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  • Temperament: Playful, Hardworking, Brave
  • AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 159 of 193
  • Height: 22-24 inches (male), 21-23 inches (female)
  • Weight: 55-68 pounds (male), 45-58 pounds (female)
  • Life Expectancy: 12-13 years
  • Group: Sporting Group

    The AKC has grouped all of the breeds that it registers into seven categories, or groups, roughly based on function and heritage. Breeds are grouped together because they share traits of form and function or a common heritage.

Irish Water Spaniel standing in three-quarter view
Irish Water Spaniel head facing left
Irish Water Spaniel standing sideways facing left
Irish Water Spaniel coat detail
Irish Water Spaniel laying in three-quarter view.

Find a Puppy: Irish Water Spaniel

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GENERAL APPEARANCE

That of a smart, upstanding, strongly built moderate gundog bred for all types of shooting, especially for water-fowling. Great intelligence is combined with rugged endurance and a bold, dashing eagerness of temperament. Distinguishing characteristics are a topknot of long, loose curls and a body covered with a dense, crisply curled liver colored coat contrasted by a smooth face and a smooth “rat” tail.

HEAD

The head is cleanly chiseled. Hair on the face is short and smooth except for a beard of long, loose curls growing at the back of the lower jaw which may continue up the side of the face as sideburns.Topknot: A characteristic of the breed, the topknot consists of long, loose curls covering the skull and falling down over the top of the ears and occiput. The contrast between the smooth face and the topknot is evident in a well-defined peak between the eyes. The topknot, a breed characteristic, should not be trimmed in an exaggerated or excessive manner. Eyes: Set almost flush, the eyes are comparatively small and almond shaped with tight eyelids. The color is a warm tone of medium to dark brown, dark amber but never yellow. The expression is keenly alert, intelligent, direct and quizzical. Ears: Long, lobular, set low, hanging close to the head and abundantly covered with long loose curls of hair.

BODY

The neck is long, arching, strong and muscular and is smoothly set into cleanly sloping shoulders. Topline: The rear is equal to or slightly higher than the front never descending or showing sag or roach. Back: Strong, broad and level. Body: Medium length. The ribs are carried well back and so well sprung behind the shoulders as to give a barrel shape. The chest is deep with a brisket extending to the elbows. The loin is short, wide, muscular, and deep so it does not give a tucked-up appearance.

FOREQUARTERS

The entire front gives the impression of strength without heaviness. The forechest should be moderate. Shoulders are sloping and moderately laid back, clean and powerful. The upper arms are approximately the length of the shoulder blades with clean elbows set close to the body.Forelegs are well boned, muscular and straight, set well under the withers

COAT

Proper coat is of vital importance to protect the dog while working. The coat on the face is short and smooth framed by the distinctive topknot and ears of long, loose curls. The coat on the throat is smooth forming a V-shaped patch from the back of the lower jaw behind the beard to the breastbone. The remainder of the neck, body and base of the tail are covered with dense, tight, crisp curls. The remainder of the coat on the tail is short and smooth coated. Forelegs are covered down to the feet with curls or waves all around. The hind legs are also abundantly covered with curls or waves except that the hair is short and smooth on the front of the legs below the hocks. Feet are well clothed with hair. Dogs may be shown in natural coat or trimmed. However, no dog should be groomed or trimmed so excessively as to obscure the curl or texture of the coat.

HINDQUARTERS

Sound hindquarters are of great importance to provide drive and power while swimming. They are as high as or slightly higher than the shoulders with powerful, muscular, well-developed thighs. The hips are wide. The croup is rounded and full with the tail set on low enough to give a rounded appearance. The stifles are moderately bent. Hocks are set low and moderately bent. Balance of front and rear angulation is important. Feet: Large, round, somewhat spreading. Well clothed with hair. Pads are thick.

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About the Irish Water Spaniel

Standing 21 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weighing 55 to 65 pounds, the Irish Water Spaniel straddles the line between “medium” and “large” dogs on our scale of size. Among its distinguishing characteristics are a crisply curled, liver-colored, waterproof coat; a tapered “rat tail”; and a cleanly chiseled head crowned with a topknot of long, loose curls. The IWS moves with a smooth ground-covering gait, enabling him to put in a long day’s work in the field.

