This section is from the book "The Dogs Of Great Britain, America, And Other Countries. Their Breeding, Training, and Management in Health and Disease", by John Henry Walsh (Stonehenge). Also available from Amazon: The Dogs Of Great Britain, America And Other Countries.
Water Spaniels are commonly said to have web-feet, and this point is often made a ground of distinction from other dogs, but the fact is that all dogs have their toes united by membranes in the same way, the only distinction between the water and land clogs being that the former have larger feet, and that the membrane between the toes being more lax, they spread more in swimming, and are thus more useful in the water. Most people would understand, from the stress laid on web-feet in the water dogs, that the toes of the land dogs were nearly as much divided as those of man, but there are none so formed, and, as I before remarked, the toes of all are united throughout by a strong membrane. The coat in all the water dogs is woolly and thickly matted, often curly, and in all more or less oily, so as to resist the action of the water.
Fig. 21. - IRISH WATER SPANIEL, RAKE.
This oil is rank in smell, and hence they are all unfit to be inmates of our houses, which is a strong objection even to the poodle as a toy dog. As, therefore, we have no ground for separating the land from the water dogs, by this strong line, I have not attempted to do so, but have grouped them according to the divisions under which they naturally fall.
The Old English, water Spaniel is particularly fond of the water, and will enter it in almost all weathers by choice, while it never is too cold for him when any game is on it. His powers of swimming and diving are immense, and he will continue in it for hours together, after which he gives his coat a shake and is soon dry. Indeed, when he first comes out he does not seem thoroughly wet, his oiled and woolly coat appearing to set at defiance the approach of water. His nose is pretty good, and he is capable of an excellent education; but it takes some time to break him thoroughly, as he is required to be completely under command, and is a very restless dog by nature, whereas his duties demand perfect silence. There are generally said to be two distinct breeds, one larger than the other, but in other respects alike.
His points are as follows: - Head long and narrow, eyes small, and ears of medium length, covered with thick curly hair. Body stout, but elegantly formed, with strong loins, and round barrel-like chest, which is broad across the shoulders. The legs are rather long, but very strong, the bone being of great size, and well clothed with muscle. Feet large and spreading, tail covered thickly with long curly hair, and slightly curved upwards, but not carried above the level of the back.
The Irish water Spaniel consists of two distinct varieties, peculiar to the north and south of Ireland. The northern dog has short ears, with little feather either on them or on the legs, but with a considerable curl in bis coat. In color he is generally liver, but with more or less white which sometimes predominates, so as to make him decidedly white and liver. The south country Irish water spaniel is, on the contrary, invariably of a puce liver color. Ears long and well feathered, being often two feet from point to point, and the whole coat consisting of short crisp curls. Body long, low, and strong, tail round and carried slightly down; but straight, without any approach to feather. The celebrated breed known as "M'Carthy's is thus described by that gentleman in a recent communication.
"The present improved and fancy breed, called M'Carthy's breed, should run thus: - Dog from 21 to 22 1/2 inches high (seldom higher when pure bred), head rather capacious, forehead prominent, face from eyes down perfectly smooth, ears from 24 to 26 inches from point to point. The head should be crowned with a well-defined top-knot, not straggling across like the common rough water dog, but coming down in a peak on the forehead. The body should be covered with small crisp curls, which often become draggled in the moulting season: the tail should be round without feather underneath, of the two rather short, and as stiff as a ramrod; the color of a pure puce liver without any white. Though these dogs are generally of very high mettle, I have never found them intractable or difficult to be trained; they readily keep to heel and down-charge, and will find a dead or wounded bird any where, either in the open or in covert, but they are not partial to stiff thorny brakes, as the briers catch the curl and trail after them. It is advisable to give them a little training at night, so that in seeking objects they must rely upon the nose alone.
For the gun, they should be taught to go into the water like a duck; but when kept for fancy, a good dog of this breed will take a flying jump of from 25 to 35 feet, or more, perpendicular bight, into the water. My old dog Boatswain lived to be about eighteen years old, when, although in good health and spirits, I was obliged to destroy him. When going abroad in 1849, for some years, I gave my breed to Mr. Jolliffe Tuffncll, of Mount-street, Merrion-square, Dublin, son of the late Col. Tuffn?ll, of Bath. His dog Jack, a son of my dog Boatswain, is known particularly as a sire, to every one in Ireland, and to very many in England. A good well-trained dog of this breed will not be obtained under from $50 to $100, and I have known as much as $200 or $000 to be paid for one. They will not stand a cross with any other breed; the spaniel, setter, Newfoundland dog, and Labrador dog, etc., perfectly destroy coat, ears, tail, and symmetry; added to which, the cross-bred dog is very difficult to dry. If any cross would answer, I should say the bloodhound. - J. M'C."
The portrait on page 118 is from a remarkably good photograph of Mr. Lindoe's celebrated Rake.