Barbets: The Best Kept Secret of the Dog World


Allow me to introduce the Barbet, or French Water Dog. It's a breed I like to call the best kept secret of the dog world. Even if you're a seasoned dog lover, you probably haven't had the pleasure of meeting a Barbet; it's still a rare sighting in the dog park. However, I hope this book will inspire you to seek out this truly special breed. Calm, clever, charming, family-oriented, and fun, Barbets have it all—in a medium-sized allergy-friendly package. That they resemble shaggy teddy bears is just a bonus!

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Pam Headon, and I own Willow Creek Water Dogs. I've been breeding Portuguese Water Dogs since 1998, and Barbets since 2006. I have had many dogs in my life, but when I fell for the Portuguese Water Dog, or “Portie,” I thought that was it for me. The breed had everything I want in a dog, and then some. That little bit extra—the high energy and intelligence, to be specific—is what finally opened my mind and heart to another water dog, the Barbet.

The Barbet is similar to the Portie in all the best ways, but people who know both breeds well, tend to agree that the Barbet is a calmer, easier dog. In fact, I called one of my first imports “Sanka” because she struck me as a decaffeinated Portuguese Water Dog. As a responsible breeder, I have steered many prospective owners away from the Portie because the breed requires a lot of exercise and strong leadership.

Happily, I can now steer them toward the Barbet, which is an ideal match for almost anyone, whether it's an outdoors enthusiast, a busy professional, a family with young children, or an empty-nester. Though bred for hunting and sporting activities, the Barbet is a highly versatile dog that can flourish in rural or urban environments, in houses, cottages or even high-rises, providing their individual exercise needs are met. Few breeds are so adaptable.

By now, you're wondering, “If this dog is so perfect, why haven't I heard about it?” The answer is that the Barbet, like many breeds, came to the brink of extinction a century ago. It's taken a concerted effort by many conscientious breeders to stage the Barbet's comeback.

Barbets are sometimes described as a “non-shedding Golden Retriever” because of their gentle, family-oriented nature. In fact, over the past decade, hybrids like the Goldendoodle have become popular as breeders try to retain the best traits of the retriever while reducing the shedding. I understand the appeal, but I wish more people knew that everything these hybrids offer already exists in purebred form in the Barbet. I have nothing against hybrids produced by conscientious breeders, but there's a notable advantage in going with a purebred: predictability. A litter of hybrid puppies typically displays significant variation in size, temperament, and coat type. The pups may take more after one breed or the other, and it won't be clear until the dog is mature.

Purebreds are for people who don't want any major surprises when it comes to the canine members of their family.

Eventually Barbets may become so common we might wish we'd kept the secret of this hidden treasure to ourselves.

But that wouldn't be fair, would it?

© Sandy Rideout & Pam Headon