The Irish water spaniel is built like no other spaniel, being much taller and racier. The body is of medium length, the whole dog being slightly rectangular in appearance. The general appearance suggests both dash and endurance. The gait is smooth and ground-covering. The coat is one of the breed’s distinctive features. The body is covered with a double coat consisting of crisp ringlets. This combination imparts water, weather and thorn resistance to the dog, enabling it to hunt in the harshest of conditions. The Irish water spaniel’s expression says it all: alert, intelligent and quizzical.

The Irish water spaniel goes at everything in life with gusto and enthusiasm. It loves to swim, run, hunt and play and needs a lot of exercise. A clown at heart, it can be stubborn and independent, so it needs to be trained with patience, firmness and a sense of humor. It tends to be reserved with strangers. It is generally good with children, though some can be timid.

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The Irish water spaniel is one of the oldest and most distinctive spaniels. Dogs resembling them are depicted in manuscripts from 1,000 years ago. In the 1100s, mention is made of dogs called Shannon spaniels, rat-tail spaniels, whip-tail spaniels or Irish water spaniels. Continued references to the Irish water spaniel can be found from 1600 on.

Around that time, the king of France is said to have been presented with an Irish water spaniel. Whether the breed was at one time found in different varieties or whether several similar breeds were its forebears is a matter of conjecture. What is agreed upon is that several similar spaniels existed in Ireland: the Northern Irish, Southern Irish and Tweed spaniels.

The Southern Irish spaniel, also called McCarthy’s Breed, is credited with being the eventual major forebear of today’s dogs. In the mid-1800s, the appearance of the prolific sire Boatswain so influenced the breed that he is often credited as being the progenitor of the modern Irish water spaniel.

The breed entered the show ring in both Britain and America by the late 1800s. In 1875, it was the third-most popular sporting dog. Despite its enchantingly clownish appearance and adept water-retrieving ability, the Irish water spaniel lost popularity and is only rarely seen in the show ring or found as the family pet.

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This active, athletic, inquisitive breed needs lots of mental and physical exertion to keep it from becoming frustrated or bored. An hour of free running or strenuous playing a day is necessary to
satisfy its needs. Obedience work can also be helpful in giving it the mental challenges it enjoys. The curly coat needs brushing and combing two to three times a week, plus scissoring every few months. Like all dogs, it loses its coat periodically; however, the hairs tend to become trapped in the other hairs rather than fall off. If not combed out, they will form mats and cords.

  • Major concerns: CHD
  • Minor concerns: none
  • Occasionally seen: none
  • Suggested tests: hip
  • Life span: 10 – 12 years


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