In 1993, I fell upon an issue of Country Life, an up-market British posh magazine and saw a Barbet on the cover and kept it thinking…one day…. I will have one…. Then, in 2000 when a litter was announced on internet that there were 7 Barbet births in France…It was the right time for me and I was put on a waiting list, I got selected and without being able to pick my dog, I got my first Barbet. I was extremely happy!
After that, I became very interested in the history of the Barbet breed. I found that there was very little information about it and amazingly enough that its history was very old, but not very well documented. It seemed to me there had to be more information about a French breed, especially in France, its country of origin! It appeared very entangled up with the Poodle, but too much overlapping of details, started me thinking in another direction. Go to the people who know!
My main objective as far as the Barbet is concerned is and has always been to gather as much factual information, photographs, pedigrees and old documents to retrace the breed’s real history as it was spread out all over France: at Mrs Hélène Pêtre’s (Barbochos Reiau de Prouvenco) who entrusted me with her father’s kennel book, pedigrees and photographs: Dr Charles Vincenti ( Mas de la Chapelle) then from the Le Houelleur family ( Floirac kennel) and of course the Ayme brothers who kept the line going after WWII. I wanted to put the information I gathered in order, for everyone to enjoy, learn from, sort of like a library of resources. I now have the majority of the archives about the breed in France since the 1930’s.
Asking questions, I came across Mr Rainier T Georgii, his companion Mrs Inge Fischer ( German breeders who lived in France) and his Barbet Hercule di Barbochos Reiau de Prouvenco, in an issue of VOS CHIENS, the French magazine dedicated to dogs. I called a breeder and she said, “Ask your own breeder” and I said, “I have, but I would like to talk to you, too”. So I drove 350 kms to see her and drove back 350 kms that same day after having listened to her speak about the Barbet.
This was in 2002. That year there were 2 litters born at the same time at this particular breeder’s (Mrs Françoise Loiseau, La perte aux Loups) there were some brown puppies with white and some black ones with white. I had been told the Barbet didn’t exist in brown. I had wanted a brown one, because I had in mind the one I saw in that magazine, but they were all reserved and I decided to take Thelma la Douce regardless of her color, a very black, old type Barbet. A coup de foudre…not knowing really what I was doing. The Barbet I already had was as frizzy as Thelma was curly with lovely open loopy curls (like the ones on the brown Barbet on the cover of Country Life) I haven’t regretted for one split second my decision to have taken her into my life; my future country life?!
She was lovely, easy-to-groom, rustic, fabulous character, didn’t bark, went anywhere, did anything, never did anything silly in the house, always happy and…. she had that natural retrieving instinct. My next big experience with the Barbet and I must say, a very positive one. All my research is dedicated to her as she passed on at age 10.5 in 2013 as she is my reason for being in the “Barbet world”.
Water retrieving and making the dogs happy, not just me! It’s very exciting to see them doing what they were made for. None of my dogs hunt “for real”, nor do I want to, but I think they need to show their natural ability to do what they were created for: hunting. I like for them to do water/land trials whenever possible. I am not crazy about handling dead ducks, but I do it out of love?! I don’t even like water myself or swimming…Imagine!
Since 2003, when I really started working on the breed and its history, I have been able to compile several thousand documents, photos, books and pedigrees from the very few breeders who existed in France back then and who laid the groundwork. I think I would now be considered as an expert on the breed, which never was my intention…I grew into it, and my websites started in 2006 and 2007 to give foreigners information that could be found nowhere on the breed, have had nearly 800 000 visitors. I work hard to inform everyone about our beautiful French breed, severely threatened with extinction in its home country.
In France, there are 8 million dogs and problems with people abandoning them as in every other country. You are allowed to have up to 9 dogs in a residential area. I have 6 Barbets, because you keep one from a litter and then you keep her daughter or his son and that’s how you get involved and become a “breeder” from collecting dogs and selecting them for reproduction.
There are probably only 250 Barbets in France with very few breeders due to the difficulties in raising interest from the general public and the fact that one cannot have more than a litter of puppies each year unless you become a professional breeder (even if you have a job in another field). Raising a breed threatened with extinction to its best interest means a lot of work.
Of course, you need to have a garden! A Barbet is not a couch potato. I had to move into a bigger house where there was a nice garden for them to run in, which I also enjoy. They go for walks in the country very regularly. A Barbet can live in the city but requires extra attention and time. No dog, regardless of the breed, enjoys waiting alone all day for the master to come home.
It has taken a very long time to feel comfortable with the deluge of information I am having to handle and sort out for it to make sense, cross-check, understand the evolution and not until a few years ago had I ever really had a real conversation with the eminences grises from the French SCC (Société Centrale Canine) about the breed: What it is, what it stands for and how we can go forward. I did it on my own, because I had questions…and wanted real answers.
The Barbet is an endangered species. According to Pr Bernard Denis, from the SCC, “We are very concerned with the survival of one of the oldest French breeds in existence. We support clubs by bringing them our help when they ask for our competences.” However they do not interfere with the running of their breed clubs.
France has a breed club. It is not for the Barbet only, but for several water dog/spaniel breeds of which the Barbet is the only endangered one, and the standard is of French origin. Working with a rare breed does require special help and a high level of cooperation between breeders and breeders in foreign countries. The Barbet has been gaining interest abroad and more and more breeders are setting up shop and looking for data to expand the gene pool. Not easy and the language barrier does not help.
The Barbet in France is not very well known either and still often is confused with a Poodle, believe it or not! And promoted as the same type…
That does not help either considering that Poodles are a very popular breed. No waiting list, you can pick your own and its color. The Barbet having been a wooly-haired Griffon-type dog, apparently father to the Griffon Korthals, the Briard, and probably it seems a very close cousin to the now supposedly extinct Griffon Boulet. On a positive note, there are more and more births across the world (just over 250 in 2011, when I first wrote this article, to over 400 in the world ) and the old Barbet type colors are coming back. This information can also be cross-checked with the thousands of photos available along with information found in books and documents. Now, the sand/fawn colors seems to be spreading, so is white and black with a coat that resembles Joyeuse du Mas de la Chapelle, long, wooly curly and forming strands.
The future of the breed? By sharing my knowledge, and the historical documents I have researched for several years, I still hope to continue to explain/clarify certain events and end ongoing rumours around the breed make things clearer to foreigners so they can all contribute to its survival. Then, the Barbet, will have that je ne sais quoi that people will say: “It reminds me of a dog I have seen in the past” or “My family had one when I was young and I remember how nice it was”. The future of the breed is in people’s hands, some know everything some know very little and some have not a clue what a Barbet is, even in its home country.
YES! That is a Barbet! An all-around rustic dog with a lovely long coat that everyone has seen or has known: a farm dog, a herding dog, a water retriever/gundog and let’s not forget: a lovely companion, too.
Long live the Barbet!
Elaine Fichter, 2011, updated in 2015, July8th .
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