Irish Water Spaniel

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The sporting Irish Water Spaniel is highly intelligent and independent with long loose curly coats and a smooth "rat tail."

Breed Snapshot

Life Expectancy:
12 to 13 years
Size:

Large

Maintenance Level:

Medium

Shed Level:

Very Low

Temperament:
Quick-LearnerHardworkingNatural Athlete
Coat Color:
Rich LiverDark LiverPuce Liver

Best For

Irish Water Spaniels are best for homes that can dedicate significant time to grooming, training and exercising. These high-energy pups thrive on playtime and are usually kid-friendly.

Irish Water Spaniel Traits

What makes the Irish Water Spaniel an Irish Water Spaniel? Let's find out how they stack up.

Irish Water Spaniel Temperament

Highly intelligent, funny and playful, Irish Water Spaniels are sporting dogs at heart, bred to retrieve fowl during hunting, and love exercise that incorporates games. They’ll even make a game out of training and often change the rules to amuse themselves. Teaching them to fetch? Expect them to find something else entirely different to fetch than what you threw, or to make a lot of stops on the way back to you. It’s no wonder they have a reputation for being a class clown.

With their athletic abilities and love of retrieving, they should be kept on a leash outside in case a squirrel catches their eye. Otherwise, you may have a runaway dog on your hands.

Irish Water Spaniels are very rarely aggressive, although they may be cautious around strangers. Early exposure to plenty of other dogs and people ensures this breed will live up to their friendly tendencies and help them be more comfortable in new situations, people and other dogs. And while they’re quiet in nature, they will alert you when something’s amiss, making them great watchdogs.

Irish Water Spaniels are almost always good with kids—they’re naturally playful, and their goofy antics will delight children of all ages. Start socializing your dog while in puppyhood to help bring out their friendly tendencies.

How to Care for a Irish Water Spaniel

Raising a healthy and happy Irish Water Spaniel dog means spending time on daily exercise, grooming and training—all of which is an excellent way to spend your time building your bond with your pup.

Irish Water Spaniel Health

Irish Water Spaniels have a life expectancy of 12 to 13 years, but they can experience a number of health issues. Here are a few of the potential health problems to know about in advance to help your pup stay healthy.

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: Dysplasia occurs when the joint isn’t formed properly and rubs, causing the dog pain. Both hip and elbow dysplasia can range from mild to severe, with some dogs developing a noticeable limp at a young age. Be sure the parents of your Irish Water Spaniel puppy have been screened for genetic/inheritable conditions when purchasing from a breeder. Vets can conduct X-rays to diagnose hip and elbow issues. Treatment plans vary based on the severity of the condition.
  • Eye Problems: Irish Water Spaniels occasionally have malformed eyelashes called distichiasis. This can irritate the eyes and may eventually cause corneal ulcers. Mild cases can be treated with medicated eye drops; more severe cases may need surgery. Some dogs also get cataracts as they age. Vigilance with eye exams during annual vet visits is important to detect these issues and determine an appropriate treatment plan, which varies depending upon the specific issue.
  • Epilepsy: Some Irish Water Spaniels suffer from epilepsy. This may be an inherited condition, and the first seizure may happen between 6 months and 3 years old. Your vet can assess medication options to help keep seizures under control.
  • Hypothyroidism: This is a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. Signs include weight loss without increased appetite, lethargy and dull hair with increased shedding. Luckily, vets can treat it easily with daily medication. When detected early, it usually doesn’t change a dog’s quality of life.
  • Ear Infections: Those long curly ears you love cover the ear canals, making cleaning important—especially after swimming; the water left behind can lead to infection. Your vet can teach you how to clean them to help prevent ear infections.
  • Skin Issues: Allergies, skin infections and follicular dysplasia, which causes hair loss, may affect this breed. Infection under the toenails can also be common. Regular grooming can help keep Irish Water Spaniels’ coats clean and their skin healthy.
  • Tail Injuries: The Irish Water Spaniel tail is naturally bare and may be susceptible to injuries like “Happy Tail Syndrome” (an injured tail caused by vehement wagging into a hard surface) or chapping. Injured tails should be examined by your vet and treated based on their assessment.
  • Obesity: This breed can be prone to excessive weight gain if they’re not getting enough exercise. Happily, this is an easy problem to avoid or treat—daily exercise, a healthy diet and consistent trips to the vet can keep any Irish Water Spaniel health issues related to weight in check.

