In order to preserve our breed’s working history, the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America created a series of exercises to not only showcase the dog’s working abilities, but also to enhance the working relationship between dog and owner.

Handlers spend years training their dogs the tasks that are outlined in the PWDCA Water Trial Manual. Here in Northern California, we are blessed to have a location where we can work with our dogs on a regular basis to attempt to achieve the handler’s goals of putting titles on our dogs. Once per year, we host our Annual Water Trial, which has evolved into two days of trials in two rings. This year, our 20th Anniversary year, was the first year that our trial filled up two rings to capacity both days! We are one of only three clubs nation-wide that currently holds a two-ring trial.

Got it, mom; be back in a second!

Got it, mom; be back in a second!

The most unique aspect of a PWDCA-sanctioned Water Trial is that there is not one single winner, nor are we looking for the team that can perform the tasks the fastest, and we don’t keep score. Instead, each dog/handler team is tested against the PWDCA rules for the level at which the dog is competing. At each level, the dog and handler are judged on a Pass/Fail basis. If the team passes every exercise for their level, they are awarded a title! This is harder than it sounds: natural conditions, such as wind, rain, sun glare, and currents, make each task slightly different than it was for the preceding dog. On average, about 35% of our dogs pass their given level at a trial. Our handlers are supportive of the other teams, and this is one of the most uplifting, supportive competitions that you can experience with your canine friend!


Testing begins at the Junior Water Certificate (JWD) level. This level is primarily important to establish a working relationship between dog and handler. Retrieving skills, as well as basic obedience skills, are tested at this level.

Apprentice Water Dog (AWD) is the first title that a PWD team can achieve. It furthers the working relationship between dog and handler. In addition to adding time and distance to the retrieves, boat ride, and swim, dogs are expected to retrieve an item from underwater and must have more advanced basic obedience skills (such as “stay” and “come”) and be able to “hand” all of the retrieved items to the handler.

In the Working Water Dog (WWD) exercises, the dog and handler primarily work off of a boat. The dog is expected to retrieve items from the boat, including a “blind” retrieve (this is where the article is placed in the water without the dog seeing it placed). While all of the exercises at this level include retrieving, it can be one of the most challenging levels because the dog must be taught to jump off of the boat and must work at a greater distance from it’s handler.

Good boy Trip. Versatility!

Good boy Trip. Versatility!

Courier Water Dog (CWD) is the highest titling level currently offered by the PWDCA. At this level, the dog demonstrates many of the tasks that it’s ancestors might have been asked to do. Included are: carrying items from one boat to another, retrieving something that was left on shore and returning it to the boat, retrieving multiple items in a specific order, placing a fishing net, and doing a “reverse retrieve” whereby the dog takes an article away from the boat and leaves it in a location “designated” by the handler. Dogs are tested at this level more than once, and once the team has passed CWD three times (under at least two different judges at two different trial sites), the team is awarded the Courier Water Dog Excellent (CWDX) title. Finally, so that we can keep our CWDX dogs working in the water and having fun at trials, the PWDCA offers a Versatility Award. These awards are given to dogs who can perform a set of tasks, one or two from each titling level, in a trial environment and under a judge. For more information about the specifics of the PWDCA Water Trials, please feel free to download the PWDCA Water Trial manual below.

Sounds like fun!

If you think this sounds like a great activity to do with your dog, there are a few steps that you can take to get started. First, make sure that your dog has basic “manners” obedience skills. Sit, Stay, and Come are all a great starting point. Second, see if your dog likes to retrieve. If it does, you can start retrieving things around the house, from short distances, increasing up to long distances. (If not, you may want to seek out the advice of another PWD friend who has had to teach this skill!) Once you and your dog have mastered the obedience and retrieving skills, you are ready to hit the water! PWDCNC-sponsored Water Practices run from Memorial Day through Labor Day (some years a little longer!). Come out to a practice to just watch and learn, or sign up for a regular spot to get your dog working towards his or her first water title! It is a commitment that you are making to yourself, your dog, and your “crew” members (the other people that you practice with), and one that I do not think you will regret!

For more information please contact Kathy Souza, [email protected]

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Download the Water Trial Manual!

The Water Trial Manual is published by the PWDCA and contains necessary information to help you and your dog achieve the most out of water work.
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Contact the Water Chairperson

Our Water Chair is Kathy Souza.  If you have any questions, or are seeking more information on water work, feel free to email.