SPANIEL IRISH WATER
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JUDGING THE IRISH WATER SPANIEL By Greg Siner A s the class enters the ring my mind goes to the f irst part of the standard. I am looking for a “smart, upstanding, strongly conversational voice. Most IWS will be more relaxed if they observe the people around them acting “normal.”
The next thing I want to see is a f lowing and balanced side-gait as I take the class around for the f irst time. The standard clearly says “Moves freely and soundly with balanced reach and drive.” It is now time to start the indi- vidual exams. ALWAYS approach an Irish Water Spaniel from the front and without hesitation but with respect. The standard states “May be reserved with strangers”. It does not mean there should ever be any aggression. The stan- dard further states they are “very alert, inquisitive and active.” If you act unsure they will pick up on it and may back away. I never talk to the dog as I f irst approach it. It is better if I have some- thing I want to say to talk to the han- dler and not directly to the dog. And if I do say anything it is done is a normal
Th e first thing I want to see is a head that stays true to the standard but matches the dog. Extremes of either overly course or overly snipy are not correct. Th is is a dog that should be able to handle many types of birds with ease. Th e standard calls for a muzzle that is “long, deep and somewhat square in appearance.” It goes on to say “with a strong underjaw” again noting the need to be able to manage a bird of decent size. Th ey say the eyes are the window to the soul. A proper eye makes the expression in the IWS. Th e standard says “ Th e expres- sion is keenly alert, intelligent, direct and quizzical.” And the color should be warm shades of brown to dark amber to aid the
built moderate gundog” that must have the distinguishing characteristics of this breed “a topknot of long, loose curls and body covered with a dense, crisply curled liver colored coat contrasted by a smooth face and a smooth “rat” tail. This is breed “type.” The standard goes on to say “A well- balanced dog that should not appear leg- gy or course.” Also “strongly built and well-boned.” Th is is the image that is in my head while I am getting my first impression of the dogs in the class.
“ALWAYS approach an Irish Water Spaniel from the front and WITHOUT HESITATION BUT WITH RESPECT.”
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“I continue on to determine if the forequarters have proper slope of the shoulders, MODERATELY LAID BACK BUT CLEAN AND POWERFUL.”
expression. And as they are a breed that both beats the bush and retrieves from the water the standard says, “Set almost flush, the eyes are comparatively small and almond shaped with tight eyelids.” When checking the bite remember that the standard does say “scissor or level”. Next I examine the coat starting with the unique breed characteristic topknot. Th is should be long, loose curls that fall over the ears. And this is also the time to examine the ears to see that they are “long, lobular, set low” and also covered with “long loose curls of hair.” As I move on to the shoulders I should see a transition in coat to the basic body coat which should be “covered with dense, tight, crisp curls.” I continue on to determine if the fore- quarters have proper slope of the shoul- ders, moderately laid back but clean and powerful. Th e standard says, “ Th e entire front gives the impression of strength with- out heaviness.”
Next I am looking for well sprung ribs “as to give a barrel shape.” I move on to determine if the “loin is short, wide, mus- cular and deep so it does not give a tucked- up appearance.” As I arrive to the hindquarters it again is important to think of the stan- dard. “Sound hindquarters are of great importance to provide drive and power while swimming. They are as high as or slightly higher than he shoulders with powerful, muscular, well-developed thighs. The hips are wide. The croup is rounded and full with the tail set on low enough to give a rounded appearance. The stif les are moderately bent. Hocks are set low and moderately bent.” And f inally the tail. The “Rat-Tail” is a breed characteristic. The dense curls should continue from the body onto the f irst two to three inches of the base of the tail. From there to the tip the coat should be smooth. The tail is thick at the base and tapers as you get to the tip.
It is now time to move the dog on the common down and back. Th e standard says the gait “should be true, precise and not slurring”. But this breed can have a “characteristic rolling motion accentuated by the barrel-shaped rib cage.” After examining the dogs individu- ally, moving them on the down and back and around I will once again take the class around together as I make my f inal determination of placements. I am taking that last look with the desire to make sure I have found the best of the sportsman’s dogs. The dog that could go out and work all day if necessary cover- ing ground with balance and minimal effort that can only be found in a well balanced, well conditioned and prop- erly structured sporting dog. A “strongly built moderate gundog.”
