Spanish Water Dog: Breed Profile

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

Spanish Water Dog in a stubble field
The Spanish Water Dog may be solid colored or parti-colored (a solid color with white).

Getty Images 

The Spanish Water Dog (known in Spain as the Perro de Agua Español) is a sturdy, medium-sized, athletic dog with a curly coat. Although somewhat uncommon in the United States, this breed has many qualities that make it a superb companion. It is highly intelligent, loves to learn fun tricks, and is always up for outdoor excursions, outings, and lots of play. 

Although they can get along with children, some are strong-willed and territorial. Also, the breed’s herding instinct is very strong, which can lead to some inappropriate nipping at heels, so interactions should always be supervised.

Spanish Water Dogs are naturally protective of their family and home, and are wary of strangers, but will warm up to new people once they know they can be trusted.

The Spanish Water Dog’s curly single coat is low shedding, and some people with dog allergies find they can live with the breed. If you’re considering a Spanish Water Dog because you have allergies, spend a good amount of time with this breed before bringing home a puppy to make sure you don’t suffer from a reaction. No dog is truly hypoallergenic; even minimal shedders will discard dander from their skin.

Breed Overview

Group: Herding

Weight: 31 to 49 pounds

Height: 15.75 to 19.75 inches tall at the shoulder

Coat: Curly, wooly single coat.

Color: Solid (various shades of black, brown, beige or white) or parti-color (two colors, one of which must be white).

Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Characteristics of the Spanish Water Dog

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

History of the Spanish Water Dog

Although the breed’s beginnings are up for debate, we do know that the Spanish Water Dog has existed throughout parts of Spain for close to one thousand years.

The Spanish Water Dog is part of the AKC Herding Group, but it is a multi-purpose breed, used for herding, farm work, protection, companionship, and hunting. As their name suggests, they excel at retrieving from water.

Historically, the Spanish Water Dog herded cattle, sheep and goats. In the U.S., the breed received full recognition from the AKC in 2015.    

Spanish Water Dog Care

Many breeds with low-shedding coats require significant professional grooming and lots of brushing at home to prevent mats. This is not true of the Spanish Water Dog—the rustic coat is not only low-shedding but also low-maintenance.

Traditionally, their coat is never brushed, combed, blow-dried or trimmed. Instead, the coat is sheared to the skin when required, just like a sheep. As the hair grows out, it should be left unbrushed so it will form natural cords. Show dog coats are maintained in this way, and some pet Spanish Water Dog owners also choose to stick with tradition.  

Maintaining the cords does take some work, as they must be separated so they don’t form large matted areas. Also, bathing a dog with a corded coat is different than bathing a typical dog. The technique takes some practice.

You must use a mild shampoo (no conditioner) and gently squeeze the shampoo into the coat rather than rub or scrub. The process is similar to hand washing a delicate wool sweater. To rinse, you must again squeeze the coat gently as the water runs through it. To dry, blot the coat with a towel (no rubbing), and then simply let it air dry.  

Some Spanish Water Dog owners opt to have the coat shaved down more frequently, resulting in a very short coat that’s even neater and easier to maintain, with no cords to contend with, no careful washing, and very little, if any, shedding. How frequently you wish to shave your Spanish Water Dog’s coat is entirely up to your personal preference.

Most herding breeds, including the Spanish Water Dog, are extremely intelligent and have excellent problem-solving skills, which makes them highly trainable.

Start teaching your puppy house rules and basic commands early on using positive reinforcement techniques. They respond well to clicker training, using plenty of tasty treats and praise.

If you want to train for a competitive dog sport, the sky is the limit with the Spanish Water Dog. They excel in agility, flyball, dock jumping, herding, nosework, and more.

Some Spanish Water Dogs are escape artists, so make sure your yard is securely fenced. Never leave these dogs unattended in the backyard or they might get bored and make it their mission to get out. 

Some Spanish Water Dog puppies are particularly shy, which can develop into problematic behavior later in life. For this reason, it’s important to extensively socialize your puppy by positively introducing them to as many people, places, animals, sights, and sounds as possible during the prime socialization window. This is from the time you bring them home until about 14 weeks of age. Socialization can and should continue after this time too.

This breed is very active and athletic. They need ample exercise to tire their bodies so they can be happy and calm in the house. Long walks are nice, but off-leash running is better.

Spanish Water Dogs sometimes find it hard to resist herding anything that moves, including kids. Try to redirect inappropriate herding behavior into something like catching a Frisbee or playing fetch with a ball. Don’t forget about swimming. The Spanish Water Dog loves the water and even has webbed feet.

Spanish Water Dog
Spanish Water Dog puppies need lots of socialization to overcome potential shyness. Getty Images 
Spanish Water Dog
Spanish Water Dogs love swimming and even have webbed feet. Getty Images 
Spanish Water Dog
The Spanish Water Dog's coat should not be brushed. Instead, it forms natural cords.  Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Spanish Water Dogs are, for the most part, hardy and healthy, but, like most purebred dogs, they are prone to developing a few inherited health conditions.

Some of the more issues identified in the Spanish Water Dog include:

The Spanish Water Dog Club of America recommends all dogs be screened for hip and eye health before being bred. 

Diet and Nutrition

Feed your Spanish Water Dog measured meals twice a day rather than free feeding (leaving food out all day).

Very active Spanish Water Dogs may benefit from a performance diet, which contains more calories and fat. Less active Spanish Water Dogs need a maintenance diet so they don’t gain too much weight. Obesity can contribute to hip dysplasia, diabetes, and other health conditions.

It can be hard to know how much to feed your Spanish Water Dog, as all individual dogs vary. Start with the recommended amount on the label and adjust up or down accordingly depending on whether the dog is gaining or losing weight. You can also ask your breeder or veterinarian for a recommendation of what and how much food to feed

Pros
  • Intelligent and easy to train

  • Watchful and protective

  • Minimal coat care and shedding

Cons
  • Needs a lot of exercise 

  • Not always friendly with strangers

  • Not the best choice for young children

Where to Adopt or Buy a Spanish Water Dog

The Spanish Water Dog is a rare breed, so it may be difficult to find one. You will most likely be looking for a responsible breeder and getting on a waitlist for a puppy.

The Spanish Water Dog Club of America, which is the national parent club for the breed in the United States, publishes a list of U.S. and Canadian breeders on its website.

Some Spanish Water Dog find their way into rescue. If you are open to the idea of adopting, the Spanish Water Dog Club of America also supports the adoption and fostering of the breed with a dedicated page on its website. 

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you like the Spanish Water Dog, you might also like these breeds: 

Otherwise, check out all of our other dog breed articles to help you find the perfect dog for you and your family.