It was at a canine exhibition in San Pedro de Alcántara in 1980 that a lady with a dog with a curly coat turned up, claiming hers belonged to a native Andalusian breed.
The Judge, a member of the Royal Spanish Kennel Club and a couple of the organisers, took good note as they remembered having seen quite a few of those dogs around both in Ubrique (Cádiz) and the countryside around Seville.
They took it upon themselves to research the breed and by 1983 the Ministry of Agriculture had acknowledged its existence. At the 1985 Madrid dog show, 47 SWDs were presented, of which 40 complied with breed standards and were inscribed.
It wouldn’t be until 1999 though, that the World Canine Federation recorded the breed under Group VIII ‘retrievers’, Section 3, ‘water dogs’.
As early as around 1,000 AD there are references to ‘a wooly dog’. The old Spanish Water Dog was a favourite and it lies at the origin of other breeds such as Poodles, all Spaniels, and the modern SWD we know today.
It’s clearly related to the stunning Portuguese Water Dog, the smaller Italian Lagotto Romagnolo, the American and the Irish Water Spaniel and the larger French Barbet, ‘Barbeta’ being a name often given to SWDs in Spain.
The three distinct phenotypes are: (i) the Cantabrian Water Dog, smaller and lighter in colour and which became a new breed on March 22, 2011; (ii) the one found in the marshes of western Andalusia, with its coat of long, thin cords; and (iii) the largest group, the one from the mountains of southern Andalusia, stronger and bigger in build.
Why SWDs should be called ‘turcos’ is debated. We do know they were used at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries to help load the Turkish ships that carried the flocks of Spanish Merino sheep to Australia. Similar dogs may be found today off the Turkish coast.
Versatile, hard-working and intelligent as they are, SWDs have traditionally been used as gundogs, in herding or assisting fishermen, happy to swim the ropes to shore and help with the nets.
Since the 1980s though, they have seen a revival as pets and are used in bomb and narcotics detection, in rescues, and as therapy dogs.
SWDs are medium-sized with males measuring 44 to 50 cm at the withers and weighing around 18 – 22 kg. Females measure 40 – 45 cm and weight between 14 to 18 kg…
Words Cristina Falkenberg