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Meet the Irish Water Spaniel: A Water-Loving "Irishtocrat"

Exuberant and extroverted, this dog breed is more than a Poodle with a rat tail.

 |  Mar 3rd 2014  |   2 Contributions


"Is that a Poodle? What's with his tail?" Take a stroll with an Irish Water Spaniel, and you'll hear that enough times to tire of it by the end of the block. But you can't really blame folks; the IWS is among the most unknown of AKC breeds. Some people might also confuse it with the Portuguese Water Dog, which is also understandable. But while all three breeds have curly hair and love water, the Irish Water Spaniel is very different from the others -- or from any other breed!

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Irish Water Spaniel puppies. Photo copyright Jeremy Kezer, courtesy the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America's Facebook page

More interesting things about the Irish Water Spaniel

  • It is the only breed with its distinctive coat pattern: profuse curly hair all over except for a naturally smooth face and tail. The curly hair covers only the first couple of inches of the tail. The rat tail is a distinctive feature of the breed.

  • The coat, while fairly long, doesn't need regular trimming like the Poodle's does.

  • Irish Water Spaniels are the tallest, and possibly oldest, spaniel.

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Irish Water Spaniel in snow courtesy of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America's Facebook page

  • Nobody knows what breeds are behind the IWS, although Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, Barbets, and other Water Spaniels are possibilities. His function was as a water retriever.

  • Rat-Tail Spaniels, Whip-Tail Spaniels, and even Irish Water Spaniels are mentioned in texts from the 1100s.

  • In the 17th century, the King of France was presented with an Irish Water Spaniel.
  • In the 19th century, a dog named Boatswain influenced the breed so much he is credited with being the progenitor of the Irish Water Spaniel as known today. The modern breed as we know it traces to the 1830s.

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Lena Lir / Shutterstock.com

  • In the late 19th century, they were the third most popular sporting breed in England. They have never been very popular in America.

  • The breed is exuberant and clownish.

  • The coat is dense and sheds little. Some consider them hypoallergenic.

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Brown Irish Water Spaniel by Shutterstock

  • The coat needs weekly brushing. Show dogs are also scissored every few months. But the last step before being show ready is often to just let the dog go swimming, so the hair forms its natural tight ringlets

  • An IWS named Irishtocrat (Dugan to his friends) won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show.

  • The Irish Water Spaniel is in the AKC Sporting Group.

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Okay, we see a bit of a resemblance.

  • Despite having everything going for them, the IWS is way down at the 154th most popular breed, dropping from 134th a decade ago. We couldn't find a single celebrity with one, although we did find a website that pointed out that Rick James looks like one!

Do you own an Irish Water Spaniel? Have you spent time with one? Let's hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you'd like us to write about, let us know that, too.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier

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