Barbet Breed History

To clearly denote quotations different colour text is used.

Ancient History
Roman coin showing a dog

Roman coin showing a dog

That the history of the modern barbet stretches back into antiquity is not in doubt although its exact origins, like that of many breeds is now subject to debate. The generally accepted theory is that the barbet is descended from corded herding dogs originating in North Africa which were brought to Europe with the Moors as they occupied the Iberian Peninsula during the 7th and 8th centuries and then further a field by returning armies from the Crusades crossing the Pyrenees in to France and central Europe. These dogs would have interbred with indigenous populations and may well have formed the foundation of the present day breeds of herding and water dogs. While this theory fits neatly with known human history, modern canine genetic research tells us that the oldest dog breeds originated in Asia, and coupled with the lack of anything resembling a barbet to be found in N. Africa it is just as likely that the barbet found its way to Europe overland via central Asia and Eastern Europe. We now also know that the dog as a species maintained a wide genetic base until very recently, making it hard to prove either theory as correct, and in fact making it likely that modern breeds` are a mix of the two.

What we can say with some certainty, is that this hardy, water loving, intelligent and highly adaptable dog soon spread right across Europe. From Russia to the southern tip of Spain and west to the UK and Ireland the barbet type dog spread. By crossing with local dogs it adapted to its environment and became more suited to the local needs of hunters, farmers and fishermen and yet retained the characteristics which gave it its initial appeal.

Recorded History

The earliest attempt at a complete classification of types of dogs was published in 1570 and was titled ‘De Canibus Britannicus’. This treatise was written in Latin by Dr Johannes Caius who was the physician to Queen Elizabeth I. It was first translated into English in 1576. Caius listed a group of dogs, Aucupatorii, which were employed in the hunting of fowl and comprised the Index (or Setter), Aquaticus (water dog) and the Spaniell.

By 1621, when Gervase Markham the renowned commentator of English country life published ‘Hungers Prevention: or The Whole Arte of Fowling by Water and Land’ the water dog as it was known in England was well established.

“The water dog is a creature of such general use, and so frequent amongst us here in England, that it is needless to make any large description of him: the rather since not any among us is so simple that he cannot say when he sees him: 'This is a water dog.”

Buffon`s Grand Barbet

Buffon`s Grand Barbet

Count George Louis Buffon's `Histoire Naturelle' from 1758 lists some thirty varieties of dogs known at that time and became the basis for many subsequent works on the subject. Buffon clearly differentiates between the spaniel, the grand barbet and also introduces the petit barbet which he claims is the result of a cross between the barbet and a small spaniel.

N.S.Hoyt, quoting in English from Buffon’s work writes,

“The Barbet and Spaniel originated in Spain and Barbarie. There, nearly all the animals have long fine coats because of the climate. They were brought to England where they changed colour from white to black, and have become hunting and pet dogs. The only difference between the Barbet and the Spaniel is that the Barbet with his thick coat, long and curly, goes into the water more readily than the Spaniel which has a sleek and less dense coat.”

Buffon’s work formed the basis of many later works and was translated into several languages. We can also find Buffon`s illustrations being re-used and often re-titled.

Published some thirty years after Hoyt, ‘The Animal Kingdom: Arranged in Conformity with Its Organization’ by Georges Cuvier in 1827 is interesting in that it expands on Caius`s Aquaticus and gives some of the different names that we are still familiar with today and again lists the sub varieties little Barbet and Griffon which may help to explain the origin of the Toy Poodle and Bichon Frise which trace their roots back to the barbet.

"The group of spaniels seem originally to have been located in Spain, whence the name. Variety - Aquaticus (the Barbet, or Poodle.) Head large, and round ; cerebral cavity larger than in any other variety; frontal sinuses very much developed ; ears large and pendent ; body thick ; tail nearly horizontal ; fur long and curly all over the body ; generally white, with black patches, or black with white patches. Also known as the Great Water Spaniel, Water Dog, Grand Barbet and Caniche, or Chien Canard in French.

Sub-variety. The Little Barbet is bred, according to Buffon, from the great barbet and the little spaniel. Petit Barbet, Little barbet, or water dog,

Sub-variety. The Griffon is like the preceding, but the hair is not curled; generally black, with yellow spots over the eyes and on the paws. It appears to have sprung from the barbet and the shepherd's dog."

As can be seen, the pan-European water dog is referred to under a variety of names dependant on its usage and location, in England the ‘Great Water Dog’, in Germany the ‘Pudelhund’ (from where we get the English word poodle), in France, the ‘Barbet’ or ‘Caniche’ which is derived from chien cannard or duck-dog'. In Italy the Barbonne, where today the barbet is still classed among the spaniels.

William Taplin writing in the ‘Sportsmans Cabinet’ 1803.

