As with most ancient dogs, The Spanish Water Dog's origins are unknown and debated by many experts. What is known is that this rustic multi-purpose breed was developed in Spain many centuries ago to fulfill a variety of purposes, including herding, hunting, water work, protection of home and farm, and companionship.
The Spanish Water Dog (Perro de Agua Español) is a medium-sized, hard-working breed found throughout the Spainsh countryside over the last 800 years. Its characteristics, most particularly the quality of its coat, are adapted to the variation of humidity and drought of the Iberian Peninsula.
First mentioned in historical literature in 1110 AD, the breed has been called by many names: perro turco andaluz, laneto, perro de lanas, patero and rizado, perro de agua Español, lanas, chos, chorri, cordelero and merlucero.
The precise origins of the breed are not known. De las Rosas (1993) and Salas (1984) both cite possible African origins, noting that Spanish Water Dogs were used by the tribes of North Africa in water work and herding. De las Rosas also offers two other possible origins: a local ancestor descended from an Asian breed; and a direct descendent from canis familiars palustris from which all European water dogs are derived. Montesinos (1989) cites a theory that the Spanish Water Dog's origins lie in Turkey and Hungary, noting similarity of cording hair to Hungarian Puli, however he asserts the true origin lies in Andaluz and is the most ancient race of the water dogs. Flores (1982) believes the Spanish Water Dog is the same as Perro Turco referred to in the 10th century.
There are two major hypotheses of ancestor arrival in Spain. The first states that the ancestors arrived in era dominated by the Moors. The second asserts that the ancestors on Turkish boats between 600-900 AD.
The population was divided into two major areas within Spain. The first lay within the meridian zone of eastern Andaluz, spreading between the mountain ranges, great plains and marshes of Guadalquivir. The second was in the fishing villages and wharves along the northern coastal regions of the country. The populations almost certainly sprang from the same origins, however, as an animal owned by hard-working country people unable to afford specialized breeds, the Spanish Water Dog had to fulfill whatever regional functions were set before it.
In the central and southern regions, the dog was primarily used driving herds of goats, ewes, cows, and pigs to seasonal pastures, and for hunting foul and small game. SWDs can still be found in the central and southern countryside with their flocks. In the northern coastal regions, the Spanish Water Dog's function was much as its Portuguese Water Dog cousin, retrieving fishing tackle and nets and guarding the catch. The northern dogs probably also hunted and performed other functions during the off-season. Caballero (1994) notes this woolly breed was utilized in the mines of the Cuenca Minera del Guadioto (Sierro Morena) to protect mule transports, guard against thieves, and work as rat control in the mines. The dogs' woolly coat left long and uncut, thereby providing excellent protection against the excessively hot and humid mines and sun blindness.
A lack of coal hindered the arrival of the industrial revolution to Spain, but its impact to the breed was severe. Inland, the railroads proved a faster and cheaper method to move livestock over land traditionally open but now fenced into smaller pastures. As human populations moved to the cities, Spanish Water Dogs were no longer needed to hunt for sustenance. Mechanization enabled larger fishing fleets to travel further from land, and near-land estuaries became too polluted to support traditional fishing arts. While these dogs can still be found working in the southern regions as shepherd dogs, the breed moved with the times, taking on new jobs in today's society: search and rescue, drug and bomb detection.
Starting in 1975, the breed was saved from obscurity through the efforts of Santiago Montesinos and Antonio Garcia Perez. Dogs were acquired or "borrowed" from all regions, however, the majority came from the Shepherds in Andalucia, and carefully bred to preserve the conformation and working abilities of the breed. In May 1985, the breed was recognized by the Real Sociedad Central de Fomento de Razas Caninas en España, and at a Madrid show in that same year, two brown dogs were the first of the breed to be officially shown at a exposition in Madrid. Several years later, the breed standard was based on a black and white dog named "Lucky" owned by Antonio Moreno. The Federacion Cinologica Internacional (F.C.I.) placed the breed in Group VIII (flushing dogs), Section 3 (water dogs).
Today, the precise number of Spanish Water Dogs in the world is unknown. The largest population is thought to remain in Spain. Finland may have the second largest population with approximately 1,500 dogs. The U.S. and Canadian population is estimated at 1000 dogs. Spanish Water Dogs can also be found in Scandinavia, England, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South America.
Jose Barba Caote, "Razas Españolas: El Perro de Aguas", Todo Perro, May 1996
La Guia del Perro de 1993
Sebastian Alonso Jimenez, Website of Benamaina Kennel, Spain
"El Perro de Agua Español", El Mundo del Perro, May 1996
Andres J. Flores Ales, Maria Victoria Mañas Millan and Jose Vicente Garcia Martinez, "Perro Turo Andaluz o Perro de Auguas Español", El Mundo del Perro, August 1983
Jesus Vadillo Jimenez, "La historia cinofila o la actualidad del perro de aguas español"
Jose Luis Bernal Garcia, Bolanio Kennel, interview
Antonio Garcia Perez, Webpage of Ubrique Kennel, Spain
Antonio Garcia Perez, Lecture at the 2004 Finnish Monografica