Extinct Breed: The English Water Spaniel

Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel (1778) painting by George Stubbs (1724 – 1806). Original from The Yale University Art Gallery.

In an 1851 book, the water spaniel is described as “headstrong and unruly,” “surly and ill-tempered, with children even” and “scarcely worth the notice of the sportsman.” The author provides this introduction:

Source: Johnson, John B. (1851). The dog; and how to break him. London: W. Piper, Brothers, & Co.

Bear in mind that this criticism was made at a time when breeds were still being developed and refined and the entry is on “water spaniels” in general (other entries in the book describe “the setter” and “the pointer”), and not specifically the English water spaniel, as it came to be known.

Image from Butler, F. (1877). Breeding, training, management,diseases & c. of dogs. Brooklyn: D. S. Holmes
Small water spaniel, 1790
Large water spaniel, 1790
English water spaniel, 1803 by Philip Reinagle (1749 – 1833)
Source for three images above:
Ash, E. C. (1927). Dogs: their history and development. London: Ernest Benn

In his 1910 book, Robert Leighton provides the following entry on the breed:

Source: Leighton, R. (1910). Dogs and all about them. London, England: Cassell and Company, Ltd.

If, like me, you are unfamiliar with “Astrakhan fur” and decide to search on it, allow me to give you both a warning (which I didn’t have) and a brief description if you opt to skip it: it refers to the curly fleece of very young karakul lambs in central Asia.

Below: Photos of living specimens of the breed from the early twentieth century.

Lucky Shot pictured in the book:
Compton, H. (1904). The twentieth century dog, sporting. London: Grant Richards.
Beechgrove Wildflower. Source:
Leighton, R. (1907). The new book of the dog. London, England: Cassell
Diving Bell. Source:
Leighton, R. (1907). The new book of the dog. London, England: Cassell
The Chorister. Source:
Leighton, R. (1907). The new book of the dog. London, England: Cassell

The English water spaniel apparently lacked sufficient dedication from enough breeders to sustain the breed and died out sometime between the world wars. The water spaniel however was immortalized by the words of William Shakespeare:

In Two Gentlemen of Verona, speaking of a maid : “She serves for wages and hath more qualities than a water-spaniel; which is much.” 


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