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By Emily Pikul IRISH WATER SPANIEL HISTORY
I n 1990 the IWSCA had just a few ways to recognize versatil- ity in Irish Water Spaniels. At the time, the number of di ff er- ent venues that an IWS could title in was limited to conforma- tion, obedience, tracking and field. Field included AKC Retriever Field Trials and AKC Retriever Hunt Tests, so that made only five venues to title the breed in. Th e then Board of Directors thought it was important to strive for honoring IWS that could meet the breed confor- mation standard, demonstrate trainabil- ity by achieving an obedience title and show that the dog possessed the needed understanding to do what it was bred to do; find and retrieve birds. So early in the 90’s the IWSCA board approved a parent club award called the “AKC All-Around.” It’s awarded to an IWS earning an AKC title each in conformation, obedience and retriever hunt tests. In the 20 or so years this award has been available, 109 IWS have been so honored. Since that time the AKC has intro- duced agility titles in 1994. Rally became a titling event in 2004. Just last year the
AKC opened Spaniel Hunt Tests to IWS and we already have a Master Hunter Upland and numerous JHU and SHU titles. Today there are a total of 11 venues that an IWS can now obtain an AKC title in with more to come. Irish Water Spaniels can work in so many other venues as well in addition to the original ones. They are therapy dogs and freestyle dog. The AKC offers a ver- satility certif icates that recognize dogs with obedience, tracking and agility titles and the IWS have achieved there as well. Outside of the AKC they are also several working IWS service dogs as well as successful f lyball, dock-diving and hunting dogs. The IWS as a breed is able to par- ticipate in all these venues for two very notable reasons. First, they are not an extreme breed from a conformation per- spective. The standard wants a moder- ate and balanced dog of medium size. A proper IWS should be an athlete that can swim strongly if not excessively fast, run with speed and grace and be strong enough to both carry large birds and still have the agile ability to navigate tough
terrain. And they should be a hardy dog that can withstand harsh conditions including some very cold water swims. Secondly, IWS are also wonderful companion-minded dogs. In fact, their temperament enables the IWS to be so versatile and capable of excelling in most venues. Th ey love to work with their people and it shows in their performance. Th ey may not o ff er the ultimate precision, but they will always bring enthusiasm and certain inventiveness to the task at hand. All they ask in return is a fair and shar- ing owner, preferably one with a sense of humor and very little ego. Today’s IWS can be found in Best in Show line ups, achieving OTCH’s, MACH’S, PACH’s and CT’s and compet- ing in the Master National. And many, many more can be found as companions of owners that often find themselves just standing there grinning as their beloved IWS creates yet another amusing story for them to share with friends and family. *This article first appeared in the [October, 2012] AKC Gazette and is reprinted with per - mission. To subscribe, visit www.akc.org/pubs.
“A proper IWS should be an athlete that can SWIM STRONGLY IF NOT EXCESSIVELY FAST, RUN WITH SPEED AND GRACE AND BE STRONG ENOUGH to both carry large birds and still have the agile ability to navigate tough terrain.”
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IRISH WATER SPANIELS Q&A
MARY ANN ALSTON
I live in Ocean Pines, MD on the eastern shore. I enjoy spending time with my family, particularly my granddaughter. I also like antique shopping and visiting with friends. I have had dogs all my life—growing up with hunting Setters, Pointers and Spaniels. My first show dog was an English Setter in 1965 and I started handling in 1970, retiring from handling in 1991. I was approved for the entire Sporting Group in 1991 and now also judge Working Group, Hound Group, Misc., Best in Show and Junior Showmanship.
I live in Center Cross, Virginia. Outside of dogs, I am the Executive Director for the Ledwith-Lewis Free Clinic. I have been involved in dogs for my entire life—55 years. I have been showing for 46 years and judging for 21 years. HONEY ANNE GLENDINNING I live in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. I started in show dogs back in 1968. Then as soon as my Irish Setter was old enough, I started showing him. I have been a Canadian All Breed Judge for 27 years. Then to challenge myself further I became an AKC judge. In that system I have Sporting, two Hounds, Almost all Working, Herding, two Non-Sporting, Best in Show and Juniors.
