The Spaniel Family names borne by this family of beautiful dogs indicates that the parent stock came from Spain. In response to special environment or to gratify the fancy of breeders, or bred to serve useful purposes, they have since divided into several important groups.
Just when the Spaniel came to England it is impossible to say, for while the early writers refer to Water Dog’s and Water Spaniels, their descriptions are so lacking in clarity that it is impossible to form an opinion that is free from reservations.
The fact that many of the older writers refer to the presence among English sportsmen of a dog used for retrieving wild fowl that was known as the Water Dog’s, has prompted writers to jump to the conclusion that this dog was the parent Spaniel type. This is a great mistake. The Water Dog’s was not a true Spaniel, but on the contrary was descended from the French Barbet, the ancestor of the Poodle. This early Water Dog’s, if old pictures and engravings are to be believed, was quite similar to the modern Irish Water Spaniel and presented the same general confirmation, coat, and topknot. It is probable that both are of Barbet ancestry; certainly the Irish Water Spaniel is not of true Spaniel type.
The old English Water Spaniel, the progenitor of the modern family of Spaniels, was a distinct breed. Early paintings portray him as being much like the Springer of today, differing principally in the character of his coat, which was curly. The old English Water Spaniel was crossed occasionally with other breeds and the progeny mated with careful selection, and from them we have derived the various families of modern Springers, Field Spaniels, Cockers, Sussex, Welch, and diminutive toys. Some of these breeds are useful to the sportsman, others are simply pets; but from the forty-pound Springer to the fivepound toy, they all resemble each other in marked amiability of character and unusual intelligence.
Another important branch of the old English Water Spaniel breed is the setter family. All setters are of Spaniel origin, and early writers refer to the setting Spaniel in contradistinction to those that sprang in and flushed the game, which were known as Springers. There is also another breed of dogs mentioned by Cuvier and other authorities, as the Alpine Spaniel. This dog is said to have been the progenitor of the St. Bernard and the Clumber. However this may be, there is no question but what there is a similarity in coloration between the Clumber and the St. Bernard, as well as a further resemblance in their massive structure and peculiarities of the head, eyes, and flews.
The Old English Water Spaniel broke up into the several groups of Spaniels we have enumerated, but unfortunately while the breeds were being created the parent breed was lost. There have been several attempts to resurrect the parent type without much success, and nothing can be said about them other than that in appearance they probably resembled the modern Springer, the principal difference being a curlier coat. Like him, they were a useful dog that would hunt fur or feather and retrieve from land or water.