National Breed Clubs and Rescue

Want to connect with other people who love the same breed as much as you do? We have plenty of opportunities to get involved in your local community, thanks to AKC Breed Clubs located in every state, and more than 450 AKC Rescue Network groups across the country. Organized in 1937, the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America is the official AKC Parent Club representing the Irish Water Spaniel in the US.
Irish Water Spaniel laying in three-quarter view.

Find a Puppy: Irish Water Spaniel

AKC Marketplace | PuppyFinder

AKC Marketplace is the only site to exclusively list 100% AKC puppies from AKC-Registered litters and the breeders who have cared for and raised these puppies are required to follow rules and regulations established by the AKC.
Find Irish Water Spaniel Puppies

Care

NUTRITION

The Irish Water Spaniel should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.

GROOMING

Begin grooming the Irish Water Spaniel when he is still a puppy and may not need a lot done yet. He should learn early on that grooming time is a positive experience. Gentle brushing and nail and ear cleaning should always be part of the grooming regimen. Suitable for allergy sufferers, the breed’s hypoallergenic coat requires brushing at least weekly and trimming every two months to neaten and shape it. If you do not want to learn to scissor your IWS to keep him from looking ragged, you can make regular appointments with a groomer who is familiar with the breed.

Grooming Frequency

Occasional Bath/Brush
Specialty/Professional
Weekly Brushing

Shedding

Infrequent
Frequent
Seasonal

EXERCISE

A typical sporting dog, the Irish Water Spaniel is an active, high-energy companion. He is eager to please, making him relatively easy to train, but he needs lots of daily exercise. Long walks or hikes, running alongside a bicycle, chasing a ball in the backyard, or playing with other dogs daily will help to keep him physically and mentally healthy, and relaxed and calm while inside the home.

Energy Level

Couch Potato
Needs Lots of Activity
Needs Lots of Activity

TRAINING

The IWS is playful, smart, and eager to please. He has lots of energy and will appreciate having a job to do. He is a reliable worker and will try his best to do what you ask of him—so long as he understands what that is. Keep training sessions fun and interesting to be sure you keep him from being bored. He will respond best to positive, reward-based training methods; never use a harsh or heavy-handed approach, as it will bring unwanted results. The IWS excels in canine sports such as agility, dock diving, rally, tracking, and flyball, and their sensitive nature makes them a natural as therapy and assistance dogs.

Trainability

May be Stubborn
Eager to Please
Easy Training

Temperament/Demeanor

Aloof/Wary
Outgoing
Reserved with Strangers

HEALTH

Your veterinarian should be reminded that the IWS may have an adverse reaction to sulfa antibiotics, as well as the deworming medication Ivermectin. Most IWS are healthy dogs, and responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, allergies, and thyroid disease. Good breeders will utilize health screening and genetic testing to produce puppies who are as healthy as possible. Discuss any health questions with both your puppy’s breeder and your veterinarian so you can make informed decisions about your dog’s health.

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Elbow Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Thyroid Evaluation

Read the Official Breed Club Health Statement.

Irish Water Spaniel sitting in the grass outdoors.
Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel

History

Centuries ago, spaniels were divided into land and water varieties. The water variety consisted of the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel as well as English and Irish breeds. In Ireland prior to the 1850s, two different water spaniel strains existed: the South Country Water Spaniel and the North Country Water Spaniel. The Irish Water Spaniel as we know it today developed from both of these strains, but most closely resembles the South Country type.

Beginning in the 1830s, Justin McCarthy, a sportsman from Dublin, refined the type away from its aforementioned varieties and into a distinct and repeatable breed. His dog, Boatswain, was the first purebred IWS. By 1859, the Irish Water Spaniel began to appear in dog shows.

