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irish water spaniel 5 - Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel

Whether they’re splashing after ducks or showing off in the agility ring, canines of the Irish Water Spaniel dog breed do everything with a sense of fun. Created in Ireland as a water retriever, they’re rare these days but make excellent companions for active and experienced dog owners, especially if they live near a body of water.

Although dogs of this breed have high intelligence and learn easily, they also have a stubborn side that can prove troublesome for novice dog parents. Make sure you can keep up with firm, consistent training before you decide that this is the breed for you.

FunkyPaw recommends a dog bed to give a good night’s sleep to your medium-sized Irish Water Spaniel. You should also pick up this dog fetch toy to help burn off your pup’s high energy!

Breed Characteristics:


Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn’t necessarily an apartment dog make. Plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents are all good qualities in an apartment dog. And you can find an awesome crate for your dog here to give them a little more personal space in your apartment.

Some dogs are simply easier than others; they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They’re also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies.

Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time dog parent to manage. You’ll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.

If you’re new to dog parenting, take a look at 101 Dog Tricks and read up on how to train your dog!

Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called “easygoing,” “tolerant,” “resilient,” and even “thick-skinned,” can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.

Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive–barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.

Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.

Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can’t pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, your dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you’ll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.

All Around Friendliness

Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they’ve been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn’t the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.

See Dogs Less Affectionate with Family

Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who’s on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (which are considered Pit Bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren’t always so family-friendly.

**All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they’re not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.

Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs, even if they’re love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn’t the only factor. Dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least six to eight weeks of age and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.

Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with wagging tails and nuzzles; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was socialized and exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult. Remember that even friendly dogs should stay on a good, strong leash in public!

Health And Grooming Needs

If you’re going to share your home with a dog, you’ll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds. Some dogs shed year-round, some “blow” seasonally, some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you’re a neatnik, you’ll need to either pick a low-shedding breed or relax your standards. To help keep your home a little cleaner, you can find a great de-shedding tool here!

Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you’ve got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you’re a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog who rates low in the drool department.

Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog who needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.

Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn’t mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they’re at an increased risk.

If you’re adopting a puppy, it’s a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you’re interested in. You may also want to ask if your shelter or rescue has information about the physical health of your potential pup’s parents and other relatives.

Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that’s prone to packing on pounds, you’ll need to limit treats, make sure they get enough exercise, and measure out their daily food servings into regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.

Ask your vet about your dog’s diet and what they recommend for feeding your pooch to keep them at a healthy weight. Weight gain can lead to other health issues or worsen problems like arthritis.

Dogs come in all sizes, from the world’s smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if they’re compatible with you and your living space. Large dog breeds might seem overpowering and intimidating, but some of them are incredibly sweet! Take a look and find the right sized dog for you!


Easy-to-train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word “sit”), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training.

Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, in which case you’ll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.

Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don’t get the mental stimulation they need, they’ll make their own work–usually with projects you won’t like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.

Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in Retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn’t puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or “herd” their human family members, and they need training to learn that it’s fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a toy that’s been stuffed with kibble and treats.

Dogs who were bred to hunt, such as Terriers, have an inborn desire to chase–and sometimes kill–other animals. Anything whizzing by, such as cats, squirrels, and perhaps even cars, can trigger that instinct. Dogs who like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you’ll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren’t a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won’t chase, but you’ll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.

Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how often the dog vocalizes with barks or howls. If you’re considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you’re considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious “strangers” put your pup on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby? Then you may wish to choose a quieter dog.

Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they’ll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses–or that bunny that just ran across the path–even if it means leaving you behind.

Physical Needs

High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they’re more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells.

Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you’ll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.

A vigorous dog may or may not have high energy, but everything they do, they do with vigor: they strain on the leash (until you train them not to), try to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who’s elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.

Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise, especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, like herding or hunting.

Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don’t like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.

Some dogs are perpetual puppies — always begging for a game — while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.

Vital Stats:

Dog Breed Group:Sporting DogsHeight:1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet tall at the shoulderWeight:45 to 65 poundsLife Span:10 to 12 years

More About This Breed

The Irish Water Spaniel is often mistaken for a large brown poodle because of his distinctive top knot and the curly hair that covers his body. While back in the deeps of time a Poodle ancestor may be lurking in his family tree, the Irish Water Spaniel is most definitely not a Poodle. Rather, he might be described as what the standard Poodle once was: a versatile hunting, pointing, and retrieving dog. Not surprisingly, given his name, the Irish Water Spaniel is known for his strong swimming skills and excels at retrieving waterfowl as well as upland game such as quail, pheasant, and grouse.

Not content with his striking looks and hunting talents, he’s an entertainer as well. The IWS is known for his clownish behavior. He often makes a game out of a simple task and always seems to be having a wonderful time.

Irish Water Spaniels are highly intelligent, active, willing and energetic. The centuries of breeding that have contributed to their retrieving skills have also instilled in them a desire to please. This makes an Irish Water Spaniel relatively easy to train. That said, he has a mischievous streak that can cause him to be a challenge at times to deal with. The breed can do well in obedience work, but that mischievous, fun-loving personality may surface unexpectedly during competition and wreak havoc with your goals for that day.

The Irish Water Spaniel is a relatively quiet dog for the most part. He seems to reserve his barking for times when it’s necessary to warn his family. His alert and inquisitive temperament makes him an excellent watchdog. While he’s usually devoted to the entire family, he may choose a particular person as his favorite.

The Irish Water Spaniel’s dense coat does require some commitment to grooming on a regular basis. It must be brushed two to three times a week to prevent mats from forming. The natural oils in his water-repellent coat attract dirt and debris and hold it in the coat. Brushing helps to distribute the oil through the coat and removes any debris.

An interesting characteristic is their webbed feet, which come in handy when they’re swimming. Irish Water Spaniels love to swim and will plunge into any nearby body of water if given half a chance. And they may not be ready to leave the water when you’re ready for them to. If you can provide this breed with opportunities to swim, do so! It’s great exercise for this high-energy dog.

The Irish Water Spaniel can be the perfect companion for an active family with the time to socialize, train, and exercise him. He’ll be a devoted, loving member of the family and will entertain all with his clownish and mischievous attitude toward life. Your Irish Water Spaniel can be a hunting companion, conformation, obedience, agility, or rally competitor or just a friend and loving companion for everyone in the family.


  • Can have life-threatening reaction to sulfa drugs, Ivermectin and vaccines especially the leptospirosis component.
  • This is a breed that is probably not suitable for the first time dog owner because he can be headstrong, and an independent thinker.
  • Irish Water Spaniels have lots of energy and need daily exercise.
  • Not every Irish Water Spaniel can be trusted to get along with smaller pets.
  • Socialization — exposure to many different people, places, sights, sounds, and experiences — at an early age is needed.
  • To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.


The exact origin of this breed as many others is debated among fanciers and shrouded in the mists of Ireland. The Irish Water Spaniel appeared in Ireland in the 1830s, mainly from the kennel of Justin McCarthy. His dog “Boatswain,” whelped in 1834, is credited with being the sire of the modern breed. Mr. McCarthy would never reveal the sources of his breeding and took the secret with him when he died. Speculation focuses on the early Barbet or Poodle-type dogs from France that could have come to Ireland and possibly Portuguese Water Dogs that arrived on Portuguese fishing boats. There were also two types of water spaniels in Ireland at the time, one of which sported a curly coat and could have contributed to the breed’s makeup.

The first show classes for the breed were at a show in Birmingham in 1862, and in 1899 the first Irish Water Spaniel ran in a field trial. There were four Irish Water Spaniels entered in the first Westminster Kennel Club show in 1877.

The Irish Water Spaniel remains an active, popular working and show dog in his native country. The breed came to the United States in the 1870s but has never had the popularity that he enjoys in Ireland. Today, the Irish Water Spaniel ranks 139th among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the American Kennel Club, a well-kept secret indeed.


The IWS is the tallest member of the spaniel family. Males are 22 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 55 to 65 pounds; females are 21 to 23 inches tall and weigh 45 to 60 pounds.


True to his spaniel nature, the IWS is alert and inquisitive. Unlike many spaniels, however, he may be reserved toward strangers, although he should never be shy or aggressive. Irish Water Spaniels are highly trainable, but they’re independent thinkers and will do their best to get their own way whenever possible. This is especially true with young males testing their status. For this reason, they are probably not the best choice for a first-time dog owner who may not understand how to provide the guidance and sensible discipline this dog needs.

Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who’s beating up his littermates or the one who’s hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who’s available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you’re comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.

Like every dog, Irish Water Spaniels need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your IWS puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.


Irish Water Spaniels are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Irish Water Spaniels will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.

If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Irish Water Spaniels, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (

  • Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you’re buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
  • Cataracts: A cataract is an opacity on the lens of the eye that causes difficulty in seeing. The eye(s) of the dog will have a cloudy appearance. Cataracts usually occur in old age and sometimes can be surgically removed to improve the dog’s vision.
  • Follicular Dysplasia: A group of syndromes that have hair loss and changes in coat quality in common. Hair loss in Irish Water Spaniels may first be noticed at 2 to 4 years of age over the back, and spreads slowly to most of the trunk. The coat change is progressive and permanent but has little effect on the dog’s health.
  • Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is caused by deficiencies of the hormone produced from the thyroid gland, which is found in the neck. The mild symptoms of the disease may be infertility. The more apparent signs of this disease are obesity, mental dullness, lethargy, drooping of the eyelids, low levels of energy and irregular heat cycles. The fur on the dog becomes course and brittle and begins to fall out, while the skin becomes tough and dark. It can be treated with a daily thyroid replacement and usually requires a lifetime treatment. A dog that is having daily treatment can live a full and happy life.
  • Allergies: Allergies are a common ailment in dogs. Allergies to certain foods are identified and treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog’s diet until the culprit is discovered. Contact allergies are caused by a reaction to something that touches the dog, such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, or other chemicals. They are treated by identifying and removing the cause of the allergy. Inhalant allergies are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and mildew. The appropriate medication for inhalant allergies depends on the severity of the allergy. Ear infections are a common side effect of inhalant allergies.
  • Entropion: This defect, which is usually obvious by six months of age, causes the eyelid to roll inward, irritating or injuring the eyeball. One or both eyes can be affected. If your IWS has entropion, you may notice him rubbing at his eyes. The condition can be corrected surgically if necessary when the dog reaches maturity.
  • Paronychia: This condition is not well understood. It occurs in the dog’s toenails, and you will often see dogs with it chewing on their feet. The problem can occur in dogs who have had their nails trimmed regularly. The toenail’s inner core becomes mushy and may become infected with bacteria and fungus, causing a foul odor. Even without an infection present the disease will progress. The outer shell of the nail eventually falls off, exposing the quick. One or more toes may be affected. Treatment is necessary to avoid suffering. Some owners eliminate allergens in the diet and reported satisfactory results; other owners had the toes amputated.
  • Distichiasis: This minor condition occurs when an additional row of eyelashes (known as distichia) grow on the oil gland in the dog’s eye and protrude along the edge of the eyelid. This irritates the eye, and you may notice your dog squinting or rubbing his eye(s). Distichiasis is treated surgically by freezing the excess eyelashes with liquid nitrogen and then remove them. This type of surgery is called cryoepilation and is done under general anesthesia.
  • Megaesophagus: Megaesophagus is believed to be both a congenital disease and adult-onset disease in which the esophagus loses tone and dilates. This hinders the ability of the esophagus to transport food and can prevent breathing during swallowing. Dogs with megaesophagus often regurgitate food that has not reached the stomach. This is not a powerful active vomiting but more of a passive regurgitation where the food falls out of the dog’s mouth. It’s caused by nerve damage to the esophagus and in the case of young puppies the damage may improve as the dog grows. In adults, megaesophagus is usually preceded by another disease that causes nerve damage. The disease can be treated with medication and diet, but it’s difficult to manage and doesn’t always have good results.
  • Epilepsy: This disorder causes mild or severe seizures. Epilepsy can be hereditary; it can be triggered by such events as metabolic disorders, infectious diseases that affect the brain, tumors, exposure to poisons, or severe head injuries; or it can be of unknown cause (referred to as idiopathic epilepsy). Seizures may be exhibited by unusual behavior, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. Epilepsy can be controlled with medication, but it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder. If your IWS has seizures, take him to the vet right away for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
  • Vaccination Sensitivity: There are reports of Irish Water Spaniels suffering from sensitivity to routine vaccinations. Usually, signs include hives, facial swelling, soreness and lethargy. A dog that is sensitive to vaccines can develop complications or die, though this is rare. Watch your IWS carefully for a few hours after being vaccinated and call the vet if you notice anything unusual.
  • Drug Sensitivity: Some breeds, including Irish Water Spaniels, show sensitivity to certain medications, including some antiparasitic and antibiotic drugs. Signs of this sensitivity range from tremors, depression, seizures, incoordination, hypersalivation, coma, and even death. Ask your veterinarian to become familiar with the drugs that can negatively affect the Irish Water Spaniel.