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VIRGINIA LYNE I live in a small com-
JAMES G. REYNOLDS
munity called Saanich- ton which is a suburb of Victoria, British Colum- bia. I retired 18 years ago from a life of teach- ing and being the Guid- ance Counselor to young people from Grade 9-12. I have been showing since 1953 when I started with a Cocker Spaniel (black) and then graduated to my English Cockers in 1960. We are still breed- ing and while I no longer go into the ring (barring
I live in Onawa, Canada. In my past life I was a super- intendent of education for a large school district. Now in my retirement, besides judging dogs, I seem to a be a chauffeur and attendee at a variety of hockey games and basketball games with my various grandchildren. I am also called on to baby- sit on occasion since as was once pointed out, “If you can look after pup- pies, babies aren’t that dif- ferent.” I showed my first
an emergency!) we are still breeding and showing. Whippets joined the family in the early 80s thanks to Annie and Jim Clark. I started judging Obedience in 1968 and Conformation in 1969. I am All-breed approved in Canada and judge regu- larly in the US and many other International shows around the world.
dog in 1956 at a very tender age and at an equally tender age judged my first championship show in 1967. I stopped showing dogs in the early eighties as I found that the judges I respected and wanted to show to had become my friends. ANN YUHASZ I am a lucky girl as my
husband and I and one very spoiled Norfolk Ter- rier split our time between the glorious Chagrin Valley (Cleveland, Ohio) and the fabulous Florida Keys— you can guess when! Out- side of dogs—there is a life outside dogs?—I work for our son as CFO for his printing company, I love to paint in oils and we gar- den—orchids in Florida, veggies and perennials in Ohio. I have a very full life augmented by family, dogs and wonderful dog friends. As my folks were both
I was born in Vienna, Austria but now reside in Chilliwack, British Colum- bia. I worked for a char- tered bank and later on for the Attorney General’s office of British Columbia. I took early retirement in my mid-50s. My wife and I acquired our first dog, a Boxer, in 1968, showed him to his title, started breeding in the late 60s and I judged my first Championship show in 1976 in Mexico City under the FCI system.
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involved in the sport, my mother, a breeder of ES and later a well respected judge, and my father, a dog lover, supporter and AKC delegate, I really always was “doggie”. I myself have been involved in the sport since the late 60s showing, raising ES and Flat Coated Retrievers plus my finger on several other breeds. I started to judge in 1988; I’ve judged the IWS for at least 20 years. 1. What makes the Irish Water Spaniel an outstanding show dog? What makes him a great pet? MA: Their love of life, both working and as a family pet. MF: The unique characteristics of the Irish Water Spaniel, when combined with an athletic, upstanding gundog, make for an outstanding show dog. The crispy curled, liver-colored coat, the loose curls, the topknot, smooth face and the smooth “rat tail” is a package that I find hard to resist. The breed’s inquisitive nature, loyalty and dual purpose are characteristics that provide for a wonderful pet. HG: Making of an outstanding show dog to me is one that can maintain a strong breed-specific temperament, no matter what the conditions—showing inside, outside, heat, cold, wind, etc. If the dog was used for his purpose he would be faced with all of those elements. You can see this personality come through in the ring. This attitude is even brought out more at home. VL: The outstanding Irish Water must be strong, totally in balance and sound coming and going; but more impor- tantly, he must exude the characteristics of the breed: slightly wicked as befits his Irish heritage, a long, loosely curled topknot, a body covered with a dense, crisply curled coat except for the distinguishing smooth rat tail and face, distinctive shape with the level topline that commonly rises to the rear slightly to create the round- ing that comes with a low set tail and swimming rear strength. He is a great pet because he makes you laugh. Their zany, wicked sense of humor gives their owners great joy. They are caring of children once they have grown up and learned basic manners! (Hmm, maybe I am referring to the children here rather than the Irishman!) WP: His most unique appearance and his eagerness to please under all conditions and situations. JR: Anne Snelling lived about three miles down the road from me and so I watched the development of “Dugan” (Oaktrees lrishtocrat). To me he was the “great show dog”—the emphasis being on show. His mother on the other hand, that was shown to me at a pet show when Anne first got her, was the very antithesis of a show dog.
“the uniQue chArActeristics of
A very good Irish Water Spaniel in type, but not one for the spotlight. As a pet I think his loyalty to his family is important. One day when I tried to go into the Snelling house without proper introductions and Dugan made it clear I wasn’t welcome. AH: Another dog that would rather be hunting or claiming the couch, but his exuberant personality makes him a great show dog if he is willing. They are very smart and can be a bit stubborn. Throughout the years there have been plenty of wonderful examples of the breed with stellar show careers. the irish wAter spAniel, when combined with An Athletic, upstAnding gundog, mAke for An OUTSTANDING SHOW DOG.”
2. What is the most misunderstood aspect of the breed?
MF: From a judging perspective, I feel that a vast majority of individuals awarding ribbons do not truly understand the history of the breed and how it relates to form/function. It is one thing to identify with a unique characteristic, but to truly understand the why, related to the origin and function of the breed brings clarity and richness to the judging process. HG: There is a possibility that a person considered a Sport- ing Dog for home companion or Show dog might think this breed has its drawbacks with coat and its trimming or just general upkeep. VL: I think lack of understanding of correct size, topline and coat of a crisp curl.
