New to the Breed ?... then start here
Before we start can we say a big thank you for taking an interest in what we believe is probably the most versatile and amazing dog breed that you will find absolutely anywhere. These special dogs will truly turn their paws to anything that you may want them to, and we hope as you explore the website you will gain a greater appreciation of this.
Whilst this page aims to give you all the information that you want to know as a prospective owner about the dogs, there is no substitute for speaking to people who own and live with them. Have a look at both our events page and our showing section, which details some of the shows (championship shows are usually the more well attended ones) and events that SWDs and their owners are likely to be attending. You will find that all our members are passionate about their dogs and would be more than willing to discuss the breed, answer any questions you have and introduce you to their curly coated companions.
There are plenty SWD related pages on social media. You will find many Spanish Water Dog owners who are an amazing bunch and are always keen to help out, give advice and answer questions. There really is no substitute for speaking to people who already have them.
So back to our page. Whilst these are amazing, loveable, eye-catching dogs, and we’re going tell you all the good things about them, we will also not sugar coat the more challenging aspects of ownership. This is because we can’t stress enough the importance of making a fully informed decision before taking on the commitment of becoming a new Spanish Water Dog (SWD) owner. So, without further ado let us begin…
How do I look after the coat of a Spanish Water Dog?
More often than not the first thing owners generally get asked is about the breed’s coat and how you maintain it.
Development, Growth and length.
An SWD’s coat is a single coat of woolly texture that is curly, rustic and natural. The length that you keep the coat is entirely down to you. Some owners prefer to keep them short and clip them regularly, especially if they engage in activities such as agility and flyball, whilst others will allow them to grow out, which generally includes owners that show their dogs. The majority of dogs that you see in the show ring at Crufts will have a 4-month-plus length of coat because it gives them that rustic charm. That’s not to say you can’t show a dog in a shorter coat, but aesthetically it was probably the longer coat that first drew your attention to the breed. The coat however does have a function. It provides protection to a Spanish Water Dog as it grows out offering the dog buoyancy in water and allows air to be caught between its cords, drawing it towards the body to cool it down. The recommended length of a coat is anywhere between 3cm and 12cm, the latter being about the length it will achieve after one year’s growth from initial clip.
A puppy’s coat is very much different to that of an adult and will almost always tend to be softer and wispier. Spanish Water Dogs can take anywhere between 2 to 4 years to properly mature and develop and this will include the transformation in the texture of the coat. As they get older the coat will lose its fineness and develop a slightly hardier (although still soft) feel, with the curls becoming more prominent and defined and becoming easier to cord. In the two images to the right the difference between the coat of a puppy and the coat of an adult dog can be seen. The upper image is of a coat that is on a six month old dog. It is less defined and less curly than that on the image of the older dog below it.
Coat textures can also vary between different breed lines and differing colours of coats. Dogs with lighter coloured coats tend to have a softer, finer, whisper texture, which can sometimes make it more difficult to produce thick cords like some of the alternative coloured coats. The fineness of hair also means that it can become prone to matting quicker. One more thing to be aware is that Spanish Water Dogs have a nickname of being a Velcro dog. As their coats grow in length they will start to catch things such as branches, twigs, grass seed and of course mud, which get entangled in their curls and will need removing
Unlike many other curly coated breeds, we never put a brush to an SWD’s coat. It will break and damage the natural structure of the cords, which will in turn lose the dog its rustic appeal that you originally fell in love with. If a brush were to be used it would make the coat all frizzy and you would probably end with something more resembling a Bichon Frisé rather than a Spanish Water Dog. Should this happen the best thing to do is to bathe or shower the dog in cool water and allow it to dry naturally. This will help return curls back to the coat.
As the coat grows out the individual fibres of the curls will start to intertwine with each other, which form the basis of the cords. As these get longer they are more liable to matt together. In order to maintain the cord structure the cords need to be split from each other down to the skin of the dog. The best way to do this is to find the separation of two wispy ends and carefully pull them apart from each. Gradually over time they will form a thicker base to the cord, tapering towards the outer tip. Puppies tend to be more difficult to cord as their coats are much softer and finer and much more prone to matting. A coat can become ‘blown’ when the matting becomes too heavy and is incapable of being separated. It is advisable to try and clip the coat before this happens as a blown coat is much more difficult to clip. Particular areas that become prone to matting are behind the ears and the rear legs due to dogs sitting, laying down on the coat.
