Irish Water Spaniel

Updated: July 20, 2022
Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish Water Spaniel is a very peculiar dog breed that stands out for two unique characteristics. Firstly its distinct curly hair and secondly idiosyncratic ‘rat tail’. They are very resilient and hard-working dogs which have traditionally been used as retrievers and hunting dogs. However, they are also excellent companion animals that stand out for their friendly and teasing nature.

Do you want to know more about the Irish water Spaniel? Our AnimalWised breed file brings you everything you need to know about their characteristics, behavior, care, health and any other important information.

  • Europe
  • Ireland
FCI classification
  • Group VII
Physical characteristics
  • 5-14
  • 14-18
  • 18-22
  • 22-27
  • 27-31
  • More than 31
Adult weight
  • 2-7
  • 7-22
  • 22-55
  • 55-100
  • 100-220
Life expectancy
  • 8-10
  • 10-12
  • 12-14
  • 15-20
Recommended physical activity
  • Low
  • Meidum
  • High
Ideal for
Type of hair
  1. Origin of the Irish Water Spaniel
  2. Physical characteristics of the Irish Water Spaniel
  3. Irish Water Spaniel character
  4. Irish Water Spaniel care
  5. Irish Water Spaniel education and training
  6. Irish Water Spaniel Dog health
  7. Where to adopt an Irish Water Spaniel?

Origin of the Irish Water Spaniel

The origin of the Irish Water Spaniel is unknown. There is no reliable evidence about the ancestor of the Irish Water Spaniel, since those who created the breed left no records. This enigma has given rise to multiple speculations about the breeds that could have given rise to this particular Irish dog. There are those who maintain that it could come from crosses between the Poodle, the Portuguese Water Dog or the Barbet, although its true origin remains uncertain.

Water dogs are now thought to have originated in Persia. Theywere then brought to Ireland by fishermen from Spain and other Mediterranean countries. The first Irish reference to waterfowl-hunting water dogs dates back to the 17th century. However, it was not until 1834 that the breed was officially registered.

Physical characteristics of the Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish Water Spaniel has traditionally been used as a retriever (a dog that retrieves killed prey) and as a hunting dog for wild birds. They are an excellent swimmer, who stand out for a great predisposition to work and for an enormous resistance to the cold waters common to the north.

It is a medium-large sized dog, characterized by being the tallest of all the Spaniel breeds. Females weigh between 20-26 kg (44-57 lb) and have a height of about 51-56 cm (20-22') at the withers. Males weigh between 25-30 kg (55-66 lb) and measure about 53-59 cm (20-23') at the withers.

Its appearance has two unique and unmistakable characteristics :

  • They have dense hair with small, well-defined curls and a natural oiliness. The Irish Water Spaniel coat is made up of two layers, a dense, short, thick undercoat (to keep warm) and a longer, water-resistant outer coat.
  • The tail is unique and exclusive to this breed and is known as a ‘rat tail’ or ‘whip tail’. This is because it is devoid of hair and is considerably wider at the base than at the tip. It is carried straight almost at the level of the back when moving.

In addition to these two peculiarities, there are other characteristics of the Irish Water Spaniel breed standard that should be highlighted:

  • Well-proportioned head: crowned with a bun of long, loose curls. The hair forms a kind of beard on the back of the jaw. The nose is large and dark liver in color.
  • Small, almond-shaped eyes: the color varies from amber to dark hazel.
  • Very long ears: lobular in shape and covered with long, very curly hair. They are set low and hang close to the cheeks.
  • Long, strong and arched neck: it ends in a deep but not very wide chest.

Irish Water Spaniel coat colors

Unlike other breeds in which you can find specimens with different coats, Irish Water Spaniels always have a pure and very intense liver colored coat. Occasionally, they may have white spots on the chest.

Irish Water Spaniel character

The Irish Water Spaniel is an intelligent, bold, willing and energetic animal. They are especially loyal dogs with their handlers, which makes them excellent companion animals. Unlike other many other hunting dogs, they are not especially vocal or noisy. This makes them a great alternative for those handlers especially sensitive to barking.

Due to their friendly nature and peculiar sense of playfulness, they are affectionately known as ‘the spaniel clown’. This is a characteristic that makes them indistinguishable in the eyes of their keepers.

Some specimens may be reluctant to contact unknown people or animals. It is important to carry out the correct socialization for dogs from an early age. Socialization is particularly important when they are expected to live with young children.

Irish Water Spaniel care

In addition to the basic care of any breed, Irish Water Spaniels should pay special attention to:

  • Activity and Exercise: the Irish Water Spaniel is an active and energetic animal, requiring a high level of daily activity. To stay physically and mentally healthy, you need to take them on walks for a couple of hours a day. As a water dog, they especially enjoy all activities that have to do with any aquatic environment. A long walk along the river or the beach will be the ideal plan for them.
  • Hair care: to keep the hair clean and free of knots, it is important to brush it every 1 or 2 weeks. Similarly, every 2 months it is convenient to trim the hair to fix it and shape it. Regular exposure to water helps keep hair curled and looking great.
  • Ear care: having long and large ears, they have a special tendency to accumulate earwax and suffer from otitis in dogs. Therefore, it is important to maintain proper ear hygiene. This can be exacerbated by bacterial exposure in water.

Irish Water Spaniel education and training

The Irish Water Spaniel is an animal used to teamwork. They have a natural instinct to please their guardians, so they are usually relatively easy to train. Their energy and ability to learn makes them good candidates for sports such as agility or flyball. In addition, their sensitive nature means that they can also be used as natural therapy and assistance dogs.

As we have already mentioned, they are dogs that can be somewhat distant with unknown people and animals. Socialization must begin from an early age to avoid future behavior problems.

Irish Water Spaniel Dog health

The Irish Water Spaniel has a life expectancy of about 10-12 years. The health problems that occur most frequently in this breed are:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Entropion
  • Epilepsy
  • Otitis
  • Dermatological problems

In addition, it is worth mentioning that it is a breed with sensitivity to certain drugs such as ivermectin for dogs, sulfonamides and some anesthetics. It is vitally important for Irish Water Spaniel handlers to remember this condition as the administration of these medications can be fatal.

Where to adopt an Irish Water Spaniel?

The Irish Water Spaniel is a rare breed, so finding a copy for adoption in our country can be a complicated task.

If you are thinking of including an Irish Water Spaniel in the family, you can try to contact one of the clubs of this breed to guide your search. However, remember that what is truly important when adopting a new member of the family is not that they meet any breed standard, but that you can adapt to each other's needs and lifestyle.

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Irish Water Spaniel