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Breed information

Group: Sporting
Life span: 10-12 years
Height male: 53-58 cm / 21-23 inches
Height female: 51-55 cm / 20-22 inches
Weight male: 25-30 kg / 55-65 pounds
Weight female: 20-26 kg / 45-57 pounds
Character: Active, Alert, Clownish, Inquisitive, Intelligent, Quick


The Irish Water Spaniel is a native Irish breed dating back at least 1000 years. It is believed in Irish folklore to be the descendant of the Dobhar-chú. It is probable that more than one ancient breed of spaniel has gone into its makeup. It is not known from which other breeds Irish Water Spaniels were developed. The acknowledged father of the breed, Justin McCarthy from Dublin, left no breeding records. All manner of dogs have been suggested including: the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, Barbet, generic old water dog, the now-extinct English Water Spaniel as well as the Northern and Southern Water Spaniels, but whether Irish Water Spaniels are antecedents, descendants, or mixtures of these other breeds is a matter of some speculation. What is clear is that the breed has ancient roots. The modern breed as we know it was developed in Ireland in the 1830s.


The Irish Water Spaniel is a smart, upstanding, strongly built moderate gundog bred for all types of shooting, especially for water-fowling. Great intelligence is combined with rugged endurance and a bold, dashing eagerness of temperament. Distinguishing characteristics are a topknot of long, loose curls and a body covered with a dense, crisply curled liver colored coat contrasted by a smooth face and a smooth "rat" tail.


Breed health concerns may include ear infections, elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, follicular dysplasia, epilepsy, cataracts, entropion, distichiasis, megaesophagus and hypothyroidism. Irish Water Spaniels can have adverse, life-threatening reactions to Ivermectin and Sulfa drugs.


The individual personality of Irish Water Spaniels vary from dog to dog. Some are energetic and outgoing, others are shy and prefer to laze around the house. You can't really tell what your adult Water Spaniel will be like based upon his behavior as a puppy, either. However, all Water Spaniels are loving family companions who adore their families, have a zest for life and have a propensity for clowning around. He can make a game out of just about any activity, and no matter what he's doing he appears to be having the time of his life. Water Spaniels are spirited companions and will want to be included in all family activities. They are polite to strangers and can be trusted around well mannered children.

Activity Requirements

Irish Water Spaniels need a lot of activity to maintain health and happiness. As their name suggests, this breed loves water and people with swimming pools should expect to find their dog swimming and splashing about. Hunters can take them into the field, as they are reliable trackers and retrievers and have the stamina to work all day. Couch potatoes would be better suited for another breed. Even a lazy Water Spaniel will come alive outdoors, and if he doesn't get enough exercise will quickly become hyper active and destructive. This breed is too large and requires too much space to be confined to an apartment, even if a commitment is made to exercise.


Water Spaniels are fairly easy to train, but they do have a willful streak which can can make them inconsistent students. Positive reinforcement and lots of treats help the process along, as does mixing up training activities. Keeping training sessions light and fun is also helpful, as Water Spaniels will enjoy any activity he thinks is a game. Once leadership is established and basic obedience mastered, Water Spaniels should graduate on to advanced obedience or agility training to keep their bodies and minds active. Early and frequent socialization is important to building an even tempered Water Spaniel. While they adore their own family, they are often wary of strangers. Teaching him early on to accept new people and new situations can keep them from becoming shy or fearful.

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Behavioral Traits

Water Spaniels are eternally happy animals and often never outgrow their bounciness. Even an old dog will bound to the door and jump to greet you when you get home. They are not the most graceful dogs, and this bouncy behavior can lead to toppled lamps or spilled drinks. “Stay” and “down” are two important commands that should be mastered early on. They can be aggressive toward dogs of the same sex and are prone to chasing cats or smaller animals. Water Spaniels should be kept on a leash or in a fenced in are to avoid potentially sticky situations.


Irish Water Spaniels shed very little, if at all, but they still must be brushed two to three times per week. Brushing removes dirt, prevents tangles and mats from forming and keeps the hair healthy. The natural oil in the dog's coat attracts dirt and debris, and regular brushing removes this dirt and distributes the oil throughout the hair to keep coat clean and healthy. The long, floppy, pendant ears of the Irish Water Spaniel do not allow for air to circulate properly through the ear, and when the dog swims, water can get trapped in the ear, making them prone to painful ear infections. After the dog has been in the water, and once or twice every week, clean the air with a cotton ball and a veterinarian-recommended cleanser. Brushing the teeth on a weekly basis will prevent tartar buildup, promote gum health and keep bad breath at bay. Trim nails once per month, if the dog does not naturally wear down the nails outdoors. If the toes click on hard floors, the nails are too long.

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