Training and Behavior of the SWD
As a herding breed, the Spanish Water Dog has a well-deserved reputation for intelligence and reasoning skills. These dogs have been bred for centuries to control livestock under the direction of the shepherd and farmer. In addition to enhancing their basic herding instincts, such selective breeding has resulted in dogs who are both very trainable and responsive to their environment. Always keep the natural herding instincts in mind when training your SWD. Their inborn behavior and temperament are key to successful training.
It is an owner's responsibility to guide a puppy's/dog's natural instinct and ability correctly from the beginning. SWDs, like children, become confused and often anxious if they are given mixed signals. Behavior that you do not want to encourage should not be allowed. Do not make the mistake of allowing your puppy to do something because you think it is cute, unless you wish to make it part of his trick repertoire. It is always easier to set more lenient rules later than to correct established behavior.
You should encourage your puppy to obey standard obedience and household rules. Basic obedience is essential. The SWD Club of America encourages all owners to attend obedience classes. Help him learn by rewarding the positive rather than by punishing the negative. The best way to discourage behavior that you do not want is to substitute another, acceptable activity. If your puppy tends to nip, have toys close by, and immediately put a toy in your puppy's mouth. Another example is, trade a ball for a shoe instead of scolding the dog for stealing the shoe. Puppy and Adult obedience classes are excellent and a good way to start your Spanish Water Dog on the road to good behavior. A well trained SWD makes for a happy dog and a happy home.
When you first bring your SWD home, crate training is the best thing you can do for your puppy's well being. It will make housebreaking much easier. It helps to put your puppy on a daily schedule and all dogs need their own space and quiet time. It helps to eliminate unwanted, destructive (teething) behavior. When you are with him, you may tether him to your waist. Once he has had all of his puppy shots take him with you as much as possible.
Most Spanish Water Dogs have a strong desire to bond with their family, and this should be encouraged. If the pup has been raised with people and household noises, you will not have to make a special effort to make him comfortable with them. Try to have him meet as many adults and children as possible, both at home and elsewhere. Make certain these meetings happen under close supervision and try to make each situation a happy and positive experience. This is especially important in the case of children.
Herding behavior may become apparent when children run and play. Your Spanish Water Dog may try to control the game by circling and nipping, just as he would do with unruly stock. This may be suitable with sheep, but not with the neighborhood kids. Such behavior must be stopped immediately. Reprimand the puppy firmly, remove him from the situation, and substitute a game of ball chasing or another activity that will distract him. Instruct children not to run and tease these dogs. Young puppies and adult dogs should never be put in the situation to play with young children unsupervised.
Many dogs go through normal fear periods. If you are calm, then your puppy will be calm (for example, in a thunderstorm). Do not reinforce his fear by coddling him or carrying him around, which will reinforce his fearful behavior.
It is part of the heritage of the breed to be aware of activity, and to try to herd anything that moves. This is the instinct that enables him to gather flocks from the end of the field. No Spanish Water Dog puppy should be off lead unless he is in a secure place, such as a fenced yard. SWDs tend not to want to roam, but their innate curiosity coupled with their intelligence often produces "escape artists". Watch your dog carefully in the beginning to make sure he is not inclined to jump, climb, or dig under the fence. He can fit through an incredibly small opening. Invisible fencing can be a false sense of security as some dogs can break through and it does not prevent another animal from coming onto your property.
There are many good resources available for training, such as puppy training discussion lists, training books, (see Suggested Resources) and many other Internet sources.