Water-dog -1803

The Water Dog by Philip Reinagle
used as an illustration in Taplins book.

The Water-dog, of which an exact representation is given from the life (see image), is of so little general use that the breed is but little promoted, unless upon the sea-coast, and in such other situations as are most likely to render their qualifications and propensities of some utility. Although these dogs are to be seen of almost all colours and equally well-bred, yet the jet-black with white feet stand highest in estimation; the most uniform in shape and make exceed in size the standard of mediocrity, and are strong in proportion to their formation. The head is rather round; the nose short; the ears broad, long, and pendulous; his eyes full, lively, and solicitously attracting; his neck thick and short; his shoulders broad; his legs straight; his hind-quarters round and firm; his pasterns strong, and dew-clawed; his fore-feet long, but round; with his hair adhering to the body in natural, elastic, short curls, neither loose, long, or shaggy; the former being considered indicative of constitutional strength, the latter of constitutional weakness, or hereditary debility.

There is little record of the Great Water dog in England, ‘The Dog’ by William Youatt in 1852 tells us that the type died out after being crossed with the English setter and became known as the water spaniel and is described as being distict from the land spaniel. Youatt only refers to the barbet in its diminuative form and instead refers to the larger poodle as having far more courage than the water-spaniel.

(*NB. It should be noted that over the last century the modern standard poodle has been modified by selective breeding in terms of morphology and coat colour, mixed colour pups were commonly culled to achieve a solid colour in the breed.*)

The popularity of the barbet grew with those hunting wildfowl in the marshlands of Europe although the presence of malaria meant that this was an occupation for those that had to hunt to eat or provide an income rather than those hunting for sport. This may partly explain why the barbet became known as the common mans dog.

From 'The Pictorial Museum of Animated Nature' by Charles Knight (London: 1844),

"The water-spaniel is extremely useful to persons engaged in the pursuit of water-fowl; it swims well, is very hardy, and is an excellent retriever.... The French poodle may be referred to the spaniels: it appears to be very nearly allied to the rough water-dog figured by, the 'grand barbet' of Buffon, and of which there is a smaller variety termed 'le petit barbet.' The rough water-dog is a most intelligent animal; it is robustly made, and covered universally with deep curly hair; it exceeds the water-spaniel in size and strength, but has the same aquatic habits and docility. It is much used as a retriever by the shooters of water-fowl."

From ‘The Illustrated Book of the Dog’ by Vero Shaw 1879-1881

"Poodles, however, considerably differ in the various countries. Thus, in Eastern Germany and on the confines of Russia he is as a rule black, and the Russian Poodle proper should be lithe and agile; while coming more into Central Germany the black Poodle seems to thicken in the legs and to shorten slightly in the muzzle, assuming more staid, and aldermanic proportions. The white Poodle also presents marked variations, ranging from the great muscular fellow who draws a milk-cart in Antwerp and Brussels to his more slender French brother familiarly called the Mouton, who is so constantly met with on the French boulevards. The size of the two breeds differs considerably, the larger one averaging some 30 or 40 lbs., while the smaller, generally known under the name of Barbet, only weighs about half that figure. Of the various breeds mentioned the Russian is the most valuable. As a rule he is highly intelligent, and is altogether a handsomer and more gracefully-formed dog, while his coat, being black, is free from that soiled appearance which is so great a drawback in the white breed. The hair of the various breeds is also somewhat different, that of the Russian being more wiry and less woolly than the French, who, from the texture of his coat, frequently merits his pastoral nickname." (Mouton = sheep/sheepskin)

Barbet from Joigneaux (1865)

Barbet from Joigneaux (1865)

The downturn in the fortunes of the barbet across Europe can be attributed to several factors. The draining of large areas of marshland to combat the risk of malaria and to provide more arable land certainly played its part. In addition there was competition from newer imported breeds such as the St Johns dog, now known as the Labrador retriever which arrived in England in the late 1800`s and also the development of new breeds such as the Golden retriever, developed from the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel, the Newfoundland and the Irish Setter. In the countryside of France the barbet was crossed with other local dog types such as the Griffon d’Arret and this gave rise to the ‘Griffon-Barbet’ or Barbet d’Arret, or as it was also known the ‘Griffon à poil laineux’ or woolly haired pointing griffon, many were simply known as barbet as they still had their characteristic beard. Although there was no systematic breeding program employed and these dogs were few in number and varied in appearance, they did start to be recorded in literature at the end of the century. The late 19th century saw the start of dog shows and with it the formation of breed specific clubs. The first recognised dog show in Britain took place in 1859, and in May 1863 `The Illustrated London News' reviewed the first Paris dog show and featured a drawing of “French Race of Barbets, for Duck-hunting". A review of the Paris show lists the 3rd Category – Hunting and Pointing dogs, Class 24. Sub-section 1 to be the Grand Barbet and the Russian Barbet.

