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What is an Irish Water Spaniel? Talented or lost in the spaniel pack?

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The Irish Water Spaniel is one of the less known and less popular spaniel breeds. This is partly due to confusion in his role within the shooting environment which finds him among the spaniels but expected to compete against retrievers. He is almost stuck in the middle.

This breed is one of the oldest of the gundogs and originated, as the name suggests in Ireland. Irish Water Spaniels are the largest spaniel and are excellent hunters that can point before they flush game. They are great water retrievers and have been used extensively for wildfowling activities in cold, wild seas and in other hunting environments where a powerful water dog has been required.

What does an Irish Water Spaniel look like?

The Irish Water Spaniel is like none of the other spaniel breeds and is a curly coated dog with a large top knot of hair.

His main features are:

  • He is the largest of all of the spaniels – he generally has a height of 21 to 23 inches for males with females being slightly smaller
  • The Irish Water Spaniel comes in one colour – liver in a dark and rich tone
  • One of the most distinctive features of the breed is his coat, which is curly. The coat of the Irish Water Spaniel has a natural, oily feel to it, ideal for repelling water but needing regular brushing to prevent tangles
  • The breed has short hair on the face but always has a floppy top knot which looks like an added on wig, giving the dog an almost comical appearance at times
  • A classic feature of the breed is the tail which has a rat like look to it.
what is an irish water spaniel

Is the Irish Water Spaniel a spaniel or a retriever?

The Irish Water Spaniel suffers from an identity crisis which almost penalises it in working environments.

In working competitions this breed is placed into the same category as Labradors and other retrievers – breeds that are more capable and bred to undertake that activity, placing the IWS at a disadvantage.

Yet in dog shows it is classed as a spaniel and, if the breed were to compete against spaniels in working events then, again, it would struggle to make an impact.

So, from one perspective it is a retriever and from the other a spaniel.

It is probably best to view the Irish Water Spaniel as a unique gun dog breed with his own talents and abilities, some of which exceed those of the more common spaniels.

Is the Irish Water Spaniel a good working dog?

Although they are rare in the shooting world, they are excellent workers. 

In the beating line, while roughshooting or wildfowling, the Irish Water Spaniel makes a great all round dog. As it’s name suggests this breed is excellent in water and is a very strong swimmer – in fact they excel at water based activities.

If you undertake wildfowling or any form of hunting activity that needs a dog that is capable of retrieving from water, such as the sea or lakes and ponds, then the Irish Water Spaniel may be a good choice.

Are Irish Water Spaniels easy to train?

Like all gun dogs the Irish Water Spaniel is a high energy, active and intelligent working breed that adapts well to training.

This is a dog that is keen to please and which will do his best to do what you need him to do – provided he understands what that is.

Like all dogs training sessions should be interesting and short but frequent so that he has the best chance to learn and enjoy himself.

They are sensitive dogs that respond well to praise and encouragement.

They can be trained like other spaniels to hunt, flush and retrieve and will take on basic spaniel training with ease, however most Irish Water Spaniel owners train their dogs along the lines of retriever training, similar to a Labrador.

what is an irish water spaniel

Are Irish Water Spaniels good pets?

If you are active and can provide this breed with plenty of exercise, including swimming and you take the time and effort to embark on training with him, then, yes, the Irish Water Spaniel is a good family pet.

As well as being highly intelligent, they are also jokers, and, like other spaniels, love to have fun, play games and get up to mischief.

They are gentle, kind dogs with a friendly and biddable temperament.

How long do Irish Water Spaniels live?

Typically a healthy and fit Irish Water Spaniel will reach an age of 10 to 12 years.

Do Irish Water Spaniels shed hair?

Irish Water Spaniels hardly shed any hair at all. Their curly coat is soft and short and will need grooming and brushing two to three times a week to prevent tangles and to help to keep it in good condition.

The hair on the breed contains high levels of natural oils and this can attract dust and dirt and other small items of debris, so it is important to maintain a regular brushing schedule.

Should I get an Irish Water Spaniel?

As a family companion or pet the Irish Water Spaniel could be a good choice for someone looking for a larger dog that is different to the more common breeds.

You should always think about your ability to provide a safe and stable home for a dog and consider whether you have the room for a larger breed and the time to exercise and train it.

If you are looking for a good working gun dog then the Irish Water Spaniel is probably not the best choice and other working breeds would be more suited to gun dog work.

But, if you want something different, that will do the job, albeit not as well as some others, then why not give it a go?

To recap

  • The Irish Water Spaniel is one of the oldest working gun dog breeds
  • It is disadvantaged in that it is unique and views vary as to it’s correct working purpose
  • The breed is intelligent, lively and responds well to training
  • It needs a lot of exercise and loves water – swimming is almost compulsory
  • They make excellent pets and are great family dogs

Last update on 2022-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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