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4. What are your “must have” traits in this breed? MA: An outgoing temperament, strong sturdy body and proper coat—particularly texture. MF: I “must have” a moderate gundog with a distinctive head/coat/tail, a unique silhouette, spirited/animated temperament, and must demonstrate, both standing and on the move the ability for dual purpose. HG: Besides the temperament, the dog must be balanced (top to bottom; front to rear), with correct mouth and in sound, hard condition. Then I would work on the breed- specific points. VL: Balanced with good bone, correct liver color, crisp curls, topknot, low set tail and large, thick feet. WP: Top knot, rat-tail, absolutely correct breed temperament. JR: The proper texture of coat, along with the topknot, give me the uniqueness. Strong structure make for a working mud lark with proper balance that completes the picture. 5. Are there any traits in this breed you fear are becoming exaggerated? MA: A trait of the exhibitor/handler to totally blow the entire coat out rather than have a tightly packed curly coat. MF: Other than some extreme grooming styles, the breed, not unlike the Curly Coated Retriever has maintained type and has not been led down a path of extremes. I wish I could say the same for the majority of the Sporting breeds. HG: Too open a side gait, especially in the rear and therefore not balanced. VL: Some degree of over grooming; temperament can always be an issue as these Irishmen can at times have vivid imaginations about bad things that are going to happen to them in the ring. Annie always said they saw “spirits” hovering. WP: Over-angulated rear quarter. JR: I must admit that I think some exhibitors get carried away with trimming. It is easy for this to happen, but often curls and texture are sacrificed for outline. AY: We are so lucky that this very old, unique breed has been carefully protected by several dedicated breeders in this county. 6. Do you think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when you first started judging? Why or why not? MA: I think the overall quality is better now, except for the couple of great dogs that I have seen over the years.
WP: He is much more than the clown of the spaniels, because he is a top-notch gun dog with brains and trainability and is eager to please. JR: Type on all breeds is distinctive. It is what makes them a purebred but I think that the Irish Water Spaniel has more than its share of idiosyncratic breed points, which do not lend themselves to taking a generic dog in the ring. “i must Admit thAt i think some exhibitors get cArried AwAy with trimming. it is eAsy for this to hAppen, BUT OFTEN CURLS AND TEXTURE ARE SACRIFICED FOR OUTLINE.” 3. Describe the breed in three words. MA: Exuberant, funny and willing to please. MF: Unique, moderate and gundog. HG: This is hard to do; however—solid, personality and functional. VL: Strength, eagerness with a wicked sense of humor (yeah I know that is more than 3 words!) WP: Temperament, type and athletic. JR: I always think of coat, tail and ruggedness and therefore I am always aware of this when I judge. AH: Three phrases I would use to describe him are upstand- ing, unique liver curly coat and rat tail. These are the very distinguishing characteristics that make him a water spaniel and not something else.
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The few breeders have worked at retaining the sturdy, moderate build and have worked hard at producing outgoing temperaments. MF: When I first started judging there seemed to be more Irish Water Spaniels in the ring. Today, when I have the pleasure of an entry, I usually have exhibits of the same quality. Quality remains consistent, though numbers are decreasing. HG: I have judged several Nationals and Specialties. It always shocks and disappoints me when the exhibitors, breeders or those just looking for their next stud dog, leave before the Veterans come in. They are our history and for the most part better than what is in the ring today. There will always be the exceptional dog that will come along, but for the most part they are not getting better. These are just some of the things happening that would never have been shown or bred years ago. Now they are in the ring and probably in the whelping box. I just did a futurity and was saddened to see what was going on in their mouths. Teeth are getting smaller, bottom jaws are loos- ing their depth and width (for the teeth to be properly fitted) and the result are bites becoming even or miss- ing teeth. The breed’s forefather would have considered them for hunting or breeding. Why are we doing it? VL: I think generally, thanks to some really excellent breeders putting their mark on the breed, there is more uniformity and better balance being seen now. Size has come more into standard. There is still work to do with sound-moving dogs, especially in rear movement. WP: In my opinion, this is a Sporting breed has undergone minimal changes from past to present, with the excep- tion that we now find more level top lines than a slightly higher rear. JR: When I first started judging there were very few Irish Water Spaniels in the shows and they were clearly working dogs. “Dugan” changed all of that and a few dedicated successful breeders picked up the ball so that I think today’s dogs are better in the ring. 7. What do you think new judges misunderstand about the breed? M F: I feel new judges do not truly understand the tempera- ment of the Irish Water Spaniel. All too often, a new judge will approach the breed in a manner that does address their natural wariness of strangers. Also, truly understanding and rewarding proper make a shape takes an educated effort. The subtle details in topline, loin, croup and tail set define breed type, and are lost in the
