Irish Water Spaniel Dog Breed Guide | Gundog Journal
Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel

Main sporting role:
Retrieving, Hunting, Flushing
Over 10 years
2 hours a day
Coat length:
Medium (non-shedding)
Vulnerable status:

The Irish Water Spaniel may be a rarity in the shooting field, but it’s actually one of Britain’s oldest and most distinguished gundogs. This breed was originally bred to hunt and retrieve wildfowl in the marshes and bogs of Ireland. The dog we know today was refined in the 1830s in Dublin by sportsman Justin McCarthy.

Irish Water Spaniel: Key Characteristics

The Irish Water Spaniel is an upstanding, strongly built gundog that combines a high level of intelligence with rugged endurance. Its distinctive traits include the liver hue of its dense waterproof coat, its ‘top-knot’ of curls, and a short, almost rat-like ‘whiptail’. Like other water dogs, the Irish breed is an excellent swimmer.

This dog breed is affectionate and loyal to the right owner, although it has a highly energetic, bold, headstrong nature. Sensitive, intelligent, and playful, Irish water dogs tend to be good with children. However, they can be naturally aloof with strangers, and they don’t always get along well with other pets.

In the UK, the Irish Water Spaniel is classified as both a spaniel and a retriever, which makes it a good, versatile all-rounder that can be used for rough shooting, wildfowling, beating, and picking up at shoots.

Owning An Irish Water Spaniel: Pros And Cons

Pros Of Owning This Breed

  • Beautiful curly coat that’s also hypoallergenic
  • A low-shedding breed that’s a good choice for people with allergies
  • Naturally very playful nature
  • Very affectionate - good with children, other dogs, and strangers
  • Highly intelligent
  • Has a good nose for prey, making this a good hunting dog breed
  • Average life span of 10-12 years

Cons Of Owning This Breed

  • Very energetic, so requires a lot of daily exercise
  • Can be aggressive towards strange dogs
  • Can be jumpy, particularly when young
  • Can become destructive when bored, meaning lots of exercise and attention is essential

Grooming Advice

If you’re wondering ‘how much do Irish Water Spaniels shed?’, the answer is only a little, which means they’re a good dog for owners or family members with allergies. 

Due to its tightly curled nature, its coat requires regular combing to prevent tangles and matting. Groom your dog’s coat using a wide-toothed comb once or twice a week. You’ll also need to have your dog’s coat groomed every few months. 

Eye infections can be common in this working dog breed, so eye testing is essential before breeding, while hip scoring is also recommended.

Find out more about another water dog, the American Water Spaniel, here


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