Whether they’re splashing after ducks or showing off in the agility ring, canines of the Irish Water Spaniel dog breed do everything with a sense of fun. Created in Ireland as a water retriever, they’re rare these days but make excellent companions for active and experienced dog owners, especially if they live near a body of water.
Although dogs of this breed have high intelligence and learn easily, they also have a stubborn side that can prove troublesome for novice dog parents. Make sure you can keep up with firm, consistent training before you decide that this is the breed for you.
See all dog breed traits and facts about Irish Water Spaniels below!
Irish Water Spaniel Dog Breed Pictures
Dog Breed Group:Sporting Dogs
Height:1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet tall at the shoulder
Weight:45 to 65 pounds
Life Span:10 to 12 years
More About This Breed
- The Irish Water Spaniel is often mistaken for a large brown poodle because of his distinctive top knot and the curly hair that covers his body. While back in the deeps of time a Poodle ancestor may be lurking in his family tree, the Irish Water Spaniel is most definitely not a Poodle. Rather, he might be described as what the standard Poodle once was: a versatile hunting, pointing, and retrieving dog. Not surprisingly, given his name, the Irish Water Spaniel is known for his strong swimming skills and excels at retrieving waterfowl as well as upland game such as quail, pheasant, and grouse.Not content with his striking looks and hunting talents, he’s an entertainer as well. The IWS is known for his clownish behavior. He often makes a game out of a simple task and always seems to be having a wonderful time.Irish Water Spaniels are highly intelligent, active, willing and energetic. The centuries of breeding that have contributed to their retrieving skills have also instilled in them a desire to please. This makes an Irish Water Spaniel relatively easy to train. That said, he has a mischievous streak that can cause him to be a challenge at times to deal with. The breed can do well in obedience work, but that mischievous, fun-loving personality may surface unexpectedly during competition and wreak havoc with your goals for that day.The Irish Water Spaniel is a relatively quiet dog for the most part. He seems to reserve his barking for times when it’s necessary to warn his family. His alert and inquisitive temperament makes him an excellent watchdog. While he’s usually devoted to the entire family, he may choose a particular person as his favorite.The Irish Water Spaniel’s dense coat does require some commitment to grooming on a regular basis. It must be brushed two to three times a week to prevent mats from forming. The natural oils in his water-repellent coat attract dirt and debris and hold it in the coat. Brushing helps to distribute the oil through the coat and removes any debris.An interesting characteristic is their webbed feet, which come in handy when they’re swimming. Irish Water Spaniels love to swim and will plunge into any nearby body of water if given half a chance. And they may not be ready to leave the water when you’re ready for them to. If you can provide this breed with opportunities to swim, do so! It’s great exercise for this high-energy dog.The Irish Water Spaniel can be the perfect companion for an active family with the time to socialize, train, and exercise him. He’ll be a devoted, loving member of the family and will entertain all with his clownish and mischievous attitude toward life. Your Irish Water Spaniel can be a hunting companion, conformation, obedience, agility, or rally competitor or just a friend and loving companion for everyone in the family.
- Can have life-threatening reaction to sulfa drugs, Ivermectin and vaccines especially the leptospirosis component.
- This is a breed that is probably not suitable for the first time dog owner because he can be headstrong, and an independent thinker.
- Irish Water Spaniels have lots of energy and need daily exercise.
- Not every Irish Water Spaniel can be trusted to get along with smaller pets.
- Socialization — exposure to many different people, places, sights, sounds, and experiences — at an early age is needed.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
- History:The exact origin of this breed as many others is debated among fanciers and shrouded in the mists of Ireland. The Irish Water Spaniel appeared in Ireland in the 1830s, mainly from the kennel of Justin McCarthy. His dog “Boatswain,” whelped in 1834, is credited with being the sire of the modern breed. Mr. McCarthy would never reveal the sources of his breeding and took the secret with him when he died. Speculation focuses on the early Barbet or Poodle-type dogs from France that could have come to Ireland and possibly Portuguese Water Dogs that arrived on Portuguese fishing boats. There were also two types of water spaniels in Ireland at the time, one of which sported a curly coat and could have contributed to the breed’s makeup.The first show classes for the breed were at a show in Birmingham in 1862, and in 1899 the first Irish Water Spaniel ran in a field trial. There were four Irish Water Spaniels entered in the first Westminster Kennel Club show in 1877.The Irish Water Spaniel remains an active, popular working and show dog in his native country. The breed came to the United States in the 1870s but has never had the popularity that he enjoys in Ireland. Today, the Irish Water Spaniel ranks 139th among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the American Kennel Club, a well-kept secret indeed.
- Size:The IWS is the tallest member of the spaniel family. Males are 22 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 55 to 65 pounds; females are 21 to 23 inches tall and weigh 45 to 60 pounds.
