The Irish Water Spaniel: All You Need to Know

The Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest spaniel and a champion swimmer with a personality described as playful, hardworking, and brave. 

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about the Irish Water Spaniel, from its origins and traits to personality and health. 

History of the Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish Water Spaniel, or IWS, is a unique breed that has a rich history that dates back to Ireland, where it was originally bred as a hunting dog. Today, it is known for its intelligence, loyalty, and playful nature, making it a popular choice for families and hunters alike.

Origins of the Breed

The exact origins of the Irish Water Spaniel are unknown. It is believed that it was developed by mixing the two different liver-colored water spaniels that existed at the time – the South Country Water Spaniel and the now-extinct North Country Water Spaniel. 

Despite its mysterious origins, the Irish Water Spaniel quickly gained popularity in Ireland and England as a hunting dog. Its intelligence, athleticism, and strong swimming abilities made it a favorite among hunters, who relied on the breed to retrieve waterfowl.

Development Over Time

Over time, the Irish Water Spaniel was refined through selective breeding to become the breed we know and love today. Initially, the IWS was larger and heavier than it is now, and its coat was curly and dense.

However, breeders worked to develop a more streamlined body and wavy fur, which helped the breed to move more efficiently in the water. One of the most distinctive features of the Irish Water Spaniel is its “rat tail.” 

Physical Characteristics

The Irish Water Spaniel is a medium-sized dog with a muscular and athletic build. Its appearance is elegant and refined, which makes it stand out among other breeds.

Size and Weight

Male Irish Water Spaniels stand between 22 and 24 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 55 and 68 pounds. Females are slightly smaller, standing between 21 and 23 inches and weighing between 45 and 58 pounds.

Despite their size, Irish Water Spaniels are known for their remarkable strength and endurance. They can run, swim, and play for hours without getting tired, making them great companions for active families.

Coat and Color

The IWS’s coat is one of its most distinctive features – it is made up of tight curls that are liver in color. The breed has a distinctive “topknot” of long, curly fur on its head, which is often groomed into a neat topknot

The coat of an Irish Water Spaniel requires regular grooming to maintain its unique texture and appearance. Owners must be prepared to brush daily. This breed also requires regular bathing to keep its coat clean and healthy.

Distinctive Features

The hallmarks of the Irish Water Spaniels are the unique coat and the so-called “rat tail,” which has very short fur and almost seems naked. This unique feature probably evolved to help the dogs swim more efficiently.

The breed’s webbed feet are another notable feature. They enable the Irish Water Spaniel to swim efficiently. The webbing also helps the dog to walk on soft surfaces, such as mud or sand, without sinking.

Personality and Temperament

The Irish Water Spaniel is a unique and fascinating breed, known for its intelligence, independence, and energy. This breed has a distinct personality that sets it apart from other dogs. 

General Temperament

The Irish Water Spaniel is an active and energetic breed that loves to be outdoors. This dog is known for its loyalty to its family and its protective nature. The IWS is an excellent watchdog and will alert its owners to any potential danger.

This Irish Water Spaniel has a strong prey drive and may chase small animals, so it’s important to keep it on a leash or in a secure area when outside. Regular exercise is a must to keep this dog happy and healthy.

Interaction with Children and Other Pets

The Irish Water Spaniel can get along well with children and other pets if socialized from an early age. This breed is naturally protective, so it’s essential to teach your Irish Water Spaniel how to interact appropriately with kids and other animals.

With proper training and socialization, the IWS can be a great family pet and companion. It’s important to note that you must supervise new nteractions and teach everyone involved how to play safely and respectfully.

Trainability and Intelligence

The Irish Water Spaniel is a highly intelligent breed that enjoys learning new things. This dog is known for its problem-solving abilities and can quickly figure out how to get what it wants.

However, breed members can also be stubborn at times, so consistency and positive reinforcement are key when training an IWS. The Irish Water Spaniel excels in obedience and agility training, and many have even been trained as hunting dogs. 

Health and Lifespan

Common Health Issues

The Irish Water Spaniel is generally a healthy breed, but like all dogs, it can be prone to certain health issues, such as:

  • Joint Problems: Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are widespread genetic conditions in the breed, causing pain and lameness
  • Thyroid Condition: The breed is susceptible to an underactive thyroid gland, which causes weight gain, lethargy, and skin problems 

Lifespan and Aging

The Irish Water Spaniel has a lifespan of between 12 and 13 years. As your IWS gets older, it’s essential to pay special attention to its health. Senior dogs may require special diets and exercise routines to keep them healthy and active.


In conclusion, the Irish Water Spaniel is a unique and special breed. With its history, distinctive appearance, and loyalty to its family, this breed offers a lot to those looking for a new furry friend.

By learning everything you need to know about this breed, you can determine if an Irish Water Spaniel is the right dog for you. Ensure you find a reliable breeder if you decide to get an IWS. 

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