The earliest attempt at a complete classification of dogs was published in 1570 and called De Canibus Britannicus. It listed a group of dogs (Aucupatorii) which were employed in the hunting of fowl and comprised dogs used for fowling: Index, or Setter; Aquaticus (water dog), or Spaniell.

The next major classification of dogs was by the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus ( 1707-1778) who included the dog breed – Cams aquaticus major or Great Water Dog (Grand Barbet).

Chien barbet attaquant un cygne (1768)Jean-Charles Oudry

Count George Louis Buffon’s `Histoire Naturelle’ from around 1798 lists some thirty breeds of dogs known at that time. The `Grand Barbet’ with its heavy white coat with dark spots, long ears and strong head was used as retriever and clearly resembles the barbet of today. Variations of Buffon`s engraving appeared in several books of the period and is often called `The Great Water Dog’.

Le Grand Barbet – Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon: 1784

Up until the 1800`s the pan-European water dog went 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 name poodle), in France `the Barbet or Caniche’. It has also been referred to as a `Duck Dog’, `Sheep Dog’, `Water Spaniel’ and `Poodle’, but these all refer to the same dog.

William Taplin writing in the ‘Sportsmans Cabinet’ 1803. 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.

The Water Dog – Philip Reinagle, (1803)

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.

Stop – Barbet – Le Sport Universel Illustré (1904)

During the 1970`s devotee`s of the barbet began to make individual efforts to resurrect the breed including Mme Bisconte and Mme Pêtre whose father Dr Vincenti had bred barbets between the World Wars. A Mr Hermans, of Paris, spotted an advert requesting barbets, placed by Mme Pêtre, in a local canine magazine and set about tracking down barbets still existing in France and also went on to promote the barbet breed, bringing it back to prominence and over time leading to the current F.C.I. standard.

Today the barbet is slowly increasing in popularity. Once again loved for its character, intelligence and devotion to its owner, this most ancient of breeds will hopefully once again hold the place in the dog world it so richly deserves.

In early 2007 two female barbets were imported into the UK by Wendy Preston and subsequently bred using French stud dogs.  Later a club was formed and and an application made to the Kennel Club for the Barbet to be a recognised breed. This application was rejected as was a subsequent one. The club was run informally for a few years but became more formally constituted at a meeting in September 2016. It held its first AGM in May 2017. Meanwhile a further application for breed recognition was made and in 2018 the KC accepted the Barbet into the imported breeds register. In 2019 the breed standard for Barbets was agreed with the KC. This breed standard and the entry into the imported breeds register paved the way for Barbets being shown at Crufts for the first time in March 2020 . Also in 2020 the Barbet Club GB was accepted by the KC as the provisional breed club.