Irish Water Spaniel is a strong spaniel dog breed. Archeological finds in Ireland have verified experts’ claims that these versatile dogs date back to the 7th century. At various times during its history, the breed (and direct ancestors of the breed) were known as Rat-Tail Spaniels, Whip-Tail Spaniels, and Shannon Spaniels. By the mid-1800s, the breed was being shown in dog shows, and several dogs—including Boatswain, his son Jack, and his great-grandson Doctor—were attracting attention to the breed.
The Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest of the spaniels, standing between 21 and 24 inches tall and weighing between 45 and 65 pounds. He gives the appearance of being strong, well-balanced, and slightly longer than tall. The head is large with a square, long muzzle. The eyes are medium, almond-shaped, and dark. The ears are long and set low on the head. The body is of medium length with a deep chest. The legs are strong, the feet are long and wide for swimming, and the tail is set low on the hips. The tail gets its “rat-tail” description because it is not covered by the curly coat. The coat is solid liver in colour and is double. The undercoat is thick and the outer coat curly. The face has short coat, too, topped by a topknot of curls on the head. This coat does not shed excessively but does need regular grooming. The ears need to be cleaned at least weekly. The curly coat should be brushed and combed thoroughly twice a week. The coat will need to be trimmed every six weeks to keep it neat and clean. Potential owners should talk with a breeder about the breed’s grooming needs.
The Irish Water Spaniel dog was bred to be a hunting retriever able to find and retrieve downed birds in ice-cold water as well as on land. Today the breed is still an excellent hunting partner but is also being kept more and more as a family dog. When kept as a pet, an Irish Water Spaniel needs vigorous daily exercise. A natural retriever, he will play ball or flying disc and loves games of hide-and-seek. He is also a superb swimmer and will swim year-round if given the chance. When well socialised to children, he will willingly play kids’ games for hours on end. This breed is very playful, and many dogs will do anything—including silly things—just for the fun of it and to get the owner’s attention.
Early socialisation is important, as the Irish Water Spaniel breed is quite watchful. Luckily, however, the breed is not prone to excessive barking. Training comes naturally to these dogs, and they thrive under fair, firm, yet fun training. The Irish Water Spaniel is very much a team player and will enjoy canine sports where dog and owner get to work together, such as agility and search and rescue. Training and socialisation should continue into adulthood.
The Irish Water Spaniel can be a wonderful family dog but also needs a job to do, even if it is as simple as bringing in the morning newspaper. His owner should be actively involved with the dog; this breed does not do well when left alone for many hours each day. As a breed with strong hunting instincts, he should not be trusted with smaller pets. Health concerns include hip and elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, ear infections, and allergies. Some owners also report drug sensitivities.