Irish Water Spaniel Dog Breed: Pictures, Colors, Bark, Characteristics, and Diet

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The Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) is a medium-large purebred native to Ireland. They are one of the tallest Spaniels.

Male IWS dogs stand at 22 to 24 inches (55.9 to 61 cm) while females stand at 21 to 23 inches (53.3 to 58.4 cm).

An Irish Water Spaniel sitting in the grass
A beautiful Irish Water Spaniel sitting in the grass

They are born in litters of 4 to 12 puppies and grow to reach their full adult size between 10 to 11 months.

Also known as Shannon Spaniels, Whiptail Spaniels, Rat Tail Spaniels, and Bog Dogs, because of their appearance, the Irish Water Spaniel has a tall, broad, strong build with a thick, curly, liver double coat, a thin, rat-like tail, chiseled heads, and large floppy ears.

Shannon Spaniels are alert, playful, and strong-minded.

They have an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years with good care, including age and biologically appropriate diet of between 1.5 and 2.5 cups per day, and plenty of exercise, companionship, and play. 

Irish Water Spaniels, a relatively quiet breed, do not bark that much unless alerted. They also have a bite force of 245 PSI and deep, fierce-sounding bark. 

Keep reading everything you need to know about taking care of an Irish Water Spaniel. 

Table of Contents

What is an Irish Water Spaniel?

The Irish Water Spaniel, a part of the Sporting Group, is a type of Spaniel bred for hunting.

It is unclear which breeds were used to create the Irish Water Spaniel, as the original breeder didn’t keep records.

However, the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, Barbet, and the now-extinct English Water Spaniel are all speculated to be involved in their ancestry.

In Irish folklore, the breed is also believed to be the descendant of the Dobhar-chú, or “water hound”, which resembles the otter.

Why are They Called Irish Water Spaniel Dogs?

An Irish Water Spaniel sitting on a rock at the river
Pepper, an Irish Water Spaniel, loves being surrounded by water – Image source

Irish Water Spaniels are called by their name because of their origin and purpose.

As their name suggests, they are Spaniels that were bred to find and retrieve game from water in Ireland. 

Where Did the Irish Water Spaniel Come From?

The Irish Water Spaniel is one of nine dog breeds native to Ireland, along with two other Gundog breeds; the Irish Red Setter and the Irish Red and White Setter, two Hound dogs, the Irish Wolfhound and the Kerry Beagle, and four Terriers, the Irish Terrier, the Irish Glen of Imaal Terrier, the Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, and the Kerry Blue Terrier.

When Did the Irish Water Spaniel Originate?

The modern Irish Water Spaniel can be traced back to a dog called Boatswain, which Justin McCarthy bred in 1834.

They were created to find and retrieve waterfowl, such as ducks, from water during hunts.

They were also bred to be good at dog sports, of which they are still a popular participant, hence their strength. 

How Many Irish Water Spaniels are There in the World?

It is not recorded how many Irish Water Spaniels there are worldwide, but they ranked 174th out of 195 dog breeds in the US for popularity in 2020, according to the American Kennel Club.

This means that they’re fairly rare in the US. 

What are the Characteristics of Irish Water Spaniels?

A smiling Irish Water Spaniel
A smiley Irish Water Spaniel – Image source

Irish Water Spaniels are great dogs with complex temperaments.

Let’s look at their biggest and best personality traits and a table of their most important characteristics when it comes to home life. 

