Irish Water Spaniel

Breed Group: Sporting

Temperament and Behavior

True to his name, the Irish Water Spaniel loves water and is an excellent swimmer in addition to being a skilled hunter and retriever. A loving and devoted dog, he needs an active family who can provide the daily mental and physical stimulation he needs. He loves romping in a fenced yard and any opportunity for his favorite activity– swimming. Irish Water Spaniels are intelligent, alert and enthusiastic; they are also mischievous and natural clowns. Rowdy and exuberant when they are young, Irish Water Spaniels can become destructive if left alone for too long or do not receive enough exercise. They generally get along well with other pets in the household, although males may show aggression toward other male dogs. With appropriate socialization to control their zeal, Irish Water Spaniels can be live in a household with older children. Often reserved with strangers and never afraid to bark, they make an exceptional watchdog with many having protective instincts. They seem unusually adept at perceiving human moods and emotions. Some lines are timid and nervous.

Physical Characteristics

The largest of the Spaniels, Irish Water Spaniels range in height from 22 to 24 inches and weigh between 55 and 65 pounds. His curly coat is solid brown with a distinctive purple hue. The curly outer “waterproof” coat is lined with a dense undercoat, which helps insulate the dog while he swims. They need to be brushed at least twice a week to avoid mats and with proper attention paid to grooming, they shed little if at all. To avoid infections, dry their ears carefully after swimming. The most distinguishing characteristic of the breed is their long “rat-like” tail, which contrasts with their curly coat. They thrive in temperatures associated with a temperate climate.

Trainer's Notes

To reduce the chance for shyness, early socialization is essential. Exposure to other pets and children is also important, especially if they will be part of the family. Although of average intelligence, Irish Water Spaniels are somewhat of a challenge to train. While reasonably attentive and responsive, they are simultaneously both stubborn and independent. They need leadership and consistency provided by an assertive trainer who establishes himself early on as “alpha”. This training will likely need to be reinforced as the dog matures. Because of this, they are not a good choice for a passive or novice dog owner.

Photo © by Pleple2000 available under the CC BY-SA 3.0
Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel


Irish Water Spaniels are reasonably healthy but Hip Dysplasia affects about 1 in 6 dogs with Elbow Dysplasia impacting another 1 out of 8 animals. Ask about Hypothyroidism in the line before you commit to purchasing a puppy. The breed can have a life-threatening reaction to Ivermectin or any sulfa drug. Their life expectancy is 10 to 12 years.


The Irish Water Spaniel ranks 136th among the American Kennel Club breeds in popularity. With fewer than 200 dogs registered per year, they are a rare breed. To get a pup, prospective owners should expect to be put on a waiting list.

Breed History

The Irish Water Spaniel has ancient roots in European water dogs; his closest relative is the Poodle. This breed has been well respected through history and is even mentioned by Shakespeare in the Two Gentlemen of Verona. The modern breed was developed in Ireland in the 1830s where it gained a reputation for retrieving in frigid water. During the 1800s they became popular as a duck hunter in the United States. The breed is classified as a retriever by the AKC which allows them to participate in field events.

Additional Information

The National (US) Breed Club is the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America.

Is An Irish Water Spaniel THE BEST Dog For YOU?

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