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Irish Water Spaniel

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Irish Water Spaniel Profile

Country of Origin:

The current stock of Irish Water Spaniel (also known as the ‘Whiptail’, ‘Shannon Spaniel’, ‘Rat Tail Spaniel’, or ‘Bog Dog’) is of Irish origin, but its original ancestry is unknown. The Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, and Barbet are all closely related to the Irish Water Spaniel, but no one is certain which breed descends from the other. The Irish Water Spaniel is the oldest and perhaps most unique Spaniel breed, depicted in manuscripts from as early as the 1100’s. The modern breed was developed in Dublin, Ireland in the 1830’s by Justin McCarthy. His Irish Water Spaniel ‘Boatswain’ sired many dogs and is widely considered the father of the breed. The Irish Water Spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club in the late 1800’s. It had a brief period of popularity, but is today a somewhat rare pet and show dog.


The Irish Water Spaniel has a shoulder height of 51-59 cm (20-23 in) and weighs 20-30 kg (45-65 lbs). It has a visible stop (depression where the muzzle meets the forehead), almond-shaped eyes, and long, low-set ears. The Irish Water Spaniel has slightly webbed feet and a level tail which is thick and curly at the base, tapering to a point. The Irish Water Spaniel is a tall, stout, graceful dog.


The Irish Water Spaniel has a breed characteristic coat consisting of dense, permanent curls. It is somewhat oily in texture and its color is a distinctive purple-tinged dark liver. The Irish Water Spaniel has a curly topknot above its head. Irish Water Spaniels shed little and are an excellent match for people with allergies.


The Irish Water Spaniel is lively, cheerful, intelligent, and independent. It has a clownish reputation because of its silly, warm-hearted antics. Irish Water Spaniels are not friendly to strangers and make good watchdogs.


The Irish Water Spaniel gets along well with other dogs and any household pets. Early socialization is preferable. Irish Water Spaniels make great playmates for children, though some can be a bit shy.


The Irish Water Spaniel coat requires brushing and combing several times a week, but excessive grooming will cause the coat to fluff, which is undesirable. After brushing, the Irish Water Spaniel should be washed or allowed to swim, which will help retain its naturally curly texture. The Irish Water Spaniel has a lifespan of 10-12 years. It is susceptible to hip dysplasia (malformed hip joint which can cause lameness or arthritis), distichia (extra eyelashes on the eyelid which can scratch the cornea if not properly treated), and ear infections, which can be prevented by regular cleaning of the ear passages.


The Irish Water Spaniel should be trained at a young age with a consistent approach. Obedience training is highly recommended. The Irish Water Spaniel learns quickly, but if it does not recognize its handler’s authority it will refuse to obey.


The Irish Water Spaniel has very high exercise needs. It will not be satisfied by less than an hour a day of running or active play. The Irish Water Spaniel’s favorite activities are swimming and retrieving.