Irish Water Spaniel – Full Breed Profile

Written by: Bojana Radulovic
Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest among spaniel breeds. They are intelligent jumpers who love being active. Read on to see if this breed is for you.
Dog Breed Group:
Sporting Dogs
1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet tall at the shoulder
45 to 65 pounds
Life Span:
10 to 12 years

Breed Characteristics:

Apartment Friendly


How well will this breed adapt to apartment living? Is the apartment size the most important factor when it comes to proper living conditions? Is the breed suitable for apartment living?

Good For First-Time Owners


Some dogs aren't suitable for first-time dog owners. Is this breed a good match for someone with no dog experience? Can training help them be on their best behavior with owners with no dog experience? Are they suitable to be handled by someone who is just entering the canine world?

Overall Sensitivity


Some dogs are sensitive. Certain breeds are rough on the outside, while having the softest heart on the inside. In other words, some dogs are 'thick-skinned' while some are 'easygoing.' Is this breed prone to sensitivity?

Tolerates Being Alone


Separation anxiety in dogs is a serious condition that can affect a dog's life quality. Is this breed prone to this condition? Can you leave him alone for hours? How destructive this breed can become when bored, neglected, or not loved enough?

Affectionate With Family


How affectionate this breed will be around his humans? Will he welcome new family friends easily or he will choose to be shy? Some breeds can be clingy with owners, while others don't attach a lot. Will this breed act as the family's best friend?



Some dogs will tolerate children, while others will adore well-behaved ones. Dogs and children should always be supervised, no matter how well trained the dog might be. Will this breed act as a nanny dog or he will stay away from children?

Friendly Toward Other Dogs


Some dog breeds cannot wait to run to the dog park and run with others. Others prefer to be with their humans, and not to be a part of a multi-pet household. Is this breed dog lover or not? How friendly this breed will be toward other dogs?

Friendly Toward Strangers


Some dog breeds tend to be reserved toward strangers and highly suspicious. Others are fast to walk away with them easily. How welcoming this breed is toward strangers?

Drooling Level


If you love to clean all the time drooling level in dogs is a trait that you should mind. Is this breed less likely to drool, or you will always need a towel on hand?

Easy To Groom


Heavier shedding during the shedding season is something that every dog needs to go through. However, some dogs shed just a bit all year round. Is this breed one of them? How often should you groom this dog?

Overall Health


What can you expect from this breed in terms of health? Are there any genetic conditions to vary about? Is obesity a major issue in this breed? By knowing more about the dog's health, you are learning how to help him live a longer and healthier life.

Prone To Obesity


Treats are a great addition to training sessions. Dogs love sweet bites of dog treats but they should be served in moderation. Treats can lead to obesity, next to poor nutrition. Can this breed gain extra weight from treats? How prone to obesity this breed actually is?

Trainability Level


Training some dogs is easier than others. How easy this dog will be to train? What can you expect? Some dogs are huge people pleasers and they will master commands easily, while others will try to outsmart you.

Intelligence Level


Dogs are smart beings. We do our best to train them, but they do still end up training us to adapt to their needs. How intelligent is this breed? Will he try to outsmart you? Or he will need multiple training sessions to master basic commands?

Prey Drive


Dogs were bred for a specific purpose. Those who were bred to hunt have natural instincts to hunt, even today. This is why many dogs, like Terriers, will chase other animals. They will also have a hard time concentrating on your commands when there is something small moving. Is this breed prone to following his prey instincts?

Barking Level


How vocal this breed is? Can you expect neighbors to ring you often to calm your dog? Or you can sleep without worries of hearing your Fido bark? Some breeds are highly vocal, others have unusual sounds, and some are silent. Is this breed prone to barking?

Energy Level


Low-energy dogs are happy with regular walks and indoor chill times. High-energy dogs are always ready for action. Is this breed a couch potato, energetic dog, or somewhere in between?

Exercise Needs


Some dogs are more than happy with a slow stroll down the street. Others need hours of active time to stay happy and fit. Is this breed demanding in terms of exercise? How much exercise this breed needs to stay happy and healthy?

