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.
We will continue our spaniel articles by looking at the small companion spaniels that were once known as Spaniel Gentles, kept by royalty and the wealthy. The only function these dogs had was to be spoiled - or as a bed warmer. There are three breeds in this group; the King Charles Spaniel, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Continental Toy Spaniel. It is believed the oldest of these breeds is the Continental Toy Spaniel, having existed since the 1300s.
The Continental is more often known by the names the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) uses to split it into two varieties based on ear carriage, the Phalene (drop) and Papillon (erect). The Phalene is the oldest of the two types, although it is the name Papillon the breed is recognized under the American Kennel Club (AKC). France is credited with its origin but these miniaturized gundogs turned lap dogs were known throughout Europe. They were a favorite of Marie Antoinette and legend states she clutched one on her way to the guillotine.
England's toy spaniel was a favorite of King Charles, a name it still carries throughout Europe, but is known as the English Toy Spaniel in the United States. Today's dog was the result of taking four similar varieties that had previously been divided by coat color and combining them into one breed standard; the Blenheim (white with red or chestnut), Ruby (reds), Prince Charles (tricolor) and King Charles (black with chestnut or tan). Some have suggested that these dogs with their shorter muzzles are actually descended from oriental breeds such as the Pug or Japanese Chin. However, it is more likely that these breeds were added to the bloodline as earlier dogs did not have shortened snouts.
It was the short muzzles that led to the development of the Cavalier King Charles in the 1920s. The longer muzzle and more traditional dogs were becoming almost impossible to find, causing an American by the name of Roswell Eldridge to offer twenty-five pounds prize money to any person showing dogs with long noses at Crufts. After five years he was able to establish a breeding stock and the two were recognized as distinct breeds in the 1940s.
For a moment let us return to original question of how many spaniel breeds there are. Certainly these three and the seven flushing dogs from our first post can be classified as such, each sharing ancestry that may or may not have originated in Spain, but the family tree's roots lie within Europe. From here the relations will grow more complicated and our "count" will become debated.