''

After that movie came out, ''everyone thought, 'aren't they cute,' '' ran out and bought the dogs and found out they were not quite as adorable as the ones in the movie, Freeman said.

First lady Michelle Obama told People magazine that the family is looking to rescue a Portuguese water dog in April, though her press secretary said Thursday the decision isn't final. President Barack Obama had also mentioned a Labradoodle as an appealing choice.

Portuguese water dogs were bred centuries ago to help fishermen along the Portugal coast, working as couriers, retrieving nets and diving for fish.

Even before the Obamas, the dogs' star was rising — Sen. Ted Kennedy has two.

In 1998, the breed ranked 82nd in popularity, according to American Kennel Club registration statistics. Ten years later, they were ranked 62nd.

Elena Gretch, a dog trainer and owner of two Portuguese water dogs, attributes some of that to the fact that the dog is good for allergy sufferers. Malia Obama, 10, has allergies.

Michelle Obama also praised the dogs' personality and size in the People interview.

''Temperamentally they're supposed to be pretty good,'' Michele Obama said. ''From the size perspective, they're sort of middle of the road — it's not small, but it's not a huge dog. And the folks that we know who own them have raved about them. So that's where we're leaning.''

Gretch worries that if the Obamas choose the breed, puppy mills will sprout up. The dogs cost $1,800 to $2,500 and aren't as common as other breeds. They're prone to hip dysplasia, so finding a good breeder is important, she said, and the dogs don't often end up in shelters for adoption.

The dogs also require a lot of attention, grooming and outdoor exercise. ''It's agile, it's a great swimmer, it loves to be outdoors,'' said Gretch, founder of a New York pet care and training service.

But Portuguese water dogs are usually not great for first time dog owners, said Freeman, because it takes experience to train them.

''These are dogs that if you don't keep them busy, they will be busy and do something you don't want them to do,'' he said.

Information on the breed

The Portuguese Water Dog is a hardy, muscular, medium-sized dog. The coat varies from flat, wavy, shiny type to a thick, open curl, to a tight curl. Two coat clips are used: One clip with the face and rear shaved, and the working retriever or pet clip where the dog is scissored so the coat appears to be about an inch long all over. The single-layered, non-shedding, virtually hypo-allergenic coat comes in black, white or brown, parti-color (white with dark spots), black or brown with white markings, or even silver fox or gray.

The body is slightly longer than it is tall; solid and sturdy. The topline should be straight and level. The brisket should reach the elbows, and chest should be broad. The head is large and broad on top with a pronounced stop occiput. The top of the skull should appear rounded. The heart-shaped ears hang down beside the head, but should not hang beyond the lower jaw. The eyes are dark and the teeth meet in a scissors or level bite. The tail starts out thick near the body, then tapers. The legs are very straight, strong and parallel. It has more webbing between the toes than many other breeds, which aids in swimming.

The Portuguese Water Dog is a water-loving, lively but sensible, and loyal dog. Affectionate and fun to be around. It is excellent with children and usually gets along with other dogs and pets without any problems. They need to get to know cats so that the company of them will also cause no problems.

It has a stable, pleasant temperament. Brave, highly intelligent and trainable; keen to work and quick to learn and understand instructions. Training these dogs is not difficult if you understand how to properly communicate with the canine animal. They are very sensitive to the tone of your voice and owners need to be calm, but show a consistent authority.

Bear in mind that this extremely intelligent dog will take liberties if it feels it is stronger minded than it's owners. Make sure you are consistent, firm and confident in the way you handle the dog. This breed may out-think its owner! Generally willing to please, this is an obedient dog. Spirited, with great stamina, yet calm.

Portuguese Water Dogs have a super sense of humor and love to be in the spotlight of attention. They make good watchdogs. They have a very good sense of smell. Suitable for agility skill trials and numerous other dog sports. Portuguese Water Dog puppies are notorious chewers. Be sure to provide them with things they are allowed to chew on. Dominance, barking, and indoor activity level varies greatly with the individual owners.

Make sure you are this dog's firm, consistent, confident pack leader, providing daily mental and physical exercise. If you find your dog is barking at you in order to communicate you need to hush the dog and look into your leadership skills. A dog that is barking at you in that manner is showing signs of dominancy issues.

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