Cantabrian Water Dog

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Cantabrian Water Dog

The Cantabrian Water Dog is well-named as it hails from Cantabria and loves water! This breed originates from the coast of Cantabria, Spain, and provided all-round assistance to their fishermen owners. Indeed, if the Cantabrian had a job, it would be as a sailor, being very much being at home on sailing boats and jetties.

Unfortunately, many of the roles traditionally fulfilled by the Cantabrian Water Dog have been superseded by technology. So, whereas this active fellow used to carry messages from one boat to another, now all the fisherman have to do is pick up a mobile phone.

As such, numbers of the Cantabrian dog have declined sharply in the 20th century. Where once they were a common sight, keeping busy along the wharfs and docks, now they are a rarity. Indeed, in 2011, it was thought only 1,200 dogs remain to represent the breed.

About & History

The Cantabrian Water Dog’s appearance is responsible for its alternative moniker, the wool dog. Their history is inextricably linked with that of the fishermen working in the small fishing ports along the coast of Spain and the Iberian Peninsula.

Genetically, one of their closest relatives is the Spanish Water Dog, to which they share a similar appearance. However, the Cantabrian is generally smaller and shorter than their Spanish counterpart.

The Cantabrian was very much a working dog, fulfilling many roles around the port and fishing vessels. For example, one of their roles was to collect up fish that had spilt out of the fishermen’s’ baskets. They were also said to be adept at spotting shoals of fish in shallow water, and guiding their masters where to cast their nets.

They were also ratters, playing an important role in keeping down the numbers of vermin down onboard ship. Then there were other talents, such as catching the rope between ship and shore, to aide in tying up alongside. But the Cantabrian’s usefulness didn’t end there. They also acted as watchdogs, and sometimes acted as a lifeguard, helping those fishermen who had fallen in the sea.

However, by the middle of the 20th century, many of these roles had become superfluous. Modern technologies replaced the Cantabrian and so numbers started to fall. Now, they are mainly to be found as pets around the docks, rather than working animals.


Cantabrian Water Dog Large Photo

There’s something almost poodle-like about the wavy hair of this woolly breed. A medium sized dog, they are sensibly proportioned with strong legs and a compact body. Their head is also well proportioned with a good length of muzzle. They have drop ears, which are neither too short, nor too long. The Cantabrian has an in-between length tail that is carried high and slightly curved.

One of the distinguishing features of the Cantabrian is their coat. This is long and woolly (similar to a poodle). They come in a variety of colours, including cream, fawn, brown and white, and black and white.

Character & Temperament

The Cantabrian has a soft mouth (gently collecting up those spilt fish!) and sharp eyes (spotting shoals of fish.) They are an intelligent breed capable of thinking for themselves and reacting accordingly.

Generally an easy-going breed that likes to be around people, they do make for a good pet provided they get plenty of exercise. However, their roots as a rat-catching dog do mean they have a high prey drive, which means they don’t necessarily make a good housemate for cats or other small furries.


In common with many working dogs, the Cantabrian responds best to an experienced dog owner. They are best motivated using reward-based training methods, which encourage good behaviours.

They do best when given a task to do, and so activities, such as agility or canicross, will give them much needed mental stimulation.


There are few if any records of the disease most prevalent in Cantabrian Water Dogs. As an active breed, it is essential to deworm them regularly and use effective parasite control in order to reduce the risk of preventable diseases.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A consummate swimmer, ratter, and guard dog, the Cantabrian Water Dog needs to be active. Although he doesn’t require extreme amounts of exercise, it’s important that he’s kept busy and given an outlet for his mental acuity.


When left to grow, the coat of the Cantabrian Water Dog can become long and tangled. Whilst this has natural protective properties, it can also hide skin problems or lead to discomfort.

The Cantabrian can be clipped so that the coat is a comfortable length, and less likely to trap debris. Whilst the coat doesn’t require a lot of grooming, it’s important to be vigilant for burrs or grass awns which could damage the skin. Be especially careful to check the ears and paws on a daily basis.

The natural oils produced by the skin help to waterproof the Cantabrian’s coat. It’s therefore undesirable to bathe this dog, unless essential, as to do so strips away this natural protection.

Famous Cantabrian Water Dogs

In it's native region, the Cantabrian is something of a local hero and respected as part of the area’s history. To celebrate this link, in 2005, a statue of a Cantabrian Water Dog was erected in Santona.


There is increasing concern of the falling numbers of this breed. Therefore, efforts tend to focus on preserving the purity of the breed rather than creating hybrids. For this reason, deliberate cross-breeding of the Cantabrian Water Dog is rare.

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