This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
In the Kennel Club Stud Book will be found a list of about two dozen spaniels, classed as "Water Spaniels other than Irish."
I have often pondered over this, wondering what it was meant to nclude, and why the Irish water spaniel should be distinguished by a class to itself, and the much older breed, the English water spaniel, be ignored. I suppose it will not be denied that the English water spaniel is at least historically older than the Irish. Every writer on dogs from the fourteenth century to the present date has referred to them, and more or less minutely described them.
Dr. Caius says of the water spaniel: "It is that kind of dog whose service is required in fowling upon the water, partly through a natural towardness, and partly through a diligent teaching, is endued with that property. This sort is somewhat big and of a measureable greatness, having long, rough, and curled hair, not obtained by extraordinary trades, but given by Nature's appointment."
In the "Gentleman's Recreation " a very similar description occurs.
In the "Sportsman's Cabinet" (1802), he is described as having "the hair long and naturally curled, not loose and shaggy," and the engraving which accompanies the article - from a drawing by Renaigle, engraved by Scott - represents a medium-sized liver and white curly-coated spaniel, with the legs feathered but not curled. The woodcut in Youatt's book on the dog is very similar, and in his first work on the dog "Stonehenge" copied this from Youatt's book, and did not hesitate, in addition, to give the points of the "Old English Water Spaniel." It is, therefore, the more astonishing to find him saying in his most recent, work, "I do not pretend to be able to settle the points of the breed."
The Kennel Club at their shows have, as has been already said, a class for " Water spaniels other than Irish," and the title of the class is well deserved, for a more heterogeneous collection than generally composes it could scarcely be found outside the Dogs' Home, and in the judging the description of the old English water spaniel as given by all our writers on the subject is utterly ignored. Had the Kennel Club set up a standard of their own, which sportsmen and exhibitors could read and understand, there would be at least something tangible to deal with, something to agree with or condemn; but they ignore the only descriptions we have of the breed, and give us nothing but chaos instead, for dogs have won in this class of every variety of spaniel character, except the right one.
It is true 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 our spaniels came originally from Spain, no one has ever contended that they exist as imported without alteration by selection or commixture with allied varieties; and from all descriptions I have met with the "large water dog" referred to by Youatt was in great part water spaniel, whilst our English setter it is very generally agreed springs from the land spaniel.
As already said, from the earliest times we have the old English water spaniel described as differing from the land spaniel. Edmond de Langley, in "The Maister of Game," writes of the land spaniel, "white and tawny in colour and not rough coated," whereas the water spaniel is by every writer described as rough and curly coated, but not shaggy, and this very decided characteristic is ignored in the judging of water spaniels at our shows. Youatt says: "The hair long and closely curled." "Stone-henge," in "The Dog in Health and Disease," says "head and tail covered with thick curly hair," and gives as an illustration of the breed a woodcut of a dog with a distinctly curly coat.
I do not believe the breed is lost, but that scattered throughout the country there are many specimens of the old English water spaniel, which it only requires that amount of encouragement to breeding which it is in the power of show committees to give to perpetuate the variety and improve its form.
I have come across many specimens, and owned one many years ago, which would fairly represent the breed as described and portrayed by our older sporting writers.
The duties of a water spaniel require that he should be under the most perfect command, obedient to a sign; for silence in fresh water shooting is absolutely necessary to 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; he must be a thorough retriever, as bold and persevering as obedient, and, by early education, under the most perfect command.
Two sizes are generally referred to, but, for the fresh water fowler, a large dog is not required, and one 301b. to 401b. will work the sedges, reeds, willows, etc, of river sides, pools, and locks, with greater advantage than a big one.
The points of the English water spaniel I would describe as follows:
The general appearance, strong, compact, of medium size, leggy by comparison with the Clumber, Sussex, or black field spaniel, and showing much greater activity.
The head, 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.
The eyes fairly full but not watery, clear, brown coloured, with intelligent beseeching expression; the ears long, rather broad, soft, pendulous and thickly covered with curly hair of greater length than on body.
The neck short, thick, and muscular.
The chest capacious, the barrel stout, and the shoulders wide and strong.
The loins strong, the buttocks square, and the thighs muscular.
The legs rather long, straight, strong of bone, and well clothed with muscle, and the feet a good size, rather spreading, without being absolutely splay footed.
The coat, 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.
The tail is usually docked, rather thick, and covered with curls.