Irish Water Spaniel

Written by: Jamie
Updated: November 9, 2020

Looking for information on the Irish Water Spaniel? Keep reading for in-depth information on their personality, health, exercise needs, and lots more!

Typical Irish Water Spaniel on a green grass lawn

Height: Male 22-24 inches, female 21-23 inches
Weight: Male 25-31 kilos, female 20-26 kilos
Lifespan: 12-13 years
Pedigree? (registered with the KC?): Yes, this breed is registered with the Kennel Club

Positives and Negatives

Check out the positives and negatives of the Irish Water Spaniel below:


  • Likes to be around water, can live on a boat
  • Excellent watchdog
  • Generally a healthy breed
  • An ideal choice for allergy sufferers


  • Can’t live in an apartment
  • Not a good choice for first-time owners
  • Not very animal friendly
  • High grooming maintenance


The Irish Water Spaniel is a water retriever from Ireland. They were bred as both field hunters and retrievers, mostly popular amongst waterfowl hunters. Their ability to easily adapt from working dogs into family companions makes them ideal for a range of owners.

The coat colour of the IWS is brown-reddish with tight curls, designed to protect them from the water. Whilst the breed doesn’t shed, they still have high grooming needs. Keeping their curls and fur length in check may occasionally require a professional.

Related: Find a dog groomer in your local area with our tool.

Irish Water Spaniel Dog, Portrait of Adult with Tongue out

Sometimes, the Irish Water Spaniel can be rather headstrong. This is the reason why they aren’t ideal for first-time owners. A firm leader will be needed to help balance the personality of the IWS. Dog aggression isn’t uncommon amongst this breed. Early socialization will be needed to overcome this.

Weight gain can be an issue for the Irish Water Spaniel. Their calorie intake must be watched, especially when training. Excessive food treats can cause obesity if they are given too regularly. Try to replace food with affection whenever you can. The IWS is a people pleaser and loves to make their owner happy.

If you are interested in litters, rehoming an IWS, or events related to this breed, then take a look at the Irish Water Spaniel Association. They’re a Kennel Club registered Breed Club and any IWS enthusiast can easily become a member.


Irish Water Spaniels were developed in Ireland during the early 1800s. The breed is known to be related to ancient breeds, but their exact roots aren’t known. Development is mostly attributed to Justin McCarthy, however, records of the breed’s progression and origin at this time weren’t kept.

They were thought to have developed from the South Country Water Spaniel and the North Country Water Spaniel. Yet some believe the Barbet, Portuguese Water Dog, and other Poodle breeds could also have contributed to the IWS as we now know it.

These canines were used to retrieve game from water including the seas, despite the plunging temperatures. For this, the Irish Water Spaniel quickly gained popularity in England. Their coat contains tight curls with natural oils that shed the water off. Great protection for swimming during any season!

The IWS became popular amongst sportsmen in Ireland and Britain as the 1800s progressed. Eventually, they became popular in North America and they became the third most popular sporting dog there by 1875. Today, the Irish Water Spaniel is mostly popular in their native country, Ireland.

Related: Are Briards low-maintenance breeds? Check out our comprehensive guide to get the answer!


Irish Water Spaniels are active, alert, curious, playful, and intelligent. They’re hard-working dogs but can easily adapt to a family lifestyle when necessary. This canine is packed with personality and will always be a joy to live with.

Provided the Irish Water Dog has been socialized correctly, you can expect a well-behaved, friendly, and loving companion in return. The breed also makes a fantastic watchdog.

Are Irish Water Spaniels Good With Strangers?

Irish Water Spaniels can be wary and reserved towards strangers, but shouldn’t react with aggression. Their watchdog tendencies mean this breed will always be on the alert. Whilst shyness isn’t a trait of the Irish Water Hound, they still need to be socialized amongst new environments and people.

Irish Water Spaniel Dog sitting on grass

Are Irish Water Spaniels Good With Children?

Yes, this breed makes an excellent family companion! They’re energetic, so suit active families best and have a playful side that matches children perfectly. Their small size makes them ideal around smaller children, but they can get excitable so keep an eye out.

Are Irish Water Spaniels Ok With Other Dogs?