- Personality:True to his spaniel nature, the IWS is alert and inquisitive. Unlike many spaniels, however, he may be reserved toward strangers, although he should never be shy or aggressive. Irish Water Spaniels are highly trainable, but they’re independent thinkers and will do their best to get their own way whenever possible. This is especially true with young males testing their status. For this reason, they are probably not the best choice for a first-time dog owner who may not understand how to provide the guidance and sensible discipline this dog needs.Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who’s beating up his littermates or the one who’s hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who’s available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you’re comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.Like every dog, Irish Water Spaniels need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your IWS puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
- Health:Irish Water Spaniels are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Irish Water Spaniels will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Irish Water Spaniels, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you’re buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
- Cataracts: A cataract is an opacity on the lens of the eye that causes difficulty in seeing. The eye(s) of the dog will have a cloudy appearance. Cataracts usually occur in old age and sometimes can be surgically removed to improve the dog’s vision.
- Follicular Dysplasia: A group of syndromes that have hair loss and changes in coat quality in common. Hair loss in Irish Water Spaniels may first be noticed at 2 to 4 years of age over the back, and spreads slowly to most of the trunk. The coat change is progressive and permanent but has little effect on the dog’s health.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is caused by deficiencies of the hormone produced from the thyroid gland, which is found in the neck. The mild symptoms of the disease may be infertility. The more apparent signs of this disease are obesity, mental dullness, lethargy, drooping of the eyelids, low levels of energy and irregular heat cycles. The fur on the dog becomes course and brittle and begins to fall out, while the skin becomes tough and dark. It can be treated with a daily thyroid replacement and usually requires a lifetime treatment. A dog that is having daily treatment can live a full and happy life.
- Allergies: Allergies are a common ailment in dogs. Allergies to certain foods are identified and treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog’s diet until the culprit is discovered. Contact allergies are caused by a reaction to something that touches the dog, such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, or other chemicals. They are treated by identifying and removing the cause of the allergy. Inhalant allergies are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and mildew. The appropriate medication for inhalant allergies depends on the severity of the allergy. Ear infections are a common side effect of inhalant allergies.
- Entropion: This defect, which is usually obvious by six months of age, causes the eyelid to roll inward, irritating or injuring the eyeball. One or both eyes can be affected. If your IWS has entropion, you may notice him rubbing at his eyes. The condition can be corrected surgically if necessary when the dog reaches maturity.
- Paronychia: This condition is not well understood. It occurs in the dog’s toenails, and you will often see dogs with it chewing on their feet. The problem can occur in dogs who have had their nails trimmed regularly. The toenail’s inner core becomes mushy and may become infected with bacteria and fungus, causing a foul odor. Even without an infection present the disease will progress. The outer shell of the nail eventually falls off, exposing the quick. One or more toes may be affected. Treatment is necessary to avoid suffering. Some owners eliminate allergens in the diet and reported satisfactory results; other owners had the toes amputated.
- Distichiasis: This minor condition occurs when an additional row of eyelashes (known as distichia) grow on the oil gland in the dog’s eye and protrude along the edge of the eyelid. This irritates the eye, and you may notice your dog squinting or rubbing his eye(s). Distichiasis is treated surgically by freezing the excess eyelashes with liquid nitrogen and then remove them. This type of surgery is called cryoepilation and is done under general anesthesia.
- Megaesophagus: Megaesophagus is believed to be both a congenital disease and adult-onset disease in which the esophagus loses tone and dilates. This hinders the ability of the esophagus to transport food and can prevent breathing during swallowing. Dogs with megaesophagus often regurgitate food that has not reached the stomach. This is not a powerful active vomiting but more of a passive regurgitation where the food falls out of the dog’s mouth. It’s caused by nerve damage to the esophagus and in the case of young puppies the damage may improve as the dog grows. In adults, megaesophagus is usually preceded by another disease that causes nerve damage. The disease can be treated with medication and diet, but it’s difficult to manage and doesn’t always have good results.
- Epilepsy: This disorder causes mild or severe seizures. Epilepsy can be hereditary; it can be triggered by such events as metabolic disorders, infectious diseases that affect the brain, tumors, exposure to poisons, or severe head injuries; or it can be of unknown cause (referred to as idiopathic epilepsy). Seizures may be exhibited by unusual behavior, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. Epilepsy can be controlled with medication, but it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder. If your IWS has seizures, take him to the vet right away for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
- Vaccination Sensitivity: There are reports of Irish Water Spaniels suffering from sensitivity to routine vaccinations. Usually, signs include hives, facial swelling, soreness and lethargy. A dog that is sensitive to vaccines can develop complications or die, though this is rare. Watch your IWS carefully for a few hours after being vaccinated and call the vet if you notice anything unusual.
