The original FCI standard (no. 336) states, "Utilization: Used as shepherd dog, hunting dog and assistant [sic] to the fisherman. Brief historical summarization: The presence of this dog in the Iberian peninsula is most ancient. Its most dense population is in Andalusia where he is used as a shepherd dog, and where he has been known for centuries as the "Turkish dog" (perro turco). Its characteristics, most particularly the quality of his coat, are adapted to the variation of humidity and drought of the marsh regions, which qualifies him as a shepherd dog and auxiliary to the hunters of wild fowl and fishermen in those regions."
The breed was expected, with little or no training, to herd many types of livestock: goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, etc. The breed sometimes worked in conjunction with the Spanish Mastiff on the annual migration to and from seasonal pastures, known in Spain as the "trashumancia" (Desarnaud). In addition to moving the livestock, these dogs were expected to sound alarm and protect against predators.
In the August 1983 Spanish publication of El Mundo del Perro, Flores As et. al. asserted that the Perro Turco was used in the export of sheep on Turkish boats in the 18th and 19thcenturies. The dogs apparently travelled with the flocks, controlling the sheep in foreign ports with a style much like the Hungarian Puli.
"Our first contact with the breed dates from 1973, when we observed with admiration various examples [of Perro Turco] securely making the correct lead of 800 ewes in a stock exhibition in Morón de la Frontera (Sevilla)." Starting in 1983, the Iberian Environmental Society has held an annual show and herding competition for indigenous shepherd dogs. The Spanish Water Dog has competed from the beginning and done well at these shows.
Barba Capote, et. al., (Todo Perros, May 1996), asserts that the herding instinct remains strong in this breed, even in lines where dogs were not worked. SWDs untrained on livestock display traits necessary to herding, "among these behaviors we can mention the backwards leaps that the dogs give when they bite or threaten to bite the lead cattle in order to avoid the kick or instantaneous reactions of the beast; the maintenance of head to the ground when they approach the herd and guarding reaction on the part of the flock when an animal is separated from the larger group."
The Spanish breed club continues to develop an annual working competition for this breed, drawing from all the diverse skills the breed historically performed. One of the first developed was a herding test using cattle, demonstrating the dog's ability to drive, gather, and pen.
The Spanish Water Dog is an upright, loose-eyed tending dog. In Spain, these dogs were used on several types of livestock: goats, cattle, sheep and pigs.
In the rocky terrain of Andalucia, the SWD's charge is often herds of goats. Unlike sheep, goats are known to try to stand a dog down, and it takes tenacity to show a goat who is boss without altercation.
The Spanish Water Dog became eligible to compete in AKC herding tests and trials in January, 2008. The first titles were awarded in August 2008 on the same day to:
Beloved Pretty in Pink de Ariosa PT-s, NA, NAJ, CGC
Brasenia Concurrido Chasin Ewe PT-s, Rn, RL1
The following is excerpted from El Nuevo Libro del Perro de Agua Español by Josefina Gómez-Toldrá.
Asociación Española del Perro de Agua Español: Rules of the tests of work with livestock
- The first test is worth 5 points. One introduces the dog in a corral with ten head of livestock. Secondly, one opens the corral gate and the handler commands the dog to drive the livestock, such that they must make a time of maximum five minutes to obtain the complete points. For each minute they waste, they lose a point, so to say, if they take six minutes, they obtain only 4 points.
- The second tests consists of conducting the livestock along a corridor 2 meters wide and 25 meters long, with the both sides marked equally with tree branches in the manner of a fence. The dog gets to conduct the livestock, attempting to keep the beasts from separating, turning around, escaping, or leaving the path. If he finishes with five beasts completing the test correctly, he obtains five points, but for each animal that loses a part of the number, he will obtain one point less.
- In the third and final test, the dog gets to gather a group of twenty sheep or cows in the corral from which he previously drove them out. The dog makes use of a maximum of 15 minutes to finalize the test and obtains one point for each one of the animals that he secures in the enclosure, up to a total of 20 points.
- In the case that two or more dogs receive the same amount of points, it is disputed by a tie breaker, which will consist of penning a beast into the corral from a distance minimum of 50 meters. The dog who achieves the smallest time will achieve the win. If it persists in a tie, this operation will be repeated up to three times, and finally the winner will be decided with a coin tossed in the air.
- The dog participants that are biters will wear muzzles. The judge gets authority to disqualify partially or totally any dog who kills a beast. Each dog will compete with different animals.