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Irish Water Spaniel: Dog Breed Info, Pictures, Facts & Traits

Written by: Jessica Kim

Last Updated on May 16, 2024 by Dogster Team

Irish Water Spaniel dog standing in the garden

Irish Water Spaniel: Dog Breed Info, Pictures, Facts & Traits

Irish Water Spaniels don’t look like your typical spaniel. They’re quite large and have extremely curly hair that makes them look more like a Poodle. However, Irish Water Spaniels are a distinct dog breed and always end up having a special place in people’s hearts. These loyal dogs often form strong bonds with their families and value companionship. We’ll go over all you need to know about Irish Water Spaniels and if they’re a good fit for you.

Breed Overview


21 – 24 inches


45 – 68 pounds


12 – 13 years


Brown, chocolate, liver

Suitable for:

Families with children, families with other dogs, active lifestyles


Affectionate, easygoing, intelligent

Irish Water Spaniels are the oldest and largest of the spaniel breeds. However, they have mysterious origins, and no one is quite sure of what dog breeds were involved in developing them. What we do know is that Irish Water Spaniels were bred for hunting and retrieving. They’re natural swimmers that have webbed feet, dense waterproof coats, and a hairless tail that functions like a rudder when they’re swimming.

Irish Water Spaniels also have gentle and laidback personalities. While they love participating in outdoor activities, they’ll love lying on the couch with you and relaxing in the evening. Although they were originally bred for hunting, they’re also excellent companion dogs.

Irish Water Spaniel Characteristics

High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.

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Irish Water Spaniel Puppies

Irish Water Spaniel puppy playing outside
Image By: proconsult, Pixabay

Irish Water Spaniels aren’t a common breed in the US, so it can be challenging to find a breeder near you. You can start your search by looking through the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Marketplace or the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s (IWSCA) breeders’ directory. Because Irish Water Spaniels are uncommon, you’ll rarely find one at a dog adoption center. It’s more likely that you’ll find mixed-breed dogs that have Irish Water Spaniel in their lineage.

As puppies, Irish Water Spaniels are playful and affectionate. They enjoy being around people and are quick to build trust with their family members. Irish Water Spaniel puppies are particularly curious and will end up following their noses and snooping around all areas of the house. Therefore, it’s important to puppy-proof your home thoroughly and supervise your Irish Water Spaniel puppy at all times. Crate training your Irish Water Spaniel puppy will ensure they’re kept in a safe space during times you can’t keep an eye on them.

While Irish Water Spaniels tend to be non-aggressive dogs, it’s important to start socializing your puppy as early as possible. Irish Water Spaniels tend to prefer human company and are usually confident and social when meeting new people. However, they can be shyer around other dogs. Introducing them to friendly and gentle dogs at an early age can help them build their confidence and learn to behave appropriately when interacting with other dogs.

Irish Water Spaniel Origin & History

The Irish Water Spaniel’s origins are unclear, but records of them date back to the 1830s. It’s speculated that the first Irish Water Spaniels were bred with North Country Water Spaniels and South Country Water Spaniels. It’s also possible that Poodles and Portuguese Water Dogs were included to preserve the breed.

Irish Water Spaniels were bred to be hunting dogs and were known to be quiet and skilled hunters and retrievers. While they still make excellent hunting dogs, they’re more widely bred to be companion dogs and family dogs.

Irish Water Spaniel standing on grass
Image By: Julie Morrish, Shutterstock

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Irish Water Spaniel

While Irish Water Spaniel puppies can be very energetic, they usually mellow out once they reach adulthood. They calm down a lot and have gentle and easygoing personalities. Irish Water Spaniels are particularly excellent pets for people who enjoy spending time outdoors. They love being outside and have fun when engaging in activities like hiking, camping, and swimming. They’re also adequate jogging companions.

Irish Water Spaniels form strong bonds with their families and don’t do well if they’re left alone for too long. They love human companionship and do best when they’re in homes where someone is usually around to be with them.

If you work long hours outside of your house, it’s essential to schedule moments of human interaction throughout your Irish Water Spaniel’s day. You may have to take them on walks during your lunch break, hire a dog walker, or drop your dog off at a doggy daycare.

