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The Barbet, one of the oldest breeds of water dogs.

A water dog is a type of gundog bred to flush and retrieve game from water. Water dogs are considered the progenitors of most modern retriever dog breeds.



A Portuguese Water Dog with its coat clipped in the classic water dog clip.

Water dogs are usually medium sized, active dogs, their most distinctive feature are their tight waterproof coats and their strong desire to swim. Traditionally many long haired water dogs breeds have their coats clipped with a bare midriff and hindquarters to assist in swimming by reducing drag, whilst retaining a long coat around their torso to prevent thermal shock when jumping into freezing water. This classic clip is seen to this day in dog shows with some breeds such as Poodles retaining a variation of this clip.[1][2]


Water dogs are an ancient type of dog, used by ancient mariners to retrieve objects lost overboard as well as to pass messages between boats, they were known to the Romans who called them "lion dogs" after the distinctive clipping of their coats. Water dogs continued to be seen aboard ships until modern times. They were known to be prevalent in the Spanish Armada and could still be seen through to the 20th century aboard fishing vessels, particularly in the waters around Spain and Portugal.[1][2]

In addition to their roles as ships' dogs, in Medieval Europe water dogs were used quite widely by hunters to retrieve ducks from water that had been shot with a bow and arrows, as well as the arrows and bolts that had missed their mark.[1][2]

With the invention of modern firearms the need for dogs to retrieve arrows disappeared and many of the European water dogs breeds became predominantly ornamental, such as the poodle, whilst others adapted into modern gundogs, like the Wetterhoun. It is believed that water dogs were used, along with other types, in the breeding of most modern retriever breeds.[2]

List of breedsEdit

This is a list of dog breeds usually considered water dogs.[1][2]

Breed Alternate name(s) Country of origin Image
American Water Spaniel American Brown Spaniel &
American Brown Water Spaniel
  United States  
Barbet French Water Dog   France  
Cantabrian Water Dog Perro de agua cantábrico,
Perro de lanas & Merlucero
Chesapeake Bay Retriever *   United States  
Curly Coated Retriever *   England  
English Water Spaniel Water Dog & Water Rug   England
Epagneul Pont-Audemer Pont-Audemer Spaniel &
Setter of Pont-Audemer
Irish Water Spaniel Whiptail, Shannon Spaniel,
Rat Tail Spaniel & Bog Dog
Lagotto Romagnolo Romagna Water Dog &
Water Dog of Romagna
Poodle Pudelhund & Caniche   Germany
Portuguese Water Dog Cão de Água Português &
Cão de Água Algarvio
Pudelpointer   Germany  
Spanish Water Dog Perro de agua Español   Spain  
Tweed Water Spaniel Tweed Spaniel &
Ladykirk Spaniel
Wetterhoun Otterhoun & Dutch Spaniel   Netherlands

* Often considered a pure retriever
Extinct breed
‡ Often considered a versatile gundog


  1. ^ a b c d Dr Bruce Fogle, The encyclopedia of the dog, New York: DK Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-0-7566-6004-8.
  2. ^ a b c d e David Hancock, Gundogs: their past, their performance and their prospects, Marlborough: The Crowood Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-84797-492-1.