To quote from an old book on dogs, “Once you have observed the form & presence of an Irish Water Spaniel, you will never forget the impression made on your mind by the appearance of this sporting gun dog. Although the Irish dog’s body & legs are covered with short & well-formed ringlets, his face & tail are devoid of a profusion of hair.” IWSs have many unforgettable characteristics, which, when put together, make a truly unique dog. They are readily identifiable by their smooth rat-like tails (they’re also known as Rat- or Whip-Tails), topknots of long, loose curls, liver-brown coats of longish ringlets of hair, beards growing at the base of their jaws, sideburns framing their faces, & naturally “clean-shaven” throats & faces. They are a moderate dog more of soft curves than of extreme angles. They present a picture of an upstanding, powerfully built -- not leggy -- dog that combines great intelligence & endurance with bold eagerness.

While the tallest of the spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel is a medium, strongly-built dog with a distinct appearance. They are compact, moderate & well-boned with a pronounced barrel ribcage. The coat should be a deep rich liver color composed of tight, crisp curls & ringlets. The face, throat & tail should be mostly smooth & the head crowned with a characteristic ‘topknot’ growing from a well-defined widows’ peak between the eyes.

Water Spaniels are of ancient lineage. They are mentioned as far back as the Roman era, by Shakespeare & by subsequent writers. In modern history, a dog show class has been provided for them from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Dublin sportsman Justin McCarthy is considered one of the most significant early breeders of IWSs, as he was instrumental in setting a distinct, repeatable breed type. His celebrated dog, “Boatswain,” was one of the first pure-type & best known of the early documented IWSs. IWSs were one of the American Kennel Club’s nine founding breeds.

While the exact origins of the breed remain obscure, the earliest reference to the type of Irish Water Spaniel that we know today was in the 1830s. They were bred to be versatile, wildfowling gundogs to work the marshes, bogs & rivers of their native Ireland.

Like most sporting dogs, the Irish Water Spaniel is an active & willing companion. Because they are purpose-bred retrievers, they instinctively want to please. While there are differences, there are more similarities between an IWS & a Golden, Lab, or Chessie than with a Rottweiler, Beagle, or Pekingese. In general, IWSs will be less effusively friendly with strangers than Goldens, & not as easy-going or affable as Labs, but each dog is an individual, & generalizations are unwise in this breed. Some IWSs can be shy or somewhat sharp, so LOTS of early & ongoing socialization is essential. Some IWSs can be reserved with strangers, & not all IWS get along well with other pets. Again, socialization & exposure are the keys to helping the dog overcome those tendencies. IWSs NEED to be family members & benefit from a LOT of early & continuing socialization & training, especially during their first few years. The IWS is NOT a breed that can be forgotten in your backyard! Socialization is especially important when an enthusiastic IWS is expected to coexist with young children. IWSs can be smart, strong-willed, curious dogs. They have creative talents that can try one's patience, & their intensity can be infuriating as well as charming. They are definitely a “thinking” breed.

Irish Water Spaniels can be very slow to mature emotionally & physically. They are sometimes headstrong & willful. They are also intelligent, alert, mischievous & fun-loving, & are sometimes called the ‘clown of the spaniel family.’ It is their intelligence that gives the IWS their clownish reputation as they often use their initiative in ways that can surprise & exasperate their owners.

They have an endearing nature, but require LOTS of early training & socialization. They learn quickly, but just as quickly, they can become bored & stubborn if overtrained. They require variety & mental stimulation to keep them engaged.

The IWS is an active breed that requires regular exercise, preferably free-running. That does NOT mean that you should jog with a physically immature puppy who’s still developing structurally! Most IWSs love any type of water, from hoses & puddles to ponds & the ocean, where they enjoy swimming & retrieving. Wet, muddy IWSs may not the best dog for the house-proud.

IWSs participate in many activities, & enjoy learning & being with their people. They have keen noses & have been used as drug & explosives detection dogs.

A good-sized garden is advisable, but as long as the dog receives adequate physical & mental exercise, this is not an absolute requirement.

The IWS is considered a dual-purpose hunting dog, as the breed will flush as well as retrieve upland game & waterfowl. The breed has been approved by the AKC to compete in both retriever & spaniel tests. Some IWSs may also point game, but they are not classified to work as pointers. IWSs’ dense, oily double coat protects the dogs in the coldest water, but grooming will be necessary to remove burs & seeds picked up in the field. The excellent vision & marking abilities of the IWS, combined with a keen nose, protective coat, soft mouth, & tenacious attitude make them wonderful hunting companions.

