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Water Dogs in the Herding Group?

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318 – November, 2021

By Lisa Harper

The second most common question about the Spanish Water Dog (after only, “what breed is that?”) is, “Why is a water dog in the Herding Group?”

The short answer is, it’s primarily a goat-tending dog.

The long answer is, it’s complicated.

The Spanish Water Dog is an ancient Iberian, multi-purpose breed. They were commonly owned by the working class that could not afford a luxury, single-purpose dog. They lived hardscrabble lives and performed whatever tasks were put in front of them to earn their keep.

The breed was known by many regional names including turco andaluz, laneto, and perro de agua español.

The original Spanish breed standard, and indeed all standards around the world, list the three major functions in this order: herding, hunting, fisherman’s assistant.

The largest Spanish Water Dog population can be found in southern Spain and are known as goat-herding dogs. Take a morning drive through the Andalusian countryside and you will readily spot shepherds and their turcos tending herds of goats and merino sheep. On the plains, the dogs will be used on cattle. And on the farm, expect the dogs to be working pigs, fowl, and whatever else needs to be moved. They don’t have the flashy style or immense outrun of the border collie but rather pester the stock to move. Get in, get the job done, and return to the shepherd’s feet or a shady spot out of the Mediterranean sun. Goats, pigs, and cattle in particular fight back, so the turco needs to be quick-moving, easily leaping forward, backwards and to the side to avoid a serious kick or butt. Spanish Water Dogs that worked on the land came in all colors but were most often brown or black.

Along the northern Spanish coast, you may still spot a perro de agua español along the wharves. The industrial revolution, driven by coal, was slow to arrive in Spain. The dogs were likely used on the iconic open fishing boats: alerting to shoals of fish; diving up to 3 meters to retrieve dropped tackle and stunned fish; retrieving a shot bird in the water; guarding the catch from marauding birds; and swimming boat lines. Good natured stories also tell of dogs being thrown in to fish out a drunken owner, but as the SWD is a medium-sized dog, I personally find it difficult to believe these dogs actually served as four-legged life-preservers. Spanish Water Dogs that worked in the fishing community tended to have light-colored coats, probably to be most easily spotted in the water.

Click here to read the complete article

318 – November, 2021

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