- Drug Sensitivity: Some breeds, including Irish Water Spaniels, show sensitivity to certain medications, including some antiparasitic and antibiotic drugs. Signs of this sensitivity range from tremors, depression, seizures, incoordination, hypersalivation, coma, and even death. Ask your veterinarian to become familiar with the drugs that can negatively affect the Irish Water Spaniel.
- Care:A hunting breed with a great deal of energy and stamina, the Irish Water Spaniel needs a yard to romp in and isn’t suited to apartment life. Give him at least an hour a day of running, long walks or hikes, or vigorous play such as retrieving a ball in the yard. If you have a pool or access to a lake, swimming is a great way for him to get exercise. Keep an eye on him just as you would a child, and be sure he knows how to get out of the pool safely. You can break up his activity into two or three 20- or 30-minute sessions throughout the day. As with any dog, don’t run him ragged in the heat of the day.Puppies have different exercise needs. From 9 weeks to 4 months of age, puppy kindergarten once or twice a week is a great way for them to get exercise, training, and socialization, plus 15 to 20 minutes of playtime in the yard, morning and evening. Throw a ball for them to fetch. From 4 to 6 months of age, weekly obedience classes and daily half-mile walks will meet their needs, plus playtime in the yard. From 6 months to a year of age, play fetch with a ball or Frisbee for up to 40 minutes during cool mornings or evenings, not in the heat of the day. Continue to limit walks to a half mile. After he’s a year old, your IWS pup can begin to jog with you, but keep the distance to less than a mile and give him frequent breaks along the way. As he continues to mature, you can increase the distance and time you run. These graduated levels of exercise will protect his developing bones and joints.Irish Water Spaniels work well with people, but they can be independent, with a mind of their own. Train them with kind but firm consistency, using positive reinforcements that include food rewards and praise. The IWS who’s treated harshly will simply become more stubborn and less willing to do your bidding. Your best bet is to keep training interesting. An Irish Water Spaniel will make his own entertainment if you don’t.
- Feeding:Recommended daily amount: 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.If you’re unsure whether your Irish Water Spaniel is overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can’t, he needs less food and more exercise.NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don’t all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you’ll need to shake into your dog’s bowl.For more on feeding your Irish Water Spaniel, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.
- Coat Color And Grooming:The Irish Water Spaniel has a double coat — a top coat and an under coat — with tight, crisp ringlets that cover the back, back, sides, and rear. Beneath the ribs the hair is longer, and curls and waves of hair cover the legs. Hair on the throat is short and smooth, forming a v-shaped patch. The curly body forms a sharp contrast with the smooth coat on the face, throat, toes, and tail. Speaking of the tail, it’s a striking characteristic of the breed. Wide at the root, where the tail meets the body, it tapers to a fine point. It’s covered with short, smooth hair and is known as a rat tail.The Irish Water Spaniel is always a solid liver color, described as deep reddish brown. You won’t see any white markings on him except for those due to graying from age.Irish Water Spaniels shed little to no hair, but they must be brushed two or three times a week to keep the coat from tangling or matting, as well as to keep it clean and healthy. The oil in the coat attracts debris and dirt. Regular brushing not only distributes the oil throughout the coat to keep the skin healthy but also removes the dirt and debris. The breed can be prone to ear infections due to the pendant earflap. In other words, those floppy ears hold in moisture, and the wet, warm environment is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Clean and dry the ears every time your IWS goes swimming.To do this, gently wipe out the ear — only the part you can see! — with a cotton ball moistened with a cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian. Never stick cotton swabs or anything else into the ear canal or you might damage it. Your IWS may have an ear infection if the inside of the ear smells bad, looks red or seems tender, or he frequently shakes his head or scratches at his ear.Brush your Irish Water Spaniel’s teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.Trim nails regularly if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they’re too long. Short, neatly trimmed nails keep the dog’s feet in good condition and keep your legs from getting scratched when your IWS enthusiastically jumps up to greet you.Begin accustoming your IWS to being brushed and examined when he’s a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you’ll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he’s an adult.As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.
- Children And Other Pets:Irish Water Spaniels do best with children if they are raised with them. Early socialization — exposure to a variety of peoples, places, sights, sounds, and situations — also helps. Always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.Irish Water Spaniels can get along well with other pets in the family if introduced to them at a young age. Otherwise, supervise them carefully. They are hunting dogs and may view smaller animals, especially birds, as prey. Protect pet birds even if you’re sure your IWS understands they’re off limits. Some spaniels can learn that, if they’re taught from puppyhood, but don’t assume that it will happen with every dog. You may always need to keep the two separated, if only so your IWS doesn’t pull your parakeet’s tail or your parrot won’t take a bite out of your Irish Water Spaniel’s sensitive nose.
- Rescue Groups:Irish Water Spaniels are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Irish Water Spaniels in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Irish Water Spaniel rescue.
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