A well trained Irisher should be able to provide a strong challenge to the typical top breeds in obedience competition. The IWS's reputation for being a clown is often a rationalization of not so subtle disobedient defiance that a competent trainer should be able to channel assuming that the trainer is smarter & more determined than the dog. IWSs are quick, capable dogs who will usually do what you ask of them, but who will often add flair to their performance. They can be incredible con artists who are more than capable of duping a novice trainer. It can be a challenge to learn to distinguish between the dog honestly not understanding what you want him to do, & the dog wanting you to think that he doesn’t understand what you want him to do. Again, with a knowledgeable, determined trainer, almost anything is possible. IWSs are best trained with positive motivational methods (food, toys, & praise) rather than with a heavy-handed, disciplinary approach. To the breed’s credit, the first sporting dog to ever obtain an AKC obedience title was an IWS, & the breed has had several Obedience Trial Champions of record. IWSs want to be with & please their people & they compete successfully in fieldwork, obedience, freestyle, agility, tracking, nose work, dock diving, rally obedience, flyball, barn hunt as well as anything else that interests them. They also work as search, therapy & assistance dogs.

The Irish Water Spaniel was not bred to be a guard dog, & should not be expected to do the job of a Doberman or German Shepherd, however, any of the retrieving breeds will intervene if a direct assault is made on their master. An IWS is probably more likely to take exception to a burglar entering his home than would a tail-wagging Golden or Lab. With his brown to amber eyes, the direct confrontational stare of an Irisher can be quite intimidating. Because of his rarity, the IWS would give pause to an intruder trying to predict the dog’s behavior. They are devoted one-family dogs who tend to protect their people & themselves. They are generally not excessive “sport” barkers, but they will definitely let you know if there’s a stranger about.

IWSs are high-maintenance dogs. They require regular, consistent grooming & care to maintain healthy coat, ears, teeth & nails. They should be thoroughly combed & brushed to the skin every few weeks. All IWSs require a certain amount of regular scissoring every 6-8 weeks to maintain the overall shape of the dog. As most groomers are unfamiliar with the breed, many IWS owners learn to bathe & trim their dogs themselves. If you cannot do this yourself, you will need to find a groomer who can, & should include the cost of regular grooming when considering this breed. For the show ring, much more extensive grooming is required. Here in California, cockle-burs & foxtails are of more concern than cold weather, so it is advisable to keep the coats of dogs that are being trained, run in the field or kept as pets cut shorter for easy care. Undiscovered foxtails can cause a great deal of damage & result in expensive exploratory surgery.

If your human allergies are a concern, please make sure to meet & spend time with an IWS BEFORE you consider getting one! Some people find IWSs to be a non-shedding & non-allergenic breed. This means that although you probably won’t be sneezing from dander, if left ungroomed, much of the loose, dead hair will not spontaneously fall to the floor, but instead will become tangled in the coat, forming mats. Their coat may not drop like a Dalmatian or Lab, but it will clump together to form “dust bunnies.” Especially during those periods when the dog is actively molting or renewing his coat, it is essential that he be brushed or combed regularly to remove dead hair & prevent matting.

IWSs go through several coat changes in the process of maturation. Due to hormonal changes, intact bitches may tend to “blow” coat more frequently than a dog. Exposure to anesthesia may also cause a dog to partially lose its coat.

Although the breed standard calls for only one acceptable coat color – puce-liver (dark liver-brown with a purple cast to it) – there is a range of color from lighter brown to almost black. There is also considerable variation in coat quality, coat texture, & coat quantity in the breed. Coats range from tight, crisp ringlets to softer, wavy or almost straight hair.

As with many medium to large-sized dogs, the principal health concerns in IWSs are hip/elbow dysplasia & thyroid disease. Although it does not guarantee against dysplastic dogs, it is wise to purchase puppies out of sires & dams with OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) evaluation numbers. Also, enquire about thyroid clearances of the sires & dams as tested by Michigan State University, Hemopet or another reputable laboratory. Cancer, epilepsy, heart problems, food allergies/sensitivities & cataracts are also not unheard of in the breed, as in many other pure- or mixed breed dogs.

IWSs have shown sensitivity to Sulfa drugs & to the worming drug Ivermectin, both of which can & should be replaced by other types of medication. Inoculating IWSs for Leptospirosis is NOT recommended as it may result in anaphylactic shock. In spite of these concerns, the average life span of an IWS is typically somewhere in the 8-12 year range, although longer & shorter-lived dogs are common.

Many IWS breeders follow a more holistic approach to dog breeding & rearing. This includes feeding a biologically/species appropriate diet of raw meats, ground veggies & fruits; a reduced vaccination schedule or administering homeopathic nosodes, running titers instead of giving booster shots; herb & vitamin supplementation, acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy & other holistic modalities. Many have found this to be in the best interest of the dogs, especially given the small gene pool of the breed.

IWSs have appeared on the big screen in Renny Harlin’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight” & “102 Dalmatians.” On the small screen, they’ve been in the UK TV series “The Irish RM,” which was based on books by E. Somerville including “Maria & Some Other Dogs.” In 1953, a story about an IWS named Bridget was serialized in Jack & Jill Magazine, & was later published as a book by IWS owner Beatrix Moore. Famous illustrator John Held, Jr. wrote about IWSs in the 1930s in “The Wearin’ O’ The Green” & “The Tail of Mr. Dooley.” IWSs have appeared in other books & stories, notably Morgan Dennis’ “The Sea Dog” & Nell Mabey’s “Whimpie of Bramble Haw,” as well as quite a few others.

