The Irish Water Spaniel is a high energy, spirited dog. They are often mistaken as Poodles, but they were actually bred to do similar jobs that Poodles originally were bred to do (hunting, pointing, retrieving). While still popular in Ireland, the Irish Water Spaniel never quite caught on in the United States. With a firm owner, they can make wonderful companions.
Illustration courtesy of the Swedish Kennel Club
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Irish Water Spaniels are also known by another, less flattering name: Rat Tail Spaniels.
About this Breed
Irish Water Spaniels are a Spaniel-type breed that hail from Ireland. They are the largest of the Spaniel varieties and perhaps one of the oldest Spaniel breeds in existence. Irish Water Spaniels can trace their roots in Ireland to at least 1,000 years ago. As a result, they feature heavily in old Irish folklore. Their exact genetic make up remains murky, but it is thought that they were probably created using the Poodle as well as the now extinct English Water Spaniel. Today’s Irish Water Spaniels were developed in Ireland in the 1800s.
Irish Water Spaniels don’t really look like Spaniels at all. While they have the flowing, long ears typical of this type of dog, their coat, stature, tail, and face are completely different from anything we associate as Spaniel-like. It is likely that they were bred to work in the water—their tightly curled and waterproof coats aong with their webbed feet make them formidable swimmers.
Irish Water Spaniels make excellent pets. They are especially well suited to an active family because they enjoy spending time outside and have relatively high energy levels. Irish Water Spaniels that are not given enough exercise can become mischievous and may go looking for other ways to entertain themselves during the day. They can adapt well to city and apartment life provided that they are given an outlet for their energy; however, they are truly more suited to a suburban or rural home, especially if they have access to water. They are relatively relaxed in the home once they have had adequate physical activity during the day. They make excellent contenders in dog sports such as obedience, agility, and hunting trials because of their intelligence and eagerness to please. Irish Water Spaniels are very good with children and are very loving with their family members.
Irish Water Spaniel’s may not do well with other pets. While they might get along well with other dogs, they are not a great choice for families that have other pets like cats or rodents. Early training and socialization will go a long way in ensuring that Irish Water Spaniels get along well with the other furry members of the family.
While they are recognized and registered with the American Kennel Club, Irish Water Spaniels are a rare breed both in their native Ireland and around the world.