Although there are those who consider the Spanish Water Dog is a relatively recent breed, in fact it can trace its history back several hundred years, certainly as far back as the Middle Ages and possibly to Roman Times. There are different theories as to its origin but the most accepted is that it was introduced by the Turks, who traded in sheep and used these dogs as sheepdogs. In Spain the breed is often called the ‘Andalusian Turk. It is also believed that there are strong genetic links with the French Barbet, the Poodle, the Portuguese Water Dog, and that the Spanish Water Dog is an ancestor of the Irish Water Spaniel. Until very recently the Spanish Water Dog was kept in relative isolation in rural areas of Spain, away from cross-breeding and inter-breeding with other dogs. The dogs were used for a variety of tasks, being called upon to work wherever the work of a dog was required. They were used as sheepdogs to move the flocks of sheep and goats from one pasture to another. They accompanied fishermen in their boats and would retrieve equipment from the water, bring in stray fish that had escaped from the nets, carry a tow rope to the shore for the boat to be pulled in and guard the catch once it was landed. These dogs would also be taken hunting and would be used as retrievers, particularly in water. The breed is particularly noted for its ability to dive underwater and remain at depth for some time.
In the late 1970s, two enthusiasts, Antonio Garcia Perez and Santiago Montesinos travelled around the countryside of Southern Spain, through the remote villages and farms of the mountainous region of Andalucia and bought or borrowed a number of dogs that they felt most fitted the type they were looking for to establish a breeding programme. In 1980 a Breed Club was formed in order to promote the breed and help get it recognised in its own country. In 1985, after a lot of hard work and displaying the breed at various venues and dog shows the Spanish Kennel Club accepted it and gave it official status.
In 1992 four English friends, visiting the World Show in Valencia, were particularly attracted to a native Spanish breed appearing both in the show ring and as part of an agility demonstration. These four people immediately recognised the potential of the dogs and formed a partnership in order to research the breed, acquire some dogs and import them into this country. Soon after, the first two Spanish Water Dogs arrived in this country to be followed by two more at a later date. And so, by working together on breeding programme the breed was carefully established over here.
Initially, the Kennel Club accepted the breed onto the Imported Register and the first Spanish Water Dogs began to be shown. In January 2008 the Kennel Club transferred the Spanish Water Dog onto the Breed Register allowing these dogs to be shown and take part in a greater variety of show classes and canine activities. More recently, there have been a number of newly imported dogs, not only from Spain but from Belgium as well and the gene pool has been increased.
Spanish Water Dogs lively, athletic and versatile. They are willing working dogs and are easy to train, having the ability to learn quickly and remember for a long time. They can be independent when working and will often work things out for themselves. In Spain, they are the ‘all purpose’ dog and can be trained to herd, hunt and guard. In this country they are trained in a variety of disciplines including gundog work, agility, flyball and water work. Spanish Water Dogs make excellent family pets and give 110%. They are, by nature, aloof with strangers and have a strong guarding instinct. This reserved temperament can be mistaken for timidity but this breed will take time to weigh up and accept people they don’t know. The guarding instinct needs careful management from the outset and should be dealt with a positive and consistent approach. Early socialisation is of the utmost importance for puppies and the ideal age for a puppy to go to its new home is from seven to eight weeks of age. This breed is particularly agile and can scale or jump substantial heights, which makes them ideal for agility. They are also very fast and make useful Flyball dogs. Of course, their ability to work in water is a joy to watch and anyone who is thinking of coming into the breed, be prepared to live with a dog that loves to be wet and frequently muddy! If water does not move, a Spanish Water Dog will often find a way to make it move.
This breed is described as ‘rustic’ and the coat is kept in a natural state. The coat should have a woolly texture and grows into curls, which then develop into cords. The cords should be separated by using the fingers only. It should not be brushed or combed. In Spain, each Spring, the farmers would shear the sheep and do the dogs at the same time. This has been adopted as the correct way of keeping the coat so when the coat reaches the desired length it is clipped off. The clip should be even, all over, with no sculpturing or shaping. (i.e. no pompoms!) For showing purposes the dog can be shown short coated, medium coated or long coated but not newly clipped or too long.
The breed standard, which I will not go into here, but will be available for interested parties, describes the various physical aspects of the breed but the Spanish Water Dog should be lithe and well muscled, particularly at the rear. They should have the ability to cover the ground effortlessly, wasting little energy in high stepping.
The members of the Partnership considered themselves as the ‘Guardians of the Breed’ and took it upon themselves to introduce the breed slowly and carefully, making sure that new people coming into the breed were informed and educated, about these wonderful, dogs. We now have our breed club, ‘The Spanish Water Dog Club’ and it is our intention that these dogs will always continue to display the natural, rustic appearance of their ancestors in Spain and retain the versatility that has been the trademark of this breed for hundreds of years.