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The story of the Barbet is long and impressive. References to the breed are throughout history, doing various jobs, with various historical lineage, yet always referenced with respect and admiration. After so many centuries of serving man in so many capacities, the Barbet is not a common nor well known breed. The victim of the vagaries of the history, he helped shape, the Barbet was nearly extinct after WW1. Through the efforts of a very devoted few, this old breed is slowly being reborn as a dog for the future.

The Barbet is a French water dog and the breeds name "Barbet" comes from the French word barbe, which means beard. The Barbet's jobs, though many mostly consist of hunting, for example wild fowl. It is said that the French royals have been hunting with Barbets for all time. The Barbet has also been working as sailor's assistants, much like the Portuguese Water Dog.

The first certain reference to the breed occurs in the fourteenth century when a gascon count speaks of them in a book written in 1387. The earliest attempt at categorizing the Barbet was in 1570 with De Canibus Britannicus. Originally written in latin by Dr Johannes Caius who was Queen Elizabeth's doctor. Translated to English in 1576, a group of dogs for hunting and fowling called Aucupatorii were: setter, waterdog and water spaniel. Sixteenth-century cynologist Fouilloux dubbed him the Barbet, from barbe, a French designation for beard; his pseudonym, laineux., translates into woolly. Voltaire, believed the Barbet was man's best friend (letter to Schomberg 31 8.17 69); This breed has contributed to the French language "être crotté comme un Barbet"-to be very, very muddy. Dr. Johannes Caius says personalities were "efficient and playful." Perhaps it is their impishness that entices them to muddy, swampy places, giving them the nickname of "Mud Dog." 1621 Gervase Markham gives a description of the setting spaniel in The Art of Fowling. He also describes the water dog.

Charles Diguet's La Chasse au Marais (Paris: E. Dentu, 1889), p. 230. shows the water spaniel in full form. Interestingly, Diguet does not describe the Caniche as a marsh dog (duck dog). This may be because he considered the Caniche and Barbet to be one and the same (the Baron Dunoyer de Noirmont, in his exhaustive 3-volume, 1,000 page work, Histoire de la Chasse en France (Paris, 1868) categorizes the Caniche among the Barbets; see also Larousse Universel (1922) in two volumes; the old Larousse in 31 volumes published from 1885; and Littré's dictionary (1878). Diguet describes (pp. 234-6) two varieties of water spaniel: the Barbet, and the Little Water Spaniel (in which latter group he includes the MacCarthy, or Irish Water Spaniel). The qualities which Diguet admires in the Barbet include: proficiency in swimming, love of water no matter how cold, versatility (although, Diguet observes, he is not the most brilliant pointer), a strong natural retrieve, infallible ability to find runners (wounded birds), and loyalty. He observes that Water Spaniels are courageous, fast, indifferent to icy water where they're happy to stay for hours, possess a keen natural retrieve; their sole fault is they're a bit hard-mouthed.

Henry IV of France (1553-1610); King of France (1589-1610) was enthusiastic about all sorts of hunting, and he enjoyed waterfowling with his Barbets In 1587, Henry IV's mistress, Corisande, was reproached by Monsieur de Bellieure Chancellor to Marie de Medici, for attending church in the company of "a fool, a monkey and a Barbet". Though his comments had political overtones the mention of the Barbet has it's own significance. We see the Barbet was a hunting dog with a difference.

A second name for the Barbet was: Griffon d'arrêt à Poil Laineux (wooly-haired pointer) as mentionned in the Larousse Universel (1922); Littré's dictionary (1878 edition) which still exists and still mentions the Barbet, and La Sauvagine, Feb. 1995 The Bichon comes from it's old ancestor, and it's early name, Barbichon comes from the Barbet (i.e. Water Spaniel) Very similar in looks to the PWD, the Barbet is the spaniel-sized historic "French Poodle".

The similar -sized Caniche (the modern Poodle in France) and the Barbet were one and the same, until the 4th quarter of the 19th century (beginning of the "dog show" era). Of course this theory is not agreed on by everyone as the small caniche was developed at least 500 years ago...) but Larousse as late as 1922 still stated the Caniche as a variety of Barbet.

References abound as far to the Barbet's intelligence, and his fearlessness of very cold water. The dog was used for waterfowl hunting to such a degree that a saying of the day was "Muddy as a Barbet", referring to the dogs appearance after hunting in the marshes. However, from the first this specially bred dog exhibited a loyalty and friendliness that made him a companion dog of choice. Nevertheless, the Barbet is rated as the number 4 agility dog in France, just ahead of the Tervueren, one of four varieties of Belgian Shepherd Dogs. Prospective Barbet owners should note that available information concerning the history and life of the Barbet is not always correct.

The Barbet has been used in breeding several breeds, for example the Briard and the Newfoundland. But although the Barbet has been used in breeding other breeds, the Barbet itself almost died out. Before World War II there were two Barbet breeders in France and to these breeders knowledge there were not any other breeders. One of the breeders was Doctor Vincenti and the other one was the person from whom Dr. Vincenti had bought his dogs from. After World War II there were only a few Barbets left and more than 20 years later breeding of the Barbet was started again. It was the daughter of Dr. Vincenti, Madame Petre, who started breeding Barbet again on the basis of the Barbet that she could find and which were most likely descendants of Barbet bred by her father.

The modern day Barbet, although rare and in small numbers, continues to delight and amaze people around with world with it's agility, propensity to water and its versatile field and water abilities. With such an extensive historical lineage, the Barbet is a timeless and classic breed of canine.

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