Irish Water Spaniel: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Irish water spaniel walking on green turf

Paul Ellis / Staff / Getty Images

The Irish water spaniel is a medium-size sporting dog breed from Ireland that has a curly, medium-length coat that only minimally sheds. The dense coat is waterproof, an ideal trait for this expert swimmer and water retriever. The dog’s head features a trademark topknot of curls, and its tail tapers into a smooth “rat tail” that lacks curls. Overall, the Irish water spaniel is solidly built but still agile. And it happens to be the tallest of the American Kennel Club spaniel breeds.

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting

Height: 21 to 23 inches (female), 22 to 24 inches (male)

Weight: 45 to 58 pounds (female), 55 to 68 pounds (male)

Coat: Medium-length, curly

Coat Color: Liver (brown)

Life Span: 12 to 13 years

Temperament: Playful, affectionate, loyal

Hypoallergenic: Yes

Origin: Ireland

Characteristics of the Irish Water Spaniel

Irish water spaniels generally have an affectionate and eager-to-please temperament. They are quite smart and in tune with their humans, and they prefer to have a job to do. High energy and playfulness also help to shape their personality, and they like an active household. 

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Irish Water Spaniel

Spaniels have existed in Ireland and elsewhere for centuries. And they were divided into land and water categories based on the type of work they did. Prior to the mid-1800s in Ireland, there were two different water spaniels: the South Country and the North Country water spaniel. The modern Irish water spaniel descends from both of these breeds, though it looks more similar to the South Country variety. 

In the 1830s, a breeder in Dublin began to refine the water spaniels into a new, distinct breed. It’s unclear which other breeds might have been part of the mix. But it’s possible that poodles, Portuguese water dogs, and barbets were used. 

People in Ireland and England appreciated this new spaniel’s good temperament and retrieving prowess in cold water. The breed made its way to North America by the late 1800s. And the American Kennel Club officially recognized it in 1878.

Painting (by Vero Shaw) of an Irish water spaniels, 1881
Buyenlarge / Contributor / Getty Images
Antique dotprinted photograph of Irish water spaniel

Royalty-free / Getty Images

Irish water spaniel at Westminster in 2016
Matthew Eisman / Contributor  / Getty Images

Irish Water Spaniel Care

Plan to give your Irish water spaniel plenty of daily exercise. This breed also requires some specialized grooming. And it should receive training and socialization from an early age.

Exercise

Aim for at least one to two hours per day of vigorous exercise for the Irish water spaniel. Long walks, hikes, running, cycling, swimming, and games of fetch all are ideal activities. Puzzle toys and dog sports, including agility and dock diving, can provide mental and physical challenges for this smart breed. As long as the Irish water spaniel gets enough activity every day, it’s typically calm in the house.

Grooming

Brush your Irish water spaniel weekly to remove any loose fur and dirt. This breed’s fur grows like hair and requires trimming roughly every two months. You can either go to a groomer or learn how to do it at home. 

Bathe your dog every month or so, depending on how dirty it gets. But see whether its ears need cleaning at least weekly. Also, be sure to dry the ears well after baths and swimming. Trim its nails roughly once a month, and aim to brush its teeth with a canine toothpaste daily.

Training

Begin training and socialization when your Irish water spaniel is a puppy to instill good behaviors and prevent bad habits. This breed responds well to positive-reinforcement training methods, such as treats and praise. As long as you are clear and consistent with your commands, it should pick up on them quickly. Keep training sessions fun and varied to hold your dog’s attention. 

As this breed can be somewhat reserved around strangers, aim to expose your dog to different people and other dogs from an early age to boost its comfort and confidence. Having lots of positive experiences can help to curb the wary side of its temperament. 

Common Health Problems

The Irish water spaniel is generally healthy, but the breed is still prone to some hereditary health conditions, including:

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water available for your Irish water spaniel. And feed it a nutritionally balanced diet, generally via two measured meals per day. Be sure to run the type of food and the amount by your vet to verity that you’re meeting your dog’s individual needs. Nutritional requirements can change with age, activity level, and other factors. Moreover, be mindful of treats and other extra food to prevent overfeeding.

Where to Adopt or Buy an Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish water spaniel is a relatively rare breed in North America. But it’s still possible to find one at an animal shelter or rescue organization, so it’s worth checking and getting your name on a breed wait list if possible. For a puppy from a responsible breeder, expect to pay around $800 to $1,800 on average.

For further information to help you find an Irish water spaniel, check out:

Irish Water Spaniel Overview

Pros
  • Affectionate and playful

  • Low shedder

  • Good for active owners

Cons
  • Needs a lot of exercise and mental stimulation

  • Requires special grooming

  • Can be wary of strangers and other dogs

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Do thorough research to ensure that the Irish water spaniel is the right breed for your lifestyle. Talk to spaniel owners, reputable breeders, rescue groups, and veterinary professionals. Try to meet multiple Irish water spaniels too if possible to get a feel for the breed. 

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are Irish water spaniels good family dogs?

    Well-trained and socialized Irish water spaniels are moderately tolerant of children. They can be good with respectful older children, but they should always be supervised around young kids.

  • Are Irish water spaniels aggressive?

    Irish water spaniels are somewhat reserved around strangers and other dogs. But as long as they’ve had proper training and socialization, that typically does not turn to aggression.

  • Are Irish water spaniels good apartment dogs?

    Irish water spaniels are generally adaptable to different living conditions with proper training and socialization. They also are relatively quiet, which is a key component of apartment living. But it’s imperative that they get plenty of daily mental stimulation and physical activity if their living space is small.

Article Sources
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  1. Irish Water Spaniel. American Kennel Club.

  2. Irish Water Spaniel Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.