Irish Water Spaniel Breed Information and Buying advice

Irish Water Spaniel

Are You Looking to Buy or Adopt a Irish Water Spaniel?

Quick Irish Water Spaniel Facts

Average Size of Adult
Medium (3/5)
Puppy Puppy Puppy Puppy Puppy
Grooming Requirement
High (3/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Medium (2/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Average Life Span
10-12 years (4/8)
Exercise Requirements
High (3/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
High (3/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Low (1/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Child friendly
Yes (1/2)
High (3/3)
Puppy Puppy Puppy
Breed Group
Gundog (1/8)
Yes (1/2)

Irish Water Spaniel (Whiptail, Shannon Spaniel, Bog Dog, Rat Tail Spaniel)


Amongst all spaniels, the Irish water spaniel (IWS) is the tallest and one of the oldest breeds. Kind, gentle, and often silly, the IWS is a wonderful companion at home or in his native element, chasing and retrieving from the water. Whether in his native Ireland or here in the UK, this gundog breed is incredibly charming and deserving of an equally charming and affectionate owner.

Physical Appearance 

The distinctive feature of the IWS is his dense, curled coat of fur in a rich puce liver colour, sometimes with white on the chest, although this is often undesirable in the breed. Their coat is naturally oily rather than woolly in texture, and they shed very little.

Their natural stance is sturdy, smart, strongly built, and cobby. Their ears are long, lobe-shaped, and hang close down to the cheeks whilst their tail is distinctively smooth and often resembles a ‘rat tail.’

Furthermore, their gait is also quite unique amongst other breeds in that they have a gentle, rolling motion which can be seen in their barrel-shaped ribcages. 

IWS resemble other spaniel breeds, especially water spaniels, but they are the tallest and can be more easily identified due to their height at the withers.

How big do Irish water spaniel dogs get?

  • Height: males 53-58 cm; females 51-56 cm

  • Weight: males 25-30 kg; females 20-26 kg

Character Traits

Perhaps the best way to describe the IWS’ temperament is that he is a proud, intelligent breed with a bold temperament and incredible loyalty. Although they may appear confident and strong in their natural state, don’t let that fool you. IWS have a wonderful sense of humour and have been known to act quite silly at times with their owners.

They make for pleasant companions and are very social, always looking for attention and approval from their owners. They do have high energy levels and require constant stimulation both physically and mentally, but they seldom if ever show any signs of aggression.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs intelligent? Yes, very.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs affectionate? Yes, very.

Do Irish water spaniel dogs have high or low energy levels? High energy.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs loyal? Yes.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs playful? Yes.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs aggressive? No.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs easy to train? Yes, extremely

Are Irish water spaniel dogs good guard dogs? Not really, but they make for excellent watchdogs

Ability to Socialise

Owing to his high level of intelligence, the IWS is easy to train and quite easy to socialise around other pets, family members, and even strangers. His disposition is kind and gentle, sometimes playful, and often silly.

Nevertheless, it is important that the IWS puppy is socialised well from the beginning to ensure that he grows into a loyal, obedient companion. He will not become aggressive normally and is instead peaceful and easygoing.

Although cute as puppies, don’t spoil your IWS with too many treats as this can lead to bad behaviour. Make sure that he gets plenty of exercise and has space in which he can roam and play outdoors, such as in a backyard or garden.

For this reason, it’s best to raise your IWS in a rural environment rather than in a confined urban setting.

Do Irish water spaniel dogs get along with other pets? Yes.

Do Irish water spaniel dogs get along with other dogs? Yes, most of the time.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs good with kids? Absolutely.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs good with strangers? Yes, very.

Lifestyle Suitability

As with many other highly intelligent breeds, the IWS can be quick to bore if left alone. Always ensure that a family member can keep him company at home and he will generously return the affection and company given to him.

Furthermore, IWS are best suited for owners that are active outdoors, where he can play in his natural element. He won’t shy away from the water, since as his name suggests, the Irish water spaniel loves to swim and play around bodies of water. Make sure he is well-supervised, especially in the early stages where he may become traumatised if he has a bad experience playing in the water.

IWS are a gundog retriever breed and as such love to chase and play, simulating their natural instincts of spotting and retrieving waterfowl. If possible, allow some off-lead time around parks with water and he’ll be a happy and tired pup. Keep him on a lead when others are around.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs good for first-time owners? No.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs hypoallergenic? Yes.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs prone to drooling? No, not much.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs a good breed for apartment living? Somewhat.

Do  Irish water spaniel dogs shed a lot? Not much.

Do  Irish water spaniel dogs bark a lot? Yes.

Can Irish water spaniel dogs be left alone at home? No, not even for brief periods.

Can Irish water spaniel dogs handle the heat? Yes.

Can Irish water spaniel dogs handle cold temperatures? Yes.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs sensitive to loud noises? Yes.

General Health & Health Issues

IWS are a fairly healthy breed, ranking slightly lower than most other breeds. Unfortunately, many IWS are prone to hereditary diseases, and frequently develop allergies that can persist throughout their life. This is one reason why their average life expectancy varies widely from around 9 to 15 years.

