What To Know About Irish Water Spaniels

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on June 21, 2022
7 min read

The Irish Water Spaniel is a sporting dog from Ireland with a distinct coat and a playful personality. Easy to train and willing to please, this dog makes for a great family pet for an active family. Often called the clown of the Spaniels, this goofy dog is a great companion and is known for its loyalty.

The Irish Water Spaniel is an athletic dog that has powerful shoulders and legs and a long, arched neck. It has a domed head and ears that are long and set low so that they lie close to the dog’s cheeks. This breed has a short, thick tail that tapers off to a point. The average Irish Water Spaniel size is medium, standing between 21 and 24 inches tall and weighing between 45 and 65 pounds.

Just like its name suggests, the Irish Water Spaniel loves to swim. Bred to retrieve fowl from the water for hunters, this dog has webbed feet that help it to swim. Its double-layered coat is water-repellent so that it dries off quickly.

The thick, curly coat is this dog’s most distinctive feature. The Irish Water Spaniel’s colors are dark reddish-brown, often described as liver-colored, with a purple tint. At the top of its head, the Irish Water Spaniel has a knot of long, loose curls or ringlets that often cover its eyes, as well as defined sideburns and a beard. Its body is completely covered in a curly coat, except for its smooth face and the tip of its tail.

This breed is known for its playful personality, so much so that it’s often called a clown. The Irish Water Spaniel personality is boisterous, energetic, and very loving. As a retriever, this dog was bred to have a job to do and aims to please its owner.

The Irish Water Spaniel usually makes for a good family dog but sometimes does better with just one owner around. Intelligent and alert, the Irish Water Spaniel could be a good watchdog, but that’s usually not its job. While friendly and relaxed around its family, this dog is often wary of strangers, even sometimes aggressive.

These dogs are quite healthy in general, so the average Irish Water Spaniel lifespan is around 10 years.

To care for your Irish Water Spaniel’s coat, you need to groom your dog several times a week from puppyhood. When your dog is young, get it used to grooming by brushing it gently a few times a week. You can use a brush with natural bristles to remove dead hair and keep the coat shiny. During grooming sessions, clean your dog's ears and make sure its nails are trimmed. As your dog gets older and its coat becomes curlier and more defined, more effort and care need to be put into grooming.

To begin, brush out your dog’s coat with a coarse brush, and then use a wide-tooth comb to comb it out. Break up any mats in the coat with your fingers first, then comb them out. Next, using a slick brush, brush against the fall of your dog's hair, gently getting all the way down to the skin. Brush out the whole coat to remove any dead hair. After brushing, use scissors to gently trim your Irish Water Spaniel’s hair. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, you can take your dog to a professional groomer.

To take care of your dog’s teeth, you need to brush them every day or two with dog toothpaste and a toothbrush. Never use human toothpaste to clean your dog’s teeth. Gently pull your dog’s lips up or down to brush its teeth, focusing on the gum line. Brush in gentle circles. Your dog doesn’t need to have its mouth open all the way to clean its teeth.

Irish Water Spaniels were developed to be a sporting dog, so they are very energetic and need a lot of daily exercise, both physical and mental. Without enough mental and physical stimulation, your dog will become bored and frustrated. Your Irish Water Spaniel needs at least one hour of strenuous exercise each day, such as running or playing, but can go up to two hours. If you like exercising with your dog, you might try some activities like jogging, hiking, or biking with your dog alongside.

High-quality dog food will help your Irish Water Spaniel live a healthy life. It’s important to avoid overfeeding your dog, so pay attention to factors like age and activity level when portioning their food. Treats can help in the training process, but be careful not to give your dog too many — they shouldn’t be more than 10% of your dog’s total diet.

When you get an Irish Water Spaniel, you need to talk to your vet about heartworm prevention. Most vets recommend one of two forms: monthly chewable pills or prescription injections that are administered by your vet every 6 to 12 months.

You’ll also need to talk to your vet about vaccinations. In your Irish Water Spaniel’s first year, your doctor will recommend a series of vaccinations with booster shots to follow every 1 to 3 years. These include:

  • Rabies
  • Distemper
  • Parvovirus
  • Parainfluenza
  • Adenovirus 

While not required, your vet will probably recommend these vaccinations to keep your dog healthy:

  • Leptospirosis
  • Bordetella
  • Coronavirus
  • Lyme disease
  • Influenza

There aren’t any vaccines available to prevent fleas and ticks, but there are treatments to prevent infestations. It’s important to check your dog each time they come in, especially from wooded areas. Products like sprays, shampoos, and flea collars can help keep pests off of your Irish Water Spaniel. Your vet can recommend flea pills, which are oral insecticides that work to prevent and control flea outbreaks in your dog. They are available by prescription only.

With a good diet and exercise, most Irish Water Spaniels live healthy lives. But there are some Irish Water Spaniel health issues to be aware of that some dogs may experience.

Hip and elbow dysplasia. This is a common problem in larger breeds and can cause your dog pain and possibly lameness. You can have your dog’s hips and elbows X-rayed to check for any signs of dysplasia. This can help you protect the health of your Irish Water Spaniel, and it's especially important information if you plan on breeding your dog in the future.

Reactions to medications. Some Irish Water Spaniels have had bad reactions to certain medications, which your vet should be aware of. Sulfa antibiotics, along with the deworming medication Ivermectin, can cause your Irish Water Spaniel to have adverse reactions.

The Irish Water Spaniel has a playful personality but overall has a quiet temperament, as it only barks to warn about threats. While most Irish Water Spaniels are playful and friendly, some may be more reserved and shy. This breed is known to snap when annoyed or startled.

Early socialization and regular exercise are key to Irish Water Spaniels' behavior. If you’re planning on having your dog around children or other pets, they need to be socialized and trained early on. Because of these dogs' intelligence and energy, training should be ongoing to keep your dog mentally stimulated. This could be something easy, like learning a new trick, or something more advanced, like agility or obedience training.

One great feature of this dog is that the Irish Water Spaniel is hypoallergenic. This means that it can be a great pet for someone who is allergic to dogs, as its distinct coat won’t cause an allergic reaction.

One thing to consider before you get an Irish Water Spaniel is that this dog needs lots of room to run and play. It does best in a larger home that has access to a large garden or park where it can run freely. Your Irish Water Spaniel loves to swim, so access to water nearby is a big plus.

The Irish Water Spaniel is the last of the water dogs that originated from the British Isles. Nobody knows its exact origins, but several dogs are suspected to have helped create the breed as we know it today. Experts believe that the Irish Water Dog’s roots lie in dogs brought to Ireland from the Iberian Peninsula. Some dogs that are suspected of giving this dog its appearance are the Portuguese Water Dog, the Poodle, and the English Water Spaniel (which is now extinct).

One dog in Ireland, named Boatswain, is considered to be the father of the modern Irish Water Spaniel. Bred in the 1830s, this dog helped to give the breed its appearance and sired many famous show dogs and gundogs during his lifetime. Rumor says that Boatswain lived to be 20 years old and his bloodline can be traced all over the world today.

Even though this breed is a spaniel, it was trained and bred to work as a retriever. By the mid-1800s, the Irish Water Spaniel had been developed to retrieve waterfowl for hunters and, shortly after, became the most popular retriever in the US. This dog still retains all of its characteristics, including its desire to please and be a natural companion.