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.
This next post will dive deeper in to the Spaniel tree, to look at the 'non-flushing' group and to become more debated. These breeds are certainly related to the Spaniels, but more distant cousins than those we examined previously. We will look at 16 additional breeds, the majority of which are French, German, or from the United Kingdom.
We will start with the United Kingdom and their small family grouping of setters. This may sound like an odd addition, but setters were once known as ‘setting spaniels’ and although they have been developed along a different path their lineage with flushing dogs is evident.
There are only four surviving setters, the English, Gordon, Irish Red and White, and Irish (solid red). The first mention of a setting spaniel traces back to the 1620s and it seems likely that these dogs shared the same ancestry as their flushing cousins. Instead of flushing birds these dogs were trained to freeze and ‘set’ when prey was located.
All four setters are believed to have been developed around the 1700s, with the Gordon possibly being the oldest. Although the Irish Setter is more well-known than the Irish Red and White the latter has existed for longer.
Next we will add the breeds that the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) classifies as Continental Pointers, spaniel type (excluding the Pont-Audemer Spaniel which will be in our last post on water dogs). Remember how we discussed before that in the United States the Brittany Spaniel is no longer classified as a spaniel? That is because these dogs are all-around gundogs instead of just being used to flush prey.
Aside from the Brittany there are three other French breeds, the French Spaniel, Picardy Spaniel and Blue Picardy Spaniel. The French is the oldest, having existed since at least 1600s. The Picardy and Brittany are almost as old, dating back to the 1700s. The Blue Picardy was not developed until English Setter crosses were made to some bloodlines of the Picardy in the late 1800s.
Germany has three Continental spaniel-like pointers; the German Longhaired Pointer, Large Münsterländer, and Small Münsterländer.
Labeling the German Longhaired Pointer as a spaniel may seem odd, as it is closely related to the other German Pointers (Shorthaired, Wirehaired and Rough Haired). However in appearance it is more setter than pointer and it is likely that the English and Gordon Setters, along with the French Spaniels were used in its development. As for the two Münsterländers, the Large began life as a color variation of the German Longhaired Pointer and the Small is linked to the Deutscher Wachtelhund.
The Deutscher Wachtelhund is a fourth dog from Germany that the FCI classifies as an actual spaniel – although like the French breeds listed above the it actually works as an all-around gun dog rather than as a spaniel.
This leaves only the Drentse Patrijshond, Stabyhoun, Kooikerhondje, and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
The Drentse Patrijshond and Stabyhoun are Dutch and closely related, both recognized as Continental Pointers by the FCI (spaniel type). They are very similar to the old type of spaniels, although aside from flushing they are adapt at pointing and retrieving.
The Kooikerhondje is an anomaly as the FCI recognizes them as a flushing spaniel when they, along with the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, are actually the only breeds that are decoy dogs. Decoys will actually entice ducks and waterfowl either into nets or within range of guns rather than flushing out prey. These dogs do both have spaniel blood in their veins, and both descend from the extinct English Red Decoy Dog.
Next week we will finish the Spaniel tree by adding the water dogs, which is somehow even more complicated than the non-flushing list.