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Irish Water Spaniel


Irish Water Spaniel


General Description:

As it’s name implies, the IWS is from Ireland and emerged from a distinct line of water spaniels that started with the now extinct Tweed Water spaniels as early as the 1600’s. The first known painting of an IWS was produced in 1841 but further refinement into one true-breeding type occurred through the 1860’s. By 1875, the IWS was an extremely popular hunting dog in both the British Isles and America. He has retained his hunting heritage and is equally proficient on waterfowl and upland birds. He is active, enthusiastic, with a love of water, and is typically easy to train. He is a family oriented dog who is often indifferent to others. He can be a good watchdog but is not generally noisy. He is known for his clownish nature.

For novice folks, the IWS may look like a standard poodle due to the curly coat but there are very distinguishing characteristics. He is first and foremost a solid retriever and has a build and head shape more reminiscent of the retrievers than of a poodle. His long, tumbling topknot, smooth face, and “rat” tail (hairless except at the base) distinguish him right away.



Females: Preferred height at the withers is 21-23 inches, and roughly 45-58 pounds. Males: Preferred height at the withers is 22-24 inches, and roughly 55-65 pounds. The IWS should be solidly built and well-muscled, slightly rectangular in outline with no legginess.



The only acceptable color for the IWS is solid liver. Any white is objectionable except for natural graying.


Energy Level:

The IWS is an energetic dog who requires an owner committed to providing exercise. It needs regular long walks with swimming and retrieving a plus. Most dogs will fall into the medium to high range of exercise needs. They are typically quiet in the house if well exercised. A dog that is overly active in the home or destructive needs its exercise regimen increased.


Life expectancy:

10 to 12 years.



The IWS, like most breeds, can be a wonderful companion for children if well socialized to them. Because they are active, some may not be appropriate for toddlers. Rescue dogs need to be thoroughly evaluated for their tolerance of children before being placed with them.


Other animals:

Socializing to other animals is critical with this breed. There are many who successfully live with other dogs and other types of animals but dog aggression is not uncommon as is chasing smaller animals. Again, socialization is the critical key in successful “blended” households.



The IWS is a versatile, enthusiastic worker and will do well at obedience work, hunting, agility, and fly-ball.



The IWS has a double coat that is dense underneath and has long loose curls in the outer coat. It is popular with folks with allergies due to the lack of dander and low shedding. However, the coat does require regular grooming- brushing and trimming to keep it free of mats and dirt. Keeping the coat somewhat shorter can help an owner get through the wet NW winters.



Health problems that occur in the IWS are hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, epilepsy, allergies, and entropion (the eyelid turns in, irritating the eye). It is very important to know that many IWS’s are highly allergic to sulfa drugs and Ivermectin; a note should be made in any IWS’s medical chart.


Best with:

Active people who will provide exercise and training for the dog.


Not for:

Sedentary people, people who are not willing to train the dog and take an active leadership role; people who leave the dog alone for long hours, or very small children if the dog is highly-energetic.



Intelligent, enthusiastic, trainable, clownish, and affectionate.



May be “too much dog” for novices. Some IWS are dog and/or cat aggressive. Some have a “spooky” temperament making them unsuitable for households that are very busy and full of traffic.


Further Information:

Breed Details

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