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The Irish Water Spaniel PDF Print E-mail
Feb 26, 2011 at 09:03 PM

Grannie's Pirate at Kirkmarsh  (Bentley)

Breed History

The exact origins of the breed remain obscure. Generally, it is thought that Water Spaniels evolved from dogs that originated in Persia and came to Ireland via Spain.

Water Spaniels were certainly known for many centuries in England and reference of them can be found in old texts under the name Fynder or Aquaticus, dogs used in retrieving wild fowl.

The rat tail is unique to the breed. Before the 19th Century, it is said that there were actually three distinct IWS but two have now disappeared.  The modern breed descends from the kennels of Justin McCarthy. Descendants of his dogs achieved great success on the show benches in the second half of the 19th Century. In 1850, there is reference to a brown water spaniel with a soft mouth used to hunt duck in the Royal Canal near Dublin’s North Wall.


Turnervale Talulla at Cigors  (Sookie)

Irish Water Spaniel as a Working Gundog. 

As a working dog, the Irish Water Spaniel is versatile and can be adapted to many forms of work. As workers, they are responsive, equipped with an excellent nose, eyesight and hearing.

Originally bred as a wildfowling dog, working on the marshes, bogs and estuaries of its native Eire, at one time, it was quite common in Britain, but changes of recent years in fashion in the gundog world have seen the IWS decline to a position of relative obscurity. On the merits of of its working abilities, let alone its superb character, it deserves more acceptance and greater recognition.

IWS are slower to mature than some other breeds of gundog, they can be headstrong and wilful, needing a firm but fair owner who will need to gain the dogs respect before it will give of its best. If over trained, they become easily bored and stubborn. In manner of work, the Irish Water Spaniel is a natural retriever although they will hunt and some have been known to point.

At home, the IWS is known for its endearing nature and companionable qualities. It is endlessly resourceful it its ability to play and amuse itself and others. They are good family dogs, house dogs although the breed is known to be aloof with strangers; this is more of a stand offish nature with no aggression involved.

Competitively, the Irish Water Spaniel is classified as a retriever in the UK.

A Brief Description. 

The Irish Water Spaniel has a distinct and characteristic appearance.  It is a strongly built, liver coloured dog, renowned for its intelligence. Compact and cobby in appearance, it should be well-boned with a pronounced barrel rib-cage. The feet are large, rounded and webbed. The dense waterproof coat is a deep rich liver colour, known as puce liver, composed of very tight curls and close ringlets. The face, throat, front of hocks and all but two or three inches of the tail should be naturally smooth.

The head is crowned with the characteristic top knot which falls to a peak between the eyes. Ears are long and low set, covered in curls and ringlets. The tail, which is thick at the base tapering to a point, gives rise to the breed names of Whip Tail or Rat Tail. Eyes are comparatively small, dark amber and very intelligent looking. The breed has a characteristic rolling gait, produced by the barrel shaped rib-cage.

General appearance is that of a smart upstanding strongly built dog, combining great intelligence with a dashing eagerness of temperament.

Realta Venus at Kilmaganney (Darcy) - Bred in the USA by Rosemary Sexton and came to the UK under the Pet Passport Scheme.

10 things you didn't know about the Irish Water Spaniel

1) They were originally bred to hunt, flush and retrieve wildfowl in the marshes and bogs of rural Ireland

2) All of the IWS in the world can be traced back to a single dog Boatswain, bred in 1834 in Ireland by an Irish Field Sports Enthusiast Justin McCarthy from Dublin

3) The Irish Water Spaniel is the only surviving Water Spaniel breed in the British Isles, all others are now extinct

4) The Irish Water Spaniel coat doesn’t moult and can be spun and knits similar to alpaca. They are worth considering for anyone who suffers from asthma or allergies.

5) They have webbed feet which makes them very strong powerful swimmers.

6) The breed remains rare, less than 300 a year means entry on the Kennel Club Vulnerable Breeds Register.

7) Their most distinctive feature is the breed’s coat which has crisp dense curls of a liver brown colour

8) They make good family pets and are loyal, endearing and affectionate, possess a real sense of humour and are great fun to be around.

9) The modern IWS is a multi purpose Gundog and can be used for wildfowling, picking up, rough shooting (both flushing & retrieving) and in the beater’s line flushing game.

10)The Irish Water Spaniel possess exceptional powers of scent and at least one has been used as a “Sniffer Dog”.


Due to my clerical error, I have had to upload a new entry form for the Midland A.V. Retriever Gundog Working Test on the 28th Sep.  Please note the cut off date for entries in now the 21st September and that there are 2 puppy groups.  Details and entry forms are HERE

CLA Gamefair report HERE

The results of the Breed Confined Working Test on the 6th July 2014 are available HERE