The Cuddly Spanish Water Dog

The Spanish Water Dog – Perro De Agua Español is cuteness personified with its curly, woolly coat and oh-so-loving eyes

A  cousin of the Portuguese Water Dog, Irish Water Spaniel and French Barbet, the Spanish Water Dog (SWD) is cute and cuddly to look at and playful in nature. However, beneath its charming exterior is a fierce and loyal guard and a wonderful, intelligent companion.

ORIGIN: Since as long as 1110, the Iberian Peninsula was inhabited by dogs with woolly coats which resembled SWDs. They are considered the ancestors of water dogs in general. Some theories suggest that the breed was originally Turkish (earning it the name Perro Turco, i.e. Turkish Dog, and Andalusian Turk) or African and brought to Spain and developed in 1710 to be used as farm dogs. Later on, they began to accompany hunters and fishermen on their trips and hunt game, retrieve nets and tow boats to the shore. The SWD is known by other names as well such as Laneto, Churro, Barbeta, Perro Rizado, Perro de Lanas and Perro Patero.

It was after 1975, when Antonio García Pérez and Santiago Montesinos set out across Southern Spain in search of the original breed and procured many of them from shepherds that the SWD began to be recognised in its home country. In 1980 the Spanish Water Dog Club was formed and in 1985, the Spanish Kennel Club recognised the breed officially. The Spanish Water Dog Club’s efforts helped the breed achieve recognition from the American Kennel Club (AKC) Foundation Stock Service in 2005 and on January 1, 2015, AKC added it to the herding group list from the miscellaneous group, giving it full recognition. Currently the SWD ranks #162 on AKC’s popularity charts.

DESCRIPTION: The rustic-looking SWD has a thick, curly, woolly single coat which begins to cord as it grows longer and a medium-sized, robust and athletic body which is longer than tall. It has a strong head, triangular, drooping ears and expressive, slightly oblique and wide-set eyes which, depending on the coat colour, may be hazelnut, chestnut or dark brown in colour. Its eye-rims, nose and paw pads are the same colour as the darkest portion of its coat.

A broad chest, powerful back, well-muscled, oblique shoulders and well-sprung ribs are characteristic of the breed and the neck is short, strong, slightly arched and in proportion to the length of the body. Their toes are tight and well-arched and they possess round, compact and webbed feet which help them navigate water easily.

ACTIVITY: SWDs have excellent stamina and love to tire themselves out. Regular exercise is necessary to prevent boredom and help them regulate their body temperature, which allows them to endure extreme heat and cold. Take them for long walks and play with them daily. Also leave around toys for them to play with and you’ll have a calm, content dog on your hands. Owing to their history of going out to sea with fishermen, most dogs belonging to this breed love to swim and dive. A word of caution: do not expose pups to too much exercise since excessive pressure on their joints and bones can lead to serious problems at a later age.

Used earlier for herding, hunting and fishing purposes, today the breed is employed to not only herd livestock, but also in bomb detection, search and rescue, and tracking, and also in activties such as obedience, agility and flyball.

TEMPERAMENT: SWDs are generally known to be happy-go-lucky dogs, but they may also be prone to a difficult temperament. Socialise them at an early age to help them adjust better to other people and animals. They are great family pets and love human contact, but their high energy may make them unsuitable for children, so an adult must always be present around them. The SWD is loyal, intelligent, alert and protective and as a rule, they are shy and territorial which makes them wary of strangers.

SWDs are quick learners and adapt well to positive reinforcement training methods. However, avoid repetition and keep the training session short and interesting which will help them focus and learn better.

HEALTH: SWDs commonly suffer from hip dysplasia and allergies. But they may also be prone to hypothyroid, congenital hypothyroid with goiter, ear infections, musculoskeletal injuries and eye diseases like glaucoma and prcd-PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy).

GROOMING: The SWD requires little maintenance. Its curly, woolly coat must never be brushed or combed and fancy haircuts are a big no-no. Shear its coat evenly once or twice a year and use only non-astringent, mild shampoos for bathing. Do not towel-dry them, rather let them be air-dried to allow proper cording. Nails, ears and teeth must be regularly cleaned and excessive ear hair must be trimmed or plucked, since it can lead to infections.

Interesting Trivia: Harry, an SWD rescued by Cari, a Chinese photographer, in 2010 from a park in Guilin, South-West China, became an international star after he and Cari travelled to the US and back to China via central Asia and Europe, on a bicycle between 2014 and 2015. With Harry ensconced safely in a special basket fitted into the back of the cycle, they visited 23 nations on their grand cycling trip, while also raising awareness about animal shelters around the world, making Harry perhaps the most-travelled dog till date.

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