Choosing an Irish Water Spaniel

Choosing an Irish Water Spaniel

Breed details and history of Irish Water Spaniels.Breed details and history of Irish Water Spaniels.
Breed details and history of Irish Water Spaniels.Breed details and history of Irish Water Spaniels.

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The Irish water spaniel is the tallest of the spaniels and is now considered a rare breed. Excelling in swimming, this spaniel is well known for retrieving in very cold water.

History and Origin

As the name implies, the Irish water spaniel originated in Ireland in the mid 1800s to retrieve game in water but he also does a good job retrieving on land. The breed’s origins are uncertain and some feel that the poodle, Irish setter and curly-coated retriever all contributed.

Best known for his hardiness in cold frigid waters, the Irish water spaniel was brought to the United States in the 1870s. In 1875 the breed was one of America’s most popular sporting dogs and was most often used for duck hunting but his popularity has been replaced by the Labrador Retriever and the Irish water spaniel is now considered an uncommon and rare breed.

In 1878, the Irish water spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club as a member of the sporting group.

Appearance and Size

The Irish water spaniel is a medium sized dog but the largest of the spaniels. The breed has a large head with a long, square muzzle and a top knot of curls. The eyes are hazel and almond shaped and the ears are long, set low and covered with lots of long curly hair. The tail is set low and carried level with the back. It is referred to as a “rat tail”. The base is covered with curly hair then the hairs are short and smooth as the tail tapers to the end.

The coat of the Irish water spaniel is his most distinguishing characteristic. The majority of the body is covered with tight ringlets of hair. The face, tail and ends of the rear legs have short, smooth hair. The color of the coat is liver.

The adult Irish water spaniel stands around 10 to 23 inches at the shoulder and weighs about 45 to 65 pounds.


The Irish water spaniel is a smart and confident breed. Most are loving and gentle with a few having an independent streak. This spaniel needs early socialization to reduce the risk of nervousness and snapping.

Home and Family Relations

A devoted and loving breed, the Irish water spaniel can do well in a family setting with older children but some tend to be more attached to one member of the family. This breed can be hesitant around strangers and some make good watch dogs.

The Irish water spaniel prefers to live in the country or an area with lots of space to exercise. They love to retrieve and to swim. This breed can do well with other pets if raised with them but some tend to be aggressive toward other dogs.


The Irish water spaniel is very intelligent and easy to train but some can be stubborn. They are naturally excellent swimmers.

Special Concerns

The Irish water spaniel can be stubborn and independent. They require lots of socialization to prevent timid behaviors and fear aggression. Some can be aggressive toward other dogs.


Common Diseases and Disorders

In general, the Irish water spaniel is a healthy dog with few medical concerns. However, the following diseases or disorders have been reported:

  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness and arthritis.
  • Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that develops between the ages of 2 to 5 years.
  • Megaesophagus is a condition where there is decreased or absent muscular contractions of the esophagus.
  • Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland does not function adequately. Without enough thyroid hormone, illness can occur.
  • Entropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes inward rolling. Lashes on the edge of the eyelid irritate the surface of the eyeball and may lead to more serious problems.
  • Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.The Irish water spaniel is also prone to skin allergies and ear infections.

    Life Span

    The average life span of the Irish water spaniel is approximately 10 to 12 years.

    We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.

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