Irish Water Spaniel

A Smart, Gun Dog Excellent, Affectionate Pet Has a Coat of Brown Ringlet

Irish Water Spaniel

A Smart, Gun Dog Excellent as a Water Retriever, This Affectionate Pet Has a Coat of Brown Ringlets

The Irish Water Spaniel is called a "spaniel," but is really a water retriever. This dog also makes a fine hunting companion and a fun and interesting member of the family. Highly energetic and personable, the Irish Water Spaniel is attractive physically as well, because of its curly, "crisp" coat. Although a people pleaser, the Irish Water Spaniel is no soft touch around strangers. With strangers, this dog will be reserved and may be shy or even skittish. However, once it gets to know your visitors, affection and love will rule the day.


The Irish Water Spaniel is said to be one of the most ancient breeds, dating back even to the Stone Age or Bronze Age. Historians base this supposition on the fact that dog skulls have been found by archaeologists at digs in Ireland and other places in Europe. However, even though it is thought that the Irish Water Spaniel is an ancient breed, the actual beginnings of the Irish Water Spaniel are shrouded in mystery.

The recent development of what is today the purebred Irish Water Spaniel perhaps began when smooth-tailed spaniels from Ireland were presented as gifts to nobility in Europe. One of them was a gift from the spymaster Sir Robert Cecil for Queen Elizabeth I to the king of France, in 1598.

In 1607, the book Historie of the Four-Footed Beastes discussed a "water spagnel" that had long, rough, curly hair and a "naked" tail. 150 years later, a Capt. Thomas Brown talked about the Irish Water Spaniel's curly, crisp coat and long ears.

Perhaps the most solid claim as the "first" modern Irish Water Spaniel goes to Boatswain, who lived from 1834 to 1852. He sired many show and hunting dogs during his long life span, perhaps thanks to his breeder, Justin McCarthy. Since McCarthy left no records, there is no definitive accounting of just what went into the breed, but it's been suggested that the Portuguese Water Dog, Standard Poodle, and Barbet may also be in the mix; Boatswain's actual pedigree is unknown, however. That said, he did give the breed its current look, and his son Jack, who was born in 1849, also sired many early pedigreed dogs. Rake, who was one of Boatswain's descendants, was photographed, and that picture shows many of the modern characteristics of the breed.

The Irish Water Spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1884 but is still quite rare, ranking 149th in registered breeds. Today it is a member of the AKC Sporting Group.


The largest of the spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel has a square, deep muzzle, a large, dark nose, and small, almond shaped eyes. The ears are long and set low, hanging close to the head. The Irish Water Spaniel has a deep, narrow chest with straight front legs and hindquarters that are slightly higher than the shoulders. It also has webbed feet – a trait originating as a result of its excellence as a water retriever – with a low set tail. In adulthood, Irish Water Spaniels weigh between 45 and 65 pounds and stand 20 to 23 inches at the shoulder. The coat is always brown.


The "smiling Irish Water Spaniel" is a laughable clown, eager to make loved ones laugh. However, this good humor does not automatically mean that the Irish Water Spaniel is the best dog for everyone. As a very serious hunter, this curious, eager, and smart canine will probably want to take control out of your hands if you're not ready to hold onto it. In addition, although the Irish Water Spaniel loves family and well-known friends, it can be a bit reserved and even shy around strangers and can be unhappy when left alone. Cats should usually not be in the same household with the Irish Water Spaniel since this dog really only prefers the company of dogs with whom it has been raised. The Irish Water Spaniel makes a very good watchdog.

This smart pet likes mental challenges and needs a lot of exercise. Start training this dog as a puppy the moment you bring it home, usually at about eight weeks. Socialization is also important, and it should be done early and often.

The Irish Water Spaniel is also not a pet to be left alone. If you're going to get this breed as a pet, make sure you have plenty of time to spend with it. Irish Water Spaniels can become destructive not because of spite but because they are lonely, angry, depressed, or bored if left alone.


Because this breed is a purebred, there are some health concerns to be aware of. Hip and elbow dysplasia, a condition called distichiasis (ingrown eyelashes) cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, hypothyroidism, epilepsy, and hair loss are common problems, as are ear infections. Part of the reason infections are such a problem is that the Irish Water Spaniel loves to get wet – as a true water retriever. The bare "rattail" is also quite easily injured.

Besides this, the Irish Water Spaniel is quite healthy and lives 10 to 12 years on average.

To avoid ear infections and damage to the coat and skin, make sure you give your pet a thorough rinse with fresh water after a dip in the pool, pond, ocean, etc. Interestingly – and attractively – it's worth noting that if you get your pet wet, its coat will dry in "ringlets" which are a distinctive feature of the Irish Water Spaniel.


The Irish Water Spaniel's coat is truly waterproof – as with most "water retriever" type dogs – and there is very little shedding to worry about. The coat itself is dense, thick, with a tightly curled, short, thick undercoat and long overcoat. Although the Irish Water Spaniel sheds slightly, the hair does not tend to stick to furniture or clothing.

Give your pet a good combing two or three times a week, and make sure the comb works its way all the way down to the skin so that any mats or tangles are removed. A slicker brush can remove loose hair. Give your pet a trim every 6 to 8 weeks, including around the footpads, for a neater look.


Irish Water Spaniel.

Retrieved March 18, 2015.

Irish Water Spaniel.

Retrieved March 18, 2015.

Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) (Whiptail).

Retrieved March 18, 2015.

Meet the Irish Water Spaniel.

Retrieved March 18, 2015.

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