  • Alert: Irish Water Spaniels are vigilant dogs that never miss a trick, making them excellent family watchdogs. 
  • Active: They’re also very energetic and need a lot of exercise every day. 
  • Playful: The breed is spirited, adventurous, and fun-loving, requiring lots of mental stimulation to be happy and prevent anxiety. 
  • Clever: Bright, quick to learn, and eager to please, Irish Water Spaniels are highly trainable.
  • Clownish: Known as the clown of the Spaniel breeds, the IWS is very entertaining and will make you laugh with their silly behavior. 
  • Inquisitive: They love to investigate and explore, making them a great partner in crime for single owners and families who like to go on adventures. 
  • Loving & loyal: The breed forms close, faithful bonds with their families.
  • Strong-minded: Shannon Spaniels are very independent thinkers, meaning that they can become stubborn without firm training. 
Irish Water Spaniel Characteristics Rating 
Relation with Family 5
Good with Children 3
Friendly with Strangers 3
Friendly with Other Dogs 3
Easy to Train 4
Energy Level 5
Barking Level 3
Mental Stimulation Needs 4

What Does an Irish Water Spaniel Look Like?

An Irish Water Spaniel sitting on a road
Harry, an Irish Water Spaniel, knows he is gorgeous – Image source

The Irish Water Spaniel is tall with a broad, strong, build. They have a thick, curly, brown coat, a thin rat-like tail, long, narrow heads, and large floppy ears.

They are often mistaken for large, brown Poodles. 

How big is the Irish Water Spaniel?

The Irish Water Spaniel is among the tallest Spaniel breeds.

The average male is 22 to 24 inches (55.9 to 61 cm)  tall, while the average female stands at 21 to 23 inches (53.3 to 58.4 cm).

They need to live in medium-large homes, preferably with an outdoor space. They’re not suitable for long-term apartment living and require a 42” crate for crate training. 

Irish Water Spaniel
Physical Features
Male Female
Height  22 to 24 inches
(55.9 to 61 cm)
21 to 23 inches
(53.3 to 58.4 cm)
Weight 55 to 68 lbs
(24.9 to 30.8 kg)
45 to 58 lbs
(20.4 to 26.3 kg)

How long does an Irish Water Spaniel dog grow?

Irish Water Spaniels take around 10 to 11 months to reach their full adult size, although it can take a little longer for their bones to develop fully.

They tend to reach adolescence at six months old, sexual maturity at nine months, and maturity at 18 months. 

What is the average weight of Irish Water Spaniel dogs?

The average weight of an Irish Water Spaniel is around 45 to 68 pounds.

Males generally weigh on the higher end of the scale while females tend to be on the lower end. 

Male Irish Water Spaniel weighs around 55 to 68 lbs (24.9 to 30.8 kg), while a female IWS is around 45 to 58 lbs (20.4 to 26.3 kg).

What is the Average Life Expectancy of Irish Water Spaniels?

The average lifespan of an Irish Water Spaniel is 10 to12 years with good care.

They are a relatively healthy dog breed, but all breeds are naturally more susceptible to certain health conditions than others.

Dogs of this breed are more prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, thyroid disease, epilepsy, and eye conditions.

Irish Water Spaniels are also vulnerable to ear infections, which is common to dogs who are frequent in water and have floppy ears.

What Coat Type Do Irish Water Spaniels Have?

An Irish Water Spaniel with a thick coat
An Irish Water Spaniel with a glorious coat – Image source

Irish Water Spaniels have medium, thick, curly double coats.

Unfortunately, their coat type is prone to matting and trapping dirt, so they require quite a lot of grooming to stay clean and healthy, as demonstrated in the video below.

You should brush your Shannon Spaniel’s coat and skin twice or thrice per week with a strong slicker brush to remove loose fur and tangles and prevent matting, which can be painful and lead to or conceal skin infections. 

What is the Irish Water Spaniel dog’s coat like?

The Irish Water Spaniel’s coat is oily and tightly curled.

Their curls cover most of their body, except their faces and tails, which are covered by short fur that is smooth to the touch. 

How long is the Irish Water Spaniel’s coat?

The Irish Water Spaniel’s coat is medium in length.

However, because it’s so tightly curled, it requires bathing and trimming every 4 and 8 weeks to keep it clean and prevent matting. 

How dense is the Irish Water Spaniel’s coat?

The Irish Water Spaniel has a thick, waterproof double coat consisting of a curly top coat and a soft, dense undercoat.

Their coat was an essential part of the work that they were bred for, keeping them dry and insulated during hunts. 

Do Irish Water Spaniels shed much?

The Irish Water Spaniel is considered a hypoallergenic breed, which is unlikely to cause an adverse reaction to people with allergies to dog hair.

This is because they are so low shedding that they don’t release enough allergens into the air to aggravate symptoms. 

Can Irish Water Spaniels Live in Hot Weather?

An Irish Water Spaniel sitting on a bench
Hunter, an Irish Water Spaniel, relaxes under the sun – Image source

Despite their thick, medium double coats, Irish Water Spaniels are very tolerant of heat.

They were bred to work in Ireland, which can reach average highs of around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer months. 

Do Irish Water Spaniels Love Water?

As their name would suggest, Irish Water Spaniels love the water.

They are excellent swimmers and love to play in the water. So, homes or vacations with pools or by the beach are greatly appreciated! 

What Colors are Irish Water Spaniels?

Irish Water Spaniels are a rich to dark liver color. Unlike many Spaniel breeds, they only come in one color.

Their fur tends to have a pretty purple hue that is quite attractive. 

What Markings Do Irish Water Spaniels Have?

Irish Water Spaniels don’t have color combinations or markings in their coats.

However, as they age, senior Irish Water Spaniels may develop gray hairs on their coats. 

Are Irish Water Spaniels Good Family Dogs?

An Irish Water Spaniel lying down on a couch
An Irish Water Spaniel who likes spending time with his hoomans – Image source

Irish Water Spaniels can be suitable for single-owners, but they’re better suited to families because of their active, social natures.

They even make great watchdogs for families, too. 

Irish Water Spaniel Temperament Rating 
Adaptability 3
Friendliness 5
Mouthiness 3
Playfulness 4
Family-Oriented 5
Stranger Tolerance 3

Are Irish Water Spaniels good with other dogs?

Irish Water Spaniels are good with family dogs that they are socialized with from a young age.

They can be friendly with unfamiliar dogs, with lots of positive socialization.

However, without it, they can be territorial and suspicious, resulting in unfriendly behaviors.

Are Irish Water Spaniels friendly with people? 

Irish Water Spaniels are very friendly with their human loved ones.

In fact, they’re known to be quite affectionate dogs, especially with their families, and they’re raised with them from an early age.

That said, close bonds can be formed with rescue IWS dogs, too. It can just take a little extra TLC. 

In terms of other people, Irish Water Spaniels will exhibit cautiousness at first until they become comfortable.

Hence, early exposure and socialization with others are highly encouraged for this breed.

Can Irish Water Spaniel dogs get along well with strangers?

Irish Water Spaniels are often reserved with strangers and can take time to warm up to new people.

That said, they are even-tempered and confident, so they shouldn’t be unfriendly unless there’s a reason to be. 

How do Irish Water Spaniels get along with young children?

Irish Water Spaniels can be good with children of all ages, even babies and kids, as long as they are trained early and properly.

However, untrained and unsocialized IWS dogs shouldn’t interact with children.

Children should be taught how to approach and interact with pets safely, and young children should always be supervised when playing with dogs. 

Can Irish Water Spaniels Adapt Easily?

Two Irish Water Spaniels sitting together
Ru and Scout, two Irish Water Spaniels, ask permission to play outside – Image source

Irish Water Spaniels are not remarkably adaptable dogs because of their size and temperament.

They need to live in reasonably spacious homes to run around and play. They’re also susceptible to anxiety in times of change. 

Are Irish Water Spaniel Dogs Aggressive?

The average Irish Water Spaniel should not be aggressive without provocation, such as towards a threat to themselves, their home, or their loved ones.

That said, poorly trained or unsocialized Irish Water Spaniels can be territorial and unnecessarily aggressive towards strangers and other dogs. 

Are Irish Water Spaniels Dangerous?

Irish Water Spaniels are generally not dangerous dogs. However, like all dogs, IWS can be provoked to bite if they feel threatened or afraid. 

Do Irish Water Spaniel Dogs Bite?

Adult Irish Water Spaniels have a bite force of 245 PSI. However, the breed shouldn’t bite as adults.

All puppies bite during teething, and Irish Water Spaniels are no exception, but this is a natural, normal puppyhood behavior that they should grow out of by six months of age with good training.

Are Irish Water Spaniels Protective?

Irish Water Spaniels are not highly protective but are alert dogs that are always on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

They are quick to sound the alarm if they sense anything amiss, making them excellent watchdogs.

Are Irish Water Spaniels Affectionate?

An Irish Water Spaniel lying down on the floor
Geordi, an Irish Water Spaniel, asks for cuddles – Image source

When it comes to loving and affectionate family members, Irish Water Spaniels certainly fit the bill.

These dogs are known for loving nature and enjoy spending time with their families.

They are also very affectionate and enjoy receiving attention from their loved ones. 

Are Irish Water Spaniels Loyal?

Irish Water Spaniels are loyal dogs that bond closely with their family. They are cheerful and playful, but they don’t like being left alone.

When bored or lonely, they can become destructive. 

IWS dogs need to be with their people and do best in homes where someone is home most of the time.

If you are looking for a loyal companion who will always be by your side, an Irish Water Spaniel is your dog.

Does the Irish Water Spaniel Love Freedom?

Irish Water Spaniels love to run, swim, go on adventures, and explore their surroundings due to their history as hunters.

Also, they’re not prone to wandering off, but you might want to keep them on a leash around ducks, geese, and swans. 

Are Irish Water Spaniel Dogs Easy to Train?

Like all Spaniels, Irish Water Spaniels are bright, eager to please, and pick up new things quickly.

They have all of the hallmarks of a terrific obedience breed, but they’re a lot more strongly-minded than their other Spaniel cousins, meaning they can be stubborn without consistency.

So, keep your sessions short, clear, consistent, and positive.

How Smart is the Irish Water Spaniel?

An Irish Water Spaniel lying down on a wooden floor
Geordi, the IWS, is an observant pooch – Image source

Irish Water Spaniels are very bright due to their working background.

Professor of canine psychology Stanley Coren’s 1994 book “The Intelligence of Dogs” ranks 79 dog breeds on their intelligence following three tests: intelligence, instinctive, and working/obedience intelligence.

Stanley Coren’s work is commonly referenced.

This includes a ranking of dogs by intelligence, which is divided into six categories: brightest, excellent, above average, average, fair, and low intelligence.

The Irish Water Spaniel was ranked in the excellent category. 

Can Irish Water Spaniel dogs be used as working dogs?

Irish Water Spaniels make good watchdogs, but they’re most often kept as beloved family pets.

However, they can still be found putting their hunting talents to use in upland and waterfowl hunting. 

They also participate in dog sports such as flyball, dock diving, tracking, agility, rally, and obedience trials.

Moreover, they also put their sensitive nature to use by being impeccable assistance and therapy dogs.

Do Irish Water Spaniel Dogs Bark a Lot?

Irish Water Spaniels are fairly quiet dogs.

That said, they will use their bark to alert you of a disturbance or threat and may growl during play, but they are not known to vocalize excessively.

How does an Irish Water Spaniel bark?

There has been no official recording of the exact decibel level of the Irish Water Spaniel’s bark, but it is a pretty fierce-sounding and deep bark, which adds to their talent for watching. 

Do Irish Water Spaniels Have High Energy Levels?

An Irish Water Spaniel sitting on a rock, smiling
Pepper, the IWS, is a happy and active canine – Image source

Irish Water Spaniels are high-energy dogs. They need a lot of exercise and play every day to make sure they’re physically and mentally stimulated.

Without it, they can become bored and anxious and turn to destructive behaviors.

