By Jags Goldie Last updated: 27th October 2022

Irish Water Spaniel


Jags Goldie
Last updated: 27th October 2022

The Irish Water Spaniel (An Spáinnèar Uisce in Irish) is the tallest and one of the earliest of spaniel breeds developed for water-fowling. It is a strongly built gundog characterized by a chiseled head, long, broad muzzle, a topknot of long curls, small, almond-shaped eyes, long, low-set, hanging ears, a “beard” at the back of its throat, muscular neck, deep chest, and sloping, powerful shoulders. Its most distinguishing characteristic is the “rat tail” that is thick at the base partly covered with short curls while the remaining part of it is smooth-coated.

Irish Water Spaniel

Quick Information

Other NamesShannon Spaniel, Bog Dog, IWS, Rat Tail Spaniel, Whiptail
CoatDense, curly, tight, crisp, water-repellant; short and smooth on the face and front of the hind legs, long, loose curls on the ears
ColorLiver, purplish tinge
Breed TypePurebred
CategoryWater Dog, Sporting, Gun Dog
Lifespan12-13 years
WeightFemales: 45-58 lb
Males: 55-68 lb
HeightFemales: 21-23 in
Males: 22-24 in
SheddingSeasonal, low
TemperamentAlert, intelligent, active, playful
Litter SizeVaries greatly; 4-12 puppies
Good with ChildrenYes
BarkingLoud, occasional
Country Originated inIreland
Competitive Registration/ Qualification InformationACR, ACA, AKC, APRI, ANKC, CKC, FCI, DRA, NAPR, KCGB, NKC, NAPR, NZKC, UKC

Video: Irish Water Spaniel Learning to Retrieve from Water


The origin of Irish Water Spaniels is obscure though it is believed to have evolved during the 7th-8th centuries. The Irish Water Spaniels were first developed in Ireland during the 1830s by Justin McCarthy, an Irish breeder. It was McCarthy’s “Boatswain,” the foundation sire of many show dogs and gun dogs, which is considered the ancestor of modern IWSs.

Although McCarthy never revealed his breeding source, it is popularly speculated that the French Poodle or Barbet-type dogs along with the Portuguese Water Dogs and other water spaniel types could have played a role in the breed’s development. While it appeared in a dog show for the first time in 1862, it was imported to the US during the 1870s.

The Irish Water Spaniel Club of Ireland was established in 1890, and the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America was set up in 1937 for promoting interests in the breed.

Temperament and Behavior

Known for its hunting skills, the Rat Tail Spaniel can swim across lakes and rivers to retrieve waterfowl and can also recover game like pheasant, grouse, and quail. Aside from being a hunting partner, the IWS can be a loving companion for your family and will keep you entertained with all its mischiefs and clownish antics.

The Irish Water Spaniel is bold, curious, and watchful by nature, alerting you to anything unusual with a deep, loud bark. Although it is not usually aggressive, it can be reserved around strangers. Early socialization is required for a Rat Tail Spaniel to help it live peacefully with children and other household pets.



Since it is an energetic breed, it needs lots of regular exercises, including long walks, hikes, plenty of running, and vigorous play like retrieving a stick. A session of swimming can also give it plenty of physical and mental stimulation. You may also train it for dog sports like rally, agility, tracking, flyball, freestyle, and dock diving.


Brush its hair twice or thrice a week to prevent matting and to keep it free from dirt and debris. Cleanse your IWS’s ears with a cotton cloth dipped in a vet-recommended cleaning solution every time it goes swimming. Basic care like brushing its teeth and trimming its nails is also necessary.

Health Problems

An Irish Water Spaniel is prone to serious health conditions like cataracts, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, entropion, allergies, epilepsy, follicular dysplasia, drug sensitivity, and megaesophagus.


Since the Irish Water Spaniel can be stubborn and sometimes has an independent streak, training is not easy, particularly for inexperienced dog owners.

Exposure to lots of unknown people, pets, sights, sounds, places, and experiences at a young age is required. You may either invite some friendly people to come over to your place along with their well-socialized, vaccinated pets or take your IWS to a dog park so that it can interact positively with them. Ensure that all the new learning experiences are fun and positive for your IWS puppy.

If you want to nurture your Irish Water Spaniel’s hunting skills, you should emphasize on steadiness and obedience. You need to train it to respond to commands like sit, stay, come, go, and leave it so that it can learn to fetch and retrieve game.


Give your Irish Water Spaniel a nutritious diet with the right mix of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. You may feed it one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half cups of quality dry food per day.

Interesting Facts

  • The Irish Water Spaniels are popularly named “the clown of the spaniel family” because of its topknot of long, curly hairs between its eyes.
  • They have webbed feet, a physical adaptation that helps them in swimming.

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