Irish Water Spaniel

Amy Tokic
by Amy Tokic
fast facts

About Irish Water Spaniel

45-65 lb
10-12 years
AKC Sporting
Best Suited For
Families with older children, active singles and seniors, houses with yards, hunters
Enthusiastic, energetic, mischievous, independent
Comparable Breeds
Portuguese Water Dog, Irish Setter
21-24 inches
Irish Water Spaniel Basics

Nicknamed the clever clown dog, the Irish Water Spaniel is fun-loving and mischievous. Few people know about the Irish Water Spaniel because the only time that one has won the prestigious title of Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show was Ch. Oak Tree’s Irishtocrat in 1979! Often confused for a large and pampered Poodle, the Irish Water Spaniel is nothing of the sort. He is a formidable hunter, pointer, swimmer and retriever as well as an awesome family companion.

The Irish Water Spaniel has such a friendly and inquisitive outlook on life that he tends to be quite the source of entertainment for all who are around him. Toys thrown across the yard will immediately have him off running but… if a butterfly flutters by, he will stop for a second and seemingly enjoy its beauty. Like a light bulb turning on, he will quickly divert his attention to a toy, grab it and bring it right back as if the butterfly never appeared. They are pleasant dogs and a joy to be around. For more information about the Irish Water Spaniel, read on.

Nicknamed the clever clown dog, the Irish Water Spaniel is fun-loving and mischievous.


Many people debate the true origin of the Irish Water Spaniel however; there is no doubt that its perfection occurred in Ireland. In the 1830s, Justin McCarthy owned a kennel which is considered to be the start of this wonderful breed. His dog that was called Boatswain is believed to be the father of what we all would consider the modern day Irish Water Spaniel. Even in the early 1800s, these great dogs were prized for their hunting skills and agility as well as their good nature living within a family.


Because Justin McCarthy died without revealing exactly how he created the Irish Water Spaniel, the true combination of breeds will never be known. People have speculated that the French Poodle called the Barbet could have been bred with a Portuguese Water Dog to create this incredible breed. It must also be taken into consideration that there were two styles of water spaniels known to be in Ireland at that time. The whole point is moot because McCarthy never revealed his secret and when he passed away, he took all of the information about the creation of the breed with him.


It is essential that all owners of Irish Water Spaniels understand that these are high energy dogs. Therefore, they need to be fed a high-quality diet specifically manufactured for active and athletic dogs. Dry kibble is recommended to prevent early tooth decay and gum disease. Feeding a diet of dry food also cuts down on doggie breath caused by plaque built up on the teeth.

You’ll find that the Irish Water Spaniel is a trainable breed of dog.


You’ll find that the Irish Water Spaniel is a trainable breed of dog. He has an insatiable desire to please his people; this makes him a likely candidate for many show events including hunting trials and obedience trials. It also makes him a wonderful companion for an active family.

It is important that obedience training be started at an early age. This breed can become mischievous so regular training sessions can be beneficial. One of the best things about this breed is that the Irish Water Spaniels are not barkers. They will only bark to alert their family that strangers or intruders are about. Few are mouthy so long as they are provided with adequate toys during the teething stages.


Male Irish Water Spaniels should weigh between 55 and 65 pounds and females should weigh between 45 and 60 pounds.


Because the Irish Water Spaniel has a unique outlook on life, he tends to be extremely watchful and cautious around strangers. This doesn’t always equate to a problem with timidity. A well-socialized puppy that has been exposed to a variety of people, situations, noises and events will still be a bit cautious when a new person or thing shows up in the home or his surroundings. It is in his nature to evaluate the situation and eventually approach the newcomer or new situation. Again, this is not being timid; this is being watchful and is a sought after trait within the breed.

Common Health Problems

A generally healthy breed, the Irish Water Spaniel is still predisposed to health issues. Hip dysplasia is one that breeders have been trying to eliminate for years but it can also be triggered by a dog’s environment. Playing, falling or jumping on slippery tile floors can increase the puppy’s risk of being diagnosed with hip dysplasia, as can excessive weight gain in a short period of time, obesity and over exertion.

Cataracts can affect any older canine however; Juvenile Cataracts have been diagnosed within the breed. Dogs between the ages of 2 and 4 years of age might exhibit signs of hair loss. This may be attributed to Follicular Dysplasia. It does not create any true health issues provided the owner covers the hairless areas with sunscreen. Unfortunately, the coat loss is permanent.

Irish Water Spaniels are also predisposed to Hypothyroidism, a treatable hormonal disorder. Entropion, Paronychia, Distichiasis and Epilepsy can also be found within the breed. Megaesophagus is a problem occasionally presented by owners of Irish Water Spaniels. Unfortunately, there is no cure and the morbidity rate is quite high. This breed can be highly sensitive to vaccines and other medications. Great care should be given when pups are being vaccinated or treated for illness.

Life Expectancy

With proper housing, exercise and veterinary care, an Irish Water Spaniel should live between 10 and 12 years.

Exercise Requirements

Irish Water Spaniels are bundles of energy and quite athletic by genetics. They thrive when they are able to run, play, chase down game and retrieve fowl. They are not at all happy leading sedentary lives and can become destructive without regular activities that will enthrall and exert them. They require at least an hour of playtime daily in order to keep them in tiptop shape. Of course, they love water so if you sit in your yard and have a hard plastic wading pool, they will happily retrieve dummies for hours. This is what makes Irish Water Spaniels awesome companions for families with sturdy kids.

Because the Irish Water Spaniel has a unique outlook on life, he tends to be extremely watchful and cautious around strangers.


According to the AKC, the Irish Water Spaniel is: “Suitable for allergy sufferers, their hypoallergenic coats require brushing every few weeks and trimming every two months to neaten and shape the coat.” This versatile breed was recognized by the AKC in 1884.


A double coated breed, the Irish Water Spaniel has tight ringlets of curls that cover his back, sides and rear end. Longer curls cover the legs and undercarriage of the dog. The face, front portion of the neck, toes and tail is covered in short hair. Every Irish Water Spaniel is liver in color and without any white markings, other than graying due to advanced age.

Because Irish Water Spaniels shed little coat, it is absolutely essential that the owner brush the dog thoroughly at least three times a week. This will help to distribute the waterproofing oils through the coat as well as eliminate any tangles which could eventually cause matting.


Irish Water Spaniel puppies are as cute as can be but without proper attention, training and exercise, they can become nightmares. They must be socialized and they crave attention from their human families. These great dogs require time, exercise and lots of love from their owners.

Amy Tokic
Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic, Editor of, is a passionate animal lover and proud pet parent of Oscar, a Shih Tzu/Chihuahua cross, and Zed, a Japanese Chin. Her love of animals began in kindergarten, when she brought her stuffed dog Snoopy into class with her every day. Now, she writes about her adventures in pet ownership and tirelessly researches products, news and health related issues she can share with other animal enthusiasts. In her free time, Amy loves perusing used book and record stores, obsessing over the latest pet products available and chasing squirrels with wild abandon (a habit attributed to spending too much time with her pooches).

More by Amy Tokic