They're often mistaken for Poodles, but Irish Water Spaniels have their own distinct personalities and talents. Here are some things you didn't know about the Irish Water Spaniel:
1. It's One of the Oldest Spaniel Breeds
There are dozens of different spaniel breeds, but the Irish Water Spaniel is probably one of the oldest. There is evidence that they existed as early as the 7th century AD. The name “Irish Water Spaniel” was used as early as the 1100s to describe dogs found south of the Shannon River in Ireland.
2. They Were Bred to Be Hunting Dogs
As his name implies, the Irish Water Spaniel loves to swim. With webbed feet and a two-layered, water-repellent coat, he is perfectly suited to retrieve waterfowl for hunters. He can also be used to hunt game on land.
3. No One Knows Which Breeds Were Used to Develop Them
The Irish Water Spaniel's history is murky because the breeder credited with giving these dogs their modern appearance, Dubliner Justin McCarthy, did not keep any breeding records. People have guessed that the Poodle, the Portuguese Water Dog, and the now extinct English Water Spaniel were used, but this is all speculation.
4. One Male Served as the Father of the Modern Breed
An Irish Water Spaniel named Boatswain is credited with giving the breed the appearance it has today. Boatswain, who was rumored to have lived to be 20 years old, was bred by Justin McCarthy in the 1830s, and sired many notable gun and show dogs throughout his long life.
5. They're the Clowns of the Spaniel Family
Irish Water Spaniels are often referred to as the clowns of the Spaniel family. This could be because of their boisterous personality, or it could be because of their hairdo. The Irish Water Spaniel's curly hair creates an exaggerated poof on the top of his head.
6. They Have a Lot of Nicknames
Besides being known as the clowns of the spaniel family, Irish Water Spaniels are also known as Shannon Spaniels, Rat Tail Spaniels, Whiptail Spaniels, and Bog Dogs. Two of these names describe the Irish Water Spaniel's hairless tail, which acts like a rudder in the water, making them better swimmers.
7. They Have Been Gifted to Royalty
In the 17th century, King James I of England gave an Irish Water Spaniel to the king of France, to try to improve diplomatic relations between the two countries. This was the very first Irish Water Spaniel to come to France.
8. Geena Davis Got Married Because of Her Irish Water Spaniel
In a 2009 interview with The Huffington Post, actor Geena Davis told a hilarious story about how she only met her husband because he was bitten by her Irish Water Spaniel when Davis left her at a friend's house. Davis described her dog as “very sweet and soft” but apparently “she got possessive about the house.” Rest assured, things worked out. When Davis married her husband, her Irish Water Spaniel “fell in love with him.”