In the Kennel Club Stud Book will be found some meagre lists of Spaniels classed as "Water Spaniels other than Irish."

What strange varieties this classification was meant to include, and why the Irish Water Spaniel should be distinguished by a class to itself, whilst a much older breed, the English Water Spaniel, is ignored, seem questions unanswerable. It will not be denied that the English Water Spaniel is at least historically older than the Irish, as every writer on dogs from the sixteenth century to the present date has referred to the English breed, and more or less minutely described it.

Dr. Caius (1576) sketches the Water Spaniel as follows: "That kind of dog whose service is required in fowling upon the water, partly through a natural towardness, and partly by a diligent teaching, is endued with that property. This sort is somewhat big, and of a measurable greatness, having long, rough, and curled hair, not obtained by extraordinary trades, but given by Nature's appointment."

In the "Gentleman's Recreation" (1686) a very similar description occurs. In the "Sportsman's Cabinet" (1802) he is stated to have "the hair long and naturally curled, not loose and shaggy," and the engraving which accompanies the article - from a drawing by Reinagle, engraved by Scott - represents a medium-sized liver-and-white curly-coated Spaniel, with the legs feathered but not frizzled. The woodcut in Youatt's "Book on the Dog" represents the same type; and in his first work on the dog "Stonehenge" copied this from Youatt's book, and did not hesitate, in addition, to formulate the points of the "Old English Water Spaniel." It is, therefore, somewhat astonishing to find him saying in his most recent work, "I do not pretend to be able to settle the points of the breed."

It is true that Youatt says: "The Water Spaniel was originally from Spain, but the pure breed has been lost, and the present dog is probably descended from the large water dog and the English Setter"; but whilst all seem to agree that the whole Spaniel family came originally from Spain, no one has ever contended that they exist to-day as first imported, without alteration by selection, or commixture with allied varieties.

The writer believes that the breed is not yet extinct but that scattered throughout England, principally in the Eastern counties, there are still specimens of the Old English Water Spaniel, and that it would be possible, with the amount of encouragement to breeding that is in the power of the Kennel Club to give, to revive and perpetuate the variety.

At present, however, from long-continued neglect, most of the specimens in evidence are either foundlings or reversions that have cropped up in families of Land Spaniels. Indeed, it is probable that Sir Thomas Boughey, of Aqualate, possesses the sole remaining strain of these dogs. His Spaniels are an heirloom in the family; but, in defiance of the ordinary law, they have ever been distinguished by topknots.

The duties of a Water Spaniel require that he should be under the most perfect command - obedient to a sign; for silence in freshwater shooting is absolutely necessary for success, waterfowl of all kinds being peculiarly wary and timid. The dog should even be taught to slip into the water noiselessly, and not with a rush and plunge, if the bag is to be well filled; he must quest assiduously and in silence, keeping well within range and working to signal; and he must be a thorough retriever, as bold and persevering as obedient.

Two sizes are referred to in the old books; but for the freshwater fowler a large dog is not required, and one weighing from 3olb. to 4olb. will work, more advantageously than a big one, the sedges, reeds, osiers, etc., that fringe river, pool, and loch.

These are the points of the English Water Spaniel: -

General Appearance

Strong, compact, of medium size, leggy by comparison with the Clumber, Sussex, or Field Spaniel, and showing much greater activity.


Rather long; the brow apparent, but not very great; jaws fairly long, and slightly, but not too much, pointed ; the whole face and skull to the occiput covered with short smooth hair, and no forelock as in the Irish Water Spaniel.


Fairly full but not watery, clear, brown-coloured, with intelligent, beseeching expression.


Long, rather broad, soft, pendulous, and thickly covered with curly hair of greater length than on body.


Short, thick, and muscular.


Capacious, the barrel stout, and the shoulders wide and strong.


Strong, the buttocks square, and the thighs muscular.


Rather long, straight, strong of bone, and well clothed with muscle; and the feet a good size, rather spreading, without being absolutely splay-footed.


Over the whole upper part of the body and sides thick and closely curled, flatter on the belly and the front of the legs, which should, however, be well clad at the back with feathery curls. The prevailing colour is liver-and-white, but whole liver, black, and black-and-white are also described by some writers.


Is usually docked, rather thick, and covered with curls.