Early socialization will be needed to get this dog used to other canines and pets. Irish Water Spaniels can be aggressive to dogs they don’t know. Training will be needed if you want this pooch to live with another dog. Cats won’t be an ideal choice to have in the home.

Recommended: Why is the Dogo Argentino breed banned in the UK? Find out why and more in our guide.


This hunting dog will need strenuous exercise at least once a day. A simple walk won’t be enough for the energetic Irish Water Spaniel. At least one hour of activity will be needed daily. This can be split into separate walks of 30 minutes. Irish Water Spaniel Puppies will need to go outside more frequently.

Irish Water Spaniel Dog walking on Grass

This breed loves water, so it’s no surprise that swimming is an activity this pooch enjoys. Go for walks along the waters edge if you want to excite this dog. Different locations a dog can explore is mentally stimulating, whilst being great exercise.

Irish Water Spaniels are excellent retrievers, so interactive games like fetch that can be enjoyed by all the family is ideal for this pet. The breed has the stamina to keep up as a jogging partner, but don’t overexert them as it could cause health issues.


Below are the breed-related health conditions of the Irish Water Spaniel:

  • Hip Dysplasia- Poor development of the hip joint may lead to pain, swelling, inflammation, and lameness. This could lead to arthritis.
  • Von Willebrands Disease- A common blood disorder inherited from parents. A deficiency in a particular protein affects the platelets. This helps the blood to clot and without this, excessive bleeding will occur.
  • Elbow Dysplasia- Abnormal development of the elbow joint will cause the affected dog to limp. Arthritis will eventually occur.
  • Hypothyroidism- An underactive thyroid will cause weight gain, loss in energy, dull coat, excessive hair loss, and a lack of tolerance for cold weather.
  • Follicle Dysplasia- An anomaly of the hair follicle will either make a dog loose fur or grow it abnormally. This will continue throughout a dog’s life.
  • Cataracts- An abnormal cloudiness appears due to a lens change. If small this won’t be an issue, if large this will affect your dog’s vision, leading to blindness.
  • Distichiasis- Eyelashes develop in an abnormal area.
  • Entropion- The eyelid rolls inwards causing the lash to scratch at the eye. This will cause discomfort and possibly a difference in pigmentation that could affect vision.

Intelligence & Training

Irish Water Spaniels are highly intelligent dogs and love to please their owners. Whilst this can be ideal for training, that doesn’t mean they can’t be stubborn! As this breed is energetic they should be exercised before being told to concentrate. Training sessions should last 10-15 minutes and need to be different every time.

Socialization is important as the Irish Water Spaniel may become aggressive to dogs they don’t know. Take the breed to different parks and open spaces where they can meet new dogs in places they aren’t familiar with. Allow this canine to interact with new people. They’re known to be wary of strangers in their adult years.

Irish Water Spaniels are headstrong, they need a leader, not just an owner. They may be small but given the opportunity, this dog will walk all over a pushover! Exercise is a major factor in any training. If a dog doesn’t receive the exercise they need, disrespect and bad behaviours will follow.

Recommended: The English Foxhound is a very social breed that interacts with people and other dogs while on a walk. Get to know more about this canine in our guide.


The curly coat of the Irish Water Spaniel is ideal for those that suffer from allergies. Although the breed rarely sheds, brushing will be needed at least twice a week to remove any loose fur. Mats and tangles will form quickly if regular brushing doesn’t take place.

Typical Irish Water Spaniel in the garden

Metal combs are used to remove dirt from the coat, whilst preventing the curls from frizzing. Slicker brushes should be factored in next. A spray water bottle will be needed to help bring the curls back to their original form. Before you bathe a dog, they should be brushed first. Removing tangles when wet is very difficult.

Irish Water Spaniels will need a wash every 6-8 weeks and should be towel dried as opposed to blow-dried. Their coat will need a trim a couple of times each year, but fur generally stays short around the face. Scissors and clippers may be used.

The long ears of the Irish Water Spaniel prevent airflow. Check their ears weekly and give them a clean to remove any debris. Infections will occur if this hasn’t been kept up with. Vets recommend teeth should be brushed daily and nails trimmed or filed every 3-4 weeks.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jamie! I've always been around dogs and now writing about them is an absolute joy.
Read more about my story here.
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