- Among the distinguishing characteristics of the IWS are a topknot of long, loose curls; the crisply curled, liver-colored coat; and the smooth “rat tail,” which is hairless except at the base where it is covered for two to three inches with curls.The face is entirely smooth and the feet are webbed between the toes.
- When an Irish Water Spaniel’s feet are properly conditioned, the tough pads allow the dog to go over sharp saw grass or river rocks without injury.
AKC group: Sporting
UKC group: Gun Dogs
Average lifespan: 10-12 years
Average size: 45 to 68 pounds
Coat appearance: double coated,consisting of dense curls, sheds very little
Best Suited For: Families with older children, active singles and seniors, houses with yards, hunters
Temperament: Enthusiastic, energetic, mischievous, independent
The Irish Water Spaniel is a native Irish breed dating back at least 1000 years. It is believed in Irish folklore to be the descendant of the Dobhar-chú. It is probable that more than one ancient breed of spaniel has gone into its makeup. It is not known from which other breeds Irish Water Spaniels were developed.
The acknowledged father of the breed, Justin McCarthy from Dublin
, left no breeding records. All manner of dogs have been suggested including: the Poodle
, Portuguese Water Dog
, Barbet, generic old water dog, the now-extinct English Water Spaniel as well as the Northern and Southern Water Spaniels, but whether Irish Water Spaniels are antecedents, descendants, or mixtures of these other breeds is a matter of some speculation. What is clear is that the breed has ancient roots. The modern breed as we know it was developed in Ireland in the 1830s.
The breed has retained type for over 150 years, and is very popular in Ireland. The Irish Water Spaniel was recognized by the AKC in 1884.
The individual personality of Irish Water Spaniels vary from dog to dog. Some are energetic and outgoing, others are shy and prefer to laze around the house. You can’t really tell what your adult Water Spaniel will be like based upon his behavior as a puppy, either. However, all Water Spaniels are loving family companions who adore their families, have a zest for life and have a propensity for clowning around.
He can make a game out of just about any activity, and no matter what he’s doing he appears to be having the time of his life. Water Spaniels are spirited companions and will want to be included in all family activities. They are polite to strangers and can be trusted around well mannered children.
The Irish Water Spaniel, which has an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years, is prone to otitis externa and canine hip dysplasia (CHD). It may also succumb to to minor health problems like distichiasis, and a major issues such as nail-bed disease, seizures, and megaesophagus. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may run hip ear exams on this breed of dog. Be aware that the dogs of this breed may react negatively to ivermectin or sulfa drugs.
To properly care for an Irish Water Spaniel provide it daily mental and physical exercises such as running, playing, and obedience lessons (the earlier, the better). Otherwise, brush comb, and trim your Spaniel’s coat regularly to prevent its hair from becoming coarse and twisting on itself.
Because he needs plenty of daily exercise and loves the outdoors, he does best in the suburbs or country. This breed does best with at least an average-sized yard.
Water Spaniels are fairly easy to train, but they do have a willful streak which can can make them inconsistent students. Positive reinforcement and lots of treats help the process along, as does mixing up training activities. Keeping training sessions light and fun is also helpful, as Water Spaniels will enjoy any activity he thinks is a game. Once leadership is established and basic obedience mastered, Water Spaniels should graduate on to advanced obedience or agility training to keep their bodies and minds active.
Early and frequent socialization is important to building an even tempered Water Spaniel. While they adore their own family, they are often wary of strangers. Teaching him early on to accept new people and new situations can keep them from becoming shy or fearful.
Irish Water Spaniels are bundles of energy and quite athletic by genetics. They thrive when they are able to run, play, chase down game and retrieve fowl. They are not at all happy leading sedentary lives and can become destructive without regular activities that will enthrall and exert them.
They require at least an hour of playtime daily in order to keep them in tiptop shape. Of course, they love water so if you sit in your yard and have a hard plastic wading pool, they will happily retrieve dummies for hours. This is what makes Irish Water Spaniels awesome companions for families with sturdy kids.
The Irish Water Spaniel’s dense, tightly curled double coat is short and thick next to the skin, for warmth, and topped with a long outer coat for extra protection. The coat sheds slightly, but it doesn’t cling to the fabric of furniture and clothing quite as much as other types of hair.
Comb the coat one to three times a week, as needed. Be sure you comb all the way down to the skin to remove any mats or tangles. Use a slicker brush to remove dead hair. For a neat look, the coat must be scissored every six to eight weeks, including trimming the fur around the foot pads. Ask the breeder to show you how to do this, or take your IWS to a professional groomer who is familiar with the breed or willing to learn how to achieve the proper look.
Any time your IWS goes in a pool, lake or ocean, give him a thorough freshwater rinse to remove chlorine, algae, and salt, all of which can dry and damage the coat. He doesn’t need frequent baths, which could dry out his protective oily coat, but getting wet helps to ensure that the coat has those pretty ringlets that give the IWS his distinctive look.
The rest is basic care. Keep the ears clean and dry, especially if your IWS goes swimming a lot. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Irish Water Spaniels do best with children if they are raised with them. Early socialization — exposure to a variety of peoples, places, sights, sounds, and situations — also helps. Always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Irish Water Spaniels can get along well with other pets in the family if introduced to them at a young age. Otherwise, supervise them carefully. They are hunting dogs and may view smaller animals, especially birds, as prey. Protect pet birds even if you’re sure your IWS understands they’re off limits. Some spaniels can learn that, if they’re taught from puppyhood, but don’t assume that it will happen with every dog. You may always need to keep the two separated, if only so your IWS doesn’t pull your parakeet’s tail or your parrot won’t take a bite out of your Irish Water Spaniel’s sensitive nose.
Did You Know?
The Irish Water Spaniel’s coat is naturally oily to repel water and keep the skin underneath dry even after he has been in the water numerous times.
Famous Irish Water Spaniels
As an Irishman, I may be accused of having a chip on my shoulder, but the Irish Water Spaniel does not seem to get the credit it deserves when appearing in the media. Though the breed appears in the television series The Irish R.M. and in The Long Kiss Goodnight, starring Samuel L. Jackson, the names of the dogs involved have never been revealed.