The popularity of the IWS grew quickly with English and Irish sportsmen due to its retrieves, disposition, and its ability to handle the cold waters of the North Sea. Soon, word spread to America and in the 1870s, a number of dogs were imported. By 1875, the Irish Water Spaniel became the third most popular sporting breed in the US.

Did You Know?

The Irish Water Spaniel was one of the first 9 breeds to be registered with the AKC in 1878, and recognized in 1884 once the club was founded.
Irish Water Spaniel types in the late 1100s were known as Shannon Spaniels, Rat-Tail Spaniels, or Whip-Tail Spaniels.
There were 4 Irish Water Spaniels entered in the first Westminster Kennel Club show in 1877.
The Irish Water Spaniel is often called the clown of the spaniel family, possibly due to the peak of curly hair between the eyes.
The Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest of the spaniels.
The coat of the Irish Water Spaniel is naturally water-repellent.
The cut and trim of the Irish Water Spaniel's coat reflects the breed's purpose and is not merely decorative.

The Breed Standard

GENERAL APPEARANCE

That of a smart, upstanding, strongly built moderate gundog bred for all types of shooting, especially for water-fowling. Great intelligence is combined with rugged endurance and a bold, dashing eagerness of temperament. Distinguishing characteristics are a topknot of long, loose curls and a body covered with a dense, crisply curled liver colored coat contrasted by a smooth face and a smooth “rat” tail.

HEAD

The head is cleanly chiseled. Hair on the face is short and smooth except for a beard of long, loose curls growing at the back of the lower jaw which may continue up the side of the face as sideburns.Topknot: A characteristic of the breed, the topknot consists of long, loose curls covering the skull and falling down over the top of the ears and occiput. The contrast between the smooth face and the topknot is evident in a well-defined peak between the eyes. The topknot, a breed characteristic, should not be trimmed in an exaggerated or excessive manner. Eyes: Set almost flush, the eyes are comparatively small and almond shaped with tight eyelids. The color is a warm tone of medium to dark brown, dark amber but never yellow. The expression is keenly alert, intelligent, direct and quizzical. Ears: Long, lobular, set low, hanging close to the head and abundantly covered with long loose curls of hair.

BODY

The neck is long, arching, strong and muscular and is smoothly set into cleanly sloping shoulders. Topline: The rear is equal to or slightly higher than the front never descending or showing sag or roach. Back: Strong, broad and level. Body: Medium length. The ribs are carried well back and so well sprung behind the shoulders as to give a barrel shape. The chest is deep with a brisket extending to the elbows. The loin is short, wide, muscular, and deep so it does not give a tucked-up appearance.

FOREQUARTERS

The entire front gives the impression of strength without heaviness. The forechest should be moderate. Shoulders are sloping and moderately laid back, clean and powerful. The upper arms are approximately the length of the shoulder blades with clean elbows set close to the body.Forelegs are well boned, muscular and straight, set well under the withers

COAT

Proper coat is of vital importance to protect the dog while working. The coat on the face is short and smooth framed by the distinctive topknot and ears of long, loose curls. The coat on the throat is smooth forming a V-shaped patch from the back of the lower jaw behind the beard to the breastbone. The remainder of the neck, body and base of the tail are covered with dense, tight, crisp curls. The remainder of the coat on the tail is short and smooth coated. Forelegs are covered down to the feet with curls or waves all around. The hind legs are also abundantly covered with curls or waves except that the hair is short and smooth on the front of the legs below the hocks. Feet are well clothed with hair. Dogs may be shown in natural coat or trimmed. However, no dog should be groomed or trimmed so excessively as to obscure the curl or texture of the coat.

HINDQUARTERS

Sound hindquarters are of great importance to provide drive and power while swimming. They are as high as or slightly higher than the shoulders with powerful, muscular, well-developed thighs. The hips are wide. The croup is rounded and full with the tail set on low enough to give a rounded appearance. The stifles are moderately bent. Hocks are set low and moderately bent. Balance of front and rear angulation is important. Feet: Large, round, somewhat spreading. Well clothed with hair. Pads are thick.

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Colors & Markings

Colors

Description Standard Colors Registration Code
Liver Check Mark For Standard Color 123
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