There is nothing to alter in the foregoing admirable description, which appeared in the First Edition of this work. The following remarks, which occur in the last Edition, shall also be left intact: -

"The Kennel Club Stud Book has only increased its list in the class for Water Spaniels other than Irish by fourteen in twelve years. This does not seem a very creditable performance on the part of a body of men possessing the great power and influence of the Kennel Club, the avowed object of which is the encouragement and improvement of every breed of dog. The reason is not far to seek. But surely a dog club occupying the position of a national institution, whether self-assumed or not, ought to encourage the indigenous and long-established breeds of dogs of Britain; and the Water Spaniel has a title to be included in the list superior to many that are made much of whilst it is neglected.

For many years the dogs awarded prizes as Water Spaniels at our shows have been Spaniels with coats almost as flat as that of a Clumber, but with a bit of longish hair about the top of the skull. This was, perhaps, the reason why 'Idstone' wrote: 'English Water Spaniels are simply crosses and modifications of the Irish race. In many cases they are imperfect examples of that for which Mr. M'Carthy and Captain Montresor are celebrated - neither better nor worse.' If 'Idstone' meant that the dogs to which he and other judges had given prizes were such as he describes in the above quotation, the writer is prepared to endorse his words. He must, however, add that 'Idstone,' for a man of considerable learning and wide experience, was apt to adopt narrow and superficial views, and he was prone to dogmatise, as dog judges are very apt to do. Clearly, if the dog was a cross or a modification of another breed, and not what he was called, he should not be recognised by his pretensions; but 'Idstone' begs this question, for there is no reasonable assumption that English sporting writers during centuries, who described the English Water Spaniel, were writing of that of which they knew nothing. There is no evidence that the Irish Water Spaniel had any existence as a distinct breed so recently even as the early decades of the present century; yet it is on the supposition that the Irish Water Spaniel is an older variety than the English Water Spaniel that 'Idstone's' whole argument rests."

Taking the principal writers from the beginning of last century we find that they mostly mention two varieties of dog used in wild-fowling, the larger of which they call the Water Dog, the smaller the Water Spaniel. Both of these are described as curly-haired, and various theories of their production from crosses with other breeds have been more or less plausibly suggested; it is, however, hardly necessary to father the looks of either of them on any outside cross.

Our sporting forefathers were practical men, and showed that they were so in their selection of dogs suited to the work to be done; and although it is true they held peculiar notions as to the relations between the colour of the coat and the courage of the beast, such time-honoured superstitions are far less ridiculous than the freaks of modern fancy laid down by self-elected lawgivers - such as, for instance, that an Irish Water Spaniel must have the stern, or caudal vertebra covered with skin only and as innocent of hirsute adornment as a mop-handle!

It is probable that a large and a small Water Spaniel, or Water Dog, would naturally result from the different requirements of sportsmen. He who frequented the sea-coast would require a bigger and stronger dog than the inlander who found his quarry in marshes, rivers, and sedgy ponds. Shakespeare's Water-rug was probably a Water Spaniel, which he used in hunting the waterfowl on the Avon and the tributary streams about Wootton-Wawen and Henley-in-Arden, as no doubt did also the poet of field sports, Somerville, in that charming part of Warwickshire where he lived, wrote, and now lies buried.

Here is the description of the English Water Spaniel, published by the Sporting Spaniel Society: -


Long, straightish, and rather narrow.


Long and rather pointed, without superfluous lip.


Small, dark, and intelligent.


Of medium length, set on forward, and thickly coated.


Strong, and of fair length.


Somewhat low and broad.

Fore Legs

Long and strong, with bone of great size.


Large, round, and barrel-like; back ribs well developed; chest deep and broad.


Strong and very slightly arched.


Long and muscular, the stifle well bent. The croup rising towards the stern, combined with the low shoulder, gives the dog the appearance of standing higher behind than in front.


Large, strong, and well-spread, thickly clothed with hair, especially between the pads.


Carried a little above the level of the back, but by no means highly.


Oily, and composed of thick, crisp curls, no topknot, and the curl should end at the occiput, leaving the face quite smooth and lean-looking. Ears and stern thickly covered with ringlets.


Liver-and-white, self-coloured liver, or liver-roan-and-white, with usually a blaze up the face.