Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Irish Water Spaniel may look like a brown poodle, but don’t let its top coating deceive you. While it resembles dogs under the family tree of poodles, there is no exact data that specifically points out this breed as a poodle-type dog.

A perfect pet companion for well-experienced and highly active owners, the Irish Water Spaniel is high-spirited in nature. Whether it’s playing in the backyard or chasing smaller pets, its enthusiasm level always spikes up. Plus, it was genetically gifted with characteristics that outshine other breeds, making it a popular dog of choice in competitions and agility shows.

But while it may be good at doing a lot of things, it excels the most in retrieving objects both in land and in water.  A true joy in the household, this dog breed won’t only promise you loyal companionship, but it can also keep up with your love for life.

Breed characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
Health IssuesBelow Average
GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog Breed Group:Sporting Dogs
Height:1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet tall at the shoulder
Weight: About 45 to 65 pounds
Life Span: 10 to 12 years on an average

The Irish Water Spaniel may look as sweet as a poodle, but there is definitely more to this breed than what meets the eye. While it resembles toy dogs, it is tough and competitive in the hunting arena. Originally bred in Ireland as a water retriever, this dog breed is also an excellent pointing and hunting dog. It has strong swimming skills, and it is popular in a variety of upland games such as grouse, quail and pheasant.

But aside from its incredible hunting capabilities and undeniable charm, the Irish Water Spaniel can also brag about its high-spirited personality. It can find joy in the simplest and the most boring tasks as it is fun-loving in nature. With a sense of humor that can give monkeys a run for their money, this dog breed can bring sheer joy in any household.

In addition to that, the Irish Water Spaniel is intelligent, energetic and willing to learn. Throughout the years, it developed a strong desire to please its human companions, which explains its high trainability level. As long as its owners use a positive rewards system, it can easily learn new and challenging tricks. However, since it is a kid at heart, its playful side can always resurface during trainings and shows, leaving unmet goals behind. But with patience and consistency, owners can help their dogs become more focused on their goals.

Inside the household, this breed is quiet and reserved. Although it has a strong desire to play, it is alert at all times, making it an exceptional watchdog. Its barking tendency is extremely low, but it will not hesitate to bark once it senses danger lurking around the household.

Lastly, the Irish Water Spaniel is an intelligent, highly skilled dog that perfectly fits active owners. Just like other sporting breeds, this dog’s innate skills still need to be unlocked, making early training and socialization crucial for its holistic development. The best thing about this breed is that it is always a puppy at heart. Because of its intense love for fun and undeniable sense of humor, it can invite warmth and happiness inside any home.

Main Highlights
  • Intelligent and independent, this dog breed requires firm guidance. Since it has a tendency to become disobedient, it is not ideal for first-time dog owners.
  • It has a high energy level, making daily exercise necessary so it won’t act disturbingly inside the home.
  • This dog breed reacts negatively to sulfa drugs, Ivermectin and vaccines. In worst case scenarios, the adverse reaction can lead to a life-threatening condition.
  • Early socialization is needed for this breed to become well-rounded.
  • Since it was originally bred to hunt, it has an instinct to chase after smaller animals and pets.
  • Regular grooming is required to avoid mat formation.
Breed History

Just like some breeds, the exact origin of the Irish Water Spaniel is still a mystery. According to studies, the first dog that appeared in this breed line was named Boatswain, a dog from the kennel of Justin McCarthy. However, McCarthy did not reveal the breed mixes of his dog, making it difficult to readily identify the ancestors of the Irish Water Spaniel.

Since Boatswain first appeared in the 1830’s, studies on the breed origin focused on the dogs that bore similarities to the Irish Spaniel during that time. While some spectators believe that it is a product of a cross breed amongst Poodle-type dogs that originated from France, others think that its ancestor includes Portuguese Water Dogs. Aside from these, there are also other water retrieving breeds in Ireland during that time—one of these is a curly coated dog that may have contributed to the breed’s outer coating.

