This extremely rare breed has an uncertain history; however, it is widely accepted that they are descendants of African Shepherd dogs that were mixed with European dogs from as early as the 7th century. It is thought that the Barbet we know and love today is originally from France. Records of them in French artwork from the 16th century prove their ancient origin.
During the Second World War, like many other breeds, the Barbet was so scarce that it was teetering on the brink of extinction. Poodles were bred into the remaining population in some parts of the world to increase numbers, and now, though still decidedly rare, the breed is safe once again.
Often credited with being the progenitor to many of our modern dog breeds, such as the Poodle, Griffon, Otterhound and Bichon Frise, the Barbet has made a staggering contribution to the canine community and has even been described as ‘The Father of all Poodles’.
Affectionately known as a Sailor’s Companion, Barbets were traditionally used to retrieve water fowl and the fish that escaped the fisherman’s net, though were widely accepted as a good hunting partner both on ground and in the water.
Remarkably, an Italian scientist called Lazzaro Spallanzani used a Barbet bitch to conduct the first ever successful artificial insemination in 1779: what a claim to fame!
The first thing you will notice when a Barbet is ambling towards you, is the impressively dense and shaggy coat covering its face and body. Their coat is described as thick and shiny, and may feel predominantly wooly or silky, depending on their lineage. Not just for show, their striking coat is highly functional. Remarkably, even after long periods in the water, thanks to the Barbet’s protective coat, the fur just above their skin should still be dry.
A variety of coat colours are found (with the acceptance of white marks) and include:
Black, Grey, White, Fawn,Brown
The Barbets are generally a robust breed, with the female measuring 53 to 61cms tall at the withers, and the males standing taller at 58 to 65cms. This is roughly 10cms higher than only 50 years ago, due to the breeding of larger dogs into the population in the 1970s. Typically, they will weigh between 18 and 30 kgs (39 to 66lbs) when fully grown.
The Barbet should have a broad, round skull, a wide nose and thick black lips. Their round, dark eyes are hidden by curly hair. They will possess a characteristic beard and bushy moustache. Their endearing ears are flat and tufty, and their tail should be lightly hooked at the end
Made to swim, they have powerful and broad-chested bodies with strong, muscular limbs. Their large, round, webbed feet ensure they can swim like champs, propelling them forward like flippers on a human.
Character & Temperament
Barbets are known to be joyful, obedient and intellectually bright. Even-tempered and placid, they are rarely aggressive and are very good with even young children. They adore companionship, and if left alone for long periods, may develop separation anxiety.
On the whole, Barbets are laid-back, and will generally interact well with other pets – although it is always advised to introduce the animals at a young age to ensure problems are avoided. Due to their intelligence, Barbets can tire of activities easily, and should be kept mentally stimulated with a variety of games and training activities.
Prized for their trainability, the Barbet is the perfect partner for a dedicated owner. When you combine their mental prowess with the dedication they have for their master, it is clear why they are successful in so many activities, such as retrieval, flyball, agility and obedience.
Playful when outside, they are usually well-behaved enough to come back to you when off the lead, even if something interesting catches their nose – with the correct training, of course.
Just like any pure-bred dog, there are some conditions to which the Barbet is more susceptible than others. Despite this, they can generally live a good quality life into their early teens. As the Barbet is widely accepted to be an endangered breed, it is important that all breeding stock is in good health with no underlying disease.
Elbow & Hip Dysplasia
Like many medium to large breed dogs, the Barbet is predisposed to these painful joint conditions. Caused by improper development of the joint (whether elbow, hip or both), there will be a gradual deterioration in joint health, resulting in loss of proper function and arthritis. It is vital to assess breeding parents with x-rays before they are mated in an attempt to reduce the incidence of these life-limiting conditions in future litters.
An epileptic dog can generally lead a normal life, despite suffering from chronic seizures intermittently. Some dogs will require daily medication to prevent seizures, while others will have events so rarely that they may not need medication at all.
This is a genetic condition that refers to the rolling in of the upper or lower eyelid, resulting in the cornea (or surface of the eye) being rubbed to the point where an ulcer may form. Without surgical correction, these dogs are prone to suffer from life-long eye issues and discomfort.
Not surprisingly, given its natural propensity to swim in water and its thick, floppy ears, the Barbet is prone to developing otitis externa, or ear infections. As bacteria and yeast love to grow in damp, warm areas, the ears should be kept clear and clean at all times, and should always be thoroughly dried after a foray into the water.
Exercise and Activity Levels
This active breed has a high exercise requirement and should not be confined to live in small areas unless an adequate outlet for their energy can be provided daily. They need at least an hour of walking each day, and should have access to water, as they truly love to swim. In fact, they will head for water immediately when they spot it, so be sure to keep them on a tight lead if you want them to stay dry. Even on the coldest day, they will not hesitate to jump into the water or mud, so strong is their natural instinct and so insulating is their coat.
Unlike many active dogs, once adequately exercised, the Barbet is quite happy to relax with you in your home, sleeping contently nearby for hours one end.
The famously thick and curly coat of the Barbet dog needs regular care and brushing to avoid it becoming matted. As Barbets do not routinely shed, they must be trimmed up to four times a year to keep their fur from becoming overly long.
Wet food can get caught in the beard, so they should be used to having their face cleaned from an early age. It may also be necessary to trim the fur around their back passage, to avoid any faecal matter becoming caked on. This can typically be done once a month. In dogs with particularly hairy ear canals who are prone to ear infections, regular plucking by a groomer or vet may be advised. Their lack of moulting makes Barbets particularly good pets for those people who suffer with allergies, and they are classed as a hypoallergenic breed.
Contributing to both the Napoleonic and the French revolutionary wars, Moustache, a black Barbet dog, is possibly the most well-known Barbet dog in history. Among other stories, it is said that his barking woke a group of sleeping soldiers, warning them an attack was coming. Hailed as a hero, he was greatly praised for his good deed and even became the regiment’s mascot.