Breed Irish Water Spaniel

BreedsAbout the Breed: Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish Water spaniel is an energetic, intelligent, and versatile companion with a happy demeanor.


The Irish Water Spaniel is an old breed that originated in England from spaniels used in water work, and from the now extinct Tweed Water spaniel. By the 1830s, Irish hunters and breeders, particularly Justin McCarthy of Dublin, began refining the breed, and by 1859, a true breeding type with the characteristics we know today started appearing in dog shows. As the largest of the spaniels, they are actually classified as retrievers for hunt tests and field trials.

Often confused with poodles, the Irish Water Spaniel has a long, smooth “rat” tail that is a distinguishing characteristic of the breed.


The Irish Water Spaniel is a good family dog who tends to be devoted to the whole family, rather than a one person dog. They are affectionate, with clownish personalities. They are busy dogs who require regular exercise and engagement to be happy; their hunting and retrieving abilities have been preserved in the breed and they love to fetch and swim. They can be good watch dogs, but are not typically over-protective. It’s important to socialize them while young, as they can be aggressive with other animals if not well-acclimated to them.

Best with:

  • A loving home that can provide vigorous daily mental and physical exercise, and a regular routine.
  • Owners willing to use positive training but who are not afraid to be a strong leader.
  • Homes with secure fencing but where the dog is not outside only and is fully integrated into the family.
  • Homes where the dog is typically not left alone for long hours.

Not for:

  • People who are not willing to provide daily exercise.
  • People who are not willing to take the time and money to train.
  • People who need to leave their dog alone all day.
  • People unwilling to properly socialize the dog.


  • Loving and affectionate.
  • Silly and engaging.
  • Eager to please and engage in a variety of activities.
  • Intelligent, great retrievers and hunters.
  • Not overly protective.


  • Requires regular grooming due to abundant curly coat.
  • Can have skin and coat problems along with other health problems.
  • Can be too boisterous for small children.
  • Can be aggressive to other pets and dogs if not socialized early.



Females: Average 21-23 inches at the shoulder, and between 45 to 58 pounds.
Males: Average 22-24 inches at the shoulder, and between 55 to 68 pounds.


Irish Water Spaniels are solid liver colored with no white. This is the only acceptable color. The eyes are amber and the nose is liver-colored. They are curly all over, with a top knot on the head; the face is always smooth, and the long tail has no curls and is called a rat tail. Coat length is about three inches.

Energy Level:

Moderately active to highly active, requiring regular exercise where it can run and play.

Life expectancy:

10-14 years.


The Irish Water Spaniel is a good family dog, and good with children if socialized properly. They may be too boisterous for very small children, and should be supervised with all children.

Other animals:

The Irish Water Spaniel needs to be socialized with other dogs to prevent dog aggression; they can be aggressive to other small pets such as cats and birds.


Great retrievers, hunters, and competitors in agility, obedience, and rally.


Shedding is light, but the coat requires regular grooming and trimming to avoid tangles and skin problems. Nails, teeth, and ears require regular attention.


Generally healthy, but can have hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, skin problems, seizures, and cancer. Some can have a reaction to Ivermectin, the active ingredient in heart worm medication, so caution is advised.