Irish Water Spaniel

"Extreme Swimmer"

Photo of Irish Water Spaniel


As early as the 1100s, books referenced dogs resembling Irish Water Spaniels. By the 1600s, references to Rat-Tail Spaniels, Whip-Tail Spaniels, and even the actual name Irish Water Spaniel were all occasionally mentioned in print, and supposedly, someone presented the King of France with an Irish Water Spaniel. By this time, several similar water spaniels called Ireland home, most notably the Southern Irish Spaniel, also called McCarthy's Spaniel. One particular dog named Boatswain, in the 1800s, had such an influence on the breed that he is credited with being the progenitor of the Irish Water Spaniel as we know it. Among the first breeds exhibited in dog shows, Irish Water Spaniels were the third most popular sporting breed in England in 1875. The AKC recognized them in 1940, but they've never been particularly popular in the U.S. They are currently ranked 152nd out of 155 breeds.


Ebullient, energetic, and enthusiastic, the Irish Water Spaniel is among the most playful of breeds. He has a non-stop sense of humor, and always seems to be working on a joke--sometimes a joke of impressive complexity. He's smart, but can be stubborn. His passions are swimming and retrieving, and if he can do these while hunting, he's in Water Spaniel heaven. The Irish Water Spaniel is generally an amiable dog, but he cares much more for his family than for strangers. He's fine with other dogs and pets, and makes a great companion for children.


At first glance the Irish Water Spaniel might look like a brown Poodle with a whip tail, but don't let that curly coat, which is actually a double coat of crisp ringlets, fool you. The Irish Water Spaniel is slightly longer than tall, with a head of moderate proportions and almond-shaped hazel eyes. The ears are long and set low and the line from shoulder to tail should be level or slightly higher in the rear. A distinctive Irish feature is the rat tail, which is thick and covered with curls at the base only, then tapers to a fine point at the end. The Irish Water Spaniel carries his tail nearly level with the back.


A bright, quick learner, the Irish Water Spaniel also has a stubborn streak and thinks he knows best, so training requires lots of positive rewards in the form of treats or games, plus an occasional firm hand when he seems to be taking advantage of the situation. Socialization is important, as a few Irish Water Spaniels can be timid unless exposed to lots of friendly people and new situations while young.

Grooming & Care

Curly coats take a little extra work, and the Irish Water Spaniel needs a detailed combing two or three times a week to prevent mats or even dreadlock-like cords. Shed hairs tend to stay in the coat rather than falling off, which helps keep the house clean but increases the chance of mats, so get that hair out! For an even neater appearance, the Irish needs occasional scissoring, and some people may prefer to let a professional groomer handle this task. Trim nails, brush teeth, and keep ears clean and dry. Irish Water Spaniels also need a lot of activity--at least an hour a day of strenuous exercise, plus a short training session. A tired Irish is a good Irish.

Health Concerns

The Irish Water Spaniel's major health concerns are hip dysplasia and ear infections.Distichiasis, in which eyelashes touch the cornea, can also sometimes be a problem.Any dogs intended for breeding should receive an OFA hip screening first. Ask your breeder about these issues, and request a copy of the OFA results.

Famous Irish Water Spaniel

Ch. Oaktree's Irishtocrat introduced the breed to the public when he won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club in 1979.

Ideal Owner
Activity Level 32
Schedule 6
Home 9
Children 48
Experience 51
Quick Facts
Grooming 57
Exercise 60
Challenges Needs a lot of activity and a job to do.
Height 21 to 24 inches
Weight 45 to 65 pounds
Life 10 to 12 years
Home Alone 83
With Kids 86
With Strangers 91
Availability 95

This client information sheet is based on material written by: LifeLearn

© Copyright 2014 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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