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Irish Water Spaniel

All the Irish Water Spaniels of today can be traced back to the kennel of Irishman Justin McCarthy who claimed to have resuscitated a dying breed, but who has been accused of manufacturing it. McCarthy began his work in 1834 and by 1862 the breed's characteristics were fixed well enough for it be shown as the Irish Water Spaniel at an English dog show. This sporting spaniel was one of the founding breeds in the American Kennel Club. The liver color was a definite asset for the water fowler in the muddy bogs of Ireland. This is a retrieving spaniel that has not lost any of its original skills. About half of all Irish Water Spaniels are still used for hunting.

Other Names Body Type Personality Coat Health Concerns

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Rat-tail Spaniel, Shannon Spaniel

AKC Group: Sporting

Breed Club: Irish Water Spaniel

Rescue Club: Irish Water Spaniel Rescue

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Body Type:

  • Largest of the spaniel family, the Irish Water Spaniel is a strong swimmer with a coat that is designed to protect it in the water
  • Height: 20-23 inches (at shoulder)
  • Weight: 45-65 pounds
  • The long, hanging ears are not altered
  • The whiplike tail has curls for the first few inches; the rest is naked skin or is covered with short, fine hairs. It is never altered


  • Known as the clown of the dog world, the Irish Water Spaniel has a real sense of humor and is willing to make a fool of itself to get you laughing
  • Upbeat and cheerful, this is an ideal dog for children
  • Can be overly zealous in its self-appointed guardian role
  • The desire to work for you and do small tasks like bringing slippers is compulsive in these retrievers


  • The liver or puce curls which are the breed's hallmark are oily and water repelling
  • Topknot and ear hair is longer than that on the rest of the body and the face, throat, the front of the hocks and all but a few inches of the tail near the root are naturally smooth with short, velvety hair
  • Must be professionally groomed
  • Tends to mat without daily attention
  • The soft textured hair is non shedding

Health Concerns:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Seizures
  • Severe skin and thyroid problems
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Tasty Tidbits:
  • You can't keep an Irish Water Spaniel out of the H2O
  • Its feet are webbed like a ducks
  • At a trot the Irish Water Spaniel has a characteristic roll to the body that is reinforced by the bobbing curls

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