Although close to the bottom of the rankings in the number of registrations in the American Kennel Club at number 142 out of 156 breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel is really a remarkable dog. Why the breed is not more popular is a bit of a mystery since they are a large spaniel that is wonderfully athletic without being hyperactive, very easy to train and socialize and ideal with children and families.
The Irish Water Spaniel, not surprisingly, was developed Ireland as a retrieving and hunting dog. There is considerable debate as to the exact foundation breeds however most believe it was either a cross between the original Irish Setter of the red variety and a Standard Poodle, or a Curly Coated Retriever crossed with Poodle. Spaniel breed may have been used later in the original breeding lines to downsize the dog just slightly and increase their upland game bird hunting instincts.
The Irish Water Spaniel really is a remarkable looking dog with a very dense, very curly coat that is similar to a Poodle left unclipped. Unlike the Poodle, however, the Irish Water Spaniel is not clipped but left natural, providing a thick, dense and very water resistant coat that was perfect for water retrieving even in the most frigid water conditions of northern Ireland. These dogs are often mistaken for unclipped Poodles by those that are simply unaware of the breed.
The coat of the Irish Water Spaniel is unique in both texture as well as color. They have a dark brown to purplish coat, which is very distinct and not found in other breed. Although there are the very dark browns found in Poodles and other retrievers, they tend to have blue to red tendencies, not the true puce or purple color seen in the Irish Water Spaniel. The coat is crisp and not soft like a PoodleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, a definite water dog coat. The body overall is very muscular and fit in appearance, with males slightly taller and heavier than females. The weight ranges for an Irish Water Spaniel is 45 to 65 pounds and the measurements at the shoulder ranges from 20 to 23 inches.
The head is definitely spaniel with some refinement along the muzzle. The muzzle is square in shape but also slightly tapered, not the heavy muzzle of some spaniel types. The lips are slightly pendant and do cause some drooling, but are not excessively loose. Eyes are light hazel to darker brown, round and very intelligent and alert, following all movement in their surroundings. The breed has very short, very shiny hair over the muzzle and face, but a long, profuse and curly topknot that hangs down to protect the eyes when the dog was tracking through the dense brambles and brush. Most owners of Irish Water Spaniels either trim this topknot to allow it to frame the face or put it up in clips to keep the hair out of the dogÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eyes.
The ears are long and, like the topknot, profusely covered with curls. The neck is moderately long and slightly arched, blending into a deep and well developed chest. The legs are straight and muscular and the topline should be level to slightly inclined upwards towards the hips. The tail of the Irish Water Spaniel is also very unique in that it is covered by very short hair and it moderately long, very thin and highly pointed. This tail has earned the breed the not too flattering name of the Rat Tailed Spaniel within some areas.
Overall the Irish Water Spaniel is a highly active dog that loves to run and play. They are most common described as clowns, a trait they may well have inherited from their Poodle ancestors. They are very easy to train and highly intelligent, although some can be somewhat headstrong and willful at times. The Irish Water Spaniel is still used very frequently as a hunting and competitive field trials dog, but also as an excellent companion dog and pet. While some have a moderate prey drive most, when raised with cats, make excellent additions to a household with other types of pets.
Families with children often find the Irish Water Spaniel does best when raised in a household with children. Those raised without living with kids are typically somewhat shy and reserved around children. Unlike many other spaniels they are very effective watchdogs and can be trained to be good guard dogs. They can and will be very protective of their territory and family and most will be relatively reserved with strangers at least until they get to know the person.
The Irish Water Spaniel loves being around people and while they are capable of living in almost any moderate to colder climate outdoors they prefer to be indoors. They do enjoy regular walks and runs but swimming is really their preferred exercise option. The coat is relatively water resistant and the dogs dry off fast after leaving the water. Getting the Irish Water Spaniel out of the water is often the biggest challenge that owners face.
The thick, beautiful coat of the Irish Water Spaniel does require routine care. It will mat and tangle and grooming at least every other day with a comb and grooming rake will be essential to remove the dead hair and prevent matting. The coat is typically very low shedding and some people with mild to moderate dog allergies may be able to tolerate the Irish Water Spaniel.
Like all spaniels ear infections are an issue with the breed. These infections can be treated and prevented with drying compounds and routine cleaning of the ears that includes wax removal. Eyes need to be routinely checked and cleaned and any signs of entropion or rolled inward eyelids need to be treated immediately to prevent scarring on the eye. Another common health concern with the breed is hypothyroidism which may result in poor growth and development. Checking the parent dog's health records for this condition is important. Avoid any litters that are smaller than average or any puppy that is significantly smaller than the littermates as this is often the first sign of hypothyroidism. Overall the breed is very healthy and the typical lifespan of the Irish Water Spaniel is about 12 years.