Although Irish Water Spaniels are intelligent, they’re not often recommended for first-time owners. They can have a stubborn streak, especially during the beginning stages of obedience training. However, with some patience, Irish Water Spaniels are usually won over and become eager to please and very responsive to praise and rewards.

These smart dogs tend to enjoy having a job or a hobby. They can be good service dogs and therapy dogs, as they like feeling helpful and enjoy being around people. Due to their athleticism, they’re good candidates for dog sports and can excel in various sporting events, including agility, rallying, and dock diving.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪

Irish Water Spaniels are gentle and easygoing, which makes them good family dogs. They tend to show a good amount of patience toward children and are highly loyal to their families. Irish Water Spaniels love being included in family activities and would love nothing more than going on a road trip or camping trip with their families.

No matter how laidback an Irish Water Spaniel is, it’s still important to teach both the dog and children how to interact with each other appropriately. Irish Water Spaniel puppies may come off a bit strong with their enthusiasm and playfulness, which can be intimidating for younger children. They may also be mouthy and nip while they’re going through their teething phase. Children must also learn how to handle and pet dogs respectfully. It’s important for them to know not to touch a dog’s face, paws, or tail and when a dog wants to be left alone.

Irish Water Spaniel with amber eyes
Image Credit: KRNaturalPhoto, Shutterstock

Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets? 🐶 😽

Irish Water Spaniels are people-loving dogs, but they can live harmoniously with other dogs in the house. Early socialization will help immensely with Irish Water Spaniels getting along with other canine siblings. A slow and gentle introduction process will also help them get used to living with another dog.

Irish Water Spaniels can learn to live with other types of pets. If you’re careful with your introductions and supervise initial interactions, they can learn to leave cats and other smaller pets alone. It can take several weeks to a few months, but most Irish Water Spaniels eventually get used to other animals and won’t bother them. However, it’s still important to remember that they were originally bred to be hunting dogs. Some Irish Water Spaniels will have a strong prey drive.  So, owners must also have realistic expectations and come to terms with the fact that their Irish Water Spaniel may not ever be fully trusted to be left unsupervised and alone with smaller pets.

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Things to Know When Owning an Irish Water Spaniel

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

The best way to determine the best diet for your Irish Water Spaniel is to consult your veterinarian. Their nutritional needs will depend on a variety of factors, including their life stage and activity level. Finding the right dog food and portion sizes is particularly important for Irish Water Spaniels because they’re prone to excessive weight gain.

In most cases, Irish Water Spaniels will do well with eating high-quality dog food without any special formulas. However, if your dog is particularly active, consider choosing a high-protein diet to help sustain their energy needs. Irish Water Spaniels are also prone to developing joint dysplasia as they age. So, make sure to have a conversation with your veterinarian about when it would be appropriate to change their food or add joint health supplements to their diet.

Irish Water Spaniel playing in the yard
Image Credit: Bokehboo Studios, Shutterstock

Exercise 🐕

Consistent exercise is particularly important for Irish Water Spaniels because they’re prone to obesity. They have moderate exercise needs and require at least 45 minutes of exercise a day. They’ll enjoy going on long walks but usually prefer roaming around off-leash. Therefore, they thrive in homes with a spacious fenced backyard where they can run and sniff around. It’s possible to live with an Irish Water Spaniel in an apartment, but it’s important that they have consistent and daily access to a dog park where they can let loose and explore.

You can also help Irish Water Spaniels burn some energy by planning weekend excursions for them. They’re outdoorsy dogs and will be enthusiastic about going hiking or spending the day at a dog beach. If you don’t live near a dog beach or a hiking trail, you may want to teach your Irish Water Spaniel how to participate in dog sports. Irish Water Spaniels are eager learners and typically enjoy racing through an agility course. They also usually like fetching, retrieving, and swimming.

As smart dogs, Irish Water Spaniels love a good intellectual challenge and will thrive when they have enrichment activities scheduled in their daily routine. They’ll love solving dog puzzles and playing with treat-dispensing toys. You can also encourage them to utilize their powerful noses by playing hide-and-seek or hiding treats around the house for them to find.

