Meet the Breed: The Irish Water Spaniel



  • Height: 20"- 23”
  • Weight: 45-65 pounds
  • Historical function: Both upland game and waterfowl hunting
  • Modern function: Companion, hunting
  • AKC classification: Sporting

Physical Characteristics:

The Irish Water Spaniel, also known as the Whiptail, or IWS, is the largest and one of the oldest spaniel breeds. The IWS is easily recognized by the unique liver-colored densely curled coat and nearly bare "rat" tail. The liver coat has definite purple undertones, unlike any other breed. This dog also features a topknot of long, loose curls which often cover the eyes, a "beard" growing at the neck as well as occasional "sideburns." The facial hair is smooth. He is sturdily built and an exceptional swimmer with webbed feet. The chest is deep but narrow.

History of the Breed:

The Irish Water Spaniel is an ancient breed though the exact lineage is unclear. The modern IWS resembles the various water spaniels of the southern regions of Ireland. Speculations of contributing breeds abound including the Poodle, the Portuguese Water Spaniel, the Barbet, and even the old-style Afghan Hounds. The modern IWS was championed by Justin McCarthy from Dublin in 1859 who was successful in fixing the breed's type, though he kept no breeding records.


The Irish Water Spaniel makes an excellent family and field dog. He is good with children and other pets, though socialization with non-canine pets is required from an early age with the hunting instinct. Due to their high intelligence and athleticism, it is important to engage this breed in both mental and physical exercise to have a well-adjusted, happy, well-behaved pet. Highly trainable and eager to please. Is known for being entertaining in solving problems in creative and clownish ways. Does well with a job, whether hunting or participating in agility. Appreciates the opportunity to swim both for fun and to keep the curly ringlets looking good.

  • Best suited for: Active families willing to give this dog a job. Loves to be a hunting companion or work in agility.
  • Preferred living conditions: This dog prefers to have regular physical and mental challenges. Because this dog loves the outdoors, does best in the suburbs with a good-size yard or on acreage.

Care and Health:

  • Grooming requirements: The curly coat requires combing to the skin once a week to prevent mats and remove any debris. Check the ears regularly. Expose the dog to water to maintain the ringlets. Trim the coat to refine the shape. Has minimal dander and shedding.
  • Exercise needs: Daily long walk or jog.
  • Life expectancy: 10-12 years.
  • Health concerns: May be prone to hip dysplasia, eye and ear problems, and hypothyroidism.

Breed Club Links: Irish Water Spaniel Club of America Perfect Pairings: Dog Agility Starter Kit, Dog Swimming Pool

Have any stories about a Irish Water Spaniel? Please share!

This entry was posted by Mary.
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