If you are willing to invest the patience, the time to socialize, train & provide the mental & physical stimulation needed, & are prepared to regularly look after their coat, an IWS could be a wonderful companion with which to share your life.
If you are interested in the breed, we strongly recommend that you meet an IWS before you decide to get one of your own.   http://www.naturallyhappydogs.com/watch/irish-water-spaniel


AKC IRISH WATER SPANIEL BREED STANDARD – Approved 7/14/09, Effective 9/1/09

That of a smart, upstanding, strongly built moderate gundog bred for all types of shooting, especially for water-fowling. Great intelligence is combined with rugged endurance and a bold, dashing eagerness of temperament.

Distinguishing characteristics are a topknot of long, loose curls and a body covered with a dense, crisply curled liver colored coat contrasted by a smooth face and a smooth “rat” tail.

Strongly built and well-boned, the Irish Water Spaniel is of medium length making it slightly rectangular in appearance. A well-balanced dog that should not appear leggy or coarse.

      Dogs               22 to 24 inches (measured at the highest point of withers)
      Bitches           21 to 23 inches

      Dogs               55 to 68 pounds
      Bitches           45 to 58 pounds

The head is cleanly chiseled. The skull is large and high in dome with a prominent occiput and a gradual stop. The muzzle is long, deep and somewhat square in appearance with a strong underjaw. Lips are fine in texture, tight and dry. The nose is large and dark liver in color. The teeth are even with a scissor or level bite. Hair on the face is short and smooth except for a beard of long, loose curls growing at the back of the lower jaw which may continue up the side of the face as sideburns.

A characteristic of the breed, the topknot consists of long, loose curls covering the skull and falling down over the top of the ears and occiput. The contrast between the smooth face and the topknot is evident in a well-defined peak between the eyes. The topknot, a breed characteristic, should not be trimmed in an exaggerated or excessive manner.

Set almost flush, the eyes are comparatively small and almond shaped with tight eyelids. The color is a warm tone of medium to dark brown, dark amber but never yellow. The expression is keenly alert, intelligent, direct and quizzical.

Long, lobular, set low, hanging close to the head and abundantly covered with long loose curls of hair.

The neck is long, arching, strong and muscular and is smoothly set into cleanly sloping shoulders.

The rear is equal to or slightly higher than the front never descending or showing sag or roach.

Strong, broad and level.

Medium length. The ribs are carried well back and so well sprung behind the shoulders as to give a barrel shape. The chest is deep with a brisket extending to the elbows. The loin is short, wide, muscular, and deep so it does not give a tucked-up appearance.

The entire front gives the impression of strength without heaviness. The forechest should be moderate. Shoulders are sloping and moderately laid back, clean and powerful. The upper arms are approximately the length of the shoulder blades with clean elbows set close to the body. Forelegs are well boned, muscular and straight, set well under the withers.

Sound hindquarters are of great importance to provide drive and power while swimming. They are as high as or slightly higher than the shoulders with powerful, muscular, well-developed thighs. The hips are wide. The croup is rounded and full with the tail set on low enough to give a rounded appearance. The stifles are moderately bent. Hocks are set low and moderately bent. Balance of front and rear angulation is important.

Large, round, somewhat spreading. Well clothed with hair. Pads are thick.

The “Rat Tail” is a striking characteristic of the breed and is strong, low set and carried level with the back and is not quite long enough to reach the point of the hock. The tail is thick at the root where it is covered for two to three inches with short curls which stop abruptly. From that point the tail is covered with smooth hair and the tail tapers to a fine point.

Proper coat is of vital importance to protect the dog while working. The coat on the face is short and smooth framed by the distinctive topknot and ears of long, loose curls. The coat on the throat is smooth forming a V-shaped patch from the back of the lower jaw behind the beard to the breastbone. The remainder of the neck, body and base of the tail are covered with dense, tight, crisp curls. The remainder of the coat on the tail is short and smooth coated. Forelegs are covered down to the feet with curls or waves all around. The hind legs are also abundantly covered with curls or waves except that the hair is short and smooth on the front of the legs below the hocks. Feet are well clothed with hair. Dogs may be shown in natural coat or trimmed. However, no dog should be groomed or trimmed so excessively as to obscure the curl or texture of the coat.

Rich liver to dark liver with a purplish tinge, sometimes called puce liver. No white hair or markings except for the graying of age.

Moves freely and soundly with balanced reach and drive. Should be true, precise and not slurring; may have a characteristic rolling motion accentuated by the barrelshaped rib cage.

Very alert, inquisitive and active. Stable in temperament with an endearing sense of humor. May be reserved with strangers but never aggressive or shy.

The foregoing description is that of the ideal adult Irish Water Spaniel in hard working condition. Any deviation from the above-described dog must be considered to the extent of the deviation, keeping in mind the importance of various features toward the basic original purpose of the breed, which is that of a gundog used for work in all types of shooting and particularly suited to water fowling in difficult marshy terrain.


Copyright ©2001-2015 Hooligan Irish Water Spaniels ~ All Right Reserved ~ Website Design by Eleventh Hour Design