Irish Water Spaniel: History, Temperament, Care, Training & more

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Irish Water Spaniel Breed Information
Also known as the IWS

Irish Water Spaniel
Level of Energy  
Exercise Needs  
Level of Affection  
Climate Tolerance  
Good With Children  
Tolerance of Animals  
Suitable as Watch Dog     

Irish Water Spaniel – Just The Facts

  • AKC Popularity:  141
  • AKC Breed Group: Sporting
  • Size of Male:  45-65 lbs., 21-24 in.
  • Size of Female:  45-65 lbs., 21-24 in.
  • Color:  Rich liver to dark liver with a purplish tinge, sometimes called puce liver
  • Average Lifespan:  10-12 years
  • Breed Origin:  Ireland
  • Purpose:  Dual-purpose hunting dog (land and water)

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General Description

The Irish Water Spaniel has been known in Ireland for over 1000 years, making him one of the oldest of all spaniels. He’s also the largest of the spaniels. He’s unique in several other ways with his liver-colored curly coat and “rat-tail.”

The Irish Water Spaniel is a fun-loving clown of a dog who is a terrific dual-purpose hunting dog, being equally good with upland game and waterfowl. These dogs are extremely affectionate and devoted to their families. They make excellent family companions.

Origin and History

Dogs of the same type as the Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) have been known in Ireland since around the 7th and 8th century. They were known as Shannon Spaniels (after the river in Ireland), Rat-Tail Spaniels and Whip-Tail Spaniels.

At one time the dogs were reserved for royalty. The breed as it’s known today probably derives from this ancient version of the breed, along with other breeds. Possible contributors to the modern IWS may include the Poodle, the Portuguese Water Dog, the Barbet and some extinct water spaniels. The modern breed dates from around 1830.

Today, the IWS is valued by hunters seeking a dog who can excel on both land and water, people wanting a good hunting and family dog, and anyone looking for a great companion dog with a fun-loving personality.

Irish Water Spaniel Temperament

Irish Water Spaniels make outstanding family dogs. They love children, although you should be careful in allowing them around small children. They may be too energetic and they could accidentally knock over a small child. It’s best to supervise their interaction with small kids.

Spirited and clever, the IWS is also mild-mannered and docile. These dogs are very loving and devoted to their families. They are also very funny dogs. They are real clowns and they like to do things to get attention and to make people laugh. They can be quite happy to curl up and sleep at home, however, if they get plenty of exercise. Without enough exercise they may become too rambunctious and destructive.

They have a tendency to be naughty and mischievous, especially if they have any pent up energy. The more exercise they get, the better. They can be shy at times, unless they are well-socialized at a young age. They do make good watchdogs and will bark to alert you if anyone approaches the home. These dogs typically get along well with other dogs and family pets. They are quite intelligent and usually learn very quickly.

Care, Grooming, Diet & Exercise

Living Environment – The Irish Water Spaniel can adapt to living in an apartment but only if they are given plenty of exercise each day. Without enough exercise they can become very mischievous and destructive. They will enjoy having their own large yard for play and they appreciate having a big place to run. They do not do well in a kennel situation since they love to be around people.

Grooming – Grooming for this dog breed isn’t difficult. They have a medium length curly coat which needs regular brushing. They are on the list of dogs that do not shed much which makes them a good breed for allergy-sufferers. The coat can be trimmed monthly to remove straggly hairs. Wetting the coat will restore the curl to the hair.

Diet & Exercise – Dietary needs for this breed are considered normal. These dogs do need a great deal of daily exercise. Walks will not provide this breed with enough exercise. It’s best if they can have a good run every day. Find a place that is safe and enclosed so your dog can run off-leash. These dogs may not return when you call them if they run off-leash in an open area. They will simply run until they get tired.

Health – In the health department, this breed can be prone to canine hip dysplasia, canine hypothyroidism, entropion (an eye problem) and ear infections. If you are interested in this dog breed you should talk to a breeder about possible dog health problems.

Irish Water Spaniel Trainability

The clever Irish Water Spaniel is very intelligent and dog training is usually very easy. They have a strong desire to please their owners. However, these dogs have a very fun-loving personality and they will enjoy training more if it’s fun instead of just a boring routine.

Make training fun and interesting for them and they will learn very quickly. The IWS can excel in obedience, agility, rally and all kinds of dog sports but you need to make the training something happy for them. Use positive dog training methods (praise, reward) and your dog should have a good time.