On account of their possible health problems, it is imperative that your veterinarian perform routine checkups to diagnose any problems sooner rather than later. Also, consult your veterinarian and request a high-quality diet as this can reduce the chances of developing many common ailments and may reduce symptoms of allergies.

Some common problems include:

  • Ear infections: IWS have long, drooping ears that can easily accumulate lots of earwax. This can, in turn, lead to ear infections causing pain or discomfort. Have your IWS’ ears inspected regularly;

  • Allergies: many IWS suffer from allergies, which can be difficult to treat given that there are many potential triggers for their allergies, such as high-fibre dog food, pollen, dust mites, flea or tick bites, or chemicals from cleaning products;

  • Elbow dysplasia: this hereditary skeletal condition can lead to pain and discomfort in the dog’s elbows;

  • Hip dysplasia: lameness in the IWS’ legs or a limp gait are quite often signs of hip dysplasia, another skeletal condition that can be painful and potentially increase the odds of developing arthitis.

How long do Irish water spaniel dogs live? - 9-15 years

Exercise & Play Time

As a high energy breed, IWS need plenty of exercise in order to stay tired, and as the saying goes, a tired dog is a happy dog. For this reason, owners should be prepared to spend no less than two hours every day exercising with their IWS.

A brisk morning walk followed by a light jog in the evening are both excellent ways to remain active and to keep your IWS mentally and physically stimulated. Don’t forget that IWS are a gundog water retriever breed and should be permitted to roam freely, preferably in a fenced-off yard or back garden.

When in public, always keep your IWS on a lead to keep his prey drive in check and to prevent him from chasing other animals and possibly engaging in naughty behaviour. Off-lead time at home is fine, however, so long as he is supervised.

How much exercise does an Irish water spaniel dog need? - At least 2 hours per day

Do Irish water spaniel dogs like water play? As their name implies, Irish water spaniels love swimming and playing in the water.

Nutrition & Feeding

Irish water spaniels need a healthy diet that provides them with nutritious proteins, vitamins, and minerals. They eat a fair amount, which is in keeping with their size and energy level, but they are highly prone to allergies, many of which can come from their diet.

For this reason, it is important to consult with your veterinarian to ensure that his diet isn’t a culprit for possible allergic reactions. Often, extruded dog food (kibble) which contains cereal or grain-based fillers can lead to allergic reactions, so consider opting for a raw or cold-pressed diet instead with minimal grain filler in the product.

Follow your breeder’s feeding schedule and consult your veterinarian to ensure that your IWS is eating an appropriate quantity as he grows from a puppy into an adult.

Are Irish water spaniel dogs prone to weight gain? Somewhat.

How much should I feed an Irish water spaniel puppy? About 220-250g per day, in three sessions.

How much should I feed an adult Irish water spaniel dog? About 220-380g per day, in total.

Care & Maintenance

This breed is fairly high-maintenance in terms of grooming, mostly because the fur coat is oily in texture and prone to matting. The coarse, dense curls can tangle fairly easily as well.

In terms of emotional care, don’t neglect your IWS and provide him with plenty of attention when he needs it. He will reciprocate with you all of the love you give him.

- Grooming: at least twice per week, groom your IWS’ coat with a brush and comb and remove any matting or debris that may be caught within.

- Emotional care: do not allow your IWS to remain alone at home for any longer than an hour or two.

History of the Irish Water Spaniel

The Irish water spaniel dates back to a single dog named Boatswain during the 19th century, although the full ancestry is debated and unclear. This breed was brought to continental Europe from Ireland throughout the 19th century, and it was first exhibited here in the UK in Birmingham in 1862.

This breed was originally bred to be a gundog, and they are often classified either as retrievers or spaniels, depending on the kennel club. They are a formally recognised Kennel Club breed here in the UK and elsewhere.

Interesting Facts About Irish Water Spaniel Dogs

  • ‘Water dogs’ trace their origins to ancient Persia, perhaps as early as the fifth millennium BC.

  • In Irish literature, the IWS is often believed to be a descendent of the Dobhar-chú.

  • Thanks to their excellent sense of smell, IWS have sometimes been used as detector dogs.

Getting an Irish Water Spaniel Puppy

Before purchasing an Irish water spaniel, we recommend you consult our buying guide to learn about the roles and responsibilities of owning this adorable breed. Avoid purchasing from puppy mills or less-reputable breeders who possibly engage in unethical practices. If you would like to purchase an Irish water spaniel, we have many reputable breeders to choose from.

How much does an Irish water spaniel cost to buy? - About £400-£800.

How much does an Irish water spaniel cost to feed? - An adult Irish water spaniel costs about £1.70-£2.00 per day to feed.

How much does insurance for an Irish water spaniel cost? - About £25-£40 per month.

Sensible alternatives to purchasing a new Irish water spaniel puppy include rescue and adoption.

Additional resources can be found via Irish water spaniel registries and associations such as: