Irish Water Spaniel

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Life span

12 Years


26 Kg


Gun Dogs

Irish Water Spaniel Overview

The Irish Water Spaniel is a medium-sized gundog that originates in Ireland and was originally bred to retrieve game birds from water. It is the largest and one of the oldest of spaniel breeds. It has the general appearance of a smart, strongly built, compact dog that possesses strong hunting abilities, endurance and versatility, an all-around gundog fit for all types of shooting, particularly in wildfowling. The Irish Water Spaniel is often described as alert, cheerful, initially aloof but affectionate to its owner, energetic, intelligent with a charming sense of humour and a steady disposition. Among the easily recognizable physical characteristics of the breed are long, oval-shaped ears that hang close to cheeks covered with long twisted curls, and a rat tail (short, thick at root and tapers to a fine point with around 10cms covered by close curls then stops abruptly, with the remainder bare or covered by short fine hairs). The coat is a densely rich, dark liver with purplish tint (puce-liver) made of tight, crisp ringlets free from woolliness which covers the entire body and adorned by a “top-knot” above the head. The ideal height of dogs is between 53cm and 58cm while bitches are between 51cm to 56cm in height.

Irish Water Spaniel Characteristics

Size InformationIntelligence
  • 4
Size InformationExercise Needs
  • 5
Size InformationDogs Health
  • 2
Size InformationChild Friendly
  • 5
Size InformationApartment
  • 3
Size InformationShedding
  • 1
Size InformationGrooming Needs
  • 3
Size InformationBarking
  • 4
Size InformationAlone
  • 3
Size InformationTrainability
  • 5
Size InformationEnergy Levels
  • 5
Size InformationDog friendly
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History & Origin

The exact history and origin of the Irish Water Spaniel is clouded in obscurity but archaeological digs done in Ireland during the 1930s revealed the remains of dogs similar to the modern-day Irish Water Spaniel. These remains dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries AD proves that the breed has a very ancient lineage. Most dog experts believe that it is probable that the development of the modern breed dates back to the late 1100s and it is probable that the Irish Water Spaniel developed from crosses of some or all of these breeds: the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, native Irish Spaniel, French Barbet, Irish Setter and the English Water Spaniel. It is reported that Sir Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury sent an Irish Water Spaniel to the King of France in 1598. Edward Topsell also described the Irish Water Spaniel in his book “History of Four-footed Beasts” in 1607, while the first painting of the breed was made in 1841. It was a dog named “Boatswain” who lived between the early 1830s to 1852, that is widely regarded as being the foundation of all the Irish Water Spaniels that we know today.

Irish Water Spaniel Temperament

The Irish Water Spaniel is regarded as an alert, cheerful, energetic, intelligent, and lively breed. It has the natural instinct of wanting to please its master and has a reputation of sometimes being a “clown dog” of the spaniel world. It also makes a good guard dog with proper training and will protect its human at all costs. However, it is usually not an aggressive dog and will not usually bite unless provoked or threatened. It has a deep, fierce-sounding bark which the dog use to warn strangers and would-be attackers.

Irish Water Spaniel Training

Training the Irish Water Spaniel is on the easy to moderate side of the scale. It is an intelligent breed, always wanting to please its owner, and has a keen sense of working as a team member which makes it relatively easy to train and discipline. A lot of owners train their Irish Water Spaniels not only in hunt tests and field trials but also in obedience trials, rally obedience, dog agility contests, tracking trials, flyball, or in the conformation show ring. Training and socialisation should be done early in the dog’s life in order to raise a well-balanced adult Irish Water Spaniel.


Grooming the Irish Water Spaniel involves thorough combing of the coat at least every 1 to 2 weeks. Combing or brushing helps promote proper blood circulation which keeps the skin healthy and free from diseases. Trimming should be done every 6 to 8 weeks to keep the coat neat-looking. Regular checking of the ears, teeth, and nails is also necessary to prevent allergies and other irritants from harming the dog.


The Irish Water Spaniel has an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. This is an average for dogs of similar size. The breed is prone to the following health issues:

  • Otitis externa - also known as swimmer’s ear is an inflammation of the ear canal which causes swelling of the ear canal and ear pain. This swelling occasionally causes decreased hearing;
  • Canine hip dysplasia – the abnormal formation of the hip socket that can cause crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the joints;
  • Distichiasis – is the abnormal rise of an eyelash on the eyelid, mainly caused by genetic mutation

Major issues include:

  • Nail bed disease – is an infection that causes inflammation around the nail or claw usually brought about by fungal infection;
  • Seizures – an abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain which causes uncontrolled jerking movement or momentary loss of awareness;
  • Megaesophagus – the generalised enlargement of the oesophagus; a condition where peristalsis fails to occur properly.

Irish Water Spaniel Exercise Needs

Although the Irish Water Spaniel is an active breed, it will also be happy to snooze on the couch all day. However, regular long walks or an hour of daily exercises are essential for the breed in order to stay strong and healthy. An insufficiently exercised dog, like most breeds, can develop unwanted (sometimes destructive) behaviour which can cause problems around the house or even with neighbours. Some dogs channel boredom through digging, chewing, hyperactivity, and excessive barking. The Irish Water Spaniel can live in an apartment as long as it is given sufficient exercises regularly.

Children and other pets

Individual dogs have individual personalities. While some Irish Water Spaniels may be all-around people-loving dogs, some may be wary of strangers. Conversely, not all Irish Water Spaniels can be trusted to get along with other canines and household pets, but like with other dogs, early and proper socialisation is the key to correcting this behaviour. In general, it is usually excellent with older children who knows how to treat and respect a dog. However, adult supervision is necessary whenever the breed is around very small children.