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Irish Water Spaniel Breed Guide

Irish Water Spaniel RunningOrigins

As its name indicates, the Irish Water Spaniel has originates from Ireland, where they were used as gundogs, predominantly for retrieving ducks and wild fowl. Some say that the breed were originally brought to Ireland from Persia, however Justin McCarthy is the acknowledged ‘founder’ of the breed as we know it. In this day and age, owners have discovered that many are good at fly ball and agility, and that the breed make very loyal family pets or companions. Irish Water Spaniels are energetic dogs by nature and will spend hours simply amusing themselves.

Coat and Appearance


The Irish Water Spaniel has a coat of solid brown which is known as ‘puce liver’, and consists of crisp curls and ringlets. Their coats require a great deal of care; regular brushing, combing and trimming are essential, otherwise it will matt and become smelly. It is essential to bear this in mind if you are considering owning an Irish Water Spaniel. The coat however is virtually non-shedding and may suit people who are allergic to dogs that moult.

The Irish Water Spaniel’s eyes should be a dark hazel in colour and have what is known as a ‘rat tail’ or a ‘whiptail’. Feet should be large and are usually webbed.

In terms of size, bitches are 20 to 21 inches at the shoulder and dogs 21-23 inches.

General Breed Information

As a breed they are an extremely loyal dog, but can be strong willed and perhaps rather a challenge for a first time dog owner. They are immensely intelligent and are great ‘thinking’ dogs whilst making excellent companions and lovely family dogs. As puppies they benefit from basic training, and socialisation is an absolute must as otherwise they can be reserved with strangers.


Irish Water Spaniel

Health wise, as all pedigree dogs, the Irish Water Spaniel have some issues. Reputable breeders now hip and elbow score their dogs and eye test them yearly.

If buying a puppy, check that these tests have been done with both parents. Hip scores should be below 10 for each hip 0/0 for elbows. Anything above on hips or a score on elbows indicate that the dog has a degree of dysplasia. Eyes should be clear and have a current certificate. Dogs in this breed can occasionally have epilepsy. It is vital therefore to ask questions from your breeder.

Some Irish Water Spaniels can be allergic to sulphur based drugs, and it is therefore recommended that these are not given.

Irish Water Spaniel Breed Clubs

Irish Water SpanielThe breed has two representative bodies in UK, both of which have the interests of the breed at their centre. The Sporting Irish Water Spaniel Club look after the working interests of the breed. They hold training classes for gundog work, Gundog Working Tests and Field Trials. Although its name indicates that the dog is a spaniel, for competitive purposes, the breed runs as a retriever in line with its country of origin.  As they are gundogs and naturally very slow to mature, water spaniels are not the easiest of dogs to train, and training requires absolute commitment and lots of patience from the owner. Working breeding and a knowledge of the dogs is an advantage here.

The Irish Water Spaniel Association caters for the showing interests of the breed owners. They hold a Championship Show and an Open Show, and interest their members with obedience work, fly ball and occasionally an introduction to gundog work. Other interests are also considered. The association welcomes suggestions from members for alternative activities to be considered. The IWSA also provides members with a superb year book which contains articles, advice and an insight into members’ dogs.

Irish Water Spaniel

Both organisations have excellent websites, where you can obtain even more information and possibly go along to their events which allow you to meet the breed. If this is something you’re interested in, just contact their respective secretaries who would be delighted to answer any further queries you may have. Both clubs also have “rescue” sections for the breed and we urge you to consider re-homing an Irish Water Spaniel if you are considering becoming an owner.

Generally speaking the Irish Water Spaniel is a delightful breed to live with. Its personality and character are delightful and they will capture your heart for life.

Lois Ferrans

Lois Ferrans

Community User

Lois is the Rescue and Welfare officer at the Irish Water Spaniel Association (IWSA). The organisation are a Kennel Club registered breed club for Irish Water Spaniels in the UK.