Barbet Dog: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A close-up of a Barbet dog.

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The Barbet (pronounced bar-bay) is a medium-sized birding dog that's probably best known for its distinctive, curly coat and beard at the muzzle. A quintessential water dog, Barbets were originally bred hundreds of years ago to hunt birds and water fowl throughout Europe.

Today's Barbets are rare to find—it's estimated that there are only 30 to 40 Barbets in the United States, and about 600 globally. However, modern-day Barbets have maintained their ancestors' athleticism, intelligence, and calm demeanor, making them excellent for families with kids or other pets—and they're still excellent hunters, too. Although the Barbet is loving and loyal to its family, it may not be so friendly towards strangers. Ongoing obedience training and proper socialization can help.

Because the Barbet has a curly, dense coat, shedding is minimal—but daily grooming is a must. Due to their grooming requirements, high intelligence (and potential for stubbornness), a Barbet may not be the right dog for a first-time dog owner or those living in apartments.

Breed Overview

Group: Miscellaneous Class (a large group of breeds that are currently awaiting acceptance from the American Kennel Club as a regular class)

Height: Barbets generally measure 19 to 24.5 inches from the shoulder

Weight: Most Barbets weigh between 35 and 65 pounds

Coat and colors: A long, dense, curly coat that comes in black, grey, brown, or fawn. Some Barbets will also have white markings.

Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Characteristics of the Barbet

Affection Level High
Friendliness Moderate to High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness Moderate
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Moderate
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Barbet

A close relative to the Poodle and the Briard, the Barbet originated in France as a bird and water fowl hunting dog. The Barbet's webbed paws enabled him to pursue birds into mud and water, earning him the nickname "Mud Dog." The Barbet's real name, however, comes from the French word "barbe," which means "beard."

The Barbet has a long, varied history throughout Europe. The first written description of the breed appeared in literature in 1387, but some believe Barbets originated as early as the 8th century. It's also said that King Henry IV kept Barbets as his companions, and his mistress once got into trouble for bringing a Barbet into church.

Although Barbets served as loyal hunting dogs—and companions—for centuries, they're a fairly rare breed today. As previously mentioned, it's estimated that there are only 30 to 40 Barbets in the United States, and about 600 globally. Despite their smaller populations, the Barbet ranks as one of the top agility dogs in French dog competitions.

Currently, the Barbet is classified as a member of the "Miscellaneous Class" by the American Kennel Club. This is a large category of dogs that have not yet been recognized as a standard breed by the American Kennel Club. Although the AKC provides steps to achieve standardization, not all purebred breeds will necessarily be recognized by the AKC.

Barbet Care

Because Barbets have long, dense, curly coats, daily grooming is an absolute must; they're highly susceptible to tangles, mats, and build-up of debris. You may even find debris in your Barbet's coat after each walk. If left ungroomed, the Barbet's coat can easily become matted or felted, and grow to long lengths. Each day, gently brush and comb your Barbet's coat, removing any mats or tangles with your fingers. Removing a mat with a comb runs the risk of tearing your dog's coat or injuring his skin.

Some Barbet owners prefer to keep their dogs' coats shorter to make grooming easier. If you choose to trim your Barbet's coat, aim for about 4 inches in length around the body, and slightly longer on the head, chin, and tail. You can clip the hairs between your dog's eyes regularly, so he can see more clearly, as well as the hairs around the ear canal. If you don't feel comfortable trimming your dog's coat, a local groomer will be able to help.

Be sure to inspect your Barbet's ears regularly, and gently remove any waxy build-up or debris with a soft cotton cloth. If your dog's ears are red and inflamed, are excessively dirty, or smell funny, make an appointment with your vet. These may be signs of infection, and could require treatment.

All dog breeds are susceptible to periodontal disease if they don't receive proper dental care. Daily teeth brushing is ideal, but brushing your dog's teeth at least once per week can help prevent oral diseases from developing. You can also supplement brushing with dental chew treats, but remember: They're empty calories, so it's important to give them in moderation. Dental treats should never be the only form of dental hygiene you use.

Barbets have higher energy levels and exercise needs, and they're highly intelligent dogs—so it's important to keep them engaged and entertained. They thrive in agility sports, so agility games, puzzles, or other challenging games will keep your Barbet engaged and exercised. Because Barbets are extremely intelligent, they have the potential for stubbornness. Obedience training, as well as regular exercise and entertainment, can help.

Common Health Problems

Although Barbets are generally healthy dogs, there's no guarantee that certain health conditions won't arise. It's important to know the signs and symptoms, so you can seek proper care if your dog shows signs of any of these health conditions:

  • Separation anxiety: Barbets love their humans—and constant attention—so they may be susceptible to separation anxiety. Excessive drooling, accidents in the house, and destructive behavior can be signs of the condition. Talk to your vet about ways to ease separation anxiety through training, or in severe cases, medication.
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia: This condition affects the joints in the hips and elbows, and can result in extreme pain and weakness. Dysplasia is an inherited condition, so it's important to ask your breeder for a joint guarantee. Although most cases of dysplasia are genetic, injuries and excessive weight gain may also lead to development.
  • Epilepsy: Characterized by frequent seizures, epilepsy is a condition that affects the electrical currents to your dog's brain. Signs of seizures include collapsing, full-body convulsions, and foaming at the mouth. If your dog has any of these symptoms, contact your vet for treatment immediately.

Diet and Nutrition

Your dog's diet depends largely on its size, weight, activity levels, and metabolism, but generally, you can expect to feed your Barbet 1.5 to 2 cups of high-quality, high-protein dog food each day. If you're not sure how much to feed your Barbet, your veterinarian can help develop a meal plan that works for your dog.

Remember: All breeds are susceptible to canine obesity if overfed and under-exercised. Obesity can lead to serious health complications like heart disease, diabetes, and joint problems, so it's important to make sure your dog is eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Pros

  • Loving and loyal to family members

  • Does well in homes with other pets

  • Doesn't shed excessively

Cons

  • High energy with high exercise requirements

  • Not suitable for apartment living

  • Requires daily grooming

Where to Adopt or Buy a Barbet

Because Barbets are relatively rare, it's unlikely that you'll find one at your local shelter.

If you choose to purchase a Barbet from a breeder, do your research to ensure you're working with a reputable, ethical breeder. If possible, visit the breeder's home or breeding facility, so you can see where their dogs are kept, whether or not they're healthy, and the cleanliness and safety of the location. Be on the lookout for signs of a "backyard breeding" situation, like unhealthy animals, crowded facilities, or discounted puppies.

Don't be afraid to ask questions—reputable breeders want what's best for their dogs, and should willingly answer any questions or concerns you may have.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

It's important to do your research and make sure you can manage a Barbet's grooming, exercise, and training needs before bringing one home. Because they're somewhat high maintenance dogs, a Barbet isn't recommended for first-time dog owners, families with extremely busy schedules, or inactive families.

If you're interested in dogs similar to the Barbet, be sure to check out: