The Barbet, or French Water Dog, is one of the oldest dog breeds in his native France. The name Barbet comes from ‘barbe’, the French word for ‘beard’. A female Barbet is called a ‘Barbette’ and a Barbet puppy is known as a ‘Barbichon’. The name Barbet was probably introduced in the sixteenth century.
With his webbed feet and his thick and waterproof coat, this breed was for centuries the perfect retriever of waterfowl from the chilly waters of the wetlands, marshes and estuaries of France. This is the reason for the expressions ‘mud dog’ and ‘muddy as a barbet’. The term Barbet is used as a general name for a dog with a long, curly, and woolly coat. In addition to being a hunting dog, this all-round working dog has been used as a shepherd dog and a sailor’s companion.
The origin of this dog breed is unknown, but is from probably as early as the eight century.
Many dog breeds have some Barbet in their lineage. The ‘Grand Barbet’ in ‘Histoire Naturelle’ of Count George Buffon in 1750, is acknowledged as the original source of water dog breeds such as, among others, the Poodle, the American Water Spaniel and the Portuguese Water Dog, the Griffon, the French Sheepdog and the Newfoundland.
For almost a century the Barbet and the Poodle were thought to belong to the same breed. Through selective breeding the Poodle developed into a specific breed with more elegance and a solid color.
This dog breed is barely known outside of France and was almost extinct after World War I. Nowadays the breed is gaining popularity in the USA, but the numbers were still small in 2013. For the survival of the breed in the USA, each Barbet that is born in America or imported from abroad needs to be registered with the AKC Foundation Stock Service.
The Barbet is a medium-sized dog with a long and curly coat. He has
long hairs on his head that cover up his eyes and nose. The hair also
forms a mustache and a beard on his chin. Their skull is round and broad
with a square muzzle. He has dark brown eyes, a brown or black nose and
long droopy ears. The Barbet has a long tail with a slight hook at the
The most common colors for the Barbet are solid black, brown and black or brown with white markings on the chin, chest and legs. Any color mixed with another color, except white, is seen as a fault and is not acceptable. The colors fawn, white and grey are exceptionally rare.
They love water and are extremely good swimmers. He is also good on land and is a fearless hunter and a keen retriever. The dog breed has endless energy, is intelligent, extremely friendly and playful. As a companion dog he is very loyal and affectionate. He is excellent at canine sports.
This breed has a gentle personality, is very intelligent and eager to learn. As a working dog, he loves to get the job done. He will need ongoing obedience training. The Barbet is a delightful family pet. He loves his humans, young and old, and will thrive in the company of his family. He wants to please and craves the attention of his human companions and will always want to be around them, preferably in the same room.
Little is known about the long term health issues of this dog breed.
The breeding stock is still low and the gene pool is limited. For a
healthy puppy it is essential to choose a reputable breeder and get
health clearances for both parents.
The Barbet is vulnerable to ear infections and needs to be checked regularly. To prevent infections, his ears should always be kept clear of any hair. Consult a veterinarian at the first sign of an ear infection.
Genetic health concerns of the Barbet are:
- Hip dysplasia
- Skin allergies
- Undershot and overshot bites
- Un-descended testicles
The average life span is 13 to 15 years.
This breed has the characteristic coat of a water dog: thick, long, curly and woolly. The coat is waterproof and requires daily care as it can easily become tangled. The coat should be carefully combed and brushed to avoid matting and cords, and to remove plant fragments, especially after the daily walk or swim. They shed a little and their coat can be trimmed with scissors for easier maintenance.
The Barbet is very intelligent, a quick learner and eager to please his owner or trainer. They are obedient, but need life-long obedience training that is consistent and with clear authority.
This dog breed can adjust well in a home environment. He can easily get used to the presence of children or other dogs and pets. He will adapt to apartment living as long as he can have his daily walk, swimming or other sporting activities.
As a working dog, this breed needs lots of exercise in the outdoors on a daily basis. A happy Barbets love having fun in the water and do as much retrieving as possible. He is also very good at agility and flyball.
A large yard with a fence would be the ideal home environment for this breed. They need time and dedication from his owners to remain happy and healthy. Active people who live near water, hunters and experienced dog handlers would be the perfect owners for a Barbet.