Along the Iberian coastline, dogs earned their keep working in fishing boats. Boats often had open bottoms, with crews either rowing or sailing them out to the estuary. The dogs helped swim out, set and haul in the nets, and retrieved tackle and fish lost over the side.
The industrial revolution, powered by coal, was slow to infiltrate the Iberian peninsula, but come it did. Mechanized boats no longer required dogs as assistants. Just as the draft horse lost his job to the tractor and all but disappeared from the farm, the fisherman's-assistant dog dwindled in both use and numbers.
Today, Spanish Water Dogs primarily enjoy working in the water for fun. American SWDs can compete for water titles in venues such as Canine Water Sports. The PDAE Club in Spain also includes competitive tests in the water for the breed.
It is the responsibility of the breed's aficionados to preserve the breed's working history, and to encourage the breeding of dogs capable of performing the work in build and temperament.
In the United States, the Spanish Water Dog may earn water titles which reflect aspects of the breed's historical functions in Dock Diving, the SWDCA's Junior Water Dog Test, and on the eastern seaboard in Canine Water Sports.