History of the Breed
The Spanish Water Dog (Perro de Agua Español) is a medium-sized, hard-working breed found throughout the Spanish countryside over the last 800 years. Its characteristics, most particularly the quality of its coat, are adapted to the variation of humidity and drought of the Iberian Peninsula.
As with most ancient dogs, the Spanish Water Dog's origins are debated by many experts. What is known is that this rustic multi-purpose breed was developed in Spain many centuries ago to fulfill a variety of purposes, including herding, hunting, water work, protection of home and farm, and companionship.
First mentioned in historical literature in 1110 AD, the breed has been called by many names: perroturco andaluz, laneto, perro de lanas, patero and rizado, perro de agua Español, lanas, chos, chorri, cordelero and merlucero.
The precise origins of the breed are not known. De las Rosas (1993) and Salas (1984) both cite possible African origins, noting that Spanish Water Dogs were used by the tribes of North Africa in water work and herding. De las Rosas also offers two other possible origins: a local ancestor descended from an Asian breed; and a direct descendant from canis familiars palustris from which all European water dogs are derived. Montesinos (1989) cites a theory that the Spanish Water Dog's origins lie in Turkey and Hungary, noting similarity of cording hair to Hungarian Puli, however he asserts the true origin lies in Andaluz and is the most ancient race of the water dogs. Flores (1982) believes the Spanish Water Dog is the same as Perro Turco referred to in the 10th century.
There are two major hypotheses of ancestor arrival in Spain. The first states that the ancestors arrived in era dominated by the Moors. The second asserts that the ancestors on Turkish boats between 600-900 AD.
The population was divided into two major areas within Spain. The first lay within the meridian zone of eastern Andaluz, spreading between the mountain ranges, great plains and marshes of Guadalquivir. The second was in the fishing villages and wharves along the northern coastal regions of the country. The populations almost certainly sprang from the same origins, however, as an animal owned by hard-working country people unable to afford specialized breeds, the Spanish Water Dog had to fulfill whatever regional functions were set before it.
In the central and southern regions, the dog was primarily used driving herds of goats, sheep, cows, and pigs to seasonal pastures, and secondarily for hunting fowl and small game. SWDs can still be found in the central and southern countryside with their flocks. In the northern coastal regions, the Spanish Water Dog's function was similar to its larger Portuguese cousin, retrieving fish and tackle dropped from the boat, and swimming lines to and from shore. The northern dogs probably also hunted and performed other functions during the off-season. Caballero (1994) notes this woolly breed was utilized in the mines of the Cuenca Minera del Guadioto (Sierro Morena) to protect mule transports, guard against thieves, and work as rat control in the mines. The dogs' woolly coat left long and uncut, thereby providing excellent protection against the excessively hot and humid mines and sun blindness.
The industrial revolution arrived late to Spain due to a lack of coal, but its impact to the all working animals including the Spanish Water Dog was severe. Traditional stock handling methods changed and some previously open pastureland was fenced off. Human populations moved to the cities and Spanish Water Dogs were no longer needed to hunt for sustenance. Mechanization enabled larger fishing fleets to travel further from land, and near-land estuaries became too polluted to support traditional fishing arts. While these dogs can still sited working in the southern regions as shepherd dogs, the breed moved with the times, taking on new jobs in today's society: search and rescue, drug and bomb detection, and as companions excelling in agility, obedience and other leisurely pursuits.
Starting in 1975, the breed was saved from obscurity through the efforts of Santiago Montesinos and Antonio Garcia Perez. Dogs were acquired or "borrowed" from all regions, however, the majority came from the Shepherds in Andalucia, and carefully bred to preserve the conformation and working abilities of the breed. In May 1985, the breed was recognized by the Real Sociedad Central de Fomento de Razas Caninas en España, and at a Madrid show in that same year, two brown dogs were the first of the breed to be officially shown at a exposition in Madrid. Several years later, the breed standard was based on a black and white dog named "Lucky" owned by Antonio Moreno. The Federacion Cinologica Internacional (F.C.I.) placed the breed in Group VIII (flushing dogs), Section 3 (water dogs) alongside their Portuguese cousins.
The breed was fully recognized by the AKC in 2015 and placed in the Herding Group due to the breed's primary function of herding. To this day, it remains a multi-purpose breed.
Sources:Jose Barba Caote, "Razas Españolas: El Perro de Aguas", Todo Perro, May 1996
La Guia del Perro de 1993
Sebastian Alonso Jimenez, Website of Benamaina Kennel, Spain
"El Perro de Agua Español", El Mundo del Perro, May 1996
Andres J. Flores Ales, Maria Victoria Mañas Millan and Jose Vicente Garcia Martinez, "Perro Turo Andaluz o Perro de Auguas Español", El Mundo del Perro, August 1983
Jesus Vadillo Jimenez, "La historia cinofila o la actualidad del perro de aguas español"
Jose Luis Bernal Garcia, Bolanio Kennel, interview
Antonio Garcia Perez, Webpage of Ubrique Kennel, Spain
Antonio Garcia Perez, Lecture at the 2004 Finnish Monografica