The tallest of the AKC’s spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) is instantly recognizable by its crisply curled coat and tapering “rat tail.” Among the champion swimmers, the alert and inquisitive IWS is hardworking and brave in the field, and playfully affectionate at home.
In the 1830s, Justin McCarthy, from Dublin, refined the IWS into a distinct and repeatable breed. Popular with English and Irish sportsmen due to its ability to retrieve and handle cold waters. In the 1870s, a number of dogs were imported to the US and by 1875, the IWS became the third most popular sporting breed in the US.
Irish Water Spaniel Appearance
The Irish Water Spaniel is 21 to 24 inches tall and weighs 45 to 68 pounds, straddling between medium and large dogs. Among its distinguishing characteristics are a crisply curled, liver-colored, waterproof coat; a tapered “rat tail”; and a cleanly chiseled head crowned with a topknot of long, loose curls. The IWS moves with a smooth ground-covering gait, enabling him to put in a long day’s work in the field.
Gentle brushing and nail and ear cleaning should always be part of the grooming regimen. Suitable for allergy sufferers, the breed’s hypoallergenic coat requires brushing at least weekly and trimming every two months to neaten and shape it. As for bathing the dog, if you keep him well groomed, you will seldom need to bathe him. If he swims a lot, he does not usually need bathing, just rinse off the salt or muddy water. In the winter the snow cleans him.
Irish Water Spaniel’s life expectancy is 12 to 13 years. They are a smart, upstanding, strongly built gun dog bred for all types of shooting, especially for water-fowling.
This lovable breed has an array of personalities and much is determined by the environment you create for your dog. As with any dog, exercise, socialization and an educated, sensitive owner are the keys to good canine behavior. IWS were bred to be personal hunters so their natural tendency is to be very loyal to their people. This means that while they tend to be polite with visitors, they don’t really care if they get adored by strangers right away. They may take time to warm up to visitors but, because of their intelligence and sensitivity, once a friend always a friend to an Irish Water Spaniel. Because of the combination of devotion to their owner, keen sense of humor, great intelligence and need for significant exercise, the IWS would not be the best dog for a person who is not home all day. Lonely, bored, and frustrated does not bode well for a dog with this level of intelligence.
Irish Water Spaniels do best with children if they are raised with them. Irish Water Spaniels can get along well with other pets in the family if introduced to them at a young age. Otherwise, supervise them carefully. They are hunting dogs and may view smaller animals, especially birds, as prey. Protect pet birds even if you’re sure your IWS understands they’re off limits.
Caring for an Irish Water Spaniel
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for an Irish Water Spaniel.
The Irish Water Spaniel should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age. Some dogs are prone to becoming overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.
The Irish Water Spaniel is an active, high-energy companion. He is eager to please, making him relatively easy to train, but he needs lots of daily exercise. Long walks or hikes, running alongside a bicycle, chasing a ball in the backyard, or playing with other dogs daily will help to keep him physically and mentally healthy, and relaxed and calm while inside the home.
Irish Water Spaniels love to swim and will plunge into any nearby body of water if given half a chance. If you can provide this breed with opportunities to swim, do so! It’s great exercise for this high-energy dog.
The IWS has lots of energy and will appreciate having a job to do. He is a reliable worker and will try his best to do what you ask of him so long as he understands what that is. Keep training sessions fun and interesting to be sure you keep him from being bored. He will respond best to positive, reward-based training methods; never use a harsh or heavy-handed approach, as it will bring unwanted results. The IWS excels in canine sports such as agility, dock diving, rally, tracking, and flyball, and their sensitive nature makes them a natural as therapy and assistance dogs.
IWS can have life-threatening reaction to sulfa drugs, Ivermectin and vaccines especially the leptospirosis component. Overall, Irish Water Spaniels are generally healthy but may be prone to the following health conditions:
- Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thigh bone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint.
- Cataracts: A cataract is an opacity on the lens of the eye that causes difficulty in seeing.
- Follicular Dysplasia: A group of syndromes that have hair loss and changes in coat quality in common.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is caused by deficiencies of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland, which is found in the neck.
- Allergies: There are three main types of allergies: food-based allergies, contact allergies, and inhalant allergies.
- Entropion: This defect, which is usually obvious by six months of age, causes the eyelid to roll inward, irritating or injuring the eyeball.
- Paronychia: This condition is not well understood. It occurs in the dog’s toenails, and you will often see dogs with it chewing on their feet.
- Distichiasis: This minor condition occurs when an additional row of eyelashes grow on the oil glands in the dog’s eye and protrude along the edge of the eyelid.
- Epilepsy: This disorder causes mild or severe seizures.