Three Spanish Water Dogs
Brown Spanish Water Dog in Grass
Spanish Water Dog Running With Toy
Spanish Water Dog Sitting Closeup
Spanish Water Dog in Grass
This medium-size, curly coated dog hails from sunny Spain, where he originated as an all-purpose farm dog. He is highly intelligent and energetic, with a coat that is clipped annually but otherwise should need little maintenance. The SWD is a challenging breed unsuited to a first-time dog owner.The SWD, as he’s known, was developed primarily as a herding dog in Spain, where he worked livestock such as goats, sheep and cattle. In coastal areas, he was sometimes part of the crew on fishing boats. 

In appearance, this breed stands out for his curly coat, which can form cords if allowed to grow long. The coat is relatively easy to maintain and needs to be clipped only once or twice a year, although it’s necessary to check regularly for mats and hot spots. 

Not surprisingly, most Spanish Water Dogs enjoy boating, swimming or playing in water. They are active dogs and need plenty of physical and mental exercise, but once their needs are satisfied, you can probably count on them to relax while you do other things. The typical SWD is smart and generally takes well to training, excelling in many dog sports (health permitting, of course) such as agility, dock diving, flyball, freestyle, herding, nose work, obedience, rally and tracking. Some are involved in search and rescue or make therapy visits. 

The SWD is usually wary of strangers and can be an excellent watchdog. Early and extensive socialization is essential to help reduce the chances that he’ll become shy or aggressive. He is best suited to an active person or family who is experienced with dogs and will spend plenty of time training, playing with and exercising him. He can typically adapt to any environment, as long as he receives an appropriate amount of physical and mental activity.

Quick Facts

  • Approximately 1,000 Spanish Water Dogs live in the United States and Canada, with most of them in the Northeast.
  • The SWD’s coat may be black, brown, beige, white or particolor (with the second color being white).
  • Spanish Water Dogs have webbed feet. On fishing boats, their jobs probably include retrieving nets and guarding the catch.    

The History of Spanish Water Dogs

Little is known of the SWD’s origins. Some dog experts theorize that they descended from African dogs or that they are related to other European water dogs, such as the Portuguese Water Dog, or to Turkish or Hungarian herding and flock-guarding breeds.

Dogs of this type were hard-working aides on Spanish farms, at mines and in fishing villages, where they filled many roles, including herding, retrieving, rat patrol and protection. The breed’s curly single coat is thought to be an adaptation to the various climates found on the Iberian Peninsula, which range from dry to humid.

With mechanization and the migration of people to cities from rural areas, the dogs were less needed for their traditional work, but people interested in the breed made efforts to preserve it, starting in 1975 by collecting a variety of the dogs from various areas, selectively breeding them to maintain their appearance and working ability, and turning their talents toward new jobs such as search and rescue and drug and bomb detection.

Today, the SWD is recognized by European and American registries. The American Kennel Club classifies it as a herding dog and granted it full recognition in January 2015, paving the way for the SWD’s participation in conformation showing and other AKC events.    

Spanish Water Dog Temperament and Personality

This is a smart dog with a strong work ethic. He likes to learn, responding best to positive reinforcement. It’s important for him to have a job, whether that is herding or competing in a dog sport (health permitting, of course). He’s typically very good at focusing on a specific task.

His herding instinct tends to give him a protective nature. He’s something of a bossy pants and needs an experienced leader whom he can respect and trust, so that he doesn’t feel the need to run things. This makes him a challenging prospect for an inexperienced dog owner. The people who live with this breed should be patient, with a sense of humor. Those qualities are a must for living happily with a dog who is described as quirky, manipulative, strong-willed and inventive.

The words “control freak” can apply to this breed. The SWD wants to know who’s going where and why, and he will do his best to round up moving cars, bicycles and children. Teach him early on to channel this behavior into appropriate pursuits and strongly discourage it when it involves running after or nipping at children or passersby.

Lively and alert, the SWD is a one-family dog and may choose a specific person to be his favorite. He loves his own people, but he’s not usually interested in anyone else. Some SWDs seem to prefer women to men. 

His natural suspicion of strangers can make him a good watchdog. The corollary is that early socialization — exposure to many different people, places and situations — is essential to reducing the chances that he’ll become shy or aggressive. Dogs need to learn what is normal so they can react appropriately. That’s especially true with this breed, which can react quickly to sudden sounds and movement. Shyness has been reported as a problem in the breed, according to the Spanish Water Dog Club of America (SWDCA). Although socialization can help, the SWDCA notes correctly that it is not a substitute for good breeding. 

Be sure to give this intelligent dog plenty of mental stimulation. Puzzle toys and regular training practice, as well as learning new things, can help to occupy his brain. Balance the mental stimulation with long walks, hikes and other physical activity and you should hopefully have a dog who is content to relax while you do other things.

Most important, remember that any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, food stealing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised.

Start training your SWD puppy the day you bring him home. He is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with.

If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like the one for kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limiting exposure to other dogs and public places until the puppy series of vaccines (including those for rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until his puppy vaccinations are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.

The perfect SWD doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Look for an SWD puppy whose parents have nice personalities and one who has been socialized from early puppyhood.    

What You Need to Know About Spanish Water Dog Health

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on her puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

The Spanish Water Dog can develop certain health problems, including:

  • Allergies
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Glaucoma
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
The main problems seen in the breed are hip dysplasia and allergies. The other problems appear to occur less frequently. Other conditions that may be seen in the breed include exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, Addison’s disease, congenital hypothyroidism with goiter, myasthenia gravis and seizures.

