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Spanish Water Dog

Nicole Cosgrove

Spanish Water Dog

The Spanish Water Dog is a medium sized purebred from Spain closely related to similar dogs like the Portuguese Water Dog, the Irish Water Spaniel and the French Barbet. It was actually first used as a guard dog and as a sheepdog before being also used occasionally as a gundog and then successfully as a water dog, a dog who retrieved birds from the water after being downed by hunters and a helper to fishermen. They are commonly found in Spain still being kept as farm dogs but are now mostly companions. They are smart and can also be used successfully in bomb detection, tracking, flyball, search and rescue, agility, obedience and conformation.

The Spanish Water Dog at A Glance
Name Spanish Water Dog
Other names Perro de Agua Espa
Nicknames SWD
Origin Spain
Average size Medium
Average weight 31 to 49 pounds
Average height 16 to 20 inches
Life span 10 to 14 years
Coat type Wooly, shaggy
Hypoallergenic Yes
Color Black and white, brown, brown and white, beige
Popularity Not very popular – ranked 162nd by the AKC
Intelligence Excellent– understands new commands very quickly
Tolerance to heat Excellent can live in hot weather even extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle cold weather too
Shedding Low – not prone to leaving hair around the home
Drooling Low – not a breed prone to slobber or drooling
Obesity Average – can gain weight if over fed and under exercised
Grooming/brushing High maintenance – needs an owner who can commit to a lot of care
Barking Occasional – will be some barking
Exercise needs Very active – will need lots of physical and mental stimulation
Trainability Moderately easy – experienced owners will find it a fairly smooth process
Friendliness Excellent – social and outgoing
Good first dog Good but best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Very good with socialization
Good with strangers Good but need socialization as can be wary
Good apartment dog Very good with daily outdoor activity
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers not to be left alone for long periods and can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Somewhat healthy, a few possible issues include hip dysplasia, eye problems, allergies and hypothyroidism
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $535 a year for miscellaneous items, grooming, license, toys and basic training
Average annual expenses $1140 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,500
Rescue organizations Several including the Spanish Water Dog Club of America Rescue, Spanish Water Dog Rescue
Biting Statistics None reported

The Spanish Water Dog’s Beginnings

The Spanish Water Dog is an old dog and has over the years been called by different names such as Perro de Lanas, Perro de Agua, Perro Turco, Perro Patero, Laneto, Perro Rizado and most recently the Perro de Ague Espanol. It is not exactly known for sure what its origins are, some suggest the ancestors were brought over by the Turks as they came and moved around the Mediterranean, and others think the dog may have roots in North Africa. The first recording of a water dog looking like the Spanish Water Dog in this area was in the early 12th century.

Before being used as a water dog it was in fact originally bred as a herding dog, moving flocks of sheep and herds of goats to different grazing areas, and acting as a guard dog. This movement up and down Spain was called the Trashumancia, but when Napoleon invaded and occupied Spain this movement happened a lot less. Instead plots of land were given to farmers to use and stay on. The dog was admired by the French though and some were brought back to France where for a while it was popular with French nobility.

The Industrial revolution also had an impact on the need for such dogs. Meanwhile the German Shepherd Dog became more common in the Northern regions and the SWD was more limited to southern Spain as it was better in the mountains. It was around this time that ports used the breed to help with chores such as towing in boats and then when that was no longer needed fishermen would use it to help pull in nets. With the use of guns in hunting it also came to be favored as a good water retriever for hunting and retrieving upland game and water fowl. In the north fishermen preferred the dog to be light so they were easily spotted in the water and in the farmers preferred dark dogs that were easier to see on the fields.

New Lease on Life

When more people moved from farming to cities there was less need for so many dogs in their traditional roles. However thankfully in the mid 1970s effort was made to get Spanish Water Dogs from different regions and to start a selective breeding program to keep the breed going. Two such breeders were Santiago Montesinos and Antonio Garcia Perez. The Spanish Water Dog Club in Spain was formed in 1980 and it was recognized by the Spanish Kennel Club in 1985. The United Kennel Club recognized it fully in 2004 but it was not given full recognition by the AKC (American Kennel Club) until 2015. It is ranked 162nd in popularity by them.

