Irish Water Spaniel

Canis lupus

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© PhotoDOGraphy/

They are the only known dogs with a purple hue!


Irish Water Spaniel Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Canis lupus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Irish Water Spaniel Conservation Status

Irish Water Spaniel Locations

Irish Water Spaniel Locations

Irish Water Spaniel Facts

Fun Fact
They are the only known dogs with a purple hue!
Most Distinctive Feature
Smooth "rat tail"
Litter Size
4-12 puppies

Irish Water Spaniel Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Dark Brown
  • Chocolate
  • Black-Brown
Skin Type
10-12 years

Irish Water Spaniel as a Pet:

General Health
Energy Level
Tendency to Chew
Family and kid friendliness
Yappiness / Barking
Separation Anxiety
Preferred Temperature
Average climate
Exercise Needs
Friendly With Other Dogs
Pure bred cost to own
Dog group
Male weight
55-68 lbs
Female weight
45-58 lbs

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The Irish water spaniel is a mystery to many people because no one quite knows what breeds were used to originally make it.

The athletic and sporty Irish water spaniel’s breeding is almost entirely based on folklore and theory, but it is a lovable, quiet dog. With a hypoallergenic coat, it is in high demand, and the appeal is even greater due to its long lifespan (10-12 years), even though it comes at a high price. It isn’t quite as outgoing as other variations of water spaniels, but it is much healthier overall.

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If you’re looking for an intelligent pup with natural curiosity, the even temperament of the Irish water spaniel could be a good match for you.

Irish Water Spaniel infographic

3 Pros and Cons of Owning an Irish Water Spaniel

Incredible watchdog: This dog doesn’t use its bark for anything except to alert its family of threats, making it a great watchdog.Requires a lot of exercise: This dog is incredibly energetic, so it needs vigorous exercise to keep its mind and body healthy.
Fairly perceptive: Some people see this dog as a rather sensitive soul, taking on the vibe of the people around it.Doesn’t always have a good relationship with other animals: If you have other animals in the home, the Irish water spaniel can become rather aggressive.
Hypoallergenic: Their coat is meant to shed very little, making this dog a great option for individuals who have allergies.Difficult to find: Since this dog is still a relatively new breed, it is often hard to find a breeder or a rescue that offers them, regardless of the price.

Evolution and Origins

The Irish water spaniel is thought to be one of the oldest of the spaniel breeds, with evidence that they were present around the 7th century AD. Their name was used in the 1100s to refer to dogs that were found in Ireland.

They were bred to be hunting dogs and with their webbed feet and double-layered, water-repellent coats were well-suited as retrievers of waterfowl as well as excellent at hunting game on land.

The Irish water spaniel was brought to France in the 17th century when King James I of England gifted an Irish Water Spaniel to the king of France in an effort to smooth diplomatic relations between the countries.

The origin of the Irish water spaniel is uncertain as breeder Justin McCarthy, credited for the modern-day dog’s development in the 1830s, did not keep any records. However, some believe that the breed was created through crossing the poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, and now-extinct English Water Spaniel.

Health and Entertainment for your Irish Water Spaniel

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Irish water spaniel - went swimming at the beach

Irish water spaniels made excellent hunting dogs due to their double-layered, water-repellent coats.

©Wirestock Creators/

Size and Weight

Built for swimming, the average height of the Irish water spaniel is anywhere from 21-24 inches, ensuring that it is directly in between the size of a medium and large dog. It has a waterproof coat, and this dog is typically between 45 and 68 pounds in size.

Height (Male):21-24 inches tall
Height (Female):21-24 inches tall
Weight (Male):55-68 pounds, fully grown
Weight (Female):45-58 pounds, fully grown

Common Health Issues

Taking care of the Irish water spaniel and its health needs is crucial to maintaining its long lifespan. The dog is typically pretty healthy, so there aren’t a lot of problems to worry about, especially if the dog is bred by a reputable person. A rescue may have less information about the genetics of the dog, though it isn’t impossible to find one.

Hip and elbow dysplasia is relatively common, which is often due to the long legs of this animal. The condition can be quite painful, so it is best to bring it to a doctor if these bones are causing your dog to limp.

Some dogs are prone to allergic reactions to medications. Even Ivermectin — which is a medication that is typically used to deworm the dog — can cause a bad reaction. Make sure to look for any side effects from the medication that could be a threat.

Thyroid disease is relatively common. This type of condition impacts the dog’s hormones, making it difficult for the metabolism to respond properly.

Overall, the typical issues that impact this breed include:

  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Allergies
  • Thyroid disease.
dewormer for puppies

Dogs including some Irish water spaniels can have an allergic reaction to medication.



The personality of the Irish water spaniel is highly curious and alert. Though other spaniels are typically more outgoing, this specific breed exhibits particularly reserved behavior when it meets strangers. Luckily, this breed doesn’t become aggressive with strangers, only alerting its owners if it feels that a threat is nearby. Since this breed is still rather independent, the Irish water spaniel also tends to test its owner’s limits.

The genetics, training, and socialization of the Irish water spaniel will be the determining factors in the dog’s overall temperament. To get the best idea of their inherited traits, see if it is possible to meet siblings from the litter or the parents. The best way to keep an even temperament is to expose the dog to different sights and sounds at a comfortable pace. If there are local “puppy schools” in your area, enrolling in them can be incredibly helpful for social skills.

Though the Irish water spaniel is relatively active, they won’t keep anyone up at night. They don’t use their voice very much, and the majority of the sounds that owners will end up hearing from this pup are only to warn the family about potential threats. That’s part of the reason