The expression evolved over time to connote the opposite and nowadays implies quite a comfortable - even luxurious - existence.

A fun aside: It’s a Dog’s Life is also a 1955 American film that combines both the destitute and privileged lifestyle aspects of the expression. In the film, a bull terrier named Wildfire (also his stage name) lives a scrappy life on the street. Eventually, he catches the eye and heart of a kindly animal caregiver played by prolific British actor Edmund Gwenn. Gwenn began his film career in 1916, hitting the jackpot in 1947 portraying “Kris Kringle” in the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street. The role had been offered to Gwenn’s cousin, and another fine character actor, Cecil Kellaway, who turned down the part saying, “Americans don’t like whimsy”. Gwenn disagreed, accepted the role, and earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at the age of 71. (So much for attempting to ascertain the moviegoing tastes of the American public.)

Long history

The Portuguese and dogs share a long history. One breed originating in the country is the Portuguese Podengo, a hound bred for hunting rabbits and deer, and known for its ancient lineage, agility, and playful nature. Another is the Portuguese Water Hound, a rare breed and pack hunter known for great energy and strong prey drive. Without question, my favorite is the Portuguese Water Dog. A breed that originated in the Algarve, they were used to herd fish, retrieve lost tackle, and act as couriers between ships. Keenly intelligent, I remember one I met years ago in Park City, Utah. “Cabernet Sauvignon” had wrapped her leash around a lamppost. When her owner said, “Cabi, we’re not moving until you sort this out,” the dog obediently did several turns around the post until its lead was untangled.

In Portugal, the quality of canine life runs the gamut from poor to pampered. When I spoke at retirement abroad conferences for International Living, I was always asked what the cons were of living here. Barking, often chained, dogs topped my list. In many rentals over the years, we had noisy neighbors who yelped each time we drove up to the house, or who emitted soul-wrenching wails at 3:00 a.m. This is one reason I emphasised renting before purchasing and assessing a neighborhood at different times of day before signing on the dotted line. There’s no guarantee the situation won’t change, but it’s a good start.

Credits: TPN; Author: Tricia Pimental;

In 2021 Paula Martins reported in her article in The Portugal News that steps have been taken over the years to regulate conditions for pets. Yet as two readers rightly commented, dogs continue to bark outdoors for hours, and owners often do not pick up after their pets.

According to Safe Communities Portugal, the GNR has a special unit, SEPNA, dedicated to environmental protection (monitoring of illegal dumping of toxic waste, etc.) and to which cruelty to animals can be reported. Of course, perception of such cruelty is not a science, and what is unkind treatment in one person’s view may not be the same for another, which yields the possibility of ongoing bad situations for animals.


What about free-roaming dogs? Whether homeless or not, no one is cleaning up after them when they are out on their own. At least, however, it seems most strays are laid back. My favorite was one caught in the act of investigating the mysteries beyond an open window. “The Ericeira Snooper” always made my PowerPoint slide show.

Speaking of beach cities, what about beach access for dogs? It’s wise to rely on posted signs, but my general understanding is, that it’s legal to bring dogs to concession beaches not meant for bathing; concession beaches meant for bathing, but outside of bathing season; and non-concession beaches. It is illegal to bring dogs to concession beaches meant for bathing during the season. (A concession beach is one where the offer of services by a private entity is licensed.)

Credits: TPN; Author: Tricia Pimental;

Moving with your dog

If you moved to Portugal with your dog, you are familiar with the country’s pet import regulations, which require microchipping, vaccination, and a health certificate. The carrier you used may come in handy, as some public transportation companies allow small dogs in carriers on board. Additionally, things seem to have loosened up with respect to restaurant access. There are official rules regarding this, but we’ve often seen spontaneous decisions about canine access made by business owners. Once we were permitted to carry our Maltese in arms through the indoor portion of a restaurant before settling ourselves in the outdoor area. Some malls now have relaxed restrictions, with Alma Shopping in Coimbra actively promoting their pet-friendly policy.

Canines here live both sides of “A Dog’s Life” depending on their owners—or lack of them. If you’re inspired to add a friend to your own life, consider rescue organisations such as Dogs of Portugal, which works to find homes for abandoned and mistreated dogs from Portugal’s largest dog sanctuary, O Cantinho da Milu.


Native New Yorker Tricia Pimental left the US in 2012, later becoming International Living’s first Portugal Correspondent. The award-winning author and her husband, now Portuguese citizens, currently live in Coimbra.

Tricia Pimental