Let's talk Irish Water Spaniels

The Irish Water Spaniel stands out from the canine crowd with their distinctive curly top coat. They have an equally appealing temperament, with an infectious confidence and amiable outlook that positively impacts family life. Irish Water Spaniels develop great affection for their families, including children. Irish Water Spaniels will be most content with an owner who can satisfy their energy and intelligence with physical and mental activities. Indoors, Irish Water Spaniels are quiet and calm, making for an all-round great canine companion.

Official name: Irish Water Spaniel

Other names: Whiptail, Shannon Spaniel, Rat Tail Spaniel, Bog Dog

Origins: Ireland

Black and white portrait of an Irish Water Spaniel
 Drooling tendencies   Warm weather?  High
 Shedding level  Very low Suited to apartment living?   Medium
 Physical activity needs Moderate Kid-friendly?
 Compatibility with other pets  Medium Can stay alone?  Medium

We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behaviour. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

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Illustration of a Irish Water Spaniel
53 - 58 cm translations.feature.breeds.height
31 - 35 kg translations.feature.breeds.weight
51 - 56 cm translations.feature.breeds.height
20 - 26 kg translations.feature.breeds.weight


 Baby age  Birth to 2 months
 Puppy age  2-12 months
 Adult age  1-7 years
 Mature age  7-10 years
 Senior age  From 10 years

Brown Irish Water Spaniel stood with face fur blowing in the wind


Get to know the Irish Water Spaniel

All you need to know about the breed

The athletic Irish Water Spaniel was originally bred to be a hunting, pointing and retrieving dog. They have evolved into a wonderful family companion with an adorable, mischievous temperament. But their energy levels remain high and they continue to excel at sporting activities. Smaller pets are probably not a good idea, due to the breed’s active prey drive.

The Irish Water Spaniel is highly devoted to their family with an alertness that makes them great watchdogs. Despite this skill, the breed is not a big barker, using it only when they need to warn their humans about something. As with most breeds, early training and socialisation will be necessary for making sure your Irish Water Spaniel is on their best behaviour around children and strangers. Although like all breeds, supervision is essential.

Irish Water Spaniels thrive as part of an active family who can confidently train them and spend plenty of time outdoors on a daily basis, including play sessions. After burning off all that energy, your Irish Water Spaniel will be content to curl up inside close to you. If all this personality doesn’t sound like too much, the charming Irish Water Spaniel will make a wonderful addition to your household.

Irish Water Spaniel sat tongue out in front of a bare bush


2 facts about Irish Water Spaniels

1. Clowning around

The Irish Water Spaniel is often referred to as the clown of all Spaniel breeds. This is likely due to their cheerful temperament coupled with their curly top coat.

2. French fancy

In order to improve Franco-British relations during the 17th century, King James I of England gifted an Irish Water Spaniel to his French counterpart. They were the first of their breed to walk on French soil!


History of the breed

The history of the Irish Water Spaniel is clouded in so much mystery, it could be mistaken for Irish folklore! The first record of the breed dates as far back as the 1830s, with a dog named Boatswain, at the kennels of Irish breeder Justin McCarthy. However, Mr. McCarthy took his breeding secrets to the grave. Experts strongly believe that the Irish Water Spaniel shares their lineage with the Poodle, the Portuguese Water Dog, and the Barbet.

The Irish Water Spaniel has collected several nicknames over the years, including “Rat Tail Spaniels” and “Whiptail Spaniels”, which both refer to their unique-looking tail that is half covered in fur and differs in thickness. Despite achieving recognition from the American Kennel Club in 1878, the Irish Water Spaniel remains most popular as a working and show dog in their native homeland.

Black and white portrait of an Irish Water Spaniel


From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Irish Water Spaniels

1. Eyes

Small, almond-shaped eyes, in dark brown or amber.

2. Ears

Long, floppy ears, covered in a curly coat of fur.

3. Body

A sturdy body covered in tight, dense curls.

Close-up of an Irish Water Spaniel sat on grass


Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Irish Water Spaniel
Irish Water Spaniel jumping into a river


Caring for your Irish Water Spaniel

Grooming, training and exercise tips

Despite their luscious curls, Irish Water Spaniels are minimal shedders so their grooming involves one weekly brush. However, their texture will need regular haircuts with a professional groomer. Nails should be trimmed regularly, to prevent any damage or discomfort. Clean their teeth (daily if possible) and also their long ears regularly to prevent ear infections from developing. Irish Water Spaniels are an energetic breed, requiring one to three hours per day of activity. Daily walks, hikes and play sessions will keep them in great shape and they’ll be content to get one-on-one time with their human(s). The biggest hurdle when it comes to training an Irish Water Spaniel is keeping the boredom at bay. They are eager to please and content when they have a job to do. Owners will need to be confident when training their intelligent and free-spirited Irish Water Spaniel. Any treat-based rewards should be counted as part of their daily food portion.


All about Irish Water Spaniels

Irish Water Spaniels make a great canine companion for active families, including children (once trained). They will be an entertaining presence, both indoors and out, but don’t necessarily enjoy sharing the spotlight with other family pets. Like most breeds, Irish Water Spaniels benefit from early socialisation to feel their most comfortable around strangers.

Sadly, no. Irish Water Spaniels may not be ideal for first time pet owners because of their determined temperament and free-spirited way. Irish Water Spaniels also require a lot of daily exercise, which is not for everyone, and firm but confident training, to show who’s boss.



1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/