Irish Water Spaniel

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45-58 lbs
Shannon Spaniel, Rat-tail Spaniel, Whip-tail Spaniel

The Irish Water Spaniel is a gorgeous, curly-haired water retriever known for his excellent hunting skills. He is a high-energy family friendly dog. He is the largest of the Spaniel family. The Irish Water Spaniel first appeared in Ireland in the 1830s; Justin McCarthy’s dog, named Boatswain, is historically known as the father of the modern Irish Water Spaniel. Mr. McCarthy would never reveal the exact breeding of Boatswain, so that part of the Irish Water Spaniel is unknown. Experts think the dog is descended from the Barbet or any Poodle-type dogs and Portuguese Water Dogs. The Irish Water Spaniel came to the United States in the 1870s.

water retrieving
Date of Origin
poodle, portuguese water dog, barbet

Irish Water Spaniel Health

Average Size
Height: 22-24 inches Weight: 55-68 lbs
Height: 21-23 inches Weight: 45-58 lbs
Major Concerns
  • Entropion
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
Minor Concerns
  • Otitis Externa
  • Entropion
  • Eye Problems
  • Hypothyroidism
Occasional Tests
  • Eye
  • Hip
  • Thyroid Tests
  • X-Rays
  • Eye Examination

Irish Water Spaniel Breed History

History shows that the Irish Water Spaniel may date back as far as the Stone Age or the Bronze Age. Sites excavated by archaeologists in Ireland and other locations in Europe have discovered skulls thought to be of this canine. A water spaniel-type dog is also noted in historical documentation between England and France in the 1500s. The Irish Water Spaniel as we know it today was first bred by Justin McCarthy; in fact, the Southern Irish Spaniel was called McCarthy’s Breed. Other similar Spaniels native to Ireland were the Northern Irish Spaniel and the Tweed Spaniel. Most experts believe that the modern Irish Water Spaniel was descended from McCarthy’s breed; others think that the Irish Water Spaniel is a mixture of the Poodle and Irish Setter or the Poodle and Curly-coated Retriever. The Irish Water Spaniel was bred to retrieve water birds and upland game, including doves. The 1800s saw the Irish Water Spaniel make its appearance in America, where it was used to hunt ducks. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1884.

Irish Water Spaniel Breed Appearance

The Irish Water Spaniel favors a standard Poodle; however, their coats are very different. He is the tallest of the Spaniel family. He has a large head, long muzzle, and a liver-colored nose. His small eyes are almond-shaped. He has long, low-set ears that are covered in curly hair. This breed has webbed feet, making him an ideal water retriever. His coat is full of long, loose curls. He has shorter curly hair on the face and tail. He has a dense undercoat which serves as a perfect insulator. He also features a curly topknot on his head. 

Eye Color Possibilities
Nose Color Possibilities
Coat Color Possibilities
Coat Length
Short Medium Long
Coat Density
Sparse Normal Dense
Coat Texture
Straight Wiry Wavy Curly Corded

Irish Water Spaniel Breed Maintenance

The Irish Water Spaniel has a double coat and something known as a “rat tail” (its tail is wide at the base, then tapers into a point, hence the name). The Irish Water Spaniel requires brushing every two or three days to keep his coat from matting. He is not prone to shedding even though he has long, curly hair. Brushing often will get rid of a lot of dirt in his coat. Because the Irish Water Spaniel has ears that hang down, cleaning his ears often is imperative. Be sure to both clean and dry out the ears each time your dog swims; they are a breeding ground for bacteria, especially if left wet. Brushing your Irish Water Spaniel’s teeth daily will prevent gum disease along with bad breath; however, it is acceptable to brush his teeth two or three times a week. If you can hear your Irish Water Spaniel’s nails clicking on the floor, they need to be trimmed; it is recommended that they be trimmed every two weeks. Experts recommend that you begin a grooming regimen when your Irish Water Spaniel is a puppy so that he can become accustomed to regular brushing, tooth brushing, and ear cleaning.
Brushes for Irish Water Spaniel
Pin Brush
Nail Clipper

Irish Water Spaniel Temperament

The Irish Water Spaniel is a very intelligent and alert dog. He can be reserved, even shy, around strangers; however, early socialization can help to eliminate this problem. In fact, it is recommended that you introduce your Irish Water Spaniel to a number of people, sights and sounds when they are young puppies so that they will not be shy or timid. Irish Water Spaniels are very trainable, but their handlers must be firm with them – especially when a male is involved. They can be headstrong, and they will try to get their way if allowed to do so. Many experts do not recommend them for inexperienced dog parents. They are not always open to children or other dogs either. This is where socialization comes into play. A dog that has had a lot of interaction with different people and different dogs will be more accepting of other animals and children as they grow older. 

Activity Level
Low Medium High
Rec. Walk Mileage Per Week
15 miles
Minutes of Activity Per Day
90 minutes

Irish Water Spaniel Food Consumption

Cups Per Day
2.5 cups
Daily Cost
$1.8 - $2.3
Monthly Cost
$52.5 - $67.5

Irish Water Spaniel Height & Weight

6 Months
Height: 19 inches Weight: 42 lbs
Height: 18 inches Weight: 25 lbs
12 Months
Height: 21 inches Weight: 52 lbs
Height: 20 inches Weight: 42 lbs
18 Months
Height: 23 inches Weight: 61 lbs
Height: 22 inches Weight: 51 lbs

Top Irish Water Spaniel Breeders

Check out who made our list for the most reputable Irish Water Spaniel breeders of 2017.
Ballyhoo Irish Water Spaniels
Annandale, Virginia
Saracen Irish Water Spaniels
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
cuardach irish water spaniels
Hamden, Connecticut
D'locks Irish Water Spaniels
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Whistle Stop
Bothell, Washington
Navarone Irish Water Spaniels
Rochester, New York
Hooligan Irish Water Spaniels
Los Angeles, California
Jaybren & Tierah Irish Water Spaniels
Olympia, Washington
Chantico Irish Water Spaniels
Port Chester, New York
Arroyo Irish Water Spaniels
Altadena, California

Irish Water Spaniel Owner Experiences