WILL the barbet survive as a gundog (hunting dog/chien de chasse)? NO!
These answers are, of course, purely my personal opinion. I am not talking about the survival of the breed per se, I am certain that is assured, not least because of the amount of money that is involved nowadays. I am referring to the possibility that the barbet will regain, yes regain not retain, it's rôle as a successful breed of working gundog. Certainly in the UK there would be an unimaginable amount of work to establish the barbet as a successful member of even the "minor" or "AV" breed gundog classification. With no unified opinion as to the sub-group in which it should be placed (retriever, spaniel or HPR) the barbet, (together, in this country, with two already KC recognised breeds, the Lagotto Romagnolo and Spanish Water Dog) starts off at a disadvantage if trying to become established as a working gundog in any country.
If the barbet is to retain (or gain, depending on the country) it's place as a working gundog, it needs to prove it's abilities. So-called "natural ability", which is a suspect concept anyway when the rôle of the breed has not been universally accepted, is insufficient. No breed of Gundog (or Working dog) emerges from puppyhood equipped to carry out the rôle for which it was bred. Yes, in certain breeds there are "strong working lines" but these have been built up over generations of selective breeding using the dogs and bitches which have shown the greatest "natural ability" AND have been TRAINED to develop it into the capacity to carry out the tasks required by the human handler under control and at a high standard.
So, how is this to be achieved? Firstly, people who breed barbet puppies and promote them as potentially "working gundogs" (as opposed to those who just market them as a lively companion breed) are doing so dishonestly unless they can back up their claim by PROVING it is true. There is so much constantly repeated false information on the internet that an uninformed or inexperienced potential owner would be justified in believing they were about to acquire a shooting companion with the working drive of one of the long-established recognised gundog breeds. The number of times I have read that the barbet is a "natural retriever" cannot be enumerated. This is really a meaningless statement; many breeds of dog, from all groups, will "retrieve". One has only to go to a park or to the beach to see owners throwing a ball (or, very dangerously, a stick) for their dog to see this in action. All this does is to demonstrate that all breeds have an instinct to chase and "catch" something (in the past it would have been their meal!) Working gundogs (in the UK anyway) are not required to chase; they are required, only when commanded to do so, to run out, pick up and bring back a shot bird or animal. IF a bird or animal has been shot, but not killed, and has run off then the dog will be required to take a line on that game and retrieve it to hand; this is not the same as chasing healthy unshot game or other wild animals or birds.
So how is the status of the barbet as a useful, accomplished working gundog to be achieved?
Firstly, a large number of owners must be seen to be training their dogs to be handled in the field and must be seen also to have done this to a good standard. This is particularly applicable to breeders who intend to promote the breed in this way. Most breeders who promote the breed thus have never trained a gun dog . . . hardly a position from which to tell potential buyers that their barbet will be a useful shoot companion . . . and yes, I have heard this said!
Secondly such breeders should make as much effort as possible to place puppies with owners who intend to train them to work in the field.
Thirdly, barbet breed clubs should promote this aspect of the breed by providing quality training opportunities. After that, club assessment tests and working tests should be provided with participation in field trials being the ultimate aim. Of course, in this country, the latter two cannot take place if KC breed recognition is not achieved, but training and assessment tests can be organised by any breed club.
Fourthly, once a sufficient number of barbets have proven themselves in the field and some sort of test (and this will take many years), breeding from dogs and bitches with proven working ability should be a priority in order, hopefully, to produce the working lines of the future.
OK . . . so I'm on my hobby horse again, but I DO do my best to show what the barbet is capable of by photos and descriptions of my own barbet's achievements in training and when picking-up on shoots. I just wish there were more like-minded barbet owners out there; there are some, but not enough to justify promoting the barbet as a working gundog! SO . . . wherever you live, find yourself a good gundog training instructor whom you like, respect and trust (don't just accept the first one you come across if you're not happy for any reason) . . . and get out there into the field. There is no greater pleasure than, having embarked upon training your barbet, you take her (or him) out and see her working successfully as a shooting companion picking freshly shot game!
Good luck with your training! With a bit of effort, this might be your barbet eventually . . . .