Showsight May 2021


atic Sea. Its name signifies its regional origin along with the work it performs; the water dog of Romagna. Traditionally, this gundog was a water retriever. However, due to the drainage of the marshlands of Ravenna, the lowlands of Comacchio, and the wetlands of the Po River Delta (which resulted in a loss of habitat), the breed evolved into a truffle finder. This transition from water dog to truffle dog occurred from around 1840 to 1890 as wetlands became farmland. With the steady disappearance of woodlands in favor of vineyards, Lagotti (pl.) began search- ing for truffles in the thorny scrub and hilly woodlands, their protective, tightly knit coat once again proving beneficial. A curly-coated dog from this region of Romagna has been depicted in art as far back as 1456, and a similar dog was known in that area before the Moors introduced a water dog to Spain. From the 16th century onward, lit- erature describes a curly-coated dog used to retrieve water fowl. Facing extinction due to various reasons, a group of Romagna-based canine fanci- ers gathered in the mid-1970s to keep the breed from going extinct. Its revival centered around the former wetlands and in the Rom- agnolo Apennines. As breed numbers grew across the European nations as well as in the US and Canada, a World Union of Lagotto Clubs (Unione Mondiale dei Club Lagotto Romagnolo) was formed in 1997 to safe- guard and coordinate “morpho-functional” selection at the international level. The Ital- ian Lagotto Club maintains truffle-finding (working) aptitude tests and trials. At its annual Working Championships, skills are put to the test as well as its aesthetic char- acteristics (type and conformation). The Unione has requested of the ENCI (Italian Kennel Club and owner of the breed stan- dard) that additional language be inserted into the standard so as “to prevent danger- ous deviations from the breed’s true rustic nature which can be induced by exagger- ated, non-functional grooming...” Today, the breed is fairly uniform throughout the world, although commercial truffle-hunters may place greater emphasis on truffle-find- ing than with keeping true to a purebred breed standard. The largest of the Spaniel breeds, this water-fowling Spaniel has been referred to as the Rat-Tail Spaniel, Bog Dog or Shan- non Spaniel. Its distinctive coat pattern and texture makes the Irish Water Spaniel easily recognizable among other breeds. With the word “spaniel” being codified in Irish law as early as AD 17, its forms eventually differen- tiated into land spaniels and water spaniels.

The largest of the Spaniel breeds, this water-fowling Spaniel has been referred to as the Rat-Tail Spaniel, Bog Dog or Shannon Spaniel. Its distinctive coat pattern and texture makes the IrishWater Spaniel easily recognizable among other breeds.

Water Spaniel, the AWS is a flushing and retrieving gundog. Developed to withstand the cold Wisconsin winters, and compact enough to be easily transported in a skiff, the AWS was an all-around dog used to gather harvested waterfowl and some game birds for the hunter’s family table. The breed was standardized beginning in the early 1900s by Dr. Fred Pfeiffer of New London, Wis- consin. A reduction in duck populations and the rising popularity of more specialized gundog breeds led to a decline in AWS num- bers—from an already small population. It is estimated that around 3,000 AWS remain in the Wisconsin/Minnesota region, and these are used primarily as family hunting gundogs. A smattering of the breed exists in other areas of the country, primarily in use as hunting dogs. The AWS parent club maintains a hunt test program especially for the breed. It con- sists of four test levels to evaluate an AWS’s abilities as a flushing and retrieving dog. In addition to these breed-specific tests, the AWS is eligible to complete in AKC flushing spaniel and retriever hunt tests. This breed, with a dense, marcel to curly coat (of which both types can be on the same specimen) and a clean, smooth-haired face, is hardly changed from those dogs seen in pho- tographs from when Dr. Pfeiffer refined the breed into what it is today. I’ll look forward to your commentary and questions on this article, as well as the ones that follow in this series. Feel free to send your comments to or to me at

Several varieties of spaniels came into exis- tence in Ireland over the succeeding centu- ries. In the early 1800’s, a sportsman and breeder, Justin McCarthy of Dublin, refined the Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) into a breed with its own distinctive type and characteris- tics. Although formal breeding records were usually not kept for the IWS, the 1834 birth of McCarthy’s renowned dog, “Boatswain,” began to change that practice. By the time of the Civil War in the US, IWS were being imported into North America and were being used as retrieving water spaniels. The breed’s popularity as a working water dog continued to grow until it reached its zenith toward the end of the first World War. Despite its rise and fall in popularity, the IWS has remained remark- ably unchanged in make and shape over the decades. Photographs of IWS from the early 1900s show a dog that is interchangeable with today’s exhibits. To its credit, the IWS parent club main- tains two levels of working certificate pro- grams for its breed, and these are on offer in conjunction with each national specialty show. (They are also offered independently.) A number of IWS have achieved show cham- pionships as well as one or both levels of working certificates. One of two uniquely American-devel- oped Spaniel breeds, the American Water Spaniel (AWS) had its origins in the Wolf River and Fox River valley area of Wisconsin as far back as the early 19th century. Thought to have evolved from a combination of gun- dog breeds, including the Curly-Coated Retriever, IWS, and the now extinct English


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