Water Dogs have been companions to hunters and sportsmen for centuries. The type has been in existence and documented since the medieval period, with some of the oldest dog breeds in history being members of the Water Dog family. The Barbet plays an important role in this noble and ancient lineage. Originally used to flush waterfowl, the Barbet was also trained to retrieve the game birds and fallen arrows from the frigid waters in which they fell. A superb field worker and a fine hunting companion, the Barbet’s talents would be perfected throughout time and its genes would be incorporated into the development of other Water Dog breeds, possibly the American Water Spaniel and the Portuguese Water Dog.
The history of the Barbet is lengthy and impressive; an ancient European Water Dog, the breed was developed in France, and referenced for centuries in European historical documentation. Although the exact genesis of the Barbet is unknown due to a most ancient beginning, the breed is believed to be descended from herding dogs entering Europe with the migration of the Moors, perhaps as early as the 7th or 8th centuries. The Barbet is thought to count among its ancestry, breeds such as the Briard, Poodle, and ancient Asian and North African herding breeds.
The breed was recorded as being used as a companion, hunting partner, guard dog (to a lesser extent), sailor’s companion, and all around “farm hand” in these early centuries. The first reference to the Barbet as an individual and specific breed was in 1387, when the breed is mentioned in a book written by a Gascon Count. The Barbet was a favorite breed among the European royals. An early attempt to categorize the known dog breeds occurred in 1570, with De Canibus Britannicus, written by Dr. Johannes Caius (Queen Elizabeth I’s personal physician). Caius mentions a group of hunting dogs and lists them as setters, water spaniels, and water dogs, making an early reference to the Barbet breed, and describes them as “efficient and playful”. Further royal reference to the breed exists comes from 1587, when Corisande, the mistress to Henry IV was scolded for attending church with “a fool, a monkey, and a Barbet.”
It was not however until Fouilloux, a sixteenth century cynologist began calling the breed “Barbet” (from the French word barbe, meaning beard) that the breed would be thus named. Further references to the Barbet are well documented throughout European written history. In the early 1700’s, French philosopher, Voltaire said “the Barbet is man’s best friend…” In 1750 the Barbet is mentioned in the book Histoire Naturelle, written by Count George Louis Buffon. Histoire de la Chasse en France, 1868, and Charles Diguet’s book, La Chasse au Marais, 1889, mention the Barbet as well. These are just a few times the breed is mentioned, as other historical references to the Barbet and Water Dogs in general are plentiful; when the dog is mentioned, however it is always with admiration and respect.
The name Barbet came to include many of the Water Dog breeds, and during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Barbet and Poodle were considered to be the same dog. At this time, the Barbet was called such in France, but was also called “Barbone” in Italy and “Pudel” in Germany. The introduction of the dog show and its subsequent influence on selective breeding, created a split between the Poodle and the Barbet. Aesthetically, the two breeds became separate and distinct types. The first breed standard and original bloodlines of the Barbet can be traced back to 1891.
Although a highly valued, greatly esteemed, and popular breed throughout European history; the Barbet nearly died out as a distinct type in the early 20th century. The popularity of the Poodle on the dog show circuit, and the two world wars had a significant impact on the Barbet’s future. Many European people struggled for survival during the wars. Harsh conditions and scarcity of food made it nearly impossible to sustain human life, thus dog breeds suffered sad fates as many were unable to be kept or bred at this time, placing many old and noble breeds in jeopardy of going extinct. After World War II (WW II) there were just two known French breeders of the Barbet. A Dr. Vincenti was one of these two, and it would be his daughter Madame Petre who would resume the breeding of the Barbet some 20 years after her father had.
Through the 20th century and into today, the efforts of a devoted few Barbet breed enthusiasts this old, stately breed is being reestablished and further developed. The breed has been recognized by the Societe Centrale Canine, the French Kennel Club and has breed clubs in Europe, as well as on the American continent. The Barbet made its way to America in the early 2000; and in 2004,the third known American Barbet litter was born to a dog named “Luna”. In 2009, there was just one documented American Barbet litter of 6 puppies, and two litters in 2011, one producing 5 puppies and the other producing 11.
Club Barbet Canada (CBC) the Canadian breed club was established in 2007; they began the process necessary for recognition with the Canadian Kennel Club in 2009. The Barbet Club of America (BCA) was also formed to promote and protect the breed. Although not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) the Barbet was added to its Foundation Stock Service Program, and was approved to compete in AKC Companion Events and Retriever Hunting Tests Events in January and September of 2012. The breed is currently allowed full registration with the United Kennel Club (UKC).
Though the breed has gained some increase in popularity in the last several decades, the Barbet is still considered to be a rare breed. There may be less than 600 Barbet living worldwide, and an estimate from 2012 claims only about 70-80 presently living in America. The AKC requires there to be 150 members of the breed living in America, among other stipulations, in order for the breed to gain full recognition. The BCA is currently working toward that goal.
A sturdy breed, the Barbet is a typical water dog in appearance; medium sized with a long “wooly” coat and webbed feet. The male Barbet stands 21 to 25 inches tall at the withers and averages 40 to 65 lbs in weight. The female Barbet comes in just below that at a height of 19 to 23 inches at the withers and an average weight of 30 and 50 lbs.
The head of the Barbet is wide and round with a distinct stop. The eyes are round and dark brown in color. The Barbet’s muzzle is square and short; with thick, darkly pigmented lips and strong teeth that display a scissors bite. Low set ears align with the eye level, or just under it. The ears of the Barbet are long, when pulled forward across the nose they will touch; they are flat and wide, covered in abundant hair in a corded texture. A signature physical characteristic of the Barbet is that the muzzle and lips are covered in long hair that forms a mustache and beard. The hair on the head falls to the bridge of the nose, covering the eyes of the Barbet and allowing the nose to “peek out”; the nose is black or brown in color.
The Barbet possesses a powerful but squat neck that leads into sloping shoulders. The arms are straight, muscular, and well boned. The breed displays a faintly curved back and a deep barrel chest. The Barbets loin is short but strong and well arched; it gives way to hindquarters that are sloping, well angulated, and muscular in the upper thigh. The Barbets feet are another unique feature of the breed; they are wide and round, covered in thick hair, making them webbed. The tail is set low, but carried above the level of the back when the dog is in motion; it forms a small hook at the end.
The skin of the Barbet is thick and the breed sports a long coat; wooly in texture, the coat is corded and often wavy or curly. The copious hair covers the entire body of the Barbet including the face, legs, ears, and feet. The Barbet can be left in its natural state, but since its early history has been clipped to allow for more ease when being used in a working capacity. The colors of the Barbet’s coat include solids like black, grey, chestnut, brown, fawn (ranging from pale to reddish brown), white, and pied. Generally the coat should be a single color, but white markings are accepted on the chest, legs, and feet. The thickness and wooly texture of the Barbet’s coat make it waterproof and allows the dog to work in icy waters for extended periods of time without complaint.
The Barbet has been bred for centuries as a gundog and hunting companion. Trained to retrieve waterfowl and fallen arrows from the icy waters of Europe, the Barbet is a sturdy and robust breed. Having been raised as a close companion to its human masters, the Barbet is friendly and sociable, eager to please its master and a faithful and devoted friend. The Barbet breed loves water and is playful and fun-loving. The Barbet is carefree, cheerful, and energetic with a high level of intelligence and an obedient and loyal nature.
The Barbet is known to be a calm breed, and therefore makes an ideal companion to children as it will approach them gently and be willing to play for hours. The breed is companionable not only to their master, but to all members of its family including other pets. They will treat most other animals respectfully and love to play with other dogs. The breed was trained during its early development to flush game birds, and may therefore retain some chasing instinct and be a slight threat to small animals or birds.
The Barbet makes an ideal family companion and is well suited as a family pet in the home; it treats housemates with care and respect and is a devoted and active member of the family. It desires constant companionship and will want to be included in group activities and spend “quality time” with its companions. The Barbet is well-suited for family life but it makes a poor watchdog, as its only specific talent in this area is its ability to bark an alert when someone approaches; this friendly breed does little to intimidate an approaching stranger.
Ideal companions to the Barbet are families with an active lifestyle, active singles, hunters, sportsmen, and experienced handlers that are dedicated to the dog’s education. The breeds activity level is high making their exercise requirements somewhat demanding. The breed was developed to be a hunting companion, retriever, and water dog; and therefore requires plenty of time spent outdoors and long walks. The breed will want to swim, run, and play as often as possible. As a Water Dog, the Barbet will enjoy “investigating” in water and frolicking about the field.