The Dog You See Today

The SWD is a medium sized dog weighing 31 to 49 pounds and standing 16 to 20 inches tall. It is a dog that is in proportion with a short neck that is strong and a straight topline. It has a broad chest and a stomach that tucks up a little. The tail is docked in places where this is still allowed. It has muscled shoulders and sturdy legs with rounded front feet and webbing that improves their swimming ability. It is a little longer than it is tall. Its coat is part of its unique rustic appearance as it is corded when long with a wooly feel to it. If kept short it is curly. Colors common to this breed are black, chestnut, brown and white and they can be bi-colored and tri-colored though the latter is not accepted in show dogs. Spanish Water Dogs have a flat skull and strong head with a nose that is a little darker than its coat color or the same color and well defined nostrils. Its eyes are set fairly wide apart and are expressive and a chestnut to hazel color. Eye rims are the same color as the nose. Its ears are set neither very high nor very low and are triangular in shape.

The Inner Spanish Water Dog


This breed is an intelligent dog, versatile, hard working with strong guarding and herding instincts still. It is also a very good companion and makes a great family dog being affectionate, loyal, level, happy and devoted. It has a lot of stamina and strength and will need owners happy to take it out for exercise. It can also be trained to act in various useful roles. When around strangers it is reserved but it should not be very shy. It is important that it is properly introduced to them. It has protective instincts and will need to be socialized. Owners need to be confident when dealing with them so that it does not become too territorial. It will alert you with barking to someone breaking in though and it may also act to defend you and the its home.

This is a loving companion and it can be a great family dog with the right care. It is eager to please and does best in homes where there is not a lot of stress and raised voices. It can become very focused when it is undertaking a task and its herding instincts means it likes to chase and control moving things. Owners should be confident and ideally experienced and a sense of humor will help. The SWD can be strong willed and quirky at times. It is a lively and alert dog and can form closer bonds to one person in particular in the family who it will choose above any others. Some owners have found it seems to prefer female owners to male.

Living with a Spanish Water Dog

What will training look like?

The Spanish Water Dog is moderately easy to train especially for those with experience. In some cases it can even take less repetition than other dogs and so will be a quicker process. Training should start as soon as you bring it home, the earlier you begin the easier it will be as it will not have had time to develop bad habits. It is smart and capable and can be trained to perform various duties and roles. Use positive reinforcement methods such as praise, encouragement, rewards and such to give it motivation. In general this dog likes to learn and is versatile. If left untrained it can become hard to control, loud, destructive and obnoxious. It can be stubborn though so with someone with no experience it will try to make the decisions. Early socialization is also important so that it reacts appropriately to different people, sounds, places and situations. As soon as you bring it home expose it to these things and more and it will reduce the chances of it becoming aggressive, instead being better adjusted.

How active is the Spanish Water Dog

The SWD is a very active dog so it needs owners committed to ensure it gets enough exercise each day and enough mental stimulation. It is surprisingly agile as well as sturdy and energetic so it needs a couple of medium to long walks a day along with play opportunities. It would also enjoy a romp around a dog park regularly where it can ran off leash safely and play doggy games with you. When it is between the ages of 1 to 7 months take care not to let it become over exercised as at this time its joints and bones are more susceptible to damage and injury. It will enjoy going on long hikes with you, or jogging or cycling, it will need different puzzles and games for mental stimulation and tasks to do. The backyard will need to be fenced too.

