Irish Water Spaniel

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Pros Cons
  • forms strong bonds with its family
  • good watchdog
  • loves children
  • intelligent
  • cheerful
  • prone to ear infections
  • requires a great amount of daily exercises
  • independent


The Irish Water Spaniel is the oldest and largest of all Spaniel breeds. The dog is characterized with its original so-called «rat tail», in other words its tail is thick and covered with very short hair. The Irish Water Spaniel is a good hunting companion. Also the dog is an excellent friend for people who like an active lifestyle.


Dogs resembling the Irish Water Spaniel are mentioned in the manuscripts dated VII and VIII centuries AD. It is known for certain that in the end of the year 1000 there were some similar spaniels that inhabited the area of the river Shannon in southern Ireland. They were called Shannon spaniels, rat-tail spaniels or whip-tail spaniels. There is also the information that the dog like this was presented to the King of France in 1600. These and other historical data provide convincing proofs that immediate forefathers of this breed inhabited these areas many hundreds of year before the middle of XIX century.

There is a version that the Irish Water Spaniel descended from the combination of the Poodle and Irish Setter or other Spaniel breeds. People used this breed as a hunting dog. Moreover the dog has perfect natural instincts that make it suitable for detection any drug and explosives.

The modern specimen of this breed appeared in the 1830s. It was the Irishman Justin McCarthy who raised this breed in 1834. McCarthy bred the dog called «Boatswain» that is considered as a precursor of the modern Irish Water Spaniel. Actually the breeder concealed the true pedigree of his dogs. It’s speculated though that the early Barbet, Poodle-type dogs and the Portuguese Water Dog played a significant role in its development. There were two varieties of a water spaniel in Ireland at that point, one of which possessed a wiry, wavy hair and could have been used in the breeding of the Irish Water Spaniel.

At the end of 1800s the dog appeared in the show ring in Britain and the USA. The first show where the Irish Water Spaniel participated was the show in Birmingham in 1862. In 1877 four representatives of the breed entered the first Westminster Kennel Club show.

In the 1870s the Irish Water Spaniel was popular and was appreciated as a hunting dog in the USA. The breed was recognized in 1884 by AKC (American Kennel Club). But later the dog became less popular and in our days it is considered as a rare breed. Nonetheless it’s still valued as a reliable working dog and frequently participates in dog shows in its homeland. With its amicable and staunch nature this dog also has the reputation of an excellent family pet.


The Irish Water Spaniel is very lively, intelligent and devoted. It is also a very playful, inquiring and responsive dog. Most of these dogs are characterized with exceptionally cheerful and even clownish nature. However, a lot of factors have influence on the dogs’ temperament, for example heredity, socialization and training. Despite its overall friendliness its specimen should be exposed to various people and situations since its puppyhood especially if you intend to keep it in a family with small children. The Irish Water Spaniel treats children kindly with who it is raised. Usually the dog is devoted to the whole family; nevertheless it may choose sometimes one member from family as its favorite.

The Irish Water Spaniel is relatively quiet in nature, reserved and shy around strangers, but it can be a perfect alert watchdog. On the other hand the dog should be timely taught good manners otherwise it may grow into an inappropriate greeter. It shouldn’t be trusted with a guarding task as it would rather hearty follow an intruder into the house than show necessary aggression.

The Irish Water Spaniel is a good friend for other pets in the family if they know each other from their infancy. But as the dog is still a hunter and may take small animals as a prey and injure them. That is why you have to watch your pet carefully. This breed tends to have serious issues with other canines especially of the same sex. So it’s advisable to keep this dog securely leashed when it’s being walked in public places.

Health Problems

The most common problems with health include:

  • canine hip dysplasia;

  • hypothyroidism;

  • eye problems;

  • ear infections;

  • allergies;

  • paronychia;

  • distichiasis;

  • megaesophagus.


The Irish Water Spaniel’s coat consists of an undercoat and a topcoat. It is necessary to brush it two or three times a week in order to prevent forming of mats. Besides that brushing is helpful for removing any dirt and debris that accumulate into dog’s waterproof oiled coat.

The breed is disposed to ear infections. So, clean gently its ears with a cotton pad moistened with a cleaning solution every time after swimming. Anyway it’s essential to check and clean the ears of your pet once or twice every week for their overall good health. A regular tooth brushing is highly effective in averting the accumulation of tartar on their surface. Remember to trim the dog’s nails monthly if it doesn’t wear them down in a natural way.


Generally the Irish Water Spaniel learns fast and easily. This spaniel is very intelligent and can solve complicated tasks. Its training requires diversity as the breed tends to get bored quickly.

The Irish Water Spaniel needs a strong and dominant authority figure for its training when it is a puppy yet, as the dog obeys only the person in whom it recognizes the most dominant figure.

The dog can be independent in its mind and stubborn. Therefore you must train it patiently and firmly. And certainly do not forget about sense of humor, because the breed is known for its clownish and mischievous attitude towards life.


The Irish Water Spaniel is very energetic, because it is originally and historically a hunting breed. So this dog needs a lot of daily exercises.

Breed members love swimming, taking walks or running. It is necessary to give the dog at least an hour a day of running, long walking, swimming and retrieving a ball or other different things that you like. Your dog remains satisfied if you will pay enough attention to its exercises.

The bored specimen of the Irish Water Spaniel can become highly destructive and disobedient in a home environment so make sure to provide your pet with enough opportunities to burn its excessive energy.