Irish Water Spaniel History

Irish Water Spaniels were originally bred to be companion hunting dogs who fetch and return game, but the exact origin of the breed is a bit murky. There may be some Poodle and Portuguese Water Dog in the lineage, and legend tells of a dog native to Ireland who may be part of the breed’s modern incarnation.

But at least part of the breed’s history is well documented: Back in the 1830s, a Dublin sportsman named Justin McCarthy, who wanted to standardize the breed, refined two different types of spaniel—the South Country Water Spaniel and the North Country Water Spaniel—into the Irish Water Spaniel. Boatswain, his beloved pup, became the first official Irish Water Spaniel purebred.

By 1859, this new kind of spaniel began to appear in dog shows. The breed came to the United States in the 1870s, where it became a popular sporting dog. It was one of just nine breeds to be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) as early as 1878, six years before the club’s official establishment. The organization recognized the breed in 1884 after the club was founded. Today, the Irish Water Spaniel breed is still considered relatively rare.

Looking to add an Irish Water Spaniel to your home? You can find a list of reputable breeders on the American Kennel Club website. Irish Water Spaniel puppy prices start at around $1,500. For that price, you’ll likely get a pup who’s been screened for health and temperament issues and may come with pedigree papers. If you’d like to adopt a pup, contact the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America or keep an eye out for the breed at your local shelter.

FAQs

Do Irish Water Spaniels shed?

Irish Water Spaniel don’t shed much. In fact, their shedding is minimal to nonexistent. Because of their minimal shedding, they may be a good choice for allergy sufferers.

Are Irish Water Spaniels good family dogs?

Yes, Irish Water Spaniels are good family dogs. Thanks to this breed’s playful nature, high intelligence and eagerness to please, raising an Irish Water Spaniel with kids in the home can be a win-win for all—the tots get a playmate, and the pup gets a willing friend or two for daily games of fetch.

Are Irish Water Spaniels aggressive?

Irish Water Spaniels are not aggressive by nature and very rarely bite unprovoked. However, they will attack any toy with abandon during a rousing game of fetch.

How big do Irish Water Spaniels get?

Irish Water Spaniels get fairly big; they’re considered large dogs by the AKC. They can get up to 24 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 58 pounds.

Do Irish Water Spaniels bark a lot?

Irish Water Spaniels don’t bark a lot. They’re generally mild-mannered and quiet. They don’t tend to be big barkers, although they are watchful and alert, making them excellent watchdogs.

What are the most popular Irish Water Spaniel names?

Some common names for Irish Water Spaniels include Duchess, Holly, Chloe, Charlie, Oscar, Jack, Paddy, Maggie, Murphy, Teddy, Lady, Pepper, Shamrock, Rudy, Lucky, Kerry, Guinness, Rory, Shandy and Madra (which is Gaelic for dog). Get more dog names here.

What are the most common Irish Water Spaniel mixes?

The most common Irish Water Spaniel mixes are:

  • Irish Water Spaniel-Labrador mix
  • Irish Water Spaniel-Poodle mix
  • Irish Water Spaniel-Cocker Spaniel mix
  • Irish Water Spaniel-German Pinscher mix
  • Irish Water Spaniel-Greyhound mix
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Top Takeaways

The high-energy Irish Water Spaniel will love being by your side for rigorous hikes or fun and games. This smart, independent spaniel can be a bit of a class clown with a flair for puzzle-solving—or mischief-making. Pet parents should be prepared to spend time on this breed’s coiffed coat, as well as on training a clever pup. Your Irish Water Spaniel will be a loving family pet or best friend if you love a good dip—and doggy paddle—in the lake, river or ocean.

Expert input provided by veterinarian Dr. Cori Wigfall, DVM, BVM and veterinary spokesperson of SpiritDog Training, as well as certified dog trainer Kate LaSala, CTC, CBCC-KA, PCBC-A, CSAT, owner of Rescued By Training.

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