Caring for the Spanish Water Dog

Grooming needs

The Spanish Water Dog can be high maintenance when it comes to grooming because of its corded coat. How you choose to keep it will depend on your preference and on whether you are keeping it as a work dog or show dog. Most owners of working SWDs will keep the coat shorter by shearing it now and then. It lessens the chances of the coat being caught on things. If you allow it to grow longer it forms natural cords with a process of matting. Its coat should not be brushed, use your hands to separate cords if you need to. Bathing can be quite a process so just do it when it is really needed. Use only a mild shampoo and avoid rubbing too vigorously. When it gets out it can shake but then it needs to be blotted with a towel not rubbed and use a crate dryer or let it air dry. This can take a day or two. Show dogs should not have their cords trimmed at all and will need a little daily care to maintain them. It is a low shedding breed so may be fine for people with allergies and it will need to be sheared once a year.

Other needs will include trimming its nails when they get too long, keeping an eye on its ears and cleaning its teeth. The nails can be done by yourself using proper dog nail clippers but care must be taken not to cut too far down where the quick of the nail is which has blood vessels and nerves in it. Cut there and it will cause bleeding and pain. Its ears should be checked weekly for infections signs like redness, irritation, swelling and such. Then clean them by wiping the areas you can reach using a damp cloth or ear cleanser and cotton ball. Ear hair also needs to be plucked. Then its teeth should be brushed at least two to three times a week using a dog toothpaste and brush.

Feeding Time

This dog will need to be fed 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into at least two meals. How much exactly can vary depending on its size, metabolism, age, health and level of activity. Make sure it always has access to water that is freshened regularly.

How is the Spanish Water Dog with children and other animals?

Spanish Water Dogs can be great family dogs but need socialization and firm handling. While it can make a good playmate for children it is best with older children not younger. Its energy means younger ones are likely to be knocked over sometimes accidentally. It does have herding instincts which means it may try to nip at their heels and that needs to be curbed. It also sometimes does not appreciate lots of sudden loud noises and movements. With other animals socialization helps and it can get along fine with other dogs too.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The life span of this dog is around 10 to 14 years. It is a fairly healthy breed with a few issues to watch out for such as hip dysplasia, seizures, eye problems, ear infections, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, allergies and CHG.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dogs attacking people in Canada and the US over the last 35 years there is no mention of the Spanish Water Dog being involved in anything causing bodily harm. It is not a dog prone to aggression or unprovoked attacks, but it is protective and that means it does need good socialization and training to channel that in the right way. No dog is 100% safe, all dogs have the potential of becoming aggressive, sometimes with obvious reason, sometimes not. Dog owners can help lower the chances of these incidents though by making sure you get a dog suited to your commitment, experience, skill and activity level.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Spanish Water Dog will cost somewhere around $1500 and since it is not a common or popular dog in North America it may take a while to find a decent breeder. If you are looking for a top show breeder and to have a show quality dog that price is going to be even more. It is important you do some research and take your time finding a breeder that is trustworthy. There are a lot of poor options when it comes to getting a new dog and you should try to avoid them, these include a lot of pet stores and other puppy mill type places along with so called backyard breeders. If your new companion does not have to be a purebred, consider looking into rescues and shelters near you. Plenty of loving and great dogs can be found waiting for a new forever home that may not be show dogs but still have lots to offer. Adoption rates tend to range from $50 to $400.

When you have found your puppy or dog there are some things it will need at home such as a crate, carrier, bowls, collar and leash for example. These will come to around $200. Other need will include some health concerns. As soon as you have it home you should take your dog to a vet for a full physical exam, some tests such as blood tests and then some procedures such as deworming, micro chipping, spaying or neutering. These will cost about $270.

After those initial costs there are of course ongoing costs that will come up. Your dog will need feeding, health care, toys and so on. In total you can expect a starting figure of $1140 a year. When broken down that gives about $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and treats. $535 a year for miscellaneous costs like basic training, grooming, toys, miscellaneous items and license and then $460 a year for pet insurance and basic health care like flea and tick prevention, check ups and such.


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The Spanish Water Dog is a dog with a lot of energy so it need active owners. Experience will help as it can be stubborn, and its coat is high maintenance so will need daily commitment, and can be a long process when it comes to bath time. With that said it is a very affectionate and loyal dog, it can get along with older children fine with socialization, and is very hard working. It is talented and can be trained in a variety of roles.

Featured Image Credit: Daz Stock, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.