History as a Herding Breed
The Spanish Water Dog (Perro de Agua Español) was known throughout Spain by many different names, the most common being Turco Andaluz. It was and is a multi-purpose farm dog whose primary function has historically been herding livestock including goats, sheep, and cattle.
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”. 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 Alés et. al. assert that the Perro Turco was used in the export of sheep on Turkish boats in the 18th and 19th centuries. 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 goats, demonstrating the dog’s ability to drive, gather, and pen.
The following is excerpted from El Nuevo Libro del Perro de Agua Español by Josefina Gómez-Toldrà.
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 test consists of conducting the livestock along a corridor 2 meters wide and 25 meters long, with both sides marked equally with tree branches in the manner of a fence. The dog gets to conduct the livestock, attempting to keep the animals from separating, turning around, escaping, or leaving the path. If he finishes with five animals completing the test correctly, he obtains 5 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 20 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, there is a tie breaker, which will consist of penning an animal into the corral from a minimum distance of 50 meters. The dog who uses the least amount of time wins. If it remains a tie, this exercise is repeated up to three times, and if that doesn't resolve the tie, the winner is decided with a coin toss. The dog participants that are biters will wear muzzles. The judge has the authority to disqualify partially or totally any dog who kills an animal. Each dog will compete with different animals.”
Supplemental: ResourcesEl Mundo del Perro, “Perro Turco Andaluz o Perro de Aguas Español”, August 1983
Article by: Andrés J. Flores Alés, María Victoria Mañas Millán y José Vicente Garcia Martinez. Translation by Lisa Harper.
“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).”
“The second indicator for the story of origin is during the exportation of Spanish Merino sheep to Australia at the end of the 18th century and most of the 19th century on Turkish boats, which explains the name which actually designates these dogs [Perro Turco]; to ship and lodge the bleaters, shippers found it necessary for a dog to capably move the sheep in unfamiliar ports, and with adequate capacity and agility to leap on top of and between the ewes.”
“…we asserted carrying a double line of action; for one part, to breed our suitable dogs and, secondly, a genetic study of the most typey individuals which are owned by goatherds and herdsman of the zone.”
FCI standard, no. 336
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”. 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.
Todo Perros , “Spanish Breeds: El Perro de Agua”, May 1996
Article by: Cecilio José Barba Capote, DVM, in collaboration with Cruz Callejo, Antonio Amezcua, Antonio Carvajal, Rosa Hevia and Jonás Gascón. Translation by Lisa Harper.
“This breed presents a great likeness of dependency to its geographic region; thus it is known in the South of Spain as turco andaluz, laneto, perro de lanas, patero and rizado, and in literature the dogs are called perro de aguas español, lanas, chos, chorri, cordelero or merlucero.”
“Two authors, De las Rosa (1993) along with Salas (1984) note…reference to the fact that ancient perros de agua were utilized by the tribes of north Africa for use in aquatic regions and for herding…. In addition, Montesinos (1989) alludes to Doebel, according to whom the perro de agua came from Turkey and Hungary, which is why the cording hair is so similar in to the Hungarian Puli.”
“De la Rosa (1993) finds…it is a dog that in Andalucía and also the zones of Extremadura developed herding or hunting activities with great efficiency. It makes out signals and commands while working to initiate proper groupings well or to move cattle herds. Apart from its work as a flock driver for goats, ewes, cows and pigs, it also achieves certain guarding and protection work against small predators of livestock.”
“Prior to the contribution of pastoral training, Amezcua (1994) alludes that the behavior of this breed is in respect to its function, even in animals that have never been in contact with sheep. 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.”
Todo Perros, “El Perro de Agua, Segunde Parte”, June 1996
by Marcelino Benito. Translation by Lisa Harper.
For the purposes of the herder I state without a doubt that these dogs provide the most important job, they are conditioned to the country landscape and to the possibility of gaining use through training, utilized on the part of the breeder or aficionado, [for tasks] which we might otherwise reject for their material impossibility. In whatever manner, it is important not to lose these natural qualities, and more or less with affection for the breed and stock-breeders, that lines with aptitudes for this work be identified and conserved.
