Irish Water Spaniel – Everything You Need To Know

The Sporting Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) is a class clown of the spaniel family and a medium-sized, lovable goofball from Ireland known for its strong water retrieval skills. These rare breeds are independent gundogs with big brains, low-shedding coats, and affectionate natures, making them excellent companions. They get along well with kids and may require training to cope with other pets. Still, early socialization and proper training are essential to ensure IWS puppies grow into relaxed, well-adjusted adult dogs comfortable with new people and situations. At first glance, you may mistake these breeds for a Poodle mix. IWS is the same size as a standard Poodle, and both breeds have long loose curls. Whereas, unlike the standard Poodle, IWS is less active and more laid-back than their high-strung ancestors. 

The tallest of all the spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel has a unique luxuriant curly, water-repellent coat, and webbed toes, allowing them to navigate icy waters comfortably. Although IWS is called a spaniel, they are mainly water retrievers and have a fine reputation as hunting hounds. These humorous dogs are skilled at the retrieving game and make their humans smile.

Irish Water Spaniel Overview

The Irish Water Spaniels are known for their clownish behavior, entertaining people around them with their striking looks and hunting talents. They often make a game out of an easy task and always seem to be having a fantastic time. They are ruggedly built to do the job of a hunting hound and have webbed toes to aid in their powerful swimming. Distinctive traits are a topknot of long, loose curls and a body coated with a dense, liver-colored, crisply curled coat contrasted by a smooth face and a smooth “rat” tail. 

Like other hunting hounds, IWS needs plenty of exercises and mental stimulation. Yet, their versatility suits them well in various activities such as rallies, therapy work, obedience trials, agility, hunt tests, tracking, search and rescue, and conformity. In addition, IWS will be friendly toward other people if they have been properly introduced. They make an ideal watchdog and warn you with a bark when hearing strange noises.

Irish Water Spaniel Pros and Cons

Eager to please and easy to trainCan have a stubborn streak
Great family dogRequires lots of activity and mental stimulation
Good for an outdoorsy lifestyleProne to separation anxiety

Irish Water Spaniel Basic Information

  • Name: Irish Water Spaniel
  • Origin: Ireland 
  • Group: Sporting
  • Size: Medium 
  • Height: 22 – 24 inches (male); 21 – 23 inches (female)
  • Weight: 55 – 68 pounds (male); 45 – 58 pounds (female)
  • Coat: Dense, thick coat 
  • Color: Brown-red/ puce liver, brown, chocolate brown, dark brown, black-brown
  • Energy: High
  • Activities: Walking, hiking, playing fetch, agility, companion dogs, conformation, obedience, herding.
  • Barking Level: Occasional
  • Shedding Level: Occasional
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Litter Size: 1-8 puppies
  • Other Names: IWS, Shannon Spaniel, Whiptail, Rat Tail Spaniel, Bog Dog
  • Life Span: 12 – 13 years
  • Club Recognition: The American Kennel Club, the UK Kennel Club

History of Irish Water Spaniel

During the mid-1830s, the Irish Water Spaniel was developed as a sporting breed from Ireland by crossing the South Country Water Spaniel (WS) and the North Country Water Spaniel. Traits from both breeds, including the feathered tails and long legs of the North Country and South Country WS’s curly coats, are hallmarks of the IWS. A Dublin sportsman, Justin McCarthy, is credited with refining the IWS into the curly-haired brown puppies we know today. 

  • In 1870, IWS came to the United States.
  • The AKC recognized the IWS breeds in 1878.

Irish Water Spaniel Highlights

  • IWS may have a life-threatening reaction to sulfa drugs, vaccines, and Ivermectin, mainly the leptospirosis element.
  • The IWS breed is probably unsuitable for novice dog owners because they can be headstrong and independent.
  • IWS craves human companionship; if you leave them alone for long periods, they may express their boredom and loneliness in destructive ways. 
  • IWS is cheerful, bouncy, energetic, and easy to train.
  • IWS has an innate tendency to dig, chew, and jump, but you can rectify these behaviors with proper training.

Irish Water Spaniel Personality

Irish Water Spaniels are well-balanced, sturdy gundogs easily identified by their tousled topknot, liver-colored curls, and smooth “rat” tails. Their impressive, hairless tails perform like a rudder while swimming. Still a relatively rare breed, the IWS is sought after for its attractive traits of being an ideal hunting and water dog.

IWS is lively, alert, friendly, and obedient if you provide consistent training and leadership. However, use training techniques to reward rather than punish; they can become sulky or timid when treated harshly.

Friendliness Overview

Affection levelHigh
Dog-friendlyMedium to high

Adaptability Overview

Good for apartment livingMedium
Good for new ownersLow to medium
Sensitivity levelMedium to high
Tolerates being aloneMedium
Cold toleranceMedium to high
Heat toleranceMedium to high

Irish Water Spaniel Physical Features

Head: Cleanly chiseled head with a large skull, deep muzzle, tight lips, dark liver, large nose, long topknots falling over the top of the ears and occiput, small, almond-shaped eyes with a warm dark brown or amber shade, lobular and low-set hanging ears, and a scissor or level bite teeth.

Neck, Topline, Body: Long, arching, and muscular neck with a strong, broad, and leveled topline. IWS has a medium-length body with a well-laid back and well-sprung ribs. The loin is broad, short, and deep, giving a tucked-up appearance with a deep chest.

Tail: One of the unique characteristics of the IWS is their strong, low-set, “Rat Tail.”

Forequarters: Clean, muscular, moderately laid-back sloping shoulders with well-boned and straight forelegs, set well under the withers. 

Hindquarters: Well-developed, muscular thighs and wide hips with rounded croup, moderately bent stifles, moderately angulated hock joint, and well-padded, round feet 

Coat: Short, dense, smooth, crisp curl coat framed by the unique topknot and ears of long, loose curls.

Color: Rich liver to dark liver with a purplish tinge tone. This unique color, puce liver, is seen only in IWS.

Gait: Elegant in action, moves freely and soundly with well-balanced reach and drive. 

Irish Water Spaniel Temperament

IWS is a happy, energetic gundog, also perceived as pleasant and hyperactive. These mischievous dogs are sportive and excel in any canine game, mainly in field trials and conformity shows. Some IWS are territorial and aggressive with unfamiliar dogs but naturally get along well with family dogs and cats. They are dedicated and prefer to be around humans, making perfect companion dogs. In addition, they will quickly get along with kids, provided they are socialized as pups and were raised with them.

Irish Water Spaniel Training

IWS dogs are lively, intelligent, and respond quickly, making training sessions more convenient. Like any other canine, IWS needs early socialization, proper training, and puppy training programs. The training needs patience and consistency during the period. They are susceptible to any unfavorable reactions and require positive reinforcement while training. They love being around humans and treats, and cuddling does wonders while training. However, they do not respond to offensive commands. Obedience training and early socialization help with behavioral correction and bring out a canine’s best trait. They can be easily trained in field trials, agility, obedience, and flyball. Their training activities can include the following:

Here are a few dog interactive toys and products that you can use while training:

Dog Extendable Teaser Wand
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Tug Dog Toy
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Dog Puzzle Toys
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Milk-Bone Soft & Chewy Dog Treats
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Health Bars
Buy at Amazon

Trainability Overview

Easy to trainHigh
IntelligenceMedium to high
Prey driveHigh
Mouthiness tendenciesMedium
Barking and Howling tendenciesMedium to high
Wanderlust tendenciesMedium

Irish Water Spaniel Exercise Needs

Irish Water Spaniels are active, energetic hounds with high stamina and enjoy swimming, outdoor games, and hunting. Depending on their age and energy levels, IWS requires interactive play sessions or 30 minutes of daily exercise. Likewise, take them on short brisk walks, jogging, or swimming, as this is an ideal way to fight their tendency to become obese. These breeds may become restless or destructive without good workouts. 

You can meet your IWS’s daily exercise essentials by:

  • Teaching new tricks 
  • Walking 
  • Fetching 
  • Playing with puzzle toys 
  • Frisbee 
  • Flyball 
  • Agility training 
  • Hiking 
  • Dock diving
  • Dog park

Here are a few puzzles and dog toys to keep your pet engaged:

XiaZ Dog Agility Equipments
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Classic Ball Launcher
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Dog Disc Toy
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Dog Treat Ball
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Outward Hound Dawson Life Jacket
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Peteast Dog Splash Pad
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Exercise Needs Overview

Energy levelHigh
Exercise needsHigh
PlayfulnessMedium to high

Irish Water Spaniel Grooming

The Irish Water Spaniels are hypoallergenic, low- to no-shed breeds with a dense, waterproof double coat that needs to be groomed weekly. Although IWS only needs occasional baths, they require routine dental care and regular nail trims to stay healthy. IWS’s grooming needs are as follows:  

  • Bathe them four to six times a week.  
  • Brush their coat at least once weekly with a natural bristle coat.
  • Brush their teeth three times a week.  
  • Trim their nails once a month using a grinder. 
  • Clean their eyes and ears weekly.

Here are a few products and equipment to meet your Irish Water Spaniel grooming needs:

Itch Relief Shampoo
Buy at Amazon

Wipes for Dogs
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Dog Toothpaste
Buy at Amazon

Tartar Control Kit
Buy at Amazon

Ear Cleanser
Buy at Amazon

Dog Eye Wipes
Buy at Amazon

Nail Clippers & Trimmers
Buy at Amazon

Pet Grooming Kit
Buy at Amazon

Grooming Overview

Easy to groomMedium
Drooling tendenciesLow to medium
Amount of sheddingLow to medium

Irish Water Spaniel Health

Irish Water Spaniels are active and healthy dogs. However, it’s wise to be aware of their health requirements. To maintain your dog’s health, take them for regular vet check-ups and keep them updated with their vaccines.

Health Overview

General HealthLow to medium 
Weight gain tendenciesMedium 

Hip dysplasia: When a dog’s thigh bones fail to fit into the pelvic socket of the hip joint, it results in hip dysplasia, a genetic condition. 

Cataract: A disorder seen as cloudy spots on the eye lens that grow gradually. This condition can develop at any age and often doesn’t affect vision; however, rare cases cause vision loss. Fortunately, you can remove cataracts surgically with good results.

Hypothyroidism: A dog’s metabolism is slowed due to insufficient thyroid hormone production. Signs are:  

  • Lethargy  
  • Gaining weight  
  • Reluctance to work out  
  • Hair Loss 

Allergies: IWS may be prone to skin allergies, which may occur as follows: 

  • Food-based allergies: If your dog is allergic to specific food components, you can adopt an elimination diet that gradually removes the suspected ingredients to which your dog may be allergic.  
  • Contact allergies: When your puppy’s immune system reacts adversely to topical substances such as flea powders, dog shampoos, bedding, and other chemicals, they suffer from contact allergies. 
  • Inhalant allergies: If your dog inhales airborne allergens like dust, pollen, and mildew and suffers from any signs, they are said to have inhalant allergies. Proper treatment for these allergies varies with the severity of the disease. Often, ear infections accompany these allergies.

Entropion: The lower lid folds inward towards the eye resulting in chronic eye irritation. 

Distichiasis: This condition is prevalent in canines, resulting from the abnormal growth of eyelashes. It occurs when eyelashes appear from the eyelid margin instead of the skin. Most dogs don’t undergo any negative symptoms due to soft hairs. However, in severe cases, this disorder can lead to corneal ulcers. 

Megaesophagus: A genetic disease characterized by an enlarged esophagus in dogs. It impacts the esophageal motility that carries the food from mouth to stomach. Symptoms include weight loss, vomiting, anorexia, and bad breath.

Epilepsy: The most prevalent neurological disorder in canines, affecting most dog breeds. Epilepsy is a broad name for diseases indicated by repeated, uncontrollable seizures generated by a brain defect.

Vaccination Sensitivity: There are reports of IWS suffering from sensitivity to routine vaccinations. Usually, symptoms include hives, facial swelling, soreness, and lethargy. A canine sensitive to vaccines can develop difficulties or die, though rare. Observe your dog for a few hours after being vaccinated, and call the vet if you notice anything unusual.

Drug Sensitivity: Some breeds, including IWS, show sensitivity to certain medications, including antiparasitic and antibiotic drugs. Symptoms include depression, seizures, tremors, incoordination, hypersalivation, and coma, leading to death. Ask your vet about drugs that can negatively affect the Irish Water Spaniel.

LymphomaIWS dogs are more prone to certain cancers, including lymphoma. The condition, which causes irregular white blood cells to form, can be discovered with a blood test. This condition is considered one of the most curable forms of dog cancer. 

Obesity: IWS are prone to obesity and worsening hip and elbow dysplasia. This disease negatively hits a dog’s fitness and durability. Obese dogs exhibit an increased risk of heart disease, digestive conditions, diabetes, joint problems, and hypertension. 

Joint dysplasiaIrish Water Spaniels are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia. These disorders occur when the hip or elbow joint doesn’t fit into the socket, causing a painful grinding in the joint. This condition can often be treated with therapy and anti-inflammatory medicines, but surgery may also be essential.

Eye Problems: IWS dogs have malformed eyelashes known as distichiasis. This condition can irritate their eyes and may cause corneal ulcers eventually. Mild cases are curable with medicated eye drops; more severe cases may require surgery. 

Tail Injuries: The IWS tail is inherently bare and may be susceptible to injuries like “Happy Tail Syndrome” (an injured tail caused by vehement wagging into a hard surface) or chapping. 

Von Willebrand’s Disease: The most prevalent hereditary bleeding problem in dogs is Von Willebrand’s disease (VWD). It’s caused by a lack of a specific protein that helps platelets (blood cells that aid with clotting) adhere together and form clots to close damaged blood arteries. Von Willebrand factor is the name of the missing protein (VWF).  

Recommended Health Tests

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Thyroid Evaluation
  • Elbow Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

Irish Water Spaniel Diet and Nutrition

An Irish Water Spaniel will consume 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality dry dog food daily, split into two meals, depending on their size, build, age, activity level, and metabolism. However, as they are prone to obesity, overfeeding must be avoided. You can seek advice from their veterinarian regarding any sensitivities or needs the IWS has. Frequently, provide your puppy with clean and fresh water.

Here are the best dry dog foods and supplements to meet your IWS nutrition needs:

Purina ONE Natural Dry Dog Food
Buy at Amazon

Pedigree Healthy Weight Adult Dry Dog Food
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Blue Buffalo Natural Adult Dry Dog Food
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VetIQ Hip & Joint Supplement
Buy at Amazon

Nutramax Cosequin Joint Health Supplement
Buy at Amazon

Milk-Bone Hip & Joint Dog Supplement
Buy at Amazon

Irish Water Spaniel Living Condition

  • Well suited to apartment life as long as they are given everyday walks and regular play sessions.
  • IWS has a strong chase instinct, so they must be leash-walked and have a fenced yard.
  • Susceptible to extreme temperatures; avoid any prolonged exposure and be alert to the signs of heat stress.

Did You Know?

  • The IWS is a diplomat. King James I of England presented one of the puppies to the King of France in the 17th century to improve diplomatic relations. 
  • An IWS helped actress Geena Davis meet her husband, Reza Jarrahy.
  • Geena Davis has another IWS connection; in the film ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight,’ starring Geena and Samuel L. Jackson, an unnamed Irish Water Spaniel has a 30-second cameo.
  • IWS dogs in the late 1100s were known as Rat-Tail Spaniels, Shannon Spaniels, or Whip-Tail Spaniels.
  • Dog experts believe IWS can be the biggest and the oldest of all spaniel breeds.
  • IWS shares a common lineage with the Portuguese Water dog, Poodle, and Barbet.
  • Owing to their affectionate and obedient nature, IWS are trained as therapy/ assistant dogs.

Irish Water Spaniel Rescue Groups

Irish Water Spaniel Club of America

Adding An Irish Water Spaniel to Your Family

Things to Remember Before Adding an Irish Water Spaniel

Getting an Irish Spaniel Spaniel puppy from a reputable breeder is best to prevent inevitable circumstances like health diseases and provide you with vaccination certificates. In addition, it is best to check with the puppy’s parents to ensure their health and happiness.

Cost of an Irish Water Spaniel

An Irish Water Spaniel puppy’s price starts at around $1,500.

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