The Irish Water Spaniel dog breed is full of energy, and remains active through the day, running around, playing and hunting. As the name suggests, they love water and love fetching games that involve getting wet, earning them the name Bog Dog. These fun-loving, clownish dogs make great family pets for people who love outdoor activities. They are not very aggressive in nature, but make good guardians as they are reserved with strangers and their fierce bark often acts as a deterrent.
The Irish Water Spaniel dog breed is considered one of the oldest spaniels, as there’s mention of Rat Tail Spaniels as early as 1100s. They were also referred to as Whip Tail Spaniels and Shannon Spaniels, but these distinctive-looking dogs began to be called Irish Water Spaniels sometime in the 17 the century. There is evidence of this dog being gifted to the King of France around this time. However, the modern breed came on its own due to the work of Justin McCarthy who bred these dogs in the 1930s. There are no records of their exact lineage, but the spaniel breeds of Ireland, along with the Potuguese Water Dog, Poodle, and Curly-Coated Retriever, are thought to have contributed to the breed.
By the end of the 19th century, these dogs had become very popular in not only Ireland, but in England and the United States too. Recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1884, these dogs were used for duck hunting in the U.S., until the Labrador Retrievers took over. Irish Water Spaniels are quite rare today.
The Irish Water Spaniel dog breed is medium-sized, measuring 22 to 24 inches at the withers and weighing 55 to 65 pounds. It also happens to be the largest among the spaniel breeds. These dogs have a strongly built muscular body that is masked by a coat of ringlets.
Except for the snout, their face is covered in long curly hair that forms a distinctive top knot, beard, and sideburns. The long, pendulous ears have a profusion of long hair, but paradoxically, the tail remains thin, smooth, and tapering, earning them the nick name ‘Whiptail’ and ‘Rat Tail Spaniel.
The double coat consists of a thick, protective inner coat covered by the curly outer coat. The coat is solid liver-colored, but variations in shade are seen. They have webbed feet that help in swimming.
Like other breeds of the Sporting Group, the Irish Water Spaniel breed is energetic, with an eager disposition. Originally used for fetching water fowls to the hunters, they have an inclination to please their owner. However, these intelligent and independent-minded dogs are good at assessing their family members. They often choose to ignore or disobey the commands of those they perceive as weaker than them. In other words, these dogs require owners who exert their superiority as pack leaders with confidence. These dogs are easy to train, but require consistent and firm handling.
The Irish Water Spaniels are good playmates for older children, but they are not friendly to other animals and strangers. Early socialization is essential to make them get along with other household pets.
These dogs keep a low profile indoors, preferring to curl up and laze away the time as long as they get their fill of activity outdoors. Lack of exercise and mental stimulation may bring out the worst in these dogs, making them cranky and destructive.
Grooming and exercise
The curly coat of the Irish Water Spaniel dog breed obviously requires a bit of grooming. These dogs are not heavy shedders, but the dead and loose hair often gets trapped in the coat and cause matting. Brushing the coat thoroughly once or twice every week will help remove trapped hair and other debris and keep the coat tangle-free. In addition to regular brushing, the coat should be trimmed once in two months to keep it neat. Frequent baths too help keep the curly coat in natural ringlets.
These dogs require physical and mental stimulation to remain happy and healthy. In addition to regular brisk walks, minimum one hour of activity a day is a must, and can include swimming and playing water games. They enjoy doing work and participating in training sessions for agility and obedience.
Common health issues of Irish Water Spaniel dog breed
The Irish Water Spaniel dog breed is a relatively healthy breed with only a few health problems. The dogs are prone to Canine Hip dysplasia. Like other long-eared dogs, they are susceptible to developing ear infections. Entropion and distichiasis are two of the eye disorders seen in this breed. Hypothyroidism and megaesophagus are also encountered. The average life expectancy of the Irish Water Spaniel breed is 10 to 12 years.