When it is time to take the coat off it is clipped to the same length all over, usually on a number 5 blade(6.3mm) or 7 blade(3.2mm), but in bad cases it may need to be taken off even closer to the skin. There is no aesthetic cutting or shaping of the coat. This also applies whilst the coat is growing out. As the cords get longer, they should not be cut, trimmed or shaped as this would cause them to have blunt ends, which deviates from the breed standard of how the coat should appear natural.
An example of a cording coat, with fibres intertwining to form the cord structure.
There are three primary colours of coat in the Spanish Water Dog breed, solid black, brown or white, although the shades of these can vary depending on the breed lines they have come from. There are also particoloured dogs which can either be black and white or brown and white with varying ratios of the amount of the two colours to each other. Not all puppies may take on the colouring of their parents. Genetic traits can sometimes cause them inherit throwback colouring from a previous generation.
Various examples of the different coat colours of Spanish Water Dogs.
It is also worth noting that some dogs in the breed have a hereditary condition in the form of a fading gene, which generally applies to some dogs of black or brown colouring. This is not considered a fault of the breed; however it is worth bearing in mind when choosing a puppy. A dark chocolate brown puppy that you take home may over time fade to a much lighter colour, or even lose its brown colouring all together. The amount of fading can vary and it is always worth discussing this with your prospective breeder first if this is a consideration for you. However please note that no breeder can ever guarantee whether the fading gene will present itself or not in a puppy later on in life.
Photo courtesy of Glenn Reid.
Two pictures taken a year apart. The one on the right is the original colour of the dog, whilst the one on the left shows an extreme case of the fading gene that was taken a year later demonstrating how the coat has changed colour and become much lighter.
What is the Temperament of a Spanish Water Dog like?
Spanish Water Dogs are very intelligent dogs that will pretty much turn their paws to any activity that you want to do with them. For example, throughout the breed there are representatives that are engaged in showing, gundog and retrieving work, agility, flyball, obedience, water work, scent work, which includes search and rescue and the detection of pyrotechnics and therapy work. Of course you may just be considering one simply as a family pet. You do need to understand though that due to the intelligence they exhibit, they are not simply lap dogs.
They have first and foremost come from a long line of working dogs that were used to either guard and transport livestock and/or aid fisherman retrieving items out of the water. This means that they do require exercise of at least 1 hour a day, and if possible more (although this will be considerably less whilst they are puppies). They are built and were bred for a long day of work, so if it is your intention that they are going to be left inside all day, then they are probably not the dog for you. Be aware as well that exercise comes in two forms, both physical and mental. SWD’s are quick to learn and pick up new skills, and whilst a good walk may help to burn off the physical energy they hold, mentally they can still be alert and raring to go when they get home. Playing games with an SWD can be fun for both the dog and the owner. Starting off by training games such as tug (although be careful with a puppy as overzealous games can cause disfiguration of their teeth and jaws if played too rough at a young age) which can subsequently lead in to games of fetch and then hide and seek for example. What is a fun game for both the dog and the family is actually nurturing and reinforcing the Spanish Water Dogs obedience, natural hunt and retrieve ability, and its scenting skills which is also giving them a significant mental workout and helping to them to bond with you at the same time. A combination of both physical and mental exercise is integral to being an owner of an SWD, otherwise without it, it is possible the dog could turn to destructive behaviour through boredom and frustration.
Are they good with children?
In short yes, they are good with children. They are a very loyal and loving dog that are keen to learn and get on great with children. In fact we have some children within the breed that have built really good strong bonds with them and are now working with their dogs to compete in a number of disciplines that you will read about across the website.