A hunting breed with a great deal of energy and stamina, the Irish Water Spaniel needs a yard to romp in and isn’t suited to apartment life. Give him at least an hour a day of running, long walks or hikes, or vigorous play such as retrieving a ball in the yard. If you have a pool or access to a lake, swimming is a great way for him to get exercise. Keep an eye on him just as you would a child, and be sure he knows how to get out of the pool safely. You can break up his activity into two or three 20- or 30-minute sessions throughout the day. As with any dog, don’t run him ragged in the heat of the day.

Puppies have different exercise needs. From 9 weeks to 4 months of age, puppy kindergarten once or twice a week is a great way for them to get exercise, training, and socialization, plus 15 to 20 minutes of playtime in the yard, morning and evening. Throw a ball for them to fetch. From 4 to 6 months of age, weekly obedience classes and daily half-mile walks will meet their needs, plus playtime in the yard. From 6 months to a year of age, play fetch with a ball or Frisbee for up to 40 minutes during cool mornings or evenings, not in the heat of the day. Continue to limit walks to a half mile. After he’s a year old, your IWS pup can begin to jog with you, but keep the distance to less than a mile and give him frequent breaks along the way. As he continues to mature, you can increase the distance and time you run. These graduated levels of exercise will protect his developing bones and joints.

Irish Water Spaniels work well with people, but they can be independent, with a mind of their own. Train them with kind but firm consistency, using positive reinforcements that include food rewards and praise. The IWS who’s treated harshly will simply become more stubborn and less willing to do your bidding. Your best bet is to keep training interesting. An Irish Water Spaniel will make his own entertainment if you don’t.


Recommended daily amount: 1.5 to 2.5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.

If you’re unsure whether your Irish Water Spaniel is overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can’t, he needs less food and more exercise.

NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don’t all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you’ll need to shake into your dog’s bowl.

For more on feeding your Irish Water Spaniel, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.

Coat Color And Grooming

The Irish Water Spaniel has a double coat — a top coat and an under coat — with tight, crisp ringlets that cover the back, back, sides, and rear. Beneath the ribs the hair is longer, and curls and waves of hair cover the legs. Hair on the throat is short and smooth, forming a v-shaped patch. The curly body forms a sharp contrast with the smooth coat on the face, throat, toes, and tail. Speaking of the tail, it’s a striking characteristic of the breed. Wide at the root, where the tail meets the body, it tapers to a fine point. It’s covered with short, smooth hair and is known as a rat tail.

The Irish Water Spaniel is always a solid liver color, described as deep reddish brown. You won’t see any white markings on him except for those due to graying from age.

Irish Water Spaniels shed little to no hair, but they must be brushed two or three times a week to keep the coat from tangling or matting, as well as to keep it clean and healthy. The oil in the coat attracts debris and dirt. Regular brushing not only distributes the oil throughout the coat to keep the skin healthy but also removes the dirt and debris. The breed can be prone to ear infections due to the pendant earflap. In other words, those floppy ears hold in moisture, and the wet, warm environment is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Clean and dry the ears every time your IWS goes swimming.

To do this, gently wipe out the ear — only the part you can see! — with a cotton ball moistened with a cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian. Never stick cotton swabs or anything else into the ear canal or you might damage it. Your IWS may have an ear infection if the inside of the ear smells bad, looks red or seems tender, or he frequently shakes his head or scratches at his ear.

Brush your Irish Water Spaniel’s teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.

Trim nails regularly if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they’re too long. Short, neatly trimmed nails keep the dog’s feet in good condition and keep your legs from getting scratched when your IWS enthusiastically jumps up to greet you.

Begin accustoming your IWS to being brushed and examined when he’s a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you’ll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he’s an adult.

As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.

Children And Other Pets

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.

Rescue Groups

Irish Water Spaniels are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Irish Water Spaniels in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don’t see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Irish Water Spaniel rescue.

  • Irish Water Spaniel Club of America
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