by Doris Donnerman
(last updated April 3, 2009)
One of the first retrievers to be imported to America was the Irish Water Spaniel. Many of the old books mention this breed as far back as the 1860's. The first accurate record that we have however is in the first volume of the American Kennel Club published in 1878. This is where we find that a male Irish Water Spaniel was registered in the Stud Book of the National American Kennel Club in Chicago.
There were twelve male dogs and eleven female dogs of this Irish breed registered in 1878. The only other Retrievers registered on this date were two Chesapeakes. There were no Labradors or Golden Retrievers. The majority of Irish Water Spaniels registered in the next twenty years were owned by sportsmen living around Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago, and Cleveland. At the time there were no restrictions on shooting waterfowl, which were plentiful; thousands were killed for market and sport from early fall to spring. The Irish Water Spaniel was imported from Ireland to provide a rugged water dog that could work in heavy cover and icy water day after day when the flight was on. Ducks and geese that had been shot formed a large part of the nation's food supply at the time.
Gradually the breed's popularity spread to the East and sportsmen on Long Island and Cape Cod began to use and register Irish Water Spaniels. There is no way of determining the number of Irish Water Spaniels in the country in this period when American waterfowl shooting was at its peak. Many of the owners did not register their dogs in the stud books. Between 1880 and 1920 it was one of the more popular retrievers because it could really do a day's work when large bags were common. In the Field Dog Stud Book of 1922 the Irish Water Spaniel out registered the other popular retriever breeds.
As a sporting dog the Irish dog has excellent noses which they inherit from their Spaniel ancestors. The Irish Water Spaniel is a strong swimmer. He learns quickly from experience.
It is difficult to pick a suitable dog when he is a puppy, but the curly, tight, dark coats usually show up as well as the long ears and smooth rat tail. The only other thing you can do is pick a sound one. The Irish Water Spaniel puppy can start training at four months and if the water is warm can start swimming at the same time. Even though most Irish Water Spaniels are natural retrievers they all should be force broken. This type of training makes a makes a more useful dog. Extreme patience must be used at all times, for the Irish Water Spaniel will not stand abuse.
The general appearance of the Irish Water Spaniel is that of a smart upstanding, strongly built but not leggy dog. He has great intelligence and a rugged endurance with a bold dashing eagerness of temperament. He is generally a solid liver color. The coat is densely covered with tight, crisp ringlets on the neck, back and sides. The Irish Water Spaniel male dog stands between twenty-two to twenty-four inches weighing between 55 to 65 pounds, while the female dog weigh between 45 to 58 pounds and stands from twenty-one to twenty-three inches.
The Irish Water Spaniel is still popular among the sportsmen and guides who prefer duck shooting. They consider the Irish Spaniel as essential as their equipment of guns or decoys. It is in doubt that the Irish Water Spaniel will ever reach the popularity that other retrievers seem to enjoy. Those who really love this grand Irish dog are really not anxious to see him become too popular. Popularity would raise the breed's value to where the average hunter would not be able to afford him.
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