One of the things that attracts people to the Spanish Water Dog is it's coat. The Spanish Water Dog should never be aesthetically groomed. In order to maintain the rustic appearance that attracts us to this breed, the coat should be clipped at least once a year, all over, using a #5F (finishing) or #5 skip toothed blade which leaves about a quarter of an inch of coat. There should not be any part of the coat that is left longer, for example the head or the ears. Many groomers want to clip a SWD similar to a PWD, leaving hair on the head and trimming over the eys, this is not correct. Once it is clipped completely, a Spanish Water Dog's coat should never be trimmed, This is how a SWD should look after they are clipped.
How often you clip your SWD is a personal preference. If you are going to show your dog, usually once a year is the norm, as the coat should be at least an inch in length. If you are not going to show your dog, usually twice a year or more would be appropriate. If you are using your dog for work, many people like to keep the coat short.
A Spanish Water Dog's coat should never be brushed, combed or blow dried. The dog should be bathed only when it is dirty, using a mild shampoo without heavy conditioners. A shampoo containing Tea Tree Oil seems to work well on the SWDs coat, although many people prefer different shampoos. The shampoo should be worked through the coat as if you were washing a sweater and should not be rubbed vigorously, rather the shampoo should be worked through the coat gently. Be sure to remove all the shampoo with tepid water. Squeeze excess water out with your hands. The coat should not be rubbed with a towel, but blotted and allowed to air dry.
After a several months, the coat will start to "felt" or mat and form cords. In order to maintain the cords, look for areas where the coat is matted. You should pull the mat apart with your fingers from the ends down to the skin. Find a natural separation, and tear with your fingers. Many times the areas where the dog lays become matted, for instance on the back legs and must be maintained. Another area of concern is behind the ears.
If you follow these directions, you should be able to easily maintain the Spanish Water Dog's coat as it should be.
Cording the SWD
The Spanish Water Dog is a rustic herding dog, and its coat and care reflect this.
Traditionally, the coat is allowed to grow naturally, without brushing or cosmetic effect. It is shaved off once or twice per year.
Don't let this fool you into believing the coat does not need care, however! As with any dog, keep an eye out for extremely tight mats that cause discomfort or hot spots. Regular baths and complete drying, either in the sun or in a crate drier, should also be a part of your dog's care.
Single-coats vs. Double coats
The hair follicles on dog's skin grow one single guard hair and a multitude of undercoat hairs. In some breeds, the amount undercoat hairs is significantly reduced. These types of coats are called "single coats". The SWD and its cousins the Portuguese Water Dog, Poodle, and Lagotto Romangolo share this type of coat. The other common trait that the water dog breeds share is the appearance of white hairs (sometimes called "threads") placed sporadically and without pattern throughout the adult coat. Sometimes people mistake this for graying or aging, but it is a natural appearance in black or brown coats.
Similar to a sheep, the your SWD's hairs are curly and slightly wooly. The hairs themselves if viewed under a microscope have "hooks" down the entire hair. When several hairs rub together, the hooks interlock, creating a mat. With agitation, the mat can turn into a wad of felt.
You can significantly minimize matting in your dog's coat by changing the way you pet and wash your dog.
We all know, the SWD's coat is great fun to rub in circles with the entire hand. However, it is this rubbing action that makes mats the fastest. Splay your fingers when you pet your dog and allow the coat to run through them. Try not to rub in circles.
When washing and drying your dog, remember not to agitate or rub the hair. Put your shampoo in a plastic pitcher and run water hard into it, creating bubbles. It is the surface of the bubble that carries the dirt and oil away. If your dog has very dirty legs, dip the feet and legs into the pitcher and swirl it around, suspending the dirt in a bath. Pour the remaining shampoo over your wet dog. Squeeze the shampoo through the hair--do not rub! Rinse thoroughly. Towel dry by squeezing the moisture out of the coat--again, do not rub! Drying the dog in the sun or in a crate drier instead of with a blow drier will promote tighter curls.