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Irish Water Spaniel


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Anja Mets (Netherlands) - Irish Water Spaniel
Interview by Sabine Middelhaufe

Anja Mets-Boom is a sportswoman, by the Dutch Hunting Association (KNJV) certified, practising gundog instructor and studied Kynological Knowledge (KK-I, KK-II , confirmation and movement). She has been member of the board of the Dutch IWS Association (IWSVN) for several years; the last three as Health Coordinator and is still involved in the Int. Foundation for IWS Health, a worldwide network of IWS associations that collect a lot of breed information and publish it on a website. Since 1998 she has gained dual-purpose titles, t.i. for gundog work and at shows, with some of her IWSs. Work: Retriever- and working tests in Holland and England and Spaniel field trials in Holland, Belgium and France, t.i. 2 trialers. Shows: 3 times Dutch Champion and once Int. Champion. In 2013, after a quarter of a century of keeping and working with IWS, Anja hopes to have a litter by her youngest bitch, and we can be certain that these pups will benefit from her extensive knowledge, her profound understanding and love for this extraordinary breed.

Anja Mets-Boom with her three IWS
Fynder the Rose of Murroe, called Roisin, Myra and trialer Saracen Eminently Eamon.nl, called Eamon.
Photo © A. Mets.

Since when are you interested in this particular breed and why did you choose it in the beginning?

I started with this breed in 1986, together with my husband. Though he had already owned an IWS bitch from 1966. It is because I met that IWS in 1975 at his parent's home, that we choose the breed. We both loved the character and looks of the breed. I own IWSs for 25 years now. From 1986 up till now, I have lived with five IWSs (three dogs and two bitches). At the moment we still have one dog and two bitches.

Could you explain the characteristics of the breed for which a sportsman might prefer this breed to other, similar breeds?

Their perseverance, intelligence and endurance are great. Also the loyalty to their master/handler. Of what I have experienced with my IWSs bred in a working kennel, they are soft mouthed. It is important to have dogs from a working line to be successful in the field though.

Group of IWS's.  Photo: © D. Huijsman
Titelphoto: Fynder the Rose of Murroe, called Roisin. Photo © A. Mets.

In your opinion, is there any specific characteristic in the breed that sportsmen nowadays don't appreciate enough or don't appreciate anymore?

What hunters might not like is perhaps the fact that IWSs can be willful sometimes. This comes from the fact that they were bred for working independently, originally.
Then they can be very eager, sometimes a bit too much.
They need a good socialization when they are youngsters, they can be aloof to strangers or new situations.
IWSs mature late, so one should have some patient with them untill they become a bit more serious. They are not always stable in their work.

The coat must be kept short about 2 or 3 cm long.
Overall I would say that IWSs are a kind of archetype of dog. They are close to nature, also with their constitution. For example they are allergic to some kind of antibiotics (POTENTIATED SULPHONAMIDE group of antibiotics). Also owners should be aware of the anesthesia risk, as IWSs  do need a special anesthesia that is used for Greyhounds, too.

Pups of the Realta Kennel in the USA. Photo © R. Sexton (USA).

Which characteristics does a typical representative of the breed absolutely has to have to be called „typical“?

While IWSs are working, they must show drive. Also, they keep their head not low on the ground like an English Cocker Spaniel, but a bit higher. They will not go into  brambles unless there is certainly wildfowl in there. One could conclude that an IWS doesn't want to waste time and is very targeted and brave. Also when IWSs are waiting to work after the shot, as a picker-up, some know the difference of the sounds of different birds. They also recognize  mallards, pigeons and geese by shape and they know that seagulls or swallows are not interesting, because they will not be shot by the hunter. I think that is really fascinating.

Fynder the Rose of Murroe, called Roisin as a puppy. (Photo © A. Mets.)

How do you see the situation of the breed in your country, and if you had the power, is there something you would like to change in the present day way of breeding?

Yes, I would like the breeding to be more concentrated on the working qualities of this gundog breed. Although in the Netherlands shoots are not that common, IWSs are gundogs and we should not loose their working abilities by not working the dogs and by breeding with animals from show lines, I think. However, this calls for a lot of involvement and time, because you also have to follow the breed abroad. One has to ask around and watch the IWSs at shows and at gundog working tests etc. in Europe and in the USA. I am aware that not everybody has the opportunity to do this.
Also health tests must be done and a low COI is important.

Pups of the Realta Kennel in the USA. Photo © R. Sexton (USA).

In your opinion, are the breed and their characteristics known well enough to potential buyers (sportsmen) or is more information and promotion needed?

I think more PR is needed. A lot of people and sportsmen don’t know the breed. On the other hand the IWS is a special dog. Most of them are sensitive dogs in combination with being action dogs. They mature slowly, at least the first 2 years they are playful and can be naughty sometimes. This might make training them a bit difficult, but it's a positive challenge.
Originally they had to work independently from the hunter, while nowadays at shoots, gundog retriever tests and Spaniel field trial the dogs have to obey and behave according to the rules of organizations and judges. Not for nothing it is said that the IWSs are like the Irish people: a bit tenacious, rebels, smart and (high)-spirited. But as for the dogs, once things are clear for them, they will do what is told them to do.

Do you personally find it important to partecipate in dog shows, working trials and club events?

Yes, I do think it's important. Only by doing this, other people will see the breed and will get to know it. It is no use keeping the dogs only at home.
I like doing shows as well as gundog work, with a slight more interest for working the dog. Training and participating in tests or in shoots with my IWSs appeals to their nature, I think. I also enjoy it very much working with an animal. It develops a special bond and gives an extra pleasure to my life.

(Photo © A. Mets.)

According to your judgement, for what kind of hunting and for which species of game is the breed particularly qualified?

They are versatile gundogs. They show good Spaniel work, that is hunting, flushing and retrieving. Game like pheasants, partidges and woodcooks are no problem. As a Retriever they will show good work, too. IWS do retrieve hares, rabbits, pigeons, mallards, geese and the above mentioned game.
Of course, shoots in swamps, at riversides, estuaries, lakes and wetlands in general will be perfect for them. Better than thick brambles. Their rather soft webbed feet and their coat structure can be a disadvantage for them to do their work properly in there, while swimming is a passion with them and they don’t care what the (water) temperature is like.

And, last question: what advice would you give someone who wishes to use this breed for hunting for the first time?

IWSs mature late and one should be patient. Also offer them „creative“ training sessions, to prevent them from getting bored by the training. The owner should try to gain the trust and respect of the dog. Once one succeeds in this, they will have a dog for life and a very loyal and nice working gundog.

(Photo © A. Mets.)

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