Are Irish Water Spaniels Active?

Irish Water Spaniels are very active and enjoy walking, running, hiking, and swimming.

It’s recommended to give them an hour, or two, of exercise per day, preferably split into two sessions. 

Pups need less than an hour of exercise per month. The duration depends on their age.

Older IWS dogs, on the other hand, should wind down gradually as per your vet’s advice.

Are Irish Water Spaniels Playful?

Irish Water Spaniels are very playful dogs. They love to play games that exercise their instincts to chase, retrieve, challenge, and entertain their bright minds.

Owners should also invest in some toys that do the same. Some popular choices include:

  • Fetch
  • Chase
  • Hide and seek
  • Treasure hunt
  • Snuffle mats & slow feeders
  • Puzzle games 
  • Treat dispensers 

Does the Irish Water Spaniel Drool a Lot?

If you’re not a fan of droolers, you’re in luck. The Irish Water Spaniel is not much of a drooler.

Any dog can drool a little when they’re around food, but if your IWS dog does drool a lot, it can indicate stress, allergies, or illness. 

What Does the Family Life of Irish Water Spaniel Dogs Like?

An Irish Water Spaniel lying down on a blanket
Geordi, the IWS, also likes being entertained by his family – Image source

The Irish Water Spaniel family life is loving, loyal, action-packed, and fun. They do well with active, adventurous families, especially those with playful children.

Plus, these dogs are clownish. Hence, expect additional laughs and giggles at your home with them.

What is the Average Cost of an Irish Water Spaniel Puppy

The average cost of an Irish Water Spaniel puppy is $1,400.

The price ranges from $800 to $2,000 and can vary depending on factors such as the breeder’s location, reputation, and litter size. 

It’s important to remember that the cost of an Irish Water Spaniel puppy isn’t just the initial purchase price.

Puppies need regular vaccinations, deworming, and other routine vet care, which can add up over time. 

In addition, Irish Water Spaniels are known for being high-energy dogs that require plenty of exercise.

As a result, owning an IWS may also require additional costs for things like obedience training and dog toys. 

What Kind of Food Should Irish Water Spaniels Eat?

When it comes to feeding an Irish water spaniel, it’s necessary to choose high-quality food that is appropriate for their size and activity level.

Adult dogs should eat 2-3 cups of food per day, divided into two meals. 

The best diet for an Irish water spaniel will be relatively high in protein and fat, with moderate amounts of carbohydrates.

This will help to maintain their energy levels and keep their coats healthy and shiny.

Always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet.

What are the Best Dog Foods for Irish Water Spaniels?

An Irish Water Spaniel sitting in the kitchen
This Irish Water Spaniel visits the kitchen whenever she’s hungry – Image source

Taking the above section into consideration, we’ve come up with a list of the best dry commercial dog foods for Irish Water Spaniels.

Here are our top picks for IWS pups and adults. 

For Irish Water Spaniel puppies:

For adult IWS dogs:

What Other Dog Breeds Look Like the Irish Water Spaniel?

A Standard Poodle smiling
Meet Rexy, a smiley Standard Poodle – Image source

Although the Irish Water Spaniel has a pretty unique coat and appearance, there are a couple of breeds that look like them.

Let’s look at some dogs you could mistake for an Irish Water Spaniel. 

The Verdict: Should You Get an Irish Water Spaniel?

If you’re looking for a fluffy purse dog, you might be better off getting a Pomeranian.

But if you want a big, adventurous, clownish companion, or a loving, loyal watchdog for your family, the Irish Water Spaniel might be the right breed.

However, they are a pretty high-maintenance breed, and you must be ready to fulfill their daily needs, such as 1 to 2 hours of exercise per day, lots of mental stimulation, and a strict grooming routine.

If you can commit things, you couldn’t ask for a more faithful companion than the Irish Water Spaniel!

Do you have an Irish Water Spaniel? Tell us what you love about them in the comments down below.

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