Irish Water Spaniel

An Irish Water Spaniel.
An Irish Water Spaniel. Photography by Marcia O’Connor via Some modifications to size have been made to fit the specifications of this site.
Last Updated on February 6, 2020 by Bridget Shirvell

Quick Facts

  • Weight: 45-65 pounds
  • Height: 20-23 inches

The Look of a Irish Water Spaniel

The first thing you notice about the Irish Water Spaniel is its coat. It is curly all over except for the head, where the Irish Water Spaniel sports a mane or mop of crimped hair. The coat is always a liver color with an unusual purple undertone, and is dense with an undercoat that repels water. The feet also suggest its wet lifestyle, as they are webbed for swimming. The tail is narrow and of medium length, and helps propel the dog through the water (thus the name “Whiptail”).

With small eyes, and ears that hang close to the head to keep water out, this dog is ready-made for any water sport.


  • Shortish curly coat that needs only light trimming
  • Unusual purple tone to coat
  • Rastafarian-like mane
  • Stable, docile temperament after training
  • Lifelong mischievousness
  • The Irish Water Spaniel is also called the “Whiptail,” “Rat Tail,” and “Bog Dog”

Ideal Human Companion

  • Allergy sufferers
  • Those looking for a highly trainable dog
  • Those looking for a pleasant, sporting dog
  • Suburban or country dwellers with a yard
  • Families
  • Those who need a retriever for their remote

What They Are Like to Live With

These are working dogs, but adapt easily to family life as long as they are kept mentally and physically stimulated. Life with an Irish Water Spaniel is fun and interesting. They are extremely intelligent dogs that can learn almost anything and are always up for a game or two. They are eager to please and do well with all family members, but should be slowly introduced to other household pets.

Because of their high energy level, be prepared to provide a fairly high amount of exercise and play. It’s also beneficial to let your Irish Water Spaniel swim whenever possible. Their coats need little grooming beyond periodical trimming. They shed very little, which can be helpful for allergy sufferers.

Things You Should Know

Though gentle and quiet by nature, Irish Water Spaniels are so intelligent and crafty that they need early obedience training. Once trained, they will be perfectly satisfactory dogs as long as their human alphas’ roles remain clear. Their mischievousness will still show, so if your shoes have been moved into the kitchen, you’ll know whom to suspect.

Irish Water Spaniels are generally healthy but can suffer from entropion (inverted eyelids), hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and ear infections, especially if they swim a lot.

Irish Water Spaniel History

The Irish Water Spaniel is native to Ireland. It was bred as a retriever, and its characteristics are those of a water dog. The breed is thought to be a mix of the Standard Poodle and several other curly-coated water dogs such as the Portuguese Water Dog. It is the largest of the spaniel group.

In the 19th century, Irish Water Spaniels were popular in the U.S. for hunting duck, but were replaced by the easier-to-care-for Labrador Retriever. The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1884.

Today, the Irish Water Spaniel is a somewhat rare dog, but its versatility as an intelligent hunter and well-mannered companion are helping to increase its popularity.

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