Photo courtesy of Manuel Calvo
The ancient and natural habitat of the Spanish Water Dog was very rustic and rural, as it was of the goatherd and his family or the shepherd and his flock; the dog passed the majority of its life roaming free to tend its live stock.
Upon arriving home they need one to guard “the corral” or to stretch down to guard the door of the house and bark when strange persons or animals arrived. Before these circumstances are able to leave their unfamiliar mark and small caress or hold, the dog would draw himself up to growl/snarl and bite at the intruder.
The Spanish Water Dog needs to be active and, because the majority of aficionados are not herders, fishermen or hunters, we have to find another type of work as a substitute. 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 animal; keeping the 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.
Canine Lexicon, “Water Dog of Spain”, copyright 1993
“El Perro de Agua de Español , diluted into English, the Water Dog of Spain, is indeed not a water dog in the traditional sense, nor is this newly discovered breed a spin-off or variant of the well-known Cao de Agua, the Portuguese Water Dog. The Perro de Agua has functioned for Spanish shepherds for hundreds of years as a herder and all-around working dog, who has a lusty affinity for the water. …this Spaniard had been employed to move sheep from the south of Spain to the north in the summer time, since the southern part of the country was too hot for grazing the sheep back to the south. Working in conjunction with el mastín español, the Spanish Mastiff, who guarded the royal cañadas or cattle paths, the Perro de Agua lead the way for the shepherds.”
Gundogs Magazine, “The Spanish Water Dog”, March 1996
by Ian Murray
“This multi-talented dog is not a rare breed and there are probably thousands in Spain. It is a breed which has lived in anonymity in the country for as long as anyone can remember, herding and controlling sheep, goats and cattle with surprising efficiency even though they receive no training. They are clearly highly intelligent and pick up new tasks very quickly.”
“Official interest in the breed began in 1973 when dogs were seen in the Seville area herding 800 sheep in trials.”
El Nuevo Libro del Perro de Agua Español
Josefina Gómez-Toldrà. Translation by Lisa Harper
“It is unusual and incredibly rare that a dog will pass the entire day working with a stockman, it is said, as a shepherd dog, with all that he must bear (vigilance that no sheep is misplaced or wrestles against predators such as wolves or foxes) would also be capable of accompanying his [owner] on a hunt, because so many are able to turn to the water to capture a duck just like returning with a rabbit or a hare. And we don’t need to speak again about their abilities for fishing.”
“…the first Simposium Nacional de las Razas Caninas Españolas [had a] festival in Cordoba, in March of 1982, where the first investigations and publications were presented together. Andrés J. Flores Ales, secretary of the Symposium, veterinarian and one of the first breeders in the breed, emphasized in his presentation the cleverness of the Spanish Water Dog as a herder of great flocks.”
“La Sociedad Ecologista Ibérica (SEIPPEC), an association specializing in all the aspects of the native stock breeders, organized a great concentration of examples of Spanish Water Dogs on May 14, 1983, in Plasencia, during the First Exhibit of Iberian Herding Dogs. The same association organized, on the 6th of October, 1984, the Second Exhibit of Iberian Herding Dogs, in Griñón, Madrid, in which examples of Spanish Water Dogs also participated.”
“In their origin, all [Spanish Water Dogs] worked the pastures and, in the mountains, they recovered the game.”
Website of Antonio Garcia Perez, Ubrique Kennel, www.perroaguaubrique.com/, accessed Nov. 2011
“The Spanish Water Dogs is not a new breed, it is a breed that always was in the south of the Iberian Peninsula as a herding dog (facts in writing from the year 1.110) and later in the north and south coast of Spain as an assistant in sailors works.”
“When Antonio Garcia discovered this breed of dogs, more than some 40 years ago, he was a boy . . . the grandson of an old shepherd, which day after day used his dogs "Tarzan" and "Mora" to gather and take the flock into their corral to be milked.”
“His grandparents (and his uncles, today in their 80s) have used Spanish Water Dogs as helpers to handle their flocks of sheep, lambs, pigs, and cattle.”
"In the farm he inherited from the grandparents of his grandparents, they have been using the 'water dog' for more than 300 years for herding. We have found dog skulls that old that are exactly the same as those of today's dogs."