Getting to Know the Spanish Water Dog

Judging the Spanish Water Dog in conformation presents some specific challenges, and because nearly all of us can be considered newcomers to SWDs, it might be well to examine them here.

On January 3 of this year, the first Spanish Water Dog entered an AKC conformation ring as a recognized breed in the Herding Group. The journey from “rare breed” to full recognition was filled with challenges and discovery on the part of all those who provided American stewardship for this wonderful breed.

The Spanish Water Dog (SWD), also known as Perro de Agua Español or Andalusian Turk, no doubt originated in Turkey and found its way to the Iberian Peninsula at some time that has long been lost to history. It was reintroduced to dogdom beginning in 1975 with the breeding efforts of Santiago Montesinos and Antonio Garcia Perez in Ubrique, Spain. Standards were prepared, and the breed was accepted first by the Spanish Kennel Club, then by FCI and kennel clubs around the world. Although there is a common thread to worldwide breed standards, there are minor variations in each. In April 2012, the American Kennel Club adopted an American version of the breed standard that is used for evaluation of the breed at our shows.

On February 21, 2015 (52 days after recognition), the breed made up its first American champion, Timber Oaks Jingo Jango, and less than 27 hours later, its second champion, Casa de Rancho’s Hagen Ruido. Both dogs had been successfully shown in the Miscellaneous Group.


A Well-Established Breed

Like many other breeds, the Spanish Water Dog is multi-talented and is both willing and suited for many tasks, from all-around farm dog, to a most competent drover and protector of stock, to a versatile hunting partner for upland birds and waterfowl. In its native Spain, there is a wealth of lore surrounding the breed’s use in the ritual of transhumance, the seasonal migration of flocks over some 300 miles to and from feeding grounds. Several owners in the United States began to train their dogs for herding with significant success, and the breed is eligible to participate in herding events sponsored by AKC and the American Herding Breed Association. With this part of its history well proven, the breed was assigned to the Herding Group by the AKC.

Across the pond, the SWD is shown in the Gundog Group with great success. At Crufts in 2011, there were 112 Spanish Water Dog entries, attesting to the breed’s popularity and acceptance in England and on the continent. There were no entries in the Gamekeepers’ classes, however. Unfortunately, in 2015, the entry had decreased to 67. Many of the dogs shown at Crufts this year were “dual purpose” dogs that actively hunt with their owners.

The parent club for the breed in Spain, the Asociación Española del Perro de Agua Español, has held specialty shows and a form of working trials for 30 years. Known as a monográfica, these events are always well attended.

The point here is that the Spanish Water Dogs (if that is too long for you, you can call them Perros) may be new to AKC shows but have been a well-established breed with relatively stable breed type in other parts of the world for decades. We in the United States are fortunate to have been provided with the knowledge, experience and foundation stock that has been developed abroad for the past three decades.

From the outset, the Spanish Water Dog Club of America undertook an ambitious program of breed education in the form of seminars, open shows and Meet the Breeds Events. As a result, long before the first Spanish Water Dog won a blue ribbon in America, judges, breeders and the public were introduced to this versatile dog. Feedback from attendees at these events has shown that we still have a distance to go in our education efforts, but the path ahead is clear.


Judging the Spanish Water Dog

Coat length and appearance. The first thing that meets your eye is that exhibits are shown in coats of varying length and appearance. The standards have traditionally allowed the breed to be shown with coat lengths varying between 1 inch and 5 inches (or the metric equivalent). There are a number of reasons for this wide range, including the alleged tradition of shearing the dog annually along with the sheep. At the same time, there is a disqualification for a “smooth or wavy” coat. At maturity (of the single coat), the hair forms round cords of about 5 inches in length. The shape of the cord (but not the texture) is more like that of a Puli, as opposed to the mat of a Bergamasco.

In pictures from the past and in modern experience, SWDs are most often found working with the coat in some stage of cording. The cords, of course, provide insulation both from cold and extreme heat. Shorter coats, while not weighing down the dog or impeding its activity, provide less insulation and are more apt to lack clear evidence of the curly and wooly texture mandated by the standard. Like a freshly stripped terrier being shown “in its underwear,” it may be impossible to accurately evaluate the coat if sufficient length is not present. A coat that has been brushed or blown out to straightness is problematic.