These conditions are not necessarily widespread in the breed, but you should be aware of them as you seek out your puppy.

Breeders should gladly show you up-to-date health certifications from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) indicating that both of a pup’s parents are free of these conditions.

Health clearances you should expect to see: 

  • An annual eye exam performed by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist certifying that the parents are free of physical abnormalities such as cherry eye, distichiasis (abnormal inward growth of eyelashes), glaucoma, persistent pupillary membranes and progressive retinal atrophy
  • A one-time OptiGen DNA test for progressive rod-cone degeneration (prcd-PRA, which is a form of progressive retinal atrophy in dogs)
  • An OFA or PennHIP test showing that the parents have good hips
  • A full OFA thyroid panel through an approved laboratory
  • A DNA panel for congenital hypothyroidism with goiter through Michigan State University, which determines whether a particular dog is normal, a carrier or affected by the condition
It can be difficult to predict whether an animal will be free of these conditions, which is why it’s important to find a reputable breeder and insist on seeing independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries such as OFA come in.

If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines or because her dogs have been vet checked, or if she gives any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of her dogs, walk away immediately. And if you think that health testing is important only for show dogs, think again. Even dogs intended to be pets should have their parents screened for genetic diseases.

Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in many cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

Will your Spanish Water Dog get any or all of these diseases? Not necessarily, but it’s smart to know the possibilities.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems in all dogs: obesity. The breed standard calls for the Spanish Water Dog to weigh a svelte 30 to 50 pounds. If you can’t see your SWD’s waist or feel (but not see) his ribs, it’s time to talk to your vet about a weight management program. Keeping a Spanish Water Dog at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog for life.    

The Basics of Spanish Water Dog Grooming

The Spanish Water Dog has a single coat, meaning there’s little or no undercoat. He doesn’t shed heavily, although he does lose hairs, just as people do. The single, curly coat often leads people to believe that the SWD is hypoallergenic, but all dogs produce allergens to some extent in their dander, saliva and urine. If you have allergies, you should spend time with several Spanish Water Dogs to determine whether you react to them.

Grooming the Spanish Water Dog is easy. Typically, the coat is clipped once or twice a year to approximately 1 inch over the entire body, including the head and ears. Between clips, there’s no need to comb, brush or blow-dry the coat, all of which can damage the texture and shape of the curls.

It’s still important to check the coat regularly for mats and hot spots, especially behind the ears and where the legs meet the body. You can reduce the incidence of mats by spreading your fingers out when you pet your dog and not rubbing the coat with a circular motion.

If allowed to grow, the SWD’s coat can cord, forming long, tight curls that resemble dreadlocks. It takes some work and supervision to ensure that the cords form correctly and are groomed appropriately. Your dog’s breeder can explain how it’s done and how to maintain a corded coat.

When your Spanish Water Dog gets dirty, bathe him with a mild, pet-safe shampoo. Work it through the coat gently, as if you were hand-washing a cashmere sweater. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water, then use your hands to squeeze out excess water. Blot the coat with a towel, being careful not to rub the coat roughly. Let your dog air-dry in a warm spot with no drafts.

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every week or two, and brush his teeth often — with a vet-approved pet toothpaste — for good overall health and fresh breath.    

Finding a Spanish Water Dog

Whether you want to go with a reputable breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing a Spanish Water Dog Breeder

Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes to avoid those problems.

Start your search at the website of the Spanish Water Dog Club of America. It maintains a list of breeders and offers tips on finding a healthy, well-bred puppy.

The SWD is a rare breed. Don’t expect to be able to purchase one on a whim. You may face a wait of several months or even a year or two before a puppy is available. Some people travel overseas to purchase or import dogs from breeders in other countries. If you go this route, it’s important to be familiar with regulations for exporting and importing dogs. And it’s just as important as it is in this country to interview a breeder carefully.

Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club and a local club, too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activities, such as showing or obedience, or therapy dog programs. She should sell her puppies with written contracts guaranteeing she’ll take the dogs back if at any time during their lives the owners cannot keep them.

Ask the breeder to provide you with documentation that your prospective puppy’s parents were cleared for eye abnormalities by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Hip clearance by the PennHIP method is also acceptable.

Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It could save you money and frustration in the long run.

Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store or another source, remember the adage “let the buyer beware.” Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100 percent guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals) and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization or other reliable source for healthy puppies. 

And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult SWD might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult SWD may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. You can find adult dogs to adopt through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home.

If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog From a Spanish Water Dog Rescue or Shelter

There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Keep in mind, however, that the SWD is a rare breed. Few are found in shelters or through breed rescue groups.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder and can have you searching for a Spanish Water Dog in your area in no time flat. The sites allow you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the SWDs available on Petfinder across the country). can help you find animal rescue groups in your area.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Spanish Water Dog. That includes vets, dog walkers and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescues

Most people who love Spanish Water Dogs love all SWDs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Spanish Water Dog Club of America may be able to put you in touch with a dog who needs a new home and may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for SWD rescues in your area.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:

  • What is his energy level?
  • How is he around other animals?
  • How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
  • What is his personality like?
  • What is his age?
  • Is he housetrained?
  • Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
  • Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your SWD, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopter’s Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, breeder purchase or rescue, take your SWD to your veterinarian soon after acquiring him. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that may help you avoid many health issues.