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Irish Water Spaniel

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Irish Water Spaniel

Form and Function

The Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest spaniel. However, it must never be so large that it can’t be invited onto a boat! The body is of medium length, the whole dog being slightly rectangular in appearance. The general appearance suggests both dash and endurance. The gait is smooth and ground covering. The coat is one of the breed’s distinctive features. The body is covered with a double coat consisting of crisp ringlets. This combination imparts water, weather, and thorn resistance, enabling the dog to work or play in the harshest of conditions. The Irish Water Spaniel’s expression says it all: alert, intelligent, and quizzical.


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Breed Traits

Energy Level

5 out of 5

Exercise Requirements

5 out of 5


5 out of 5

Affection Level

3 out of 5

Friendliness To Dogs

3 out of 5

Friendliness To Other Pets

3 out of 5

Friendliness To Strangers

2 out of 5


3 out of 5

Ease of Training

5 out of 5

Grooming Requirements

3 out of 5

Heat Sensitivity

3 out of 5


4 out of 5

Breed Attributes




45-65 lb




Gundog, Spaniel

Area of Origin


Date of Origin



The Irish Water Spaniel is one of the oldest and most distinctive spaniels. Dogs resembling them are depicted in manuscripts from 1,000 years ago. In the 1100s, mention is made of dogs called Shannon Spaniels, Rat-Tail Spaniels, Whip-Tail Spaniels, or Irish Water Spaniels. Continued references to the Irish Water Spaniel can be found from 1600 on. Around that time, the King of France is said to have been presented with an Irish Water Spaniel. Whether the breed was at one time found in different varieties or whether several similar breeds were its forebears is a matter of conjecture. What is agreed upon is that several similar spaniels existed in Ireland: the Northern Irish, Southern Irish, and Tweed Spaniels. The Southern Irish Spaniel, also called McCarthy’s Breed, is credited with being the eventual major forebear of today’s dogs. In the mid 1800s, the appearance of the prolific sire Boatswain so influenced the breed that he is often credited as being the progenitor of the modern Irish Water Spaniel. The breed entered the show ring in both Britain and America by the late 1800s. In 1875, it was the third most popular sporting dog. Despite its enchantingly clownish appearance and adept water-retrieving ability, the Irish Water Spaniel is now only rarely seen in the show ring or found as the family pet.


The Irish Water Spaniel goes at everything in life with gusto and enthusiasm. This dog loves to swim, run, hike, and play and needs a lot of exercise. A clown at heart, it can be independent, and needs to be trained with patience, firmness, and a sense of humor. The Irish Water Spaniel tends to be reserved with strangers, is sometimes timid, but is generally good with children.


This active, athletic, inquisitive breed needs lots of mental and physical exertion to keep from becoming frustrated or bored. An hour of free-running or strenuous playing a day is necessary to satisfy these needs. Obedience work can also be helpful in providing the mental challenges this dog enjoys. The curly coat needs brushing and combing two to three times a week, plus scissoring every few months. Like most dogs, this breed loses its coat periodically; however, the hairs tend to become trapped in the other hairs rather than fall off on their own. If not combed out, they will form mats and cords, so this breed does require attention to grooming.


  • Major concerns: CHD, otitis externa
  • Minor concerns: distichiasis
  • Occasionally seen: megaesophagus, hypothyroidism, elbow dysplasia, seizures, nail-bed disease
  • Suggested tests: hip, elbow, eye, thyroid
  • Life span: 10–12 years
  • Note: May have adverse reactions to sulfa drugs or ivermectin


Note: While the characteristics mentioned here may frequently represent this breed, dogs are individuals whose personalities and appearances will vary. Please consult the adoption organization for details on a specific pet.

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