Spending time outdoors has been proven to improve mental health and overall wellbeing and adding a canine companion to your travels is a great way to make hiking even more fun.
Just like people, dogs enjoy a variety of different activities and for hikers considering bringing a canine companion along for the adventure, it’s important to understand the breed and the best conditions for each individual dog.
Portuguese Water Dogs, sometimes referred to as Porties or abbreviated PWDs, are the perfect trail companion for hikers that enjoy incorporating water activities into their hikes due to their strong swimming skills, affectionate and friendly demeanor, high intelligence, and athletic build.
Understanding the breed, their health considerations, and what types of activities they excel at will create an ideal lifelong hiking buddy.
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Health Considerations for Portuguese Water Dogs
Although Portuguese Water Dogs are a relatively healthy breed with an average lifespan of 11-13 years, they are prone to a few inherited conditions that may make hiking more challenging or impossible if undiagnosed or left untreated.
Bone & Joint Diseases
Portuguese Water Dogs are prone to developing bone and joint issues known as elbow or hip dysplasia. In affected dogs, irregular growth of the ball and socket joint causes the femur and the adjoining socket of the pelvis to grow at disproportionate rates, resulting in laxity of the joint leading to degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis.
While appropriate breeding habits and health testing can rule out this condition in some dogs, it’s important to have a thorough veterinary exam before starting hiking and to stop if your dog displays any symptoms of pain during hiking such as limping, lethargy, or being slow or unable to rise after periods of activity.
For Portuguese Water Dog puppy owners, feeding a balanced diet for each stage of life, adding joint support supplements, delaying spay or neuter procedures, and avoiding strenuous exercise during adolescence can further decrease the odds of elbow or hip dysplasia later in life.
Portuguese Water Dogs have been shown to be disproportionately affected by a cardiac condition known as juvenile dilated cardiomyopathy which is a genetic condition causing enlargement of the left ventricle within the heart.
Blood flow within the heart is reduced in dogs diagnosed with this condition which can cause a heart murmur, exercise intolerance, fainting episodes, or sudden collapse and death.
While appropriate breeding habits and health testing can rule out this condition in some dogs, it’s important to have a thorough veterinary exam before starting hiking to ensure your dog is healthy before hiking. Once diagnosed, dogs with this condition live only six months to two years on average and should refrain from prolonged physical activity.
Portuguese Water Dogs Are Natural Born Athletes
Portuguese Water Dogs are a highly active breed that doesn’t just enjoy physical activity, but requires daily exercise to keep them healthy and out of trouble. As a member of the working class, Porties are strong and muscular yet agile dogs with boundless energy, making them the perfect hiking companion for trail runners or avid, long distance hikers.
Healthy, well-conditioned Water Dogs have high endurance and stamina when it comes to physical activity and can enjoy running up to 5 miles or hiking up to 10 miles on the trail.
When hiking long distances, it’s important for owners to be prepared with plenty of supplies for their pup like adequate amounts of water, travel bowls, a collar with easy to read identification tags, a leash and harness, and training aids.
In addition to hiking, Porties also enjoy a variety of other physical activities like playing fetch or frisbee, tug of war, dock diving, and swimming that can be easily incorporated into a hike.
Porties Excel at Swimming
For hikers that enjoy incorporating water activities into their hikes, this breed makes the ultimate companion due to their water-resistant coat, natural affinity for water, and strong swimming skills. Originally used as a working dog for fishermen, Porties are no stranger to water and will immediately take to swimming as one of their favorite pastimes.
Even though most Portuguese Water Dogs are generally natural born swimmers, owners should practice appropriate water safety habits like introducing pets to swimming at an early age, providing direct supervision when swimming, teaching water safety commands, and investing in canine life jackets or other water safety tools.
Additionally, owners should ensure their dogs have plenty of fresh water available to avoid the potential of drinking saltwater or water from contaminated lakes or rivers.
Portuguese Water Dogs are Highly Intelligent
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise when it comes to hiking with a Portuguese Water Dog. Portuguese Water Dogs are less mischievous than some breeds and their eager to please personality makes them highly trainable hiking buddies.
This breed enjoys activities that get them thinking such as nosework tracking, herding, and obedience training which can easily be incorporated into a hike.
For young Portuguese Water Dogs or new rescue dogs, hiking is the perfect opportunity to work on leash manners and obedience while exposing them to a number of new and exciting stimuli to provide them with adequate socialization.
Well trained Porties would benefit from being let off leash to practice recall obedience along a wooded trail or to perfect their endurance on more advanced terrain.
Portuguese Water Dogs Prefer Warm Weather
Although the long, curly hair coat of the Portuguese Water Dog may make it seem like they’re well suited for winter weather, they do not have a double coat and actually prefer milder weather.
Most Portuguese Water Dogs will get cold at temperatures below freezing, but the addition of cold weather aids and limiting the amount of time spent outside in cases of severe weather can greatly reduce the risk of hypothermia in PWDs.
When hiking in cold weather, owners should practice cold weather animal safety techniques including staying away from icy terrain, investing in canine hiking gear like snow boots and properly fitted winter coats, and ensuring your dog is healthy before setting off on an adventure.
When on the trail, owners should be prepared for emergency situations with supplies like extra water, dry blankets, medications, and emergency contacts.
On warmer days, Portuguese Water Dogs are happy to spend plenty of time outside, but owners should follow warm weather pet safety techniques allowing plenty of rest on hot days, offering water frequently, and staying in shaded areas along the trail. A good rule of thumb when hiking in warm weather is if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog and they should be left at home.
Camping with Portugese Water Dogs
Portuguese Water Dogs can make excellent companions for hikers setting out on multi-day excursions or camping retreats.
Although Porties easily adapt to new situations like the changing environment that comes along with camping and their friendly demeanor helps them make human and canine friends along the trail, this doesn’t always bode well if any unwanted wildlife approaches the campsite.
Although camping is a great way to spend time working on proper socialization techniques, Porties may require extra supervision in areas where dangerous wildlife may pose a threat. When camping, it is recommended that PWDs are not left unattended, especially after nightfall.
High Elevation Hiking with Portuguese Water Dogs
Like all humans and other mammals, dogs can be prone to altitude sickness at elevations greater than 8,000 feet. and attempting a high elevation hike with your Portuguese Water Dog before they are properly trained and acclimated may result in a serious, life threatening medical condition.
Elevation hikers should consult with their veterinarian before attempting high elevation hikes with their PWD and ensure they know the risks of high altitude hiking for themselves and their pets before hitting the trail. Symptoms of altitude sickness in pets include labored breathing, nausea/vomiting, excessive panting, pale gums, increased heart rate, and collapse.
Portie owners should always bring plenty of water for their pets when hiking high elevations as higher altitudes can quickly cause pets to become dehydrated.
With proper training techniques, Portuguese Water Dogs can make an ideal trail partner for solo hikers that enjoy an active lifestyle and long hikes. PWDs are athletic and highly intelligent dogs that can keep their owners safe and happy while building memories on the trail that will last a lifetime.
Have More Dogs in Your Pack?
So, if you have more dogs in your pack, be sure to use the search function at the top of this page to see if we have a guide for your other dogs. Chances are, we do!