Irish Water Spaniel

AKC Sporting Group


Photo copyright © Cook PhoDOGraphy. All rights reserved.

Photo copyright © Cook PhoDOGraphy. All rights reserved.

Although there are several different theories about his origins, the Irish Water Spaniel is probably descended from Poodle/Irish Setter or Poodle/Curly-Coated Retriever crosses in early Ireland. In fact, he looks a lot like a brown Standard Poodle. The Irish Water Spaniel gained a reputation in England and Ireland for daring retrieves in frigid waters. He also has been used on upland game and even has a soft enough mouth to retrieve dove. The breed became popular in the United States in the 1800s for duck hunting until the easy-care short-coated Labrador Retriever displaced him. Now considered a rare breed, the Irish Water Spaniel is classified as a retriever by the AKC, allowing him to participate in AKC retrieving sports. The Irish Water Spaniel has the winning combination of strong retrieving ability in any weather and the disposition of a gentle family dog.


The largest of the spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel is a solid rich-to-dark liver, crisp-textured, curly-coated dog with a hairless, rat-like tail and smooth short-coated face. The curly outer coat is lined with a dense undercoat that helps insulate the dog in even the coldest waters. A topknot of curls on the head hangs down to cover and protect the eyes. The occiput is prominent and the stop gradual. The muzzle is long, square, and powerful. The long ears are covered with curls. Eyes are hazel. The chest is deep, but rather narrow, for free movement when swimming. The hindquarters are as high as or slightly higher than the shoulders. Large webbed feet assist in swimming.

Key Facts

  • Height: 22 to 24 in. (male); 21 to 23 in. (female)
  • Size: Medium
  • Weight: 55 to 65 lbs. (male); 45 to 60 lbs. (female)
  • Availability: Very difficult to find
  • Talents: Hunting, tracking, retrieving, watchdog, agility, and competitive obedience


Beware of hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and eye entropion. Be sure parents have been OFA certified and checked for thyroid problems. Avoid timid puppies. Might have ear infections. A lot of care in grooming is needed as the coat can tend to mat. Skilled trimming of the coat is necessary. This coat is unusually good for allergy sufferers because it has little dander. The Irish Water Spaniel is a quiet dog, barking only when necessary to warn the family. The Irish Water Spaniel is an excellent swimmer.


Very intelligent and trainable, with a desire to please. Eager, bold, and confident. Can be somewhat willful, but generally easygoing and gentle. A fine working dog in the field and obedience ring. Devoted, but mischievous and fun loving. Usually a one-family dog. Some are good guard dogs. Generally does well with other pets if properly introduced. Should be well socialized as a puppy.


  • Children: Best with older, considerate children
  • Friendliness: Reserved with strangers
  • Trainability: Easy to train
  • Independence: Moderately dependent on people
  • Dominance: Moderate
  • Other Pets: Generally good with other pets
  • Combativeness: Tends to be fairly dog-aggressive
  • Noise: Not a barker
  • Indoors: Fairly active indoors
  • Owner: Not recommended for novice owners


  • Grooming: Extensive grooming needed
  • Trimming and Stripping: Skilled trimming or stripping needed
  • Coat: Curly coat
  • Shedding: Very light
  • Exercise: Vigorous daily exercise needed
  • Jogging: An excellent jogging companion
  • Apartments: Will be OK in an apartment if sufficiently exercised
  • Outdoor Space: Best with at least an average-size yard
  • Climate: Does well in most climates
  • Longevity: Average (10 to 12 years)

Useful Links

AKC® Irish Water Spaniel Breed Standard

Irish Water Spaniel Breed Club

Search for a Breeder

Rescue Organizations

Books about the Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniel Gifts