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Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish Water Spaniel is an energetic, cheerful companion

This breed of Water Spaniel is the tallest on the American Kennel Club’s list of Spaniel breeds. It is also heavier than most spaniels, and is on the border between the AKC ‘Medium size dog breeds’ and ‘Large dog breeds’. It is recognizable for it’s ‘rat’ tail, which has no top coat hair on it except at the root, just very fine undercoat hair.

Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel, with its ‘rat’ tail

Irish Water Spaniel – Temperament

This a breed that loves to be active, and wants to please its owner. Like all retrievers, it was bred to fetch game from water and land and return it to the hunter. They are strong swimmers, and enjoy being in and around water.

Like all spaniels, they make good family pets, and generally do well with children. They have a lot of energy, and do best if they have a decent size back yard to run around in, plus walks or trips to the countryside. They are probably better suited to a rural setting, although they will be happy anywhere as long as they get enough exercise.

The Irish Water Spaniel can be unsure of strangers, and also may be somewhat intolerant of other dogs. These traits can be minimized by socializing the dog early on, introducing him to new people and other dogs as a puppy.

They usually do well with older children and other pets in the house as long as they have been introduced properly and are treated with respect. They may not do well with very small children.

Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel – Breed History

There are references to dogs that resemble todays Irish Water Spaniel dating back around 1000 years in Irish History. By the 1600’s spaniel dog breeds in Ireland were broadly separated into 2 families, the Land Spaniels and the Water Spaniels. And the family of Water Spaniels was made of of dogs from the North, appropriately called ‘North Country Water Spaniels’, and dogs from the South, called ‘South Country Water Spaniels’.

The 2 types of Water Spaniel at that time were quite distinct from each other, with the North Country Water Spaniel having short ears, a long curly coat, and a liver color with white markings. The South Country Water Spaniel had long ears with long hair on them, a shorter coat with crisper curls, and a solid liver color without any other markings.

It was a Dublin breeder and sportsman in the 1830s, Justin McCarthy, who developed the modern-day Irish Water Spaniel by crossing the South Country Water Spaniel with other breeds. He kept few records of the other breed involved, but speculation has involved the Poodle, the curly-Coated Retriever and the Barbet.

By 1859 McCarthy was showing his dogs in the show ring, and the breed was introduced to America in 1870, where it became very popular – in fact it was the 3rd most popular sporting breed in the USA in 1875.

Vital Statistics

Height;  22 inches to 24 inches (male);  21 inches to 23 inches (female)

Weight;  55 lbs to 68 lbs (male); 45 lbs to 58 lbs (female)

Life Span;  12 to 14 years



Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel

Ease of Training

The Irish Water Spaniel is relatively easy to train. This is an intelligent breed, and they pick up new ideas quickly. However this intelligence means that they may become bored if training sessions are too long or too repetitive. They respond well to shorter sessions of 10 to 15 minutes that involve fun games. This kind of session can be repeated 3 times a day.

We have a great page on the 7 best dog training books – take a look by clicking HERE!

When it comes to canine sports, the Irish Water Spaniel does well in agility trials, tracking, and in Flyball. Their gentle nature also means that they make great therapy dogs.


Although not naturally aggressive, the Irish Water Spaniel can be trained to be a good watchdog. They are alert and vigilant, and will bark to warn their owners if a stranger approaches. As they are the biggest spaniel,they have a surprisingly deep bark.

However, as a guard dog, they are not so good. They are not big enough to intimidate an unwanted intruder, although they will do their best to defend the family. If you want a dog to give you protection, I suggest you look for a different breed.


This breed has a tight double-layered coat. There is a thick, dense undercoat of fine hair, covered by an oily top coat that is water-resistant. They shed moderately, but have been found to be great for allergy sufferers. Because the top coat is made up of tight curls, and hairs that are shed tend to roll up into ‘hairballs’ that are easily swept up. The hairs do not become entangles in carpets, furniture or human clothing.

The AKC recommends a careful brushing at least once a week, and getting the coat trimmed about every 2 months. It’s possible to learn how to scissor trim your dog at home, or else you can take them to a professional dog groomer.

Health Considerations

The Irish Water Spaniel may have a bad reaction to 2 particular drugs that are often used in dogs, and they are antibiotics of the Sulfa class, and the de-worming drug Ivermectin.

Otherwise, they are generally healthy. Responsible breeders will have their dogs screened for the following conditions;

  •  Hip dysplasia
  •  Elbow dysplasia
  •  Thyroid disease
  •  Eye problems

Famous Irish Water Spaniels

I am not aware of any! If you know about a famous Irish Water Spaniel, please let me know by using the Contact Me link. Thank you!

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