Irish Water Spaniel

Type: Gun Dog

Height: Females: 20 - 23 inches; Males: 21 – 24 inches.

Weight: Females: 45 - 58 lbs.; Males: 55 – 65 lbs.

Life Span: 10 - 12 years.

Litter Size: 4 -12 puppies.

Country of Origin: Ireland

Activity: High. Irish Water Spaniels have a lot of energy.

Watch-dog: High. Irish Water Spaniels are alert and aware of their surroundings.

Guard-dog: Medium – Low.


Description: The Irish Water Spaniel presents a picture of a smart, upstanding strongly built sporting dog. They are large dogs, riding high on their long thighs and low hocks. They are the tallest of the spaniels. Hidden in a forest of tight, curly ringlets for fur are two dark hazel eyes. They have a strong, square body and a whip-like tail, earning them the nickname of “Whip Tail”, “Rat Tail” and “Rat Tail Spaniel”. Irish Water Spaniels have a wonderful temperament and a unique appearance, making them an enjoyable breed. They have a greatly intelligent, quick learning, fun-loving personality that have earned them the title of "clowns of the spaniel family." Owners insist that this breed has a sense of humor. Irish Water Spaniels love water and will often take a flying leap into any body of water they encounter. Irish Water Spaniels excel in retrieving wildfowl. They are good guard dogs and excellent retrievers. Irish Water Spaniels are reserved with strangers, however, making them good watchdogs as well. They are not friendly with other dog breeds, and need socialization for most of their lives.

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Other Names: Rat Tail Spaniel, Rat Tail, Whip Tail

Colors: Rich, dark, solid liver.

Coat: Dense, tight ringlets on neck, body and top part of tail; longer, curling hair on legs and topknot; face, rear of tail, and back of legs below hocks smooth.

Temperament: Irish Water Spaniels are responsive, playful, and inquisitive. They have a quizzical appearance, and interested in what’s around him. Irish Water Spaniels are friendly and fun with family, often having a sense of humor. They are discerning with strangers, however, and will look them over. They are not friendly with other dogs, and need to be socialized and trained to overcome this. They get along fine with children, are gentle, faithful and loving. They love exercise, and absolutely love to swim. Irish Water Spaniels are intense, intelligent and self-willed. They can be shy or snappy in new situations or around new people.

With Children: Yes, they will tolerate children if no rough housing occurs.

With Pets: Dog aggressive, needs to be properly introduced.

Special Skills: Hunting dog and family pet.

Care and Training: Weekly grooming for Irish Water Spaniel with a steel comb is necessary to keep their curly coat mat free. However, it is not as much work as one might think. Pay special attention to behind the ears. Some stripping of unwanted hairs is necessary, as is trimming around the feet. Regular daily exercise is a necessity for Irish Water Spaniels and they should also be given the opportunity to swim as much as possible. Needs firm handling from an early age, as well as training and socialization for life.

Learning Rate: High. Obedience – Low. Problem Solving – High.

Special Needs: Exercise, grooming, socialization and training.

Living Environment: At home the Irish Water Spaniel needs a fenced yard. They may not be an ideal first-time buyer's dog, as they need strong leadership early on. They are not very friendly with other dogs as well, making an experienced dog owner essential. The best owner for this breed would be a dog-experienced, active owner living in a rural or suburban home.

Health Issues: Hip and elbow dysplasia, and thyroid problems. Other health concerns include coat and skin problems, seizures, sensitivity to sulfa drugs, and food allergies.

History: The Irish Water Spaniel was thought by a historian named Hugh Dalziel to be the progenitor of all the other forthcoming spaniels. This theory, however, contradicts the history of this breed. It is believed that the Irish Water Spaniel is the survivor of two other breeds found in Ireland: the North Country Water Spaniel, with a smaller body and parti-colored with a wavy coat, and the other being the South Country Water Spaniel, being larger with a curly coat. These two were thought to have come from, judging by appearance, the Poodle and the Curly-Coated Retriever. Some think the Portuguese Water Dog had something to do with the Irish Water Spaniel as well. The two North and South breeds met and bred, and the result was known as the Irish Water Spaniel. This specific breed, the Irish Water Spaniel, was said to have appeared in the 1830s from a dog by the name of “Boatswain”, born in 1834. Boatswain was owned by a man named Justin McCarthy, who never revealed the ingredients of his pup. McCarthy is probably most credited with the development of the breed. Bred as a water-bird retriever, they were officially recognized in England in 1859. In 1878 the American Kennel Club recognized the breed, and he has been used in sporting events, dog shows and as a family pet for at least 150 years now.

First Registered by the AKC: 1878

AKC Group: Sporting

Class: Gundog

Registries: AKC, ANKC, CKC, FCI (Group 8), KC(GB), UKC