Our Dogs 13th September 1984

The article by Harry Baxter reproduced below, was published in the UK in 'Our Dogs' magazine on 13th September 1984. The text has been digitally reproduced in its entirety for ease of reading whereas the images are scans from the original newsprint hence their quality.

The article has been reproduced with kind permission from 'Our Dogs'


Harry Baxter writes

Imagine, if you can, a Frenchman in London for the week-end asking a policeman in Trafalgar Square for directions to a Glen of Imaal gathering in Maidenhead. That unlikely and unpromising situation parallels mine when I arrived in France to find the Barbet.

Three days before the event I had read in “Chiens 2000” that members of the Club du Barbet would be showing their dogs to the public during the Spring Bank Holiday weekend and demonstrating their prowess in the water at Cergy Pontoise near Paris. I got a last minute vacancy on a tourist coach for a Paris weekend, the only passenger with no intention at all of seeing the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre or the Louvre.

Buffon`s Barbet

I knew only two things for certain about the Barbet. It is an ancient French gundog – some say the oldest of all – and it is a water dog. Finding out about the Barbet over the years had been like building a jig-saw without knowing how many pieces there should be or where to find them, and not knowing quite what the finished picture should look like. The first pictures – never photographs - I had seen had aroused my curiosity. Whenever I read about it it was with reference to some other breed developed from it. Any breed allegedly so extensively used in the formation of others now found in the gundog, hound, working and utility groups surely had a value in its own right and I hoped to find it had been conserved. The first pictures I saw were like the engraving reproduced here from a book by Monsieur de Buffon in the 18th century and the other, “The Large Rough Water Dog”, from Bewick’s “Quadrupeds” (1970) which many readers will have seen when rummaging for pictures of their own breeds.

The Large Rough Water Dog

In Bewick’s book it is sub-titled “Le Grand Barbet”. In “The World Encyclopaedia of Dogs” (ed. F. Hamilton, New English Library, 1971) the Barbet is said to have been used to develop both gundogs and hounds: “The woolly coat of the Barbet has been a factor in the breeding-in of wire hair more or less deliberately by crossing with short-haired dogs. One finds traces of it in all the Griffons and modern short-hairs like the German Drahthaar, the Poodle Pointer, a number of French hounds, the Spinone, the Korthals, and numerous other varieties, including the water dogs of Portugal”. The breed articles in the same book also refer to the Barbet’s influence but all were written by the same contributor.

Nearest to the Barbet in appearance and work is the Poodle. They were both employed by duck hunters. Writers on dogs are not noted for identifying their sources and sometimes statements are made as though of fact though there is nothing to distinguish them from opinion or intuition. I came across an as yet unpublished article “In 1540 Lady Lisle wrote to Madame du Bours in reply to a request for Poodles (which were more likely Barbets, as Poodles as such were not known at that date) for the crossbow and hackbut. In “All About Poodles” (Pelham Books,1970) Sheldon and Lockwood wrote: “It was in the middle 1500s that the Pudel became known in Russia and Germany…. His popularity took him to Holland and Belgium where he was known as the Poedel, and then on into France where he is called Barbet.” “Barbet” was the kennel prefix of Mrs. E. Crimmins, two of whose champion Poodles are pictured in Hutchinson’s Encyclopaedia p1418.


An article by Viscomte de la Coussaye in “L’eleveur”in 1930 referred to an earlier work “Les Chiens, le Gibier et ses ennemis”: “The present day Poodle, house-dog, guide-dog, clever “(performing?)” dog is no more than a selectively bred Barbet.” Between the Barbet and the present-day Poodle there are, however, important differences, breadth of skull, length of muzzle, shape of eye, length of neck, tail-set, shape and size of feet. At Pointoise I expected to find a parti-colour dog resembling a full-tailed heavy-bodied Poodle. The lakes were almost as elusive as the Barbet had been. “Near” is relative: the train journey took a couple of hours, involved changes and left me miles away. Fortune shone as bright as the sun. A French woman on holiday from her home in Chicago was being met by her niece. Neither knew anything of the Barbet but they took me to the lakes and by one of them I found the breed I had looked for so long. It looked as much like a smaller Briard as a Poodle and there wasn’t a parti-colour in sight. The author of the “L’eleveur” article suggested the Barbet was also father to the Briard “to which he gave his rustic qualities and intelligence.” A similar statement appeared in “Vos Chiens”. No.8 1979 of an encyclopaedia published in parts: “The ancestors of the Briard were on the one hand the Barbet and on the other an old breed of sheepdog.” “…the Briard has one peculiar feature – it adores water and swimming. On occasion it is a highly skilled rescue dog.”

The Beauceron and the Briard are regarded as the short-coated and long-coated varieties of one breed. Perhaps the Barbet gave the Briard its coat, its love of water, its resistance to cold and the crochet hook to its tail. Viscomte de la Coussaye’s article in “L’eleveur” took the form of an appeal to wild fowlers and Barbet owners to unite to save the breed from extinction. It was not until 1980 that the Club du Barbet, the only club recognized by the French K.C., was formed. Club members living near Paris meet regularly to compare dogs and for water training. They have good reason to look long and hard at the way youngsters come along.

Ulyssian at six months.

*After publication, this picture
was identified as Mr Portier
and his dog Ugo.*

The Club has worked by looking for ‘typical’ specimens of the breed and having them registered in much the same way that Lancashire Heelers are first ‘recognised’ by committee members and then registered. Recently the supply of pups has caught up with the demand which may have been boosted by a television appearance and magazine articles. So far the dogs registered and the pups bred have been whole colours, blacks, chestnuts and café-au-lait, and those I saw were very much of a type. The old illustrations of the breed showed parti-colours but old standards also gave acceptable colours as grey, black, café-au-lait, off-white and chestnut. Club members have higher priorities than colour at present. M. Hermans the club’s Secretary told me of the breeding plans for the future. The ten year plan is to produce dogs of a high standard in significant numbers, the long term ambition for the Barbet is to be able to compete in its own country with the Labrador as a working dog. Not all the Barbets bred were at Pontoise. There are some promising young bitches in the second generation one of which Ulyssian is shown here at six months.

Joyeuse du Mas de la Chapelle.

Far away at Tarascon in the region of Marseilles Madame Petre has worked independently to revive the breed. Sixty years ago a M. Lehouelleur got together a small group of Barbets. With two from him Madame Petre’s father founded the Kennel du Mas de la Chapelle. From a litter of 13 born in 1935, 7 survived, amongst them a parti-colour Joyeuse du Mas de la Chapelle, a Monegasque champion in 1937 and 1938, a photograph of which is reproduced here. The 1939 war put an end to the kennel but from the descendants of a son of Joyeuse, Kino du Mas de la Chapelle, in 1970 Madame Petre obtained a bitch, Thais, and for 3 litters mated her to a ‘cousin’, Gandar, winner of the Grand Prix de Chiens de Chasse at the Paris show in 1972. By publishing a photograph she was able to find three other males which were then registered with the French Kennel Club. Last year Madame Petre wrote that there were some 70 Barbets registered and ten litters were expected. Her own kennel includes black, white, beige, chestnut, grey, cream and parti-colour. Her father’s dogs were all black and white.


Madame Petre puts forward theories for the origins of the Barbet and to account for his fall from favour. There are, she says, three theories for his appearance in Europe: He came with the Vikings, or with the Visigoths or with the Moors through Spain. Madame Petre favours the Visigoths as she finds the breed has likenesses to certain Central European breeds particularly the Polish Lowland Sheepdog (Owczarek Nizinny). The Barbet was displaced by the Griffon Boulet, which in turn has disappeared, the Korthals Griffon and, above all, by the British breed of Setter. It will never be known to what extent the Barbets of today are genetically the same as the Barbet of which Dr Caius wrote in the 16th century or Gervaise Markham in the 17th. What Lawrence Alderson wrote of domestic cattle must, I think, apply to many breeds of dogs of ancient lineage: “When a breed has survived, albeit as a type only vaguely reminiscent of its earlier representatives … it must be accepted on its present attributes, which embody all the changes and introductions up to recent years.” (“The Chance to Survive” Cameron and Tayleur, 1978).

The Barbet may have been too specialized a gundog. In Madame Petre’s view, though a specialist water dog, he was a pointer capable of working on land and a retriever and not afraid to hunt boar. In the past he was often referred to as Barbet d’arret but there was a whole range of opinion. “If his point is not the most brilliant, he retrieves with incomparable reliability. He is very valuable for finding runners. His nose is excellent and his loyalty stands up to all tests.”

“The water is his domain and he is a swimmer par excellence. Work on land may tire him but swimming never, whatever the temperature. (“La Chasse au Marais”, Charles Diquet, 1889). “The true milieu of the barbet is the marsh, the reed plantations, the long wetland grasses. C’est le canis avariarius aquaticus par excellence.” (Les Chiens, le Gibier et ses ennemis” M. de la Rue).

It is possible that the Barbet’s coat – one of the features which led to its widespread use in the creation of other breeds – may also have led in part to its fall from favour. Long-coated dogs were often unkempt and dirty, displeasing to shooting men who came to prefer Spaniels. The coat is described as long, well waved but not curly, forming cords even plaques if not well cared for. Various reasons are given for the sporting Poodles being clipped - “as the heavy coat impeded its progress in the water it was shaved from the ribs to the stern.” According to Peggy Grayson (“D.W. August 10, 1984) distinctive clips were used for identification, a precaution against the theft of good working dogs. Could it be simply that they were cleaner clipped?

Good reason

There may have been another good reason for clipping the Barbet. “Barbets are shaved and their hair made into hats.” (Alban de Lamothe writing on pointers and quoting la Maison Rustique). The Barbet needed his coat in winter particularly. M.P. Megnin wrote in “Les Races de Chiens” of a Barbet named Pilote: “Often during the severest winter with the temperature minus 18 or 19 degrees, when all his kennel-mates were curled up under the straw, I have found him sleeping in the yard, muzzle on paws, covered in snow. The next day his place was marked where the snow had melted beneath him. I ask myself if any other breeds have such qualities of temperament and above all disdain for the cold.”

A mature chestnut coloured male barbet at Pontoise.

Since November, 1980 the Barbet has been shown more often. Madame Petre, too, writes of Barbets being entered at Marseilles. She says that one of her dogs is worked by her husband and son and mentioned the possibility of Barbets appearing in Field Trials. I could not find any mention of the breed being much used again. In a special number of “La Revue Nationale de la Chasse N. 382, July, 1979, given over to shooting in the marshlands Eric Joly compared breeds, the Brittany Spaniel, the Labrador – for him “the true water dog”, the Golden Retriever, the Irish Setter, the Korthals Griffon, the Pont Audemer Spaniel, the Irish Water. Never a mention of the Barbet. And yet the dog’s skill in the water was such that according to Charles Diquet “before the fashion for Newfoundlands sea captains always took with them a barbet or a poodle to recover gear which fell overboard and to retrieve birds shot during the voyage.” In the Club bulletin President, M. Jean-Claude Hermans wrote “It is absolutely necessary that we work our dogs.” He himself does not wish the Barbet regarded as a Pointer or Retriever but just as a water dog. He approves a proposal put forward by M. Raymond Triquet, member of the Commission Zootechnique of the French Kennel Club, the Societe Centrale Canine.

Under the proposal the Barbet would not appear with the Chiens d’arret in Group 6 but in Group 7:

A. Game retrievers.

B. Spaniels

C. Water dogs.
1. French – Barbet
2. American Water Spaniel
3. Irish Water Spaniel
4. Dutch Wetterhoun
5. Portuguese Water Dogs

M. Hermans would have preferred a further distinction, the Barbet and the Portuguese Water Dog forming one sub-group and the water spaniels another.

I discovered more about the Barbet than I had hoped to and in a way more than I had bargained for. No sooner had I moved from the position of not knowing whether the Barbet still existed than I was confronted with the suggestion that there had been two Barbet varieties in the past. The Club magazine included a quotation from “L’ami de l’homme” (A. Mahe de la Bourdonnais, 1893) which disconcertingly, for me, began: “There are two types of Barbet, the one large, the other small, both having a long coat.” Writing on Poodles as sporting dogs (D.W. 10.8.84) Peggy Grayson quoted Stonehenge “The Barbet is really a small variety of Poodle, which it resembles in all aspects but size” and she suggested that I might have been looking for the Barbet “in the wrong group”. Apparently there were Barbets in England. In a postscript to her letter Madame Petre wrote “Henri III wrote to M. de Castelnau, ambassador in England ‘who he had sent to look for bloodhounds, hare-coursing dogs and Barbets.’ (Histoire de la Chasse” Vol II Barron Dunoyer de Noirmon.)”

Will we see them again?

Official Standard (FCI)

GENERAL APPEARANCE: Thickset dog and strong. Not very “outstanding looking”


HEAD: Round, wide, developed forehead.

TAIL: A little ‘up’. Attached low,forming a small hook.

FOREHEAD: Wide and short

FRONT LEGS: Straight, fairly bony perpendicular. Completely covered with long hair

NOSE: Brown or black .

LIPS: Thick, entirely covered with long hair and forming a falling moustache.

HIND LEGS: Straight thighs, strong low hocks, well elbowed

EYES: Round, lively, intelligent, completely covered by thick and long eyebrows falling to the foreface

FEET: Round, wide, covered with hair.

SKIN: Thick

EARS: Attached low, long, flat with long curly hair.

COAT: Long, woolly, forming locks which often form themselves into “chain mail”

NECK: Short and strong.


UPPER ARM: Strong and muscular.

COLOUR: Grey-black, “coffee and milk”, off white, white-and-chestnut, black-and-white

BREAST: Wide, developed, fairly deep, rounded ribs .

BACK: Slightly convex

LOINS: Arched, short and strong

HEIGHT: 18-22 inches

(This translation of the standard was sent to me in 1977).