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Dogs that are lifeguards

By Roger Green [email protected]

An Algarve water dog called Linda is the pride of Lagos breeder Rodrigo Pinto, who runs the Canil Casa da Buba canine hotel on the outskirts of the town.

Sporting the typical black curly coat, with an intelligent and friendly nature plus extraordinary swimming and retrieval skills at sea, Linda has won two national championship titles for her working abilities, which include simulated rescues of people in danger of drowning.

“She is one in a million because she can do everything in one go,” said Rodrigo, a former professional horse-rider, who has become one of Portugal’s leading breeders of water dogs since he opened Canil Casa da Buba five years ago.

He proudly boasts that Linda, who recently gave birth to 10 pups, is set to become the only water dog in Portugal to be classified as an international civilian protection dog next year, after a programme of rigorous training and tests.

Rodrigo Pinto with some of his ‘family’
Rodrigo Pinto with some of his ‘family’

Linda and her cuddly litter of pups are among more than 30 Algarve water dogs currently to be seen at the kennels, which is visited annually by hundreds of dog lovers from numerous countries, interested in owning an example of what is still a relatively rare breed.

Rodrigo has travelled far and wide to promote the characteristics of the water dog, including a trip in 2010 to Moscow where he took two dogs, Petra and Dylan. Both won best of the breed titles in an international dog show featuring 4,500 contestants.

He has also travelled to Norway to give a seminar and his son Gonçalo has spread the word in a visit to Italy.

Numerous trophies and winners, certificates adorn the walls and cabinets of his office at the kennels, where dogs belonging to visiting tourists and residents are also cared for, bear testimony to his successful breeding of more than 120 water dogs.

“My objective in developing the breed is to try to create healthy dogs. The legal limit in Portugal is eight litters but I only allow four litters for the lifespan of the females and my dogs are famous,” he said.

“For me water dogs are the best dogs in the world. They possess unusual intelligence and understanding, ability to assist and they are great working dogs and also great company.”

The training of Rodrigo’s water dogs with simulated tests takes place regularly on the beach of Cais da Solaria near the Fortaleza in Lagos. Here they are taught to retrieve objects from the water, and a rescue exercise in which a life jacket is strapped to the body of the dog. It then swims swiftly towards a person in distress, towing behind a human lifeguard who cooperates in the rescue operation.

The water dog is a working breed, originally from the Algarve, which expanded all around Portugal’s coast. They were taught to herd fish into the fishermen’s nets, to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets and act as couriers from ship to ship or ship to shore.

The dog’s historical origins are shrouded in the mists of time. It was 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 tail tuft”.

One theory proclaims that the breed was introduced by the Moors when they came to Portugal in the 8th century.

The breed has gained more fame recently as the chosen dog of the USA President Barack Obama and given the name Bo.