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Hunting

It is commonly accepted that the Spanish Water Dog hunted. However, in contrast to information on the breed's primary function as a herding dog, comparatively little historical documentation exists which shows just how the dog was used as a hunting dog, and much of what we have learned is through conversation rather than in print.

According to Antonio Garcia Perez, the majority of this breed were used as herders, with a small and historically late population in the north used similarly to Portuguese Water Dogs on fishing boats. He recalls family members who herded with their SWDs during the day, and hunted  with them after the herds were secured for the evening.

Spanish Water Dogs were owned by poor country folk who could not afford dogs specialized in only one task. Hunting was conducted after the flocks were secured for the evening. Hunting was for subsistence, not for sport. In lean times, dogs were expected to forage for themselves.

The SWD as a Flushing Dog

As the majority of SWDs were herding dogs, and as flocks were kept out of the marshlands, SWDs were used on dry land to hunt rabbits and upland fowl. The dogs flushed the animal, the hunter shot the animal, and the dog retrieved the animal. Owners hunted on foot, not on horseback, and the dogs stayed at a comfortable and easy distance from their owners while working.

The breed is also known to excel in air-scenting. Modernly, the Spanish Water Dog is widely trained for Search and Rescue work in Europe and Scandinavia.

Some people in the SWD community would like the breed to not be remembered as a dog that works on land. They fear that the "first thing to go will be the coat."

Antonio Garcia Perez's webpage states, "There are some that try to use the Spanish Water Dog as a hunting dog which is a marvelous tracker and retriever, but there is the major inconvenience of its natural wool. The wool is very dense and gets caught very easily in all types of underbrush. We have even some dogs trapped by their own wool to the point that they couldn't even move. To go out into the country with a waterdog one must have in mind the type of terrain that they are going to traverse and what time of year it is. Short wool is ideal for the countryside but you must keep in mind that a short hair dog will never swim or dive as well as long hair dog."

The SWD as a Water Fowl Retriever

The Iberian peninsula provides a stop on the flyway for migratory birds between Europe and Africa and was once known for its excellent water fowl hunting. The FCI standard tells us, "Its characteristics, most particularly the quality of his coat, are adapted to the variation of humidity and drought of the marsh regions." It is probable that the SWD was used for retrieving water fowl.

Barba asserts, "In aquatic activities, the dog is used to retrieve ducks in marshes and rivers. Its aptitude for water work in conjunction with its instinct for hunting makes this breed ideal for working in wet zones." However, due to the lack of wealth of SWD owners, it is not likely that they were used on the great organized duck shoots shown in Spanish art.

U.K. author Ian Murray (Gundogs: The Magazine for Gundog Enthusiasts, March 1996) reminds us to keep the dog's size in perspective. "They are light dogs and must not therefore be used in running water as they will be carried by the current. That being said, they are strong dogs for their size..." He also asserts that "...some authorities believe [the Spanish Water Dog] served as a genetic base for the creation of many European hunting breeds, including Spaniels, poodles and the Portuguese water dog."


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