While a mature corded coat may be an advantage to the dog, it often is a hindrance to visualizing the anatomy of the canine underneath. The breed standard prescribes a dog that is nine parts long to eight parts high at the withers. Most of us will interpret that to mean slightly longer than tall, and that is about as close as you can get given a long or corded coat. One must go under the coat with the fingers to locate the point of shoulder and buttocks. Many dogs that are currently being shown appear to be significantly longer than they actually are because of the volume of the coat.

Going back to your first impression, it is hoped that you will be presented with a dog that clearly exhibits a rustic and natural appearance. That means untrimmed, not blown out, unscissored, unsculpted, undyed, with no hair spray or volumizer. Unfortunately, in the first few months of recognition, a few dogs were shown that displayed obvious signs of creative trimming and brushing.

The difficulty arises when, as one recent seminar attendee pointed out, cutting the dog down evenly all over (shaving) is obviously allowed, as is sanitary trimming. I am sure you can find a definition of sanitary trimming somewhere, but I was laughing too hard to provide a meaningful answer. We can all detect hair of different lengths on a single dog (but be aware that the texture of the hair on the face and muzzle may be different), and we all know the areas that may require sanitary trimming. Any other evident grooming of the Spanish Water Dog should be penalized to the extent that the dog is no longer competitive because the dog is no longer within the breed standard.

Color. The coat color may be black, brown, beige or white, or parti-color, where the second color is (and must be) white. There is no preference of pattern, although roan coloration has occurred and is not looked upon with great favor by breeders. A spotty coat, either “speckled or flecked,” is a disqualification under the FCI standard but not under the American version. Fading of the coat in varying degrees is most normal. No cause for concern, as fading and shading is not only irrelevant but expected.

Tail. If coat issues haven’t confused you enough, let’s consider tails. You didn’t see one? You must be in the United States. Most SWDs don’t carry tails for two very good reasons. Some are born with naturally bobbed tails of varying lengths. This can range from no tail at all to an almost full-length tail or virtually anywhere in between. Many others are docked at birth. In those countries where docking is prohibited, there are natural tails of varying length and substance and carried in a variety of ways. Because of a lack of specific knowledge at this time, the standard doesn’t mention tails. And that’s the long and short of it.

Feet. While we are exploring this “new” breed, let’s consider its round feet — round, like a ball, not like a circle. And like the rest of the dog, the feet are very well covered with coat. Because there is no trimming, you can expect to find hair between the pads.  You will not find webbing to the extent that it is present in the Portuguese Water Dog. The hair is a good thing and provides both protection and a cushion.

Temperament. Several years ago, many individual Spanish Water Dogs displayed temperament issues. This problem has been addressed by breeders both in the standard by reference to the breed’s protective nature and in practice by selection of breeding stock with consideration of temperament and an emphasis on early socialization. The happy result is that we see far fewer dogs with any tendency to be fearful, overly protective or overly aggressive. Although it is difficult to evaluate temperament in the show ring, we hope that judges will reward those dogs with signs of an even temperament and heavily penalize those that display any form of aggression. This potential problem is well on its way to eradication through breeding, socialization and experience.

Proportion. The final “biggie” regarding SWDs is found in the standard’s requirement that both dogs and bitches satisfy a body proportion of nine parts length to eight parts height. It is next to impossible for anyone to make this assessment from a distance and when the dog is concealed by 5 inches of coat. Some folks have taken this to mean almost square, while others have felt it to be “slightly longer than tall.” Early on, the Spanish Water Dog Club of America measured a number of individuals with the finding that while a few of them actually met the 9:8 ratio, many excellent specimens were longer. The standard is the standard, and we adhere to it 100 percent, but if it is necessary to forgive something, then you may want to forgive a bit of excess body length. At some time in the future, the standard may be revised to reflect this difficulty.

We hope you will help us welcome this exciting new breed to the Herding Group and to pastures, fields and wetlands across America. The SWDCA welcomes feedback from everyone, especially judges of the breed. We are hard at work on an illustrated breed standard and the breed’s first National Specialty to be held in conjunction with Morris and Essex in October. Meanwhile, your past and future support of Spanish Water Dogs is most generous and appreciated.


From the May 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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