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irish poochThe Kerry Blue and The Water Spaniel: Two Irish Treats!
by Marjorie Dorfman

Many fine dogs come from the land of the "wearin’ of the green" and the Kerry Blue Terrier and the Irish Water Spaniel stand proudly (albeit not in green) among them. A closer look at these two breeds shows why they are so very special indeed both to the Irish people and lovers of dogs everywhere in the world.

irish terrierAlso known as The Irish Blue Terrier, the Kerry Blue is a working breed whose true origins cannot be ascertained. Some date its arrival in Ireland back to the invasion of the Spanish Armada when, as at least one of the stories goes, a small spaniel swam ashore from a shipwreck and mated with the native dog population, producing a terrier with a soft, bluish coat. The classic Irish dog was always the Irish wolfhound, but ancient laws forbade their ownership to anyone save members of the aristocracy.

irish kerry blue terrier Farmers bred the indigenous terriers to fulfill their needs on many levels, including herding, hunting, retrieving and curling by the hearth as both a pet and family companion. Crosses between hounds and other dog groups were made to incorporate all these different traits, and it is likely that more than a bit of Irish wolfhound found its way into the mix, creating a unique and wonderful "terrier" amalgam. Although the Irish Setter is considered a "kissing cousin," it is the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier that is a more probable ancestor of the modern Kerry Blue.

Whatever the direct line of ancestry, it is known that the Kerry Blue as a distinct breed made its appearance in Ireland in the latter part of the 1800s. It wasn’t until the early 1920s, however, that the Kennel Club of England first recognized it as a distinct breed. They were not only retrievers and hunters, but were also used as police dogs in Great Britain and as guard dogs at military installations during World War II. They are sturdy animals that require training and exercise. They have good dispositions but can be aggressive and some Kerry experts recommend only one male dog per household. Their barking usually indicates either warning or welcome.

irish kerry bluePerhaps the essence of the Kerry Blue can be summed up by a breeder who wrote in a 1924 magazine: "In the morn they herd the cattle; at noon they come in and treat the wheel to churn the butter; in the afternoon they herd again and after supper are turned out to guard the sheep, the chickens and geese and pigs. The last thing that they do before going to bed is take off the pants of an Irishman."

The Irish Water Spaniel is the oldest, largest and rarest spaniel to be found in all of Erin’s green lands. Native to Ireland, their true origins have been lost to the mists of time. It is possible that more than one ancient breed comprises part of its gene pool, but it cannot be proven. Unfortunately, the acknowledged creator of the breed, Dubliner Justin McCarthy, left no breeding records either for the sake of posterity or the official kennel clubs of the world. It is known for sure, however, that the breed as it is known today developed in Ireland in the 1830s.

irish water spanielThe Irish Water Spaniel is known as the clown of his ilk, as these dogs love to romp and play even when working. They are highly intelligent, inquisitive and very quick to learn. Although they are often shy around strangers, Irish Water Spaniels can be very gentle with children and family members. They adore swimming and need to do it often, having even evolved slightly webbed feet to aid them in the process. These spaniels require daily exercise and when trained properly, make loyal and loving pets.

In some ways, the Irish Water Spaniel is reminiscent of the standard size poodle, as the coat consists of very dense curls and is known to shed very little. The coat color is very unusual, and retains a purplish hue, unlike any other breed of dog in the world. It is also oddly comprised of hair instead of fur, which means that people who retain allergies to dogs are less likely to have a reaction to this dog’s coat. (It is not known, however, if any of the spaniels are allergic to their owners!) These dogs must get regular haircuts, just like their human friends, and perhaps their most distinctive feature is their long "rat-like" tails, which so visually contradicts their densely curly coats. Irish Water Spaniels weigh between 55-60 pounds and usually range in height from 22 to 24 inches.
irish dog
So whether you choose a Kerry Blue or an Irish Water Spaniel, your selection of a canine companion is a "thumbs up" for the spirit of Erin and its lush green lands. Both breeds symbolize the essence and fun-loving vitality of a colorful culture that is like no other on earth!

Did you know . . .?

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