While the breed was introduced to the U.S. in the 1870’s, it did not become as popular as it is in its home country, Ireland. Despite this, it remains to be a loyal, active dog that is loved by its native owners.


Being the tallest breed under the spaniel family, a male Irish Water Spaniel stands 22 to 24 inches tall and weighs around 55 to 65 pounds. Its average female counterpart, on the other hand, is about 2 inches shorter. Also, females weigh approximately 45 to 60 pounds.

Personality and Character

Intelligent and playful, the Irish Water Spaniel can definitely light up any household. It is cheerful in nature, making it a natural-born entertainer. Aside from its enthusiasm in participating in activities, it also finds joy in the simplest things. Indeed, this breed can remind us that the best things in life are free.

In addition to bringing joy to the lives of its human companions, this dog breed is also an excellent watchdog. It is alert and wary in nature, and it will not hesitate to bark to alert its owners on possible danger lurking around their home.

Also, this dog breed offers loyal companionship to all the members of the household. While it may have a tendency to have a personal favorite in the family, it does not change the fact that this dog breed can become a highly reliable companion of everyone in its home.

Health and Potential Problems

Like other dog breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel is also susceptible to a variety of health disorders. While not all dogs under this breed may have to deal with these medical conditions, it is vital for owners to be aware of the conditions that can affect their canine pals.

If you are considering an Irish spaniel, find a breeder that can offer documents that serve as proof that the puppy, along with the parents, is cleared from certain disabilities.

To help you become a better steward of this breed, below are some of the health conditions common to its bloodline:

  • Hip Dysplasia: A genetically acquired disorder common amongst spaniels, hip dysplasia is a condition usually manifested as the dog ages. It is a health disorder wherein the femur does not fit perfectly into the socket, and it can occur even without clinical manifestations. It is prohibited to breed an IWS with this condition, so it is vital for aspiring owners to look for a health clearance from the breeder.
  • Drug and Vaccine Sensitivity: To avoid complications, dog owners must be extra cautious as this breed reacts negatively towards sulfa drugs, Ivermectin and vaccines. While signs of drug sensitivity include hypersalivation, depression, tremors, incoordination and seizures, symptoms of vaccine sensitivity consists of facial swelling, hives, lethargy and soreness. If any of these signs appear, owners must consult their veterinarian right away as extreme sensitivity can potentially cause death.
  • Allergies: Many dog breeds suffer from allergies, and the Irish Water Spaniel is not exempted to this vulnerability. There are primarily 3 types of allergies—food, contact and airborne allergies. While the first can be avoided by prohibiting certain food substances that the dog is allergic to, contact allergies can be prevented by identifying allergens that could range from flea powders to dog soaps to furniture rags. Airborne allergens, on the other hand, may arise from the presence of pollen, mildew or dust. In this case, owners should consult a veterinarian so they can identify the cause of the allergic reaction.
  • Follicular Dysplasia: Hair loss is common amongst the Irish Water Spaniel’s bloodline. The coat thinning usually starts as the dog ages and hits 2 years of age. The thinning typically begins from the back and progresses to the trunk. Unfortunately, the thinning is permanent, but it does not affect the dog’s overall health.
  • Entropion: A medical condition characterized by the inward rolling of the eyelid, Entropion typically affects the lower eyelid of the dog. It typically affects both eyelids, and it can cause vision impairment and eye irritation. Clinical manifestations include the frequent tearing of the eyes. Also, if the dog frequently rubs its eyes, then this condition is highly likely. If owners suspect entropion, they should consult with their veterinarians immediately.
  • Cataracts: The signs and symptoms of cataracts in humans are similar in our canine pals. It starts with cloudy spots on the eye lens that grow over time. Typically, this condition worsens as the dog ages. The worst part is, it can cause complete vision loss. Once the dog has been examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist, a surgery can be conducted to successfully remove the cataract.
Care Features

A breed characterized by its high stamina level, the Irish Water Spaniel requires daily exercise and is not suitable for apartment life. To keep its energy level from spiking up and causing havoc in the home, owners need to let it play or run in the yard for at least an hour a day. Owners who have direct access to a pool can also let their pet companion swim so it can get its much-needed exercise.