Playfulness Level


Some dogs never lose that puppy spirit, not even in their senior years. Others are more serious and prefer having a job to do. Is this breed demanding in terms of playfulness? Can you expect playfulness in their senior years as well?

Did you know that the famous Irish Water Spaniel dog is the tallest of all spaniels? Thanks to his curled coat and ‘rat tail’ this is one of the fastest recognizable dog breeds alive.

They aren’t unique only thanks to their crisply curled coat, but due to their vivid personality as well. In a way, this breed is known as the clown of the spaniel family.

They have many names, including Shannon Spaniels, and Rat Tail Spaniels.

As one of the oldest spaniel breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel was bred to hunt, and thanks to their webbed feet and a water-repellent coat, this breed is an exceptional swimmer and big water-lover.

As a highly intelligent and calm dog, this breed is great as a pet.

Still, to have a truly well-behaved dog, you need to provide early socialization and proper training, because only through these two you can have a really well-behaved dog.

The Irish Water Spaniel is a great dog for most people with allergies because they shed little.

Still, you will have to have the proper grooming tools on hand, to keep that famous coat unmatted, clean, and shiny.

Quick Facts

Real name: Irish Water Spaniel
Other names: Whiptail, Shannon Spaniel, Rat Tail Spaniel, Bog Dog
Origin: Ireland
Breed type: Sporting Dogs
Weight: 45 to 65 pounds
Height: 1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet tall at the shoulder
Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
Litter Size: 4 – 12 puppies
Color: Liver
Coat: Curly coat

Irish Water Spaniel History

If you are a spaniel lover already, you must know that the Irish Water Spaniel is one of the most unique spaniels around.

Originally developed in the 1830s, the main purpose of this breed was to be active during the retrieving games.

Although the Irish Water Spaniel is one of the oldest AKC breeds, being recognized in 1878, it’s still unknown which breeds were mixed in creating this breed.

How they were exactly developed is still a big mystery. The main reason for their unknown origin is that there are no breeding records.

In fact, the father of the breed, Justin McCarthy from Dublin, left no records.

Still, some dog experts claim that the following breeds were used in creating the Irish Water Spaniel:

  • Poodle
  • Barbet
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • English Water Spaniel

If you know that this breed is for you be ready to wait a bit. Finding this breed isn’t impossible, but you will have to enter the waiting list because they’re very rare.

Irish Water Spaniels are unique in appearance, they come with a curly coat and an amazing personality.

Irish Water Spaniel Physical Appearance

The Irish Water Spaniel is a breed of attractive and unusual appearance.

Some would say that this is a kind of brown Poodle dog, but they are different than a Poodle in many traits.

Native to Ireland, this breed is an excellent swimmer and one of the biggest water lovers in the canine world.

They are well-built, sturdy, and have a dense curly coat. Just like a Poodle, they shed a little, which makes them suitable for apartment living.

Plus, those allergic to dogs (dog debris) could spend a long time without experiencing any breathing difficulties.

Still, if you are allergic to dog hair you might want to think about getting a pet that won’t harm your health further, and you could always pet an Irish Water Spaniel in a dog park or on the streets.

Their loose curls are probably the most recognizable trait of the breed. Another distinctive characteristic of the breed is their smoot ‘rat tail’, which is free of long coat that covers the dog’s body.

The Irish Water Spaniel’s face is smooth-coated and requires a minimum of trimming.

Their feet are webbed, which makes them great swimmers.

Did you know that the Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest member of the spaniel family?

As for the size, males are between 22 to 24 inches and weigh between 55 to 65 pounds. As it is commonly the case, females are slightly smaller than males, being 21 to 23 inches tall, and weighing between 45 to 60 pounds.

Irish Water Spaniel Personality

The Irish Water Spaniel is true to his roots, which means that this breed is highly alert and inquisitive.

Irish Water Spaniels are friendly toward people that they know and are familiar with. However, they may be reserved toward strangers.

These dogs are not aggressive or too shy but will keep their distance before they get to know you better.

These dogs are smart. As such, they are highly trainable. Still, they will be independent thinkers which is why experienced owners are recommended.

