Irish Water Spaniel

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Breed: Irish Water Spaniel
Temperament: Loyal, active
Lifespan: 12-13 Years
Recommended for: Families who want something different
Dumpage rate: Low
Maintenance: High


The Irish Water Spaniel is a breed best known for its distinctive curly coat. Roman ruins show evidence of a similar dog, and the lineage of the breed may include the Portuguese water dogs and spaniel stock from the Iberian peninsula. The breed was developed in Ireland from two strains: the Southern, and the Northern Country Water Spaniel, and today’s breed takes after the Southern variety. The dogs were valued for their retrieving abilities and their extreme hardiness in the cold waters of the North Sea. They were first introduced to Australia in 1891. A family companion and a reliable watch dog, the breed has slowly increased in numbers, and presently there are about 200 in Australia.


The breed’s distinctive dense ringlet curls are a rich dark liver coloured coat. The males have a slightly heavier coat. The dogs have low set, pendant ears and a long mousy tail. Adult males stand 53-58cm (21-23″), and adult females are 51-56cm tall (20-22″). Both sexes have a goatee beard.


Irish Water Spaniels are devoted companions, but demand attention. They are boisterous and enjoy outdoor romping. Breeders recommend that owners start obedience training early. The breed can also be aloof with strangers.

Health and Lifespan

A hardy breed, Irish Water Spaniels usually live 12 to 13 years. The instance of hip dysplasia is low – the breed average is 15. (Hip scores are given out of 106 points. A score of over 30 can lead to problems for dogs later in life.) New owners should always ask for the hip score of a breed. They can suffer from entropium (were the eyelids roll inwards, and the hairs irritate the eyeball) but this can be avoided if owners regularly check eyes when grooming. Occasionally, bitches have minor skin or coat problems.


Irish Water Spaniels are big eaters, and can be gluttons, given the opportunity. Breeders recommend a balanced diet which might include raw eggs, dry food, ox cheek, raw liver and chicken.


The breed has whelping problems, and litters consist of six to eight puppies. Young dogs benefit from early socialisation to their human family.


Irish Water Spaniels need regular grooming, at least 30 minutes a week. The oil in the coat repels water but also attracts dust, and has the potential to create enormous matting problems. Loose hair is not shed by the breed so owners must spend time grooming. The hair around the ears, eyes and toenails needs to be checked and trimmed regularly. Brushing may temporarily straighten the coat, but a spray of water or a swim quickly restores the natural curl. Many breeders recommend that pets be clipped, as it can be demanding to keep the animal in show condition.


There is presently a waiting list for Irish Water Spaniel puppies, which cost about $500 each.

Housepet Potential

Irish Water Spaniels love being inside but are not considered a townhouse dog because of their size. However they can be housetrained and especially enjoy lying on the couch.

Space and Exercise

Irish Water Spaniels can be well mannered inside. They can be kept in a backyard but need at least 30 minutes exercise a day. They also enjoy swimming, and will take to obedience and agility training if introduced to it early.

Ideal Owner

Irish water Spaniels need to be part of an active family with older children. They are not recommended for families with toddlers, very small children or inactive people.


National contacts

To find up-to-date contacts for breeders, contact the following organisations.
The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC)

Dogs NSW
Phone: 1300 728 022 (NSW only) or (02) 9834 3022
Fax: (02) 9834 3872

Dogs Victoria
Phone: (03) 9788 2500
Fax: (03) 9788 2599

Dogs ACT
Phone: (02) 6241 4404 – Fax: (02) 6241 1129.

Dogs West
Phone: (08) 9455 1188
Fax: (08) 9455 1190

Dogs SA
Phone: (08) 8349 4797

Canine Control Council of Queensland
Phone: (07) 3252 2661
Fax: (07) 3252 3864

Tasmanian Canine Association
Phone: (03) 6272 9443
Fax: (03) 6273 0844

Dogs NT
Phone: (08) 8984 3570
Fax: (08) 8984 3409
The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC)