Identified more or less with the retrievers, because they perform similar duties, are the sporting spaniels, which, because they are divided into so many branches, constitute perhaps the largest dog family in the world.
The English "Kennel Club" recognizes Irish water spaniels, water spaniels other than Irish, Clumber spaniels, Sussex spaniels, field spaniels, English springers, Welsh springers, and cocker spaniels. They are all used to assist the gunner to find his game and to retrieve it after it is shot.
The Irish water spaniel is in a class by himself. You need to see him but once to remember him forever. It is said that he was the very last dog to be made, and that it was only by using the remnants of half a dozen other breeds that enough material was found of which to make him.
When he comes up to you for the first time, you'll probably laugh at him; but don't laugh too long; there'll be tears in your eyes if you do. For this quaint creature who looks as if he had borrowed from friends everything he has on, including his tail, has such an honest face, such a charming expression, and such a dignity of manner that he'll win your sympathy and your respect before the first smile of amusement has left your face. As a water dog, he is generally regarded as superior to any other member of his family, though most spaniels take kindly to the water.
Formerly quite a popularly known dog for sniping and ducking, the old Irish water spaniel seems to have been almost entirely abandoned, and few are now seen in this country. Perhaps the uses to which he was put are more satisfactorily met by the setters and retrievers - both of which are stronger and heavier and can equal him in work in the water. The type of this breed should weigh about 50 pounds and be of a uniform liver-color. The coat is quite long and tightly curled, but by no means woolly. It is long on the crown, but the face, front of hind legs, and most of the tail should be clothed in short, soft, rather dull hair, giving the appearance of having been clipped.
It is very different in appearance from the land spaniel of the cocker type, being in shape and size not greatly unlike the poodle, but differing much from this breed in texture of coat and in the perfectly smooth face. In disposition it si like both the poodle and the spaniels generally – kind, affectionate, playful, and bright, but showing a strong tendency to be a little aloof with strangers. They have also a strong trend toward obesity in age, when they become heavy, untidy, and decrepit.