Despite its reputation for being the clown of the spaniel family, the Irish Water Spaniel a serious water retriever with superb hunting skills. Its penchant for water earned the breed another nickname, the “Bogdog,” for its enthusiasm for plunging into ice cold water.
Like many breeds, the true origins of the IWS may never be ascertained with certainty. Some cynologists believe the breed’s ancestors may date to the Stone or Bronze Age based on dog skulls found in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. We do know that a smooth-tailed spaniel from Ireland was a gift from Sir Robert Cecil to the King of France in 1598, and that the “Historie of the Four-Footed Beastes” published in 1607 described a “water spagnel” with long, rough, curled hair and a bare naked tail.
“Boatswain” may have been the first modern Irish Water Spaniel of whom we know. Bred by Justin McCarthy, Boatswain lived from 1834 to 1852 and sired many excellent hunting and show dogs who were stamped with their sire’s particular look. The American Kennel Club recognized the IWS in 1884. Today, sadly, the breed is among the breeds listed on The Kennel Club’s Vulnerable Breeds List.