Our last spaniel entry will be the most controversial, as the category of water spaniel is not as clear as the land spaniels we reviewed in our first post. When spaniels were first categorized they were divided into three types: Land (flushing), Gentle (companions), and Water. Those in the water category over time became more specialized as retrievers, rather than flushing breeds, but still come from the same root stock.
Some water dogs are easy to classify in the spaniel category, such as the American Water Spaniel and Boykin Spaniel, while others become much more difficult, like the Irish Water Spaniel. To simplify we will start by reviewing the easier breeds.
It seems ironic that those that are clearly spaniels are the ones that are ‘newer’ creations, both from the United States, the American Water Spaniel and Boykin Spaniel. They have a clear resemblance to their ‘land’ cousins, just with tightly curled coats rather than feathered ones. Both can flush, track, and retrieve and are closely related, the American Water Spaniel being used in the Boykin Spaniel’s development.
From The Netherlands we have the Wetterhoun, which was once interbred with one of the spaniels from our last post, the Stabyhoun. Both dogs were bred in the same region and were known to exist in one anothers' litters until formally separated. The Wetterhoun can be used to both flush and retrieve and held a secondary status as a farm dog.
Like the other French spaniels, the Pont-Audemer Spaniel is classified by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) as continental pointing dog, meaning that it can flush, point, and retrieve. This water spaniel does not have the traditional tight curls of the other breeds, save on it’s ears.
This leaves only the Irish Water Spaniel, which also works more as a retriever than a spaniel. However, it does descend from the extinct English Water Spaniel, so it is likely there is some common ancestry with the other spaniels. Adding the Irish Water Spaniel does leave one to ponder the true water dogs, after all, the Irish Water Spaniels other ancestor is almost certainly the Barbet. While it cannot be said that the Poodle, Lagotto Romagnolo, Portuguese Water Dog, or Spanish Water Dog are spaniels, it is true that somewhere the lines crossed and either the water dogs or the water spaniels are the ancestors of the other.
In closing we’ve returned back to our first question – how many spaniels are there? It still depends on which ones you want to count.