Training 🎾

Irish Water Spaniels may take some time to get used to obedience training, but they usually grow to become enthusiastic learners. They’re intelligent dogs and pick up on obedience commands pretty quickly.

When training an Irish Water Spaniel, it’s important to keep training sessions fun and positive because they’re very sensitive to people’s tone of voice. They respond very poorly when spoken to harshly, and it’ll be detrimental to their confidence and self-esteem. Therefore, if you ever feel frustrated during training sessions, it’s best to walk away and resume training later when both you and your Irish Water Spaniel are feeling calmer.

Keep training sessions short and schedule them multiple times throughout the day. This will keep your Irish Water Spaniel engaged during training sessions and will help them remember obedience commands more easily.

Irish Water Spaniel
Image Credit: PxHere

Grooming ✂️

Irish Water Spaniels require a more extensive grooming routine than many other dogs. They have a low-shedding coat that needs to be brushed frequently to prevent mats and tangles from forming. Their hair is prone to tangling and brushing it every other day will keep it smooth and healthy. You can also have a professional groomer trim their coat every 6–8 weeks. A shorter coat can make grooming much more manageable, and you can get by skipping a day of brushing if you’re too busy.

Irish Water Spaniels don’t require frequent baths. It’s best to bathe them only when they start to smell or get particularly dirty, as overbathing can make their skin dry out and cause skin and coat issues. Just make sure to check their ears and clean them regularly. Their long ears are prone to gathering and holding moisture, which is the perfect condition for ear infections to develop.

Health and Conditions 🏥

The average lifespan of Irish Water Spaniels is 12–13 years. They’re relatively healthy but can be susceptible to a couple of health issues as they age. Here are some health issues that are commonly found in Irish Water Spaniels.

Minor Conditions
  • Joint dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
Serious Conditions
  • Lymphoma
  • Obesity

Male vs Female

Male Irish Water Spaniels tend to grow a few inches taller than female Irish Water Spaniels and are usually heavier. Other than size, there aren’t any known differences attributed to the breed’s sex. Some people may believe that male and female Irish Water Spaniels have distinct personality traits and temperaments. However, this theory has insufficient evidence and is yet to be proven. A dog’s temperament is more likely to be influenced by genetics and environment.

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3 Little-Known Facts About the Irish Water Spaniel

1. Irish Water Spaniels are often mistaken as Poodle mixes.

Irish Water Spaniels are the tallest among the spaniel breeds, and many people often mistake them for Poodle mixes due to their large size. They also have curly hair, narrow noses, and floppy ears that look similar to Poodle features.

Irish Water Spaniels may have had Poodles introduced to their lineage long ago, but both breeds are considered to be distinct from each other and unrelated.

2. Irish Water Spaniels have many nicknames.

Irish Water Spaniels go by many other names, including Bog Dogs, Rat Tail Spaniels, Shannon Spaniels, and Whiptail Spaniels. They’ve also earned the moniker of being the clowns of the spaniel breed. It’s unclear as to when and how they got this nickname, but many people attribute it to their playful personalities, atypical coats, and rat-like tails.

3. Irish Water Spaniels were gifted to French royalty.

Despite having a reputation for being clownish, the Irish Water Spaniel was a prized gift to French royalty. King James I gave an Irish Water Spaniel to the king of France as a diplomatic gift, and this dog was the first Irish Water Spaniel to enter and live in France.

Irish Water Spaniel lying in the grass
Image Credit: Nikolai Belyakov, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Irish Water Spaniels are charming dogs, and it’s so easy to love them. They’re devoted and loyal to their families, and they have a goofy and playful personality that’ll bring a smile to your face. It may take some time to earn an Irish Water Spaniel’s trust, but the time and effort you put into gaining their trust is well worth it. Irish Water Spaniels have a lot of love to give, and they’ll be happy to be by your side and create many new and fun memories in their lives with you.

Featured Image Credit: Radomir Rezny, Shutterstock

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