However, owners must not over-exercise their pets the same way that they should not let their dog exercise under the sun’s blazing heat. Instead, it is best for owners to walk their canine pals during cool, breezy mornings. In addition, owners should limit their puppy’s exercise to around 20 minutes since its joints are still delicate. Exercise requirements progress as the dog ages.

In terms of trainability, the Irish Water Spaniel necessitates firm guidance as it can be dodged and resolute once it senses that its owner has no sense of authority. Hence, this dog breed is ideal for well-experienced owners who already know how to create and implement house rules for their canine pals.

Feeding Schedule

A dog’s daily food requirement is dependent on its size and level of activity. Experts recommend owners to divide 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality dog food on a daily basis as this is can provide the Irish Water Spaniel its nutritional needs.

Coat, Color and Grooming

With unique brittle ringlets that cover its sides and back, there is no need to wonder why this dog breed stands out in the crowd. Physically, the Irish Water Spaniel is protected by an undercoat and a top coat. The hair on its throat creates a soft, v-shaped patch, while the body’s coating is highly textured. The soft and rough contrast on its body makes this dog highly distinct in the spaniel family.

The color of the coating, on the other hand, is solid liver. As the dog ages, silvery or grayish follicles on the coating can become more noticeable, but other than the gray spots due to aging, there are no visible white markings on its body.

Unlike other double-coated breeds, the IWS has low-to-nil shedding tendencies. However, brushing the coating at least twice a week is necessary to avoid mat formation. Aside from keeping mat and debris off the dog’s top coat, regular brushing also distributes oil evenly onto the body.

Since this breed is known for its outstanding swimming skills, owners who have an access to a swimming pool should let their dogs swim every once in a while. However, they should clean their pet companion’s ears after every swim as this breed is vulnerable to ear infection because of its earflap. To clean the ears, owners must simply wipe the outer part of the ear with a cotton ball soaked in a prescribed solution. Afterward, they must wipe the ears dry.

Also, owners who would like to prevent gum disease and bad breath can brush their dog’s teeth every day. Tartar build-up, on the other hand, can be inhibited by brushing the dog’s teeth at least 2 times a week.

Also, avoiding painful tears and other problems can be done by cutting the dog’s nails regularly. Owners who are inexperienced in cutting their dog’s nails must ask guidance from professional groomers.

Lastly, owners must always look for signs of impending health conditions as they groom their pets. For instance, bad odor in the ears can be a sign of infection. By being knowledgeable about some of the most common danger signs, owners would be able to ensure the overall health and wellness of their dog as it ages.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Irish Water Spaniel is a great pet companion for children who know how to properly interact with dogs. While early socialization can ensure a strong and fruitful pet-child relationship, the lack of it doesn’t weaken this breed’s ability to become an excellent playmate and a protector of the children in the household. However, close supervision is still crucial to avoid accidents as children interact with their canine pals.

In terms of pet compatibility, the IWS is capable of building a positive relationship with other animals. However, since it was originally bred to hunt, it has the instinct to chase small animals. Therefore, if you are considering this breed and you are taking care of smaller pets like birds and mice, it’s best that you build parameters on pet-to-pet interaction at an early stage. Also, it is best that you supervise your pets so you can avoid accidents in the long run.

A versatile breed that is equally skillful on the hunting arena as it is visually enthralling on dog ramps, the Irish Water Spaniel offers nothing but loyal companionship to its owners. Characterized by its high-spirited personality, this dog breed is a perfect companion for people who love embracing an active lifestyle.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.