Irish Water Spaniels are medium length dogs with water-repellant double coats. Their curly coats are liver colored and consist of tight, dense ringlets with a topknot of loose, long curls. These dogs also have a signature "rat tail" that is covered with curls at its base and tapers to a fine point. Irish Water Spaniels have small, almond-shaped eyes, long, low-set ears, and a broad and level back. They range in size from 21 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 45 to 65 pounds.
Irish Water Spaniels are full of life and proceed through life with much enthusiasm. These dogs enjoy running, hunting, playing, and especially swimming, and they require a lot of exercise on a daily basis to remain in good mental and physical health.
Naturally energetic dogs, Irish Water Spaniels make great companions for active families who like to spend time outdoors. These dogs are highly intelligent, eager to please, and are always up for an adventure or a romp in the backyard. They get along very well with most people, including children, although they may be slow to warm up to other animals.
Irish Water Spaniels were made for the water. Their coat is naturally oily, which repels water to keep their skin dry underneath. This also helps them maintain their body temperature in cold water.
Considered the clown of the spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel makes an entertaining companion animal. These dogs are intelligent, strong, inquisitive, and active, and they have an endearing sense of humor that sets them apart from many other dog breeds. They are warm and open with family members, but may be reserved with unfamiliar people. However, Irish Water Spaniels should never be overly timid, aggressive, or shy.
Irish Water Spaniels are full of life and proceed through life with much enthusiasm. These dogs enjoy running, hunting, playing, and especially swimming, and they require a lot of exercise on a daily basis to remain in good mental and physical health. Daily walks on a leash and an hour or more of free play every day is usually enough to satisfy these energetic dogs. Regular activity will prevent boredom and misbehavior in these dogs.
Because of their high energy level and tendency to seek out trouble, Irish Water Spaniels may not be the best choice for families without a lot of patience, time, or tolerance. These dogs are ideally suited to active families with a lot of free time to spend outdoors.
Irish Water Spaniels are a generally healthy dog breed, but they are known to suffer from certain health conditions that can negatively affect length or quality of life. Congenital hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and hypothyroidism are all pretty common in these dogs. Additionally, the breed is known to suffer from a variety of eye conditions, including entropion, distichiasis, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy.
Ear infections can become a serious and recurrent issue in Irish Water Spaniels that spend a lot of time in the water. To prevent infections, the ears should be cleaned and dried thoroughly after each time in the water. Other conditions known to affect these dogs include epilepsy and hair loss. Also, their tail is easily injured and should be protected, when possible.
With routine veterinary care, timely canine vaccinations, regular exercise, and quality nutrition, Irish Water Spaniels can live a long life of up to 15 years.
Before beginning a training session with an Irish Water Spaniel, it is important to allow the dog to burn off any excess energy that may make concentration and obedience difficult. Fortunately, these dogs possess a natural instinct to please and a sharp mind, both of which make them highly trainable under the right circumstances. With sufficient training, they are calm, well-behaved dogs. Of course, their mischievousness can never be fully trained away, and any family who takes these dogs into their home should expect some playful antics.
Irish Water Spaniels allowed to become bored or lonely are likely to get into trouble. They tend to become destructive and noisy when left to their own devices, and they may decide to chew, shred, dig, or bark if they feel ignored by their loved ones. Early training that utilizes positive reinforcement techniques and lots of attention can help minimize these behaviors.
Even with professional training and early socialization, Irish Water Spaniels are not the easiest dogs to live with. They are also not an ideal choice for inexperienced or impatient dog owners. It is important to be firm and consistent with these dogs, both in and outside of training sessions.
Irish Water Spaniels have easy to manage coats that require very little grooming. An occasional brushing and periodic trimming to shape and neaten the coat is all that is needed to maintain its appearance and health. Care must be taken to check for tangles and mats and remove them promptly. These dogs shed very little, and extra brushing with a slicker brush can help control what little loose hair there is.
These dogs tend to spend a lot of time in the water, and bathing may only be necessary to remove harmful or sticky substances from the coat. However, it is essential to thoroughly rinse the Irish Water Spaniel after swimming in a lake, pool, or ocean to remove harmful algae, chlorine, and salt. These substances can dry the skin and damage the coat.
The teeth need brushing daily to prevent tooth decay and gum disease, and the addition of drinking water additives can strengthen the teeth and freshen the breath. The nails should be clipped every two to three weeks to prevent snagging, and the ears need cleaning weekly to remove dirt and excess wax. Signs of ear infection, such as redness, pain, swelling, odor, and discharge, should be reported to a veterinarian right away.
Irish Water Spaniels are a very old breed, and there's evidence these dogs date back as far as the 7th or 8th century. In the second half of the 1100s, dogs in Southern Ireland, below the River Shannon, were sometimes called Rat-Tail Spaniels and were described as having rough, curled hair and a somewhat bare, rat-like tail. Continued references to the breed can be found from around 1600 on, and there are records that France's king was given an Irish Water Spaniel around this time period. Several types of spaniels existed in Ireland, and all may have contributed to the breed as we know it today.
The breed started making appearances in the show ring in both America and Britain by the late 1880s. Soon thereafter, the breed's popularity declined for unknown reasons. The dogs continued to be used for hunting duck and retrieving small game, but the breed's numbers fell.
Today, the Irish Water Spaniel is still somewhat rare, but it is much loved as a hunter and as a companion animal. It is also sometimes seen in show rings. The breed's intelligence, unusual appearance, and playful personality are helping to boost its numbers and its popularity in the United States and elsewhere.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Irish Water Spaniel in 1884.