The Irish Water Spaniel
that is the largest and one of the oldest of spaniels
. It is also one of the rarest.
The Irish Water Spaniel is a stout and cobby
dog native to Ireland. The coat, consisting of dense curls, sheds very little. The colour is liver/puce and has a very definite purple hue unlike the colour of any other known breed. Their coat has the tendency not to shed. This characteristic means that people usually allergic to dogs might have less of an allergic reaction to Irish Water Spaniels (see hypoallergenic
This breed has little to no shedding (see Moult).
The dogs are strongly built, and a bit taller and more squarish than other spaniels. There is a curly topknot upon the head and the face is smooth. The most distinguishing characteristic of these dogs is their not-too-long "rat-like" tails, which are a striking contrast to their otherwise curly coats. Dogs range in height from 22 to 24 inches (56-61 cm), and weigh 55 to 65 pounds (25-30 kg). As their name would imply these dogs love water and to this end they have evolved slightly webbed feet to aid this.
This is an active breed that is usually found in a real working retriever environment. They are intelligent, quick to learn, alert, and inquisitive. They sometimes display humorous antics while working, earning them their "clownish" reputation. With proper socialization they can be gentle dogs with family and children, but are often shy around strangers. Irish Water Spaniels require regular exercise and need an experienced trainer, however, when looked after properly make extremely loving and loyal pets. They require access to water to swim, an activity they specialise in.
Although the current breed stock is Irish
, the origin of the breed is unknown. It is probable that more than one ancient breed of spaniel has gone into its makeup. It is not known from which other breeds Irish Water Spaniels were developed. The acknowledged father of the breed, Justin McCarthy from Dublin, left no breeding records. All manner of dogs have been suggested including: the Poodle
, Portuguese Water Dog
, and Barbet
, but whether Irish Water Spaniels are antecedents, descendants, or mixtures of these other breeds is a matter of some speculation. What is clear is that the breed has ancient roots. The modern breed as we know it was developed in Ireland in the 1830s.
Suitability as a pet
Irish Water Spaniels make good family dogs, as they are usually excellent with children and with other pets. They can make good guard dogs if they have been trained to do so, and will protect their human families. Not usually an aggressive dog, yet the IWS has a deep, fierce-sounding bark.
Although their coats do grow to medium length, the dogs do not need daily brushing unless the owner intends to enter the showring. A once-a-month trim with scissors to remove straggly ends, a comb to remove mats, then a swim to curl up the coat again, is all that is usually required.
Although happy to curl up and sleep at home, regular walks and exercise are essential for a healthy, contented water spaniel. An ideal home though would be a working environment, where the dogs' minds as well as bodies are exercised. Many IWS owners work their dogs in the shooting field, in obedience tests, or in agility competitions. A favourite pastime is swimming, so the ideal owner would be someone who could give their dog access to a clean, safe river, or other body of water.