judging process because new judges are often seduced by coat and presentation. HG: To truly understand the Sporting group, judges need to see these dogs work. If there is not a trial around, then make videos and send the link to all Sporting judges— new and already approved. This will help them to under- stand their job and why they are built this way and the need of a specific coat type. VL: I think judges new to Sporting and to Irish Water Spaniels mistakenly believe this is a “Spaniel” breed and start looking for some of the traits we associate with a Spaniel—which they are not! Correct curls, the widow’s peak and beard seem to be a bit of a challenge. The myth that circulates about the breed is that temperament is not steady and new judges buy into this and are apprehensive about approaching the dogs for the examination. WP: That they are not only a very unusual show dog but rather a gun dog with temperament, type and structure. JR: I feel that sometimes the beauty and showmanship of many breeds takes away from essential characteristics particularly in the numerically smaller breeds. AH: I think the IWS is pretty straightforward for judges to understand if they study the purpose of the breed. He is a gun dog needing those attributes, plus proper coat and hardworking condition. I find most examples in the ring to be of excellent quality, although coats “...thAnks to some reAlly excellent breeders putting their mArk on the breed, there is more UNIFORMITY AND BETTER BALANCE BEING SEEN NOW.
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do vary depending on time of year, etc. The breed seems very homogenous, probably due to a small gene pool, compared to some of the larger numbered gun dogs. 8. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? MA: I wish we saw more of them being exhibited in the breed rings so it would give the judges an opportunity to be able to compare the breed against one another. MF: I would like to acknowledge the dedicated breeders who continue to preserve this wonderful breed, and who always demonstrate passion, professionalism—in and out of the ring. HG: Overtime as you see anyone at a show who seems interested in your breed… make time for them! The more they can learn the better off for the breed. “overtime As you see Anyone At A show who seems interested in your breed… MAKE TIME FOR THEM! the more they cAn leArn
JR: I am fortunate enough to be judging the National this year and am looking forward to it.
9. And, for a bit of humor: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever experienced at a dog show? MA: Many years ago, while exhibiting in a Sporting Group under Ed Bracey, my wrap-around skirt became untied while I was moving my dog down and back. It fell off right in front of the judge. I handed him the lead while I put my skirt back on, then proceeded to move my exhibit around to the end of the line. I did place in that Group! MF: There are too many to name just one. HG: Far too many. I have had exhibitors tell me if I ran them around one more time they would loose their slip. My answer was, “Oh well, take them around.” And the result was she lost it. VL: I have a bad memory for funny things happening in my ring—never could remember good jokes no matter how hard I tried. Perhaps the most recent was a child showing his Pekingese that, when I asked him to make a small circle and put his dog on the table, walked a circle around the examination table and picked up his dog and placed him carefully on the table. Teach me to be more accurate in what I was asking him to do! WP: A number of years ago, when I did my first Hound Group Assignment, the temperatures that day were extremely high and I realized that I should have worn a hat. Bob Waters, who had offered to ring steward for me offered to lend me his fedora. One of handlers, who was a mutual friend of both of us, turned to Bob and said in a “stage” whisper. “That will not fit Walter, he needs a ‘square hat’.” The ringside and myself broke out in laughter. JR: I have had many funny experiences in my judging career, but one of my favorites was at the American Pointer National when I told an exhibitor down and back and instead of saying loose lead, I said, “Drop the lead” and he did as the dog sauntered off into the sunset. AH: Some things funny during my judging career? Well, there are lots of humorous and sometimes not so funny. It is always a new experience! I do remember once when I was running to catch a flight back when you could and I missed a group photo for someone. The photographer was great and told me they could Photoshop me in later. Imagine my surprise when later that month I saw a picture of me at that show, in a publication, awarding a Group One to a Hound, and I don’t judge Hounds! Oops!
the better off for the breed.”
VL: I love judging the breed because I never know how they are going to trip me up—literally and figuratively. They can be somewhat unpredictable! I do appreciate it when the owners/breeders have taken the time to do the neces- sary socializing and training of their young charges to bring them in the ring looking at their best. WP: While preparing myself to do an Irish Water Spaniel Regional Specialty, I came across an article written in the FCI breed standard, which to that point I was not aware of. “The curly liver coat has definitely a purple hue to it.”
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