The key to developing a good bond is early and continual socialisation, which we’ll cover more in depth in a moment. As you may be aware, children can be little balls of energy themselves, so it is important to get the dogs used to this to help them accept it as normal behaviour. It is however also important to establish boundaries between your children and the dog as well, especially with a new puppy. Puppies (not just Spanish Water Dogs, but across all breeds) need a lot of sleep in the early years to help them grow and develop and they must be given this space and time. An exhausted puppy that just wants to sleep may become agitated if its prodded and poked in an attempt to get it to wake up and play, which can sometimes induce nipping at children. This can also give the child a negative experience of the puppy and deteriorate their relationship with the dog. The key to this is giving the puppy a safe space to sleep and letting children know that they must leave the puppy alone to get its rest, so that it can be strong to play again. As a puppy grows it will soon need less sleep and play a lot more. By adopting a good socialisation plan there is absolutely no reason why a Spanish Water Dog and children shouldn’t be able to develop a good bond.
There is one important thing that a new or prospective SWD owner with children needs to be aware of though, and this is the herding trait. Not all dogs display it, but some dogs very occasionally do and it can sometimes be aimed towards children. You can read more details about the herding trait lower down this page.
Spanish Water Dogs, particularly in later puppy stages to adolescent years can sometimes exhibit signs of nervousness to unfamiliar situations or surroundings if they have not had sufficient exposure at an early stage of life. They key to managing this is engaging the puppy in good early socialisation to as many experiences as possible. This allows them to become more comfortable in lots of different environments, meaning that they are more accepting of them as they grow up. Areas of socialisation to consider getting them used to are vehicle noise and traffic, children, other dogs, sudden noises such as fireworks, thunder and rain to name but a few. A good initial way to do this, even before they are able to go out is through the use of pre-recorded sounds. Playing them gently in the background and over time gradually increasing the volume, will allow your dog to become accustomed to them become normal, and they will more readily accept and feel comfortable with them as they grow up. Once they can get out and about, again exposure to many different environments will help them to become adjusted and well-rounded dogs to the stimulation the world has to offer.
Although Spanish Water Dogs have been around for many years, with records indicating existence as far back as the eight century, for the majority of this time they have only ever been a working dog. As part of their function to farmers, they would be used to residing in outbuildings with other animals rather than in domestic circumstances. In fact it has only really been since 1975, when Antonio Garcia Perez and Santiago Montesinos started scouring parts of Spain to find Spanish Water Dogs in order to establish a breeding programme, did they start to be kept more as pets than working animals. Now, it might seem that 45 years of domestication is a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, compared to how long a lot of other established breeds have been domesticated, like the Labrador Retriever for example that was domesticated around 1839, the Spanish Water Dog is a relative newcomer to being a fully integrated member of the household. So why tell you about this? Well it’s important to know and remember that a lot of SWD’s still harbour that natural drive and desire to work and some dogs will display these tendencies as pets. Not all dogs will demonstrate them, some may show one or two while others none at all, but it is an important factor to discuss with your breeder to establish if the parental line has exhibited any of them. This will allow you to be prepared in advance if they start to develop them, so you can understand what to do in order to manage them. As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. All good and reputable breeders will always be on hand, no matter how old the dog, to offer advice. So lets take a look at three of the more common traits:
One of the roles an SWD was originally bred for by farmers was to protect the livestock. Because of this some dogs can exhibit traits of guarding. This can tend start to manifest itself from about 8 months onwards as the dogs mature, but can sometimes occur earlier or later in life. Not all dogs will demonstrate this trait, but those that do will generally bark at unfamiliar noises, such as when they sense someone is approaching the house, ringing of the doorbell or knocks on the door. They do this because they see you as part of their pack and they feel it is their duty to be protective and warn against danger. If your dog demonstrates signs of this trait the right training with, positive rewards for correct behaviour, can help to control this.
Spanish Water Dogs being used to herd livestock.
There have been cases where dogs within the breed have demonstrated herding instinct. This again is because of their 1200 years’ worth of history, where they have been used by farmers to drive the livestock, especially when moving them along trade routes. Traits of herding instinct tend to show themselves in the form of some of the dogs trying to round the family group together, which can include children. That’s not to say Spanish Water Dogs are not good pets for children, in fact a lot of them are raised now in households with children and they are very loving and loyal dogs, but again it is something worth knowing about when considering whether to get an SWD. As always through training and positive engagement, rewarding good behaviour can help to teach the dog the correct way to behave. Offering alternative stimulation, such as games of hide and seek can also detract the dog’s attention from these traits.
Utilising a Spanish Water Dogs natural intellect and ability to hunt can be a rewarding practice. It provides both physical and mental stimulation for the dog whilst at the same time helps to strengthen the bond between dog and owner. The Spanish Water Dog falls under the Gundog group for a reason and that is because it is a good hunter and retriever. However some dogs will harbour a natural prey drive and could find it more exciting to chase wildlife than listen to its owner when let loose off its lead. This can be both frustrating and sometimes a bit scary, because the dogs can get into a zone where they will only focus on the thrill of chase. Recognising the early signs that the prey drive is kicking in is the key. Again good and regular training from the outset of a puppy’s life can help alleviate this. You must become the most exciting thing to your dog so that it wants to be with you. Playing exciting games can be a lot of fun to dogs and what they don’t realise is that these often incorporate obedience exercises. Giving lots of reward and praise for good behaviour encourages them to repeat good actions and helps you to maintain control of your dog.
What about the Health of the Breed?
The Spanish Water Dog is a relatively healthy breed, and one of the reasons for this is due to the club stipulating and supporting the adoption of good breeding practices, which includes the requirement for health tests before any dog is mated. This ensures that any significant health issues can be avoided from being passed down through generations. All parents of Kennel club registered Spanish Water Dogs should be health checked, and reputable breeders should be able to provide to you the copies of the health results of the parents to any litter being considered.
That said there are some known health issues that due occasional are identified within the breed, and these are ones for which there is mandatory testing. For further details of these please visit the health section of our website which can be accessed either as a sub-menu option under the ‘About The Breed’ section or by clicking the link here.
Tail or No Tail?
… or that should really be tail or bobtail. Spanish Water Dogs are one of the few breeds that can be born with or without a tail. In fact in some litters that have been born it has been known to have a mix of both tailed and bobtailed dogs.
A bobtail dog is one that either has no tail or just a short stump of a tail present. The presence of a bobtail is a natural genetic trait of the dog, which is different to the docking of a tail which is done in some breeds. Docked tails are full tails that are cut off either half or two thirds of the way down in the first few days of a puppies life. This was originally done with the purpose being to prevent injury to a working dog that would be required to run through heavy brush whilst hunting and flushing game. However this process can have consequences on an animal, including risk of infections, chronic pain, loss of sensation along with affecting the dogs balance and gait (movement). Tails can also be used as a form of communication between two dogs to indicate intentions during encounters with each.
Examples of a tailed and natural bobtailed dog
You can tell the difference between a dog with a natural bobtail and one that has had its tail docked by examining the end of the tail. A natural bobtail’s skin will be smooth and uniform whereas the skin of a dog with a docked tail will exhibit signs of pinching and possible scarring. It is also important to note that the Kennel Club no longer allows the exhibiting of a dog born from the 6th April 2007 onwards that has a docked tail, but this does not apply to a dog with a natural bobtail.
Another thing to be aware of when considering getting a Spanish Water Dog is that no two bobtail dogs should be bred together to produce a litter. At least one of the dogs, be it either sire (father) or dam (mother) should have a full tail. This is because putting two bobtail dogs together can significantly increase the risk of spinal related health problems in pups from the litter including spina bifida where the vertebrae fail to form normally. The effect of this is that it will hinder the dogs ability to run, play etc. It is therefore important to check whom the parents are to a prospective litter and whether at least one of them has a full tail.
How do I find and choose a Pedigree Spanish Water Dog via a Reputable Breeder?
The number of SWD’s in the UK is gradually increasing, however they are still a relatively new breed compared to some of the more well-known, well-established breeds. At the time of writing there are approximately 2,000 in the country. This means that the number of litters available is not as many or as regular as some of those other breeds.
The Spanish Water Dog Club is an impartial club that seeks to promote the breed, whilst working to monitor and maintain the integrity and health of the dogs. It does not make or provide recommendations of any one specific breeder. On this website however there is a list of breeders who have agreed to abide by the clubs Rules & Regulations and its Code of Ethics which are designed to maintain the standard of the dogs that they breed.
Reputable breeders of Spanish Water Dogs will not generally advertise litters for sale via classified advert websites or social media outlets or have the need to. You will tend to find they will hold a waiting list of people who are interested and will contact them closer to the time they are planning a litter, if they believe that they would make a suitable owner for one of their dogs. You will usually find that a reputable breeder will endeavour to find out more about you as a prospective owner, to ensure that the puppy will be properly cared for and well looked after for the whole of its life. They will also be willing to be contacted to provide assistance should you have any questions once you have taken your puppy home, and will be willing to take the dog back or find it an alternative home should you no longer be capable of or suitable for caring for it.
All pedigree UK bred Spanish Water Dogs will be registered with the Kennel Club. In order for this to be the case, both parents must also be registered with the Kennel Club. The Kennel Club will only ever register a maximum of four litters from any one dam (mother) during her lifetime in order safeguard her health. It is also a specific stipulation under the SWD Clubs Code of Ethics that four is the maximum number of litters a dam will have. By Kennel Club rules a dam must be a minimum of 12 months old before she has her first litter, however the Spanish Water Dog Club advocate that she be a minimum of 2 years old to ensure that she is fully matured to avoid any unnecessary complications. The Kennel Club will usually only register a single litter per year from the Dam, however exceptions can be made owing to irregular seasons, but again in the interest of health, the Spanish Water Dog Club maintain that there should be a minimum of a year between litters from any single dam.
It is highly recommended that you read both the Kennel Clubs rules on the registering of litters which can be found here:
and more importantly the Code of Ethics found on this website to become familiar with the standards expected from breeders of Spanish Water Dogs, which are implemented to protect the health of the breed.
A reputable breeder will also allow you to see the dam of the litter, so that you can see that she is in good health and being kept suitable conditions for whelping the pups to give them the best start in life. It may not be possible to see the sire, depending on whether they live with the breeder, but they should be able to provide you information about them, including their kennel name and health results. Registration and health details of both dam and sire can be checked via the Kennel Club website link below.
A responsible breeder will be able to inform you of any hereditary health issues from the parental lines and should ideally be seeking to try and breed them out of their dogs, or if they are too serious or the risk of passing them on is too great, they should not be using that dog to produce a litter. For more advice on the health of the breed please refer to the health section.
If you do find a suitable breeder and eventually have a pup from them, make sure that you receive all the correct paperwork from them. The most important one of these will be the Kennel Club Registration Information Document, which should be passed to you at the time of picking up your pup, to allow you to change the registered ownership into your name. Without this document you will not be able to become the formal registered owner of the dog. Please also make sure that it is an official Kennel Club endorsed document. There are a number of alternative documents/certificates in existence that claim to record a dog as an official pedigree, but if it is not an official Kennel Club one, it means either that the puppy is not an official pedigree or the mother has had more than four litters and therefore this litter has become ineligible to be registered. This also goes against the clubs Code of Ethics which are designed to protect the integrity and health of the breed.
Breeder Endorsements recognised by the Kennel Club
When a breeder first registers a litter there are (at the time of writing) only two endorsements that can be applied to a puppy’s registration conditions that the Kennel Club will recognise. These will remain in force until the breeder chooses to lift them. They are as follows:
Progeny not eligible for registration.
Not eligible for the issue of an export Pedigree.
The first condition means that, should you breed from you dog whilst this condition is in place, be it either a sire or dam, the Kennel Club will not record or issue pedigree registration documents on any of the litter. This condition is one that a lot of breeders will impose on their puppies as means to ensure the health and integrity of the breed. If you intend to use your dog for mating in the future, you will need to provide evidence that all the required health checks have been carried out and that the results are satisfactory to the breeder in order for them to consider lifting this restriction.
The second condition means that dog can not be registered as pedigree outside of the UK, unless this restriction is subsequently lifted. Again the purpose of this is to protect the integrity of the breed and to ensure that the dog is not subsequently misused upon leaving the UK, or the breeder may not wish for the dog to moved abroad.
In both of these cases it is useful to have a conversation with your chosen breeder about what conditions they will be imposing and what you will need to do, should you wish to, to have the endorsements lifted. These can then be agreed in writing as part of any contract you make when purchasing your dog.
These two conditions are the only conditions that the Kennel Club recognise and any other conditions placed on the purchase of a puppy by a breeder are not enforced by the Kennel Club. Further details concerning the two aforementioned conditions can be found in the downloadable Kennel Club document below.
Kennel Club Endorsements Information Guide