Irish Water Spaniels will get along with children, as long as they respect them. They do best with children if they are raised together. What they accept in puppyhood should stick with them forever.

Make sure that children know how to interact with dogs safely. This means that they know not to disturb them when they are resting, sleeping, or eating.

Also, it’s important to supervise interaction between dogs and children regardless of how well they get along.

As for the other pets, Irish Water Spaniels will love animals that are introduced to them in puppyhood.

These are hunting dogs, which means that they may try to chase small animals, especially birds.

If you are getting this breed, it may be better for the Irish Water Spaniel to be the only house pet.

Overall, the Irish Water Spaniel is an active and energetic dog who loves to swim.

Irish Water Spaniel Training

Irish Water Spaniels are highly trainable. To get the most out of your training sessions, make them consistent, fun, and short.

Intelligent breeds get easily bored when training becomes too repetitive. They need challenge and action to keep them interested.

Plus, having treats on hand cannot harm. Just overdue with treats, because sweet food can lead to weight gain.

Before your Irish Water Spaniel arrives get some awesome toys, training toys, and other items that will make your dog feel welcome.

It’s important for your dog to feel secure and that he has his own space. Bear in mind that training isn’t only about mastering basic commands and house dog rules.

Training is about learning to live with your dog. About respecting each other needs and space.

If you feel like training your Irish Water Spaniel is too much for you think about puppy classes or hiring a professional dog trainer.

It may be pricey, but it will speed up the training process and make the bond with your canine stronger.

Irish Water Spaniel Grooming

The Irish Water Spaniel has a wonderful double coat, with a tight undercoat.

Some body parts will have shorter hair, while other parts have more profuse hair.

This dog comes in liver color, which is often described as deep reddish-brown color.

Keeping their appearance in order requires some time, the right grooming tools, and constant care.

They shed little to no hair, which is great if you don’t like long brushing sessions.

Still, they must be brushed two or three times per keep. They may be prone to ear infections.

Make sure that you know when to clean a dog’s ears and how to clean them.

Dogs with floppy ears hold in moisture, and a wet and warm environment is the perfect ground for bacteria.

If you are not sure how to clean a dog’s ears talk with your veterinarian or a professional dog groomer.

The rest is basic care, and should include:

  • Trimming or grinding nails monthly
  • Checking eyes and gums monthly
  • Checking and cleaning dog’s ears
  • Bathing only when needed
  • Brushing weekly

Irish Water Spaniel Health

Irish Water Spaniels are generally considered to be healthy dogs.

It’s hard to know for sure how healthy your puppy is unless you are working with responsible dog breeders.

These breeders are serious and passionate about their job, and they follow recommended standards on the breed and give their best to provide the best litter possible.

Responsible breeders will never let you just choose a dog and take him. No, you will need to have a long conversation with them first.

They won’t give their puppies to anyone, but only to the best fit. You may feel like you are being interviewed because you are being asked a lot of questions.

The reason for this is obvious – they want to make sure that you are the best fit for their puppy. Responsible breeders will screen puppies for most common health issues in the breed.

They will present you with medical documentation on the puppy, inform you about possible future health issues, and give your straightforward inputs on the dog’s care, grooming needs, feeding style, and possible health issues.

This doesn’t mean that your dog will get any of the following issues. It only means that you should provide regular veterinarian check-ups and proper care, so your Fido can live his life without the following issues:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Cataracts
  • Follicular Dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Allergies
  • Entropion
  • Paronychia
  • Distichiasis
  • Megaesophagus
  • Epilepsy

The best way to keep your Irish Water Spaniel healthy is to think about prevention. A simple veterinarian check-up can do wonders in keeping everyone healthier.

Is Irish Water Spaniel For You?

Irish Water Spaniels are great dogs for experienced dog owners.

They are among the top breeds for those who love medium to large dogs with impressive athletic activities.

This breed isn’t for you if you don’t want to deal with intense exercise requirements, excessive jumping, and destructive behavior when bored.

On the other hand, the Irish Water Spaniel is for you if you want a watchdog who isn’t too aggressive and is perceptive.

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