The Irish Water Spaniel

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Irish Water Spaniel bloodlines are thought to date back as far as the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Dogs found in southern Ireland below the River Shannon in the late 1100s were at the time called Shannon Spaniels and today are called Irish Water Spaniels. Unfortunately Justin McCarthy, the father of the breed, left no breeding records. Some have suggested dogs that were involved in the breeding of the Irish Water Spaniel included the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, Barbet, and the now-extinct English Water Spaniel.

The Irish Water Spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1884.

Sizing up

  • Weight: 45 to 68 lbs.
  • Height: 21 to 24 inches
  • Coat: Double coat with dense curls
  • Color: Liver/puce with a purple hue
  • Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years

What’s the Irish Water Spaniel like?

The Irish Water Spaniel makes for a great family dog because he’s great with other pets and wonderful with children who are respectful toward him. He is not an aggressive dog but he does have a fierce bark which can make him very good as a watch dog. Exercise is very important for this breed and regular walks are encouraged. He loves a good game of fetch or a good long swim. If unexercised he can become mischievous and destructive.

The Irish Water Spaniel is very intelligent and has a natural instinct to please. He also has a sense of working as a team player which makes him relatively easy to train. As always begin the training and socialization processes early.

Grooming your Irish Water Spaniel consists of keeping the ears, teeth, and nails healthy. His coat sheds very little and can be combed through every 1-2 weeks to keep it free of mats.


The Irish Water Spaniel is generally a healthy breed but watch for any of the following conditions:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Distichiasis (ingrown eyelashes)
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Cataracts
  • Epilepsy
  • Hair loss
  • Hypothyroidism

Takeaway Points

  • The Irish Water Spaniel sheds little to none.
  • The Irish Water Spaniel needs to be exercised in order to stay happy and healthy.
  • The Irish Water Spaniel is great with kids which makes him suitable for any home.
  • The Irish Water Spaniel is a water dog so be wary of ear infections.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on:

Monday, December 29, 2014

1. Irish Water Spaniels Need Regular Brushing

If you’re not disciplined enough to groom and brush a dog 2 to 3 times a week, then it might be wiser to consider getting a dog of a coat type that demands less maintenance. In the case of the beautiful Irish Water Spaniel, it will be necessary to brush thoroughly his coat at least three times a week.

When their coat is not given enough attention, they tend to form mats that can become very irritating and potentially lead to skin problems. They have natural oils that protect their skin and make their coat almost completely water-repellent. These same oils can attract dirt and debris in the coat and, if a mat forms above dirt and debris, it is a clear recipe for skin irritation. Brush your Irish Water Spaniels often, and there will be no excessive itchy skin!

Irish Water Spaniel History: Behind the Unique Sporting Breed

One of these things is not like the others, goes that classic Sesame Street song.

And in the Sporting Group, that applies to the Irish Water Spaniel.

Despite the spaniel affiliation mentioned in its very name, this versatile, water-loving bird dog is historically a retriever (though it can take part in AKC flushing spaniel tests). Its characteristic rat tail, distinctive enough to have earned the breed the nickname “Whip Tail” and “Rat Tail,” is not found in any other breed. Setting it apart even further, the Irish Water Spaniel’s eager and independent-minded character is in sharp contrast to the mild tractability of most British-derived retrievers and spaniels.

And while Ireland is “geographically” part of the British Isles, whose many sporting breeds are often interrelated through common ancestors, the Irish Water Spaniel has an opaque history, as curious as its purple-tinged, almost eggplant-colored coat.

With all these departures from the rest of the Sporting family, to say nothing of traditional spaniels over which it towers, the Irish Water Spaniel stands apart, reinforcing the idea that it partly descends from a unique, aboriginal Irish dog whose identity has been lost to the mists of time. Given that dogs used specifically to hunt waterfowl in Ireland have been documented as early as the 1600s, that certainly seems plausible.

Irish Water Spaniel Personality

The Irish Water Spaniel is a sprite, athletic and inquisitive dog.

He is more reserved than most of the spaniels but is neither shy nor aggressive which makes him a great companion.

That isn’t to say that he is not high energy! With the right training, he can become a very compatible family member.

Just like every breed, early training and socialization will make your Spaniel more comfortable around people and more courteous at home.

Due to his hunting nature and abundance of energy, the Irish Water Spaniel is much better in a home with a yard and not well-suited for apartment life.

He could use an hour a day of exercise and if you have a pool or access to water, even better! This dog loves to swim, but just as you would with your children, keep your eye on your pup when he is the water.

The Irish Water Spaniel is a fairly quiet dog and will bark only when it seems necessary as a protection method to his family.

He is a great watchdog and tends to pick a specific family member to be his favorite.

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The Irish Water Spaniel - pets

If you have never met an Irish Water Spaniel, you've come to the right place to find information on this exceptional breed. First recognized by the AKC in 1884, the Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) is intelligent, athletic and versatile. Sometimes called “the best kept secret of the dog world,” it is the largest of the spaniels, bred originally to be a gundog for retrieving fowl both on water and land. IWS have powerful endurance and bold eagerness enlivened by a clownish sense of humor. They are wonderful with families. With proper training and sufficient exercise IWS can quickly reveal their loyalty and fun-loving companionship. Even though the Irish Water Spaniel is an historic breed, our numbers are small. Today there are fewer than 200 dogs per year being registered with the AKC.

The IWSCA is a Public Charity (501(c)3). We are organized exclusively for charitable purposes. While preserving this rare and special breed, we exist to: Protect dogs from abuse Provide tools, guidance and education to the public, owners and breeders Promote study of the history, character, breeding, genetics and particular health problems of the IWS Support and conduct scientific research to further understand the diseases, defects, injuries and other ailments that afflict dogs in general and the IWS. Please consider giving to our charitable work. Your donation to the IWSCA may be tax-deductable.

We further invite you to explore these pages to learn more about this wonderful dog, find reputable Irish Water Spaniel breeders who have met the IWSCA criteria of responsibility and learn about upcoming events and other club activities. Welcome!

Watch the video: Dogs 101 Irish water spaniel ENG.

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