The Barbet breed is well suited to a large home with a fenced yard in which it can run freely. Ideally, a home with access to water, a pond or lake for example would be most pleasing to the Barbet. The breed is highly adaptable however, and will adjust well to all living conditions (rural or urban) as long as the Barbet is given the opportunity for rigorous daily activity, plenty of exercise, and proper mental stimulation. It can also live successfully in all climates, but is well suited to cold weather. The Barbet does require continual contact with human companions, and if denied this very basic need, the breed may become bored and destructive. They become very attached to their families and will require constant attention and affection.
The Barbet is highly intelligent and a fast learner. The breed is extremely active with a strong but pleasing personality. As such, the Barbet requires a master that will display strong leadership qualities. An owner of the Barbet breed should be willing to devote ample time and energy to the early training of this dog. Training should begin early and should continue well into the dog’s development, as the breed’s high intelligence level makes the Barbet a lifelong learner. With proper attention and affection, the Barbet will grow to be a superb companion and a talented sporting dog. Patience and affectionate reinforcement of lessons and correct behavior will be greatly successful in assisting the Barbet in its training. Discipline is also important for the Barbet breed.
The breed excels at agility training and is a “sprightly sporting dog” with a quick wit. The Barbet will retrieve and fetch for hours on end and makes an ideal field companion and hunting partner. Its fast understanding of commands and desire to please allows the breed to learn obedience training quickly and successfully. The Barbet has been successful in such activities as Frisbee, fly ball, ball catching, jumping, and many other agility games.
The Barbet breed generally displays some similar characteristics of temperament, however these dogs are truly individuals and each will display their own specific personalities. Understanding this is important as their training can be adjusted to their individuality and particular needs. All Barbets will be loving, enjoy swimming, and be dedicated to and desire close companionship with their family. Some will be friendlier than others, some are better hunters, some display more goofy/clownish behavior and some are better suited to agility training. It is therefore, important to take each individual Barbet’s personality into account when developing a training regimen.
The Barbet is a bright and clever dog, and they should be treated as such. The Barbet will require both mental and physical exercise and training in order to maintain proper health and happiness. If the breed is not properly trained, it may display demanding behavior and be overly fussy. Any efforts you make in the way of their training however, will be generously rewarded. Your love, attention, training, and the provision of daily stimulation for the Barbet will be repaid in kind; for when properly developed, the Barbet is an excessively loving and devoted breed, limitless in their kindness and loyalty to family and friends.
As idyllic as the Barbet breed can be as a family companion and hunting dog, this dog is not for everyone. Its high activity requirement, constant need for human companionship, and excessive grooming requirements will require a dedicated owner who maintains a very active lifestyle and who can quickly develop a strong leadership position while showering the Barbet with attention and affection.
The Barbet is a typical Water Dog, and as such it possesses a long, thick, waterproof coat. Although grooming the Barbet is easy, it is can be time consuming. The breed requires daily brushing of its long, corded coat in order to keep the hair free of matts and debris. Regular bathing may also be necessary to keep the Barbet clean, depending on the type of activities that the dog participates in. Dogs that will be spending excessive time performing outdoor activities may require a coat that is clipped so it does not collect twigs, dirt, and debris.
Although the coat does require maintenance, the breed is a light shedder. The daily brushing that should be performed will assist in discarding any loose, dead hairs from the coat. Because the Barbet does not shed excessively, the breed may be a good choice for those who suffer from pet allergies. As the Barbet is profusely covered in long, thick hair it may be desirable to have the dog professionally groomed and clipped often to help its coat stay clean and free of matting. Excess hair should be removed from between the toes.
As with all dog breeds, special care and attention should be paid to the sensitive parts of a dog’s body. Therefore; the eyes, nose, teeth, and nails should be cleaned, groomed, and checked regularly to catch and prevent any injury or infection from developing. As the Barbet sports floppy ears that are abundantly covered in long hair, it is important to clean and check the ears regularly in order to prevent ear infection, a common problem with this type of breed.
The Barbet is a hardy breed with a long and enduring history. Being a purebred dog that has been developed for centuries, the Barbet is strong and resilient. The average lifespan of the breed is 13 to 15 years. There is even documentation of a Barbet living as long as 19 years.
The Barbet breed seems to display few genetic health conditions, although the current number of Barbets living narrows the gene pool dramatically, making it difficult to predict future health issues that may arise in the breed, and many known genetic conditions can be traced back to just 4 or 6 generations of Barbet. Conscientious breeding practices may help to prevent the known conditions from developing further in the Barbet population. The Barbet was recently accepted into the AKC Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program, which provides scientific, reliable health information for the breeds included in their program.
The following is a list of health concerns identified in the Barbet breed: