French Water Dog

FCI standard Nº 105

Jennifer Mulholland
Group 8 Retrievers, Flushing Dogs, Water Dogs
Section 3 Water Dogs
With working trial
Acceptance on a definitive basis by the FCI
Saturday 04 December 1954
Publication of the official valid standard
Tuesday 21 February 2006
Last update
Wednesday 29 March 2006
En français, cette race se dit
Diese Norm ist in deutscher Sprache sichtbar
Französischer Wasserhund
En español, esta raza se dice
Perro de Agua Francés
In het Nederlands, wordt dit ras gezegd
Franse waterhond


Water dog used for hunting wildfowl. Like all water dogs, the French Water Dog is more than just a retriever; he must search for, locate and flush out the game hiding in the water vegetation. He then retrieves the game shot by his master. Very resistant to cold, he shall go to water in all weather.

Brief historical summary

A very ancient breed, common throughout France, used for hunting waterfowl and described or mentioned in several works as early as the 16th century.

General appearance

Medium proportions, medium size, characterized by a thick, woolly coat which guarantees efficient protection against cold and damp. The coat forms a beard (French barbe) on the chin, which gave the breed its name (Barbet).

Important proportions

• The muzzle is slightly shorter than the skull. • The length of the body, measured from the point of shoulder to the point of buttock, is slightly more than the height at the withers .

Behaviour / temperament

Even disposition, very attached to his master, very sociable, loving water even when very cold.


Cranial region

The coat on the skull must fall onto the bridge of the nose. The beard is long and furnished; the moustache entirely covers the bridge of the nose.
Rounded and broad. 

Facial region

Broad, with well opened nostrils; black or brown depending on the colour of the coat.
Quite square.
Thick, well pigmented and completely covered by long hair. Black or brown edges.
Nasal bridge
The bridge of the nose is broad.
Jaws and teeth
Jaws of equal length. Scissors bite. Strong teeth. Incisors well developed and well aligned.
Round, preferably dark brown. The rim of the eyelid is black or brown.
Set on low (at eye level or slightly lower), long, flat, wide, covered by long hair hanging in strands. When brought together in front of the nose, the ears (including the hair) reach at least 5cms beyond it. The ear cartilage reaches further than the corner of the mouth.


Short and strong.


Solid with well sustained topline.
Arched, short and strong.
Round, seen from the side, in smooth continuation of the line of the loin.
Broad, well developed, deep, reaching the elbow; ribcage rounded but not barrel-like.


Slightly raised, carried above the horizontal when the dog is in action, low set, forming a slight hook at the tip.



Oblique. The scapulo-humeral angle varies between 110° and 115°.
Upper arm
Strong and muscular.
Straight, strong bone, upright, completely covered by long hair.


Upper thigh
Slightly oblique, well muscled.
Low, well angulated.


Round, broad, covered by hair.

Gait and movement

Easy movement, the limbs moving in line with the body. Medium length foreleg stride with good thrust from the hindquarters.


Relatively thick.


Long, woolly and curly; can form strands. The coat is furnished, covering the whole body in a natural state. This is an essential characteristic of the breed. The French Water Dog may be groomed in a specific manner to accomodate its work and maintenance.
Solid black, grey, brown, fawn, pale fawn, white or more or less pied. All shades of red-fawn and pale fawn are permitted. The shade should, preferably, be the same as the colour of the body.

Size and weight

Height at withers
Dogs 58cm – 65cm, bitches 53cm – 61 cm, with a tolerance of +/- 1cm


• Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and its ability to perform its traditional work.
• Faults listed should be in degree of seriousness.

General faults

 Head fine and narrow, muzzle thin and too long, lips thin.
 Overshot or undershot.
 Wry jaw.
 Light eyes.
 Ears set high (higher than eye level), thin, short and narrow.
 Neck long and thin.
 Topline hollow.
 Loin long and weak.
 Croup straight.
 Chest narrow.
 Tail set on high, curved over the back, curled over or lying on the croup or loin.
 Tail naturally absent or too short.
 Shoulders straight.
 Upper arm thin.
 Forearm with fine bone; feathering.
 Upper thigh flat, hocks straight, feathering; presence of dewclaws.
 Feet fine and narrow, not covered by coat.
 Skin thin.
 Coat short, harsh, not woolly, not curly.
 Any colour other than those mentioned in the standard.

Disqualifying faults

 Aggressive or overly shy.

NB :

• Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.
• The above mentioned faults when occurring to a highly marked degree or frequently are disqualifying.
• Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
• Only functionally and clinically healthy dogs, with breed typical conformation should be used for breeding.



Detailed history

"It's the ancestor of the poodle. This is generally what one says when introducing Barbet. In fact, this dog belongs to a very old race, and the cynologists attribute to him the most diverse origins. It seems that Barbet existed in North Africa from the beginning of our era and was then used to guard the flocks. Then we find its trace in Spain, with the Cao de Agua, a water dog used by the Portuguese fishermen, to whom they rendered a thousand services.

Barbet was certainly imported to France by the Moors during the invasions of the sixth century. When the Arabs were beaten, they left the country leaving behind the animal which, in some twenty years of occupation, had had time to reproduce and establish itself. A few centuries later, thanks to the Turkish invasions, Barbet also settled in Eastern European countries.

It was therefore very early that this race found its place in Western countries. The reasons for its establishment are related to the relative poverty of the local dog population, especially in Gaul. In the Merovingian period, Gaul is covered with immense forests, agriculture is undeveloped, and hunting occupies an important place in daily activities. So that the most widespread breeds are composed of common dogs, Mastiffs and possibly Greyhounds. But there are no sheepdogs, no dogs, no pet dogs. It is therefore natural that the Barbet has conquered a place left vacant: easier to feed than the Dogue, less turbulent than the current dog, it could still be used for hunting, much to the delight of the peasants who At the time, they were not allowed to use certain breeds reserved for noble families. In addition, the Barbet proved good guardian of herds and homes. It is by observing the aptitudes of this or that subject that we have started to select different types of dogs. For example, when one noticed that a Barbet was more skilful than its congeners in detecting game, one kept his puppies for hunting. This long-haired dog is the origin of several breeds in France, Spain or England.

The first direct descendant of Barbet is certainly "Espaignol", ancestor of the Spaniel, which, as its name suggests, was born in Spain. Similarly, according to a European theory, opposed to the American version, Newfoundland would be from Barbet. Barbets were found on English and French ships of the eighteenth century, and the Basques sometimes went to Newfoundland. The Newfoundland dog's taste for water was therefore transmitted to him by Barbet.

In the Pyrenees, Barbet gave birth to the Catalan Shepherd, on the Spanish side, and to the Pyrenean Shepherd, French side. In the Paris Basin he gave birth to Briard, and besides, at the beginning of this century, we still met Brie's Shepherds with Barbet's hair. Hair that is also found in the Bergamasque, Italy. Some people think that in England Bobtail and Bearded Collie owe some of their origins to Barbet.

And it is undoubtedly the association of a Barbet and a dog running with short hair that allowed to create the Griffon.

Thus summarized, these evolutions can seem fast. But we must not lose sight of the fact that they are spread over more than a thousand years. Barbet was then omnipresent in the countryside, and it was normal that it should be used for various tasks. But although he is at the origin of many races, he still kept its original type. Indeed, some Barbets specialized in hunting waterfowl quickly became the only effective dogs for this task in France. In the nineteenth century, the Barbet was used on board ships to catch seabirds killed by seafarers or anything that could fall into the water.

But, already at this time, we do not really know if we still have to talk about Barbet or rather Poodle. The dog introduced in France by the Moors is also, it is true, the father of the Poodle, a fatherhood which is partly responsible for its loss, but which, paradoxically, has contributed to its reputation. The Poodle is the result of an evolution in the likes of dog lovers. In the eighteenth century, the color of the dog's dress became a predominant criterion of choice and the single-color subjects, black or white, began to have the favor of the public. The Barbets, the blacks and the whites, were then crossed with a Spaniel, and one obtained the "Petit Barbet", in other words the Poodle. When, over the years, the latter became more refined and saw his hair become more curly and less woolly, we stopped calling him Barbet, and the two races were clearly distinguished, the last born becoming the most popular because that more in keeping with the tastes of the time.

Today Barbet remains an exceptionally rare dog, since there are hardly more than a hundred in France.

Barbet can be considered from two angles: the water dog and the pet dog. With a nose less fine than the Braques, less "passe-partout" than the Griffons, the Barbet has been abandoned by hunters for over a century. His woolly hair forbids him access to the brambles, which makes it a bad aid for the hunter on the plain.

On the other hand, if there is one area where the Barbet truly excels, it is the marsh hunt. On this terrain, it is incomparable, whatever the weather. He likes to wade, swim, dive, bring back game in both deep water and reeds. About his dog, Pilote, a cynologist and warned hunter, M. Coste, wrote at the beginning of the century: "As for his ancestors, the element of Pilote is water, nothing but water. That she be lukewarm; as in August, or as cold as in December, the bath is always a pleasure for him. He would do I think sad figure in the plain. I do not have it, never driven. In the marsh, he is alone on his land and at home. I often brought him out of the hunt, the hair bristling with ice cubes. He never seemed to be inconvenienced for a second. Often, by the coldest winter, at 18 or 19 degrees below freezing, while all his kennel companions curled up chilly under the straw, I found him lying in the yard, his muzzle elongated on its paws, covered with snow and literally powdered with frost. The next day his place was marked in the melted snow under him to the ground. I wonder if many other races offer such temperament resources, and especially such disdain for low temperatures. He is an invaluable assistant to the waterfowl hunter in the exceptionally hard service of this hunt, for he brings it back for pleasure and he loves to paddle even more than his master, so young and enraged as he is."

In 1683, M. de Selincourt already spoke of Barbet in these terms: "The curly and half-haired Barbets follow all the feet, chase their nose low when the game flees and when it remains, they chase the nose up and the stop. They hunt on land and in the water. Their main nature is to report, they are rough to the game, the curly more than the others, but all are the most faithful dogs in the world and who want to know only one master and never lose sight of him."

This remarkable predisposition of Barbet to hunt marsh is all the more interesting to emphasize that the other breeds specialized in this area are not French. This is the case, for example; from Labrador, Irish Water-Spaniel or Portuguese Cao de Agua.

But if Barbet has been a close auxiliary of man for so long, it is also because he behaves like an excellent pet dog. The Barbet, by its look, but also by his behavior, is to be among the number of these dogs who, for some years, seduce those who seek above all a nice ball of hair invariably evoking the stuffed animal.

That said, the Barbet remains an authentic animal that has managed to preserve, through the centuries, all its qualities. It is by no means his snobbery that can attract attention, but on the contrary its rusticity, its solidity and a certain unconventionality. Here is a dog who is absolutely not sophisticated, and who is particularly docile. It is even rare to see such a disposition for training in dogs of the eighth group. This is not a quiet dog, on the contrary, because it is full of ardor, vivacity and strength.

Adoring the water, it will be a pleasure to accompany, not only the hunters, but also the fishermen, even the boaters. How to find a breed more disposed to aquatic pleasures? Very comfortable on a sailboat, he also knows after a slight apprenticeship, warn the angler at the slightest touch.

In any case, the Barbet claims a presence. He needs to participate in the life of the family that welcomes him under his roof. That said, his keen intelligence can make him a very dominant adult dog and that's why he needs to get a pretty firm upbringing while he's still a puppy. From three months, he must have assimilated the "lying", "sitting", "not moved". His abilities of understanding are, on this level, astonishing, and it is not a coincidence if the Barbet was used formerly in certain circuses. In this also he is the ancestor of the Poodle. It is a dog who is delighted to "do the beauty", to detach hands tied, to carry a shopping basket, to bark on command, in short to please his masters. Very patient with children, he is the accomplice of their games, but also their nonsense. Barbet's guardian skills are limited to prevention. He barks and announces the arrival of a stranger, but is not dangerous, except training, particular.

Happy when he lives in the open air, the Barbet can become acclimated to the city life, but in this case it is necessary to take it out often, to make it run, to offer it large spaces. The ideal is of course a property with a garden. Garden in which he can also remain, provided he provide a niche. Absolutely not chilly, appreciating the presence of the man without being as dependent as some small pet dogs created only for this purpose, the Barbet may very well stay out permanently, in contact with the nature in which he lives since l the time when the Moors, then the Merovingians, used it to hunt or keep the flocks.

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