From this point on, a whole new set of factors start to influence the development of the barbet and dogs in general. The advent of dog shows introduced the concept of a dog having value related to its appearance, and breeders and followers of the various breeds produced ‘Standards’ or an ideal description against which a dog could be judged, the earliest known standard for the ‘Barbet d`Arret’ dating from 1894. The First and Second World Wars brought almost all canine activity to a halt as hunters, gamekeepers and dog fanciers alike went to fight and dogs became a luxury few could afford. During this time many well established breeds disappeared or were brought to the brink of extinction.

We can see from the quote below, written between the wars, that although the barbet, water-dog or water spaniel, whatever called, failed to survive the advent of dog shows and breed standards in the UK, its influence is still present in the breeds we are familiar with today.

Dogs and All about Them by Robert Leighton 1934

THE ENGLISH WATER SPANIEL.--In the Kennel Club's Register of Breeds no place is allotted to this variety, all Water Spaniels other than Irish being classed together. Despite this absence of official recognition there is abundant evidence that a breed of Spaniels legitimately entitled to the designation of English Water Spaniels has been in existence for many years, in all probability a descendant of the old "Water-Dogge," an animal closely resembling the French "Barbet," the ancestor of the modern Poodle. They were even trimmed at times much in the same way as a Poodle is nowadays.

Modern History

Much of the modern history of the Barbet is anecdotal and is reproduced here, second or third hand. It has also not been possible to verify much of what has been written but it is an interesting story none the less.

During the 1920`s a Mr Le Houelleur, a hunter, spotted a dog pulling a milk cart (as was common in those days in northern Europe) and purchased the dog he identified as a type of barbet, from its owner. Naming his barbet ‘Medor’ he crossed his dog with a female from the Auvergne region of France, called ‘Timballe’. A first litter was produced in 1927.



A female from that litter, ‘Beseff’ was mated in 1933 and produced a female, ‘Hourie’ among the litter. ‘Hourie’ was bought by Dr Vincenti, a friend of Mr Houelleur, and she went on to produce three litters after mating with another of Mr Houelleur`s dogs ‘Iff de Floriac’. In the first litter was born a female ‘Joyeuse’ from which many of todays Barbets are descended. There were also matings between 'Hourie'and other local `Chien d`Chasse` or hunting dogs. Dr Vincenti first registered ‘Hourie’, ‘Joyeuse’ and two of her prodgeny in the mid 1930`s as Barbet d`Arret.

Whether this was to extend the Barbets’ capabilities in the face of ever decreasing marshland is unclear but around this time several new breeds, which had been created in the late 1800`s, grew in popularity which listed the Barbet as an ingredient in their make-up such as the Griffon Boulet and more notably the Korthals Griffon. The onset of the Second World War brought all canine activity to a halt in Europe and nearly all of today’s breeds suffered as a result.

In 1970, Dr Vincenti`s daughter, Madame Pètre became interested in reviving her fathers breeding and set about searching her local area for the descendants of her fathers dogs. She was able to locate several suitable examples including ‘Gandar’ who was the result of a cross with what was believed to be a Portuguese Water Dog and ‘Bella’ owned by a Mr Ayme, whose father had been a friend of Dr Vincenti, and could trace ‘Bella’s’ line back to Dr Vincenti`s original breeding. Mme Pètre set about breeding barbets using the limited stock available to her, and established the ‘Di Barbochos Reiau de Prouvenco’ line throughout the 70`s and early 80`s.

In 1977 a Mr Hermans of Paris, who had been showing several different breeds of dogs for the previous few years became interested in the barbet after seeing an advert in a paper by Mme Pètre. He visited one of her puppies living near Paris and also saw photographs of her dogs in the south of France but was unimpressed with them and decided to start his own breed line as he believed the `true’ barbet no longer existed.

He set about searching for suitable dogs to re-fabricate the breed by placing adverts in various papers and journals. Having looked at over 200 dogs he decided on one male and three females as best fitting the historic description of a barbet. Two of the females produced unsuitable litters however the mating between the last female ‘Serie Noire’ and ‘Lynx' produced a suitable litter in 1983. Lynx, also known as Prince who was found by Mme Bisconte at an animal rescue centre and registered as a T.I. (titre initial)

Serie Noir and Ulyssia

Serie Noir and Ulyssia

From this litter Mr Hermans bought a female ‘Ulyssia des Marecages du Prince’ and was able to get permission from the Société Centrale Canine (the French Kennel Club) to do two cross matings, with firstly a suitable black Standard Poodle, Baron de l'Ame du Prince des Hortillons in 1989 and secondly a female from this litter was mated with a white standard poodle ‘Bruss de Haut Paquis’ by Mme Bisconte. Mr Hermans worked with Mme Bisconte for sometime although eventally he became unhappy with her selection of breeding stock and they parted company.

Mr Hermans founded the `The Barbet Club’ in France in 1980 and was its President until 2001. During 1985 the S.C.C., the French Kennel Club began a review of all the registered breeds and their groupings. The job was entrusted to a Mr Raymond Triquet, who sought to rationalise the groupings, bringing all the terriers together and re-uniting large and small versions of the same breed. The water dogs were brought together in Group 8. During the consultation process between Mr Triquet and Mr Hermans, Mr Hermans ammended the Barbet d`Arret standard moving it away from the pointers of Group 7 (where we now find English Setters, Vizsla`s and the Braque d'Auvergne) and into Group 8 with retrievers, spaniels and the other water dogs. The barbet was given the added title of 'French Water Dog' to distinguish it from the Spanish and Portuguese water dogs and the Irish and American water spaniels.

These changes made it increasingly difficult for dogs from Mme Pètre`s kennel to be registered and shown as they were deemed to be too short and often had wavy coats rather than the 'frisé' (curly in French) as had been required in the standard since its inception. As with many breeds, it is often hard to define at what point wavy becomes curly or vice versa.

In 1992 Mr Rainer Georgii visited Mme Pètre and bought one of her dogs, a male, ‘Hercule Di Barbochos Reiau de Prouvenco’. He also became co-owner of four of her dogs Hourri , Héra , Douma, and Gabian, as being based in Germany, Mr Georgii could register them with the VDH/VBBFL (German Kennel Club) outside the influence of Mr Hermans in France. This provided the foundation for the breed line ‘Poppenspäler’, a name which appears in many of todays barbet pedigrees. In 1995 the VDH sanctioned an out cross between Hercule and a female Portuguese Water Dog, named as ‘Elsa Do Lusiadas’, which produced a successful litter and helped maintain the genetic diversity of the line. In addition, a Spanish Water Doghas been crossed in to the barbet within recent years. This clearly was a move back towards the barbets` water-dog roots as the P.W.D and S.W.D. both trace their ancestry back to the barbet family of dogs.

From around 2000 some breeders in Europe began to cross the two established lines of barbets, albeit with initial resistance from the supporters of either camp. However the results of such a mating have proved successful and the many breeders now see this as positive step forward in preserving the barbet breed. By 2004, Mr Hermans influence over the breed club in France had ended and ‘Barbochos Reiau de Prouvenco’ and ‘Poppenspäler’ barbets can be, and now are, registered and shown in France.

At the beginning of 2007 the first two French registered females were brought into the UK and in 2008 the first litter was born after a mating between Betsy Bonheur De La Baie Des Landes and Boree Di Barbochos Reiau De Prouvenco. The history above, has enabled us make the most informed choice possible as to the best way forward for the breed in the UK. Many in the barbet world have a preference for one or other bloodline and this is true of many breeds, however given the difficulty of importing dogs into the UK, the need to start with as wide a genetic pool as possible has taken priority over choice of colour, coat or size of dog. In the UK, we intend to persue this policy for as long as possible and hope to produce a population of healthy, well balanced barbets.

There were, of course, many other breeders and owners not mentioned above, who have contributed a great deal to the modern history of the barbet and who have enjoyed great success in the show ring and field with their barbets. They all played a part in giving us the barbet as it is today.



A selection of references to the barbet from a variety of sources can be found at Novaforesta-Barbets` Barbet Bibliography


Canine genetics - general (1)

Canine genetics - general (2)

Hoyts quote from Buffon

‘The Animal Kingdom: Arranged in Conformity with Its Organization’ by Georges Cuvier

‘The pictorial museum of animated nature’ by Charles Knight, 1844

‘Dogs and All about Them’ by Robert Leighton 1934

The Dog’ by William Youatt. 1852

The Illustrated Book of the Dog by Vero Shaw.(London: 1879-1881).

Scientific American Supplement, No. 803, May 23, 1891;Quote from P. Megnin, in ‘La Nature’

‘Le livre de la ferme et des maisons de campagne’by By Pierre Joigneaux. Published 1865

Illustrations from ‘Histoire naturelle générale et particulière avec la description du cabinet du roy.’ 1755

Poodle History Project – An annotated bibliography

Labrador History

Golden Retriever History

Le Barbet

Barbet en Bresse

Barbet – French National Treasure

Barbet – International Database

Fédération Cynologique Internationale

Le chiens dans l`art

This page has been researched, compiled and written by Mr Julian Preston. If you have any documented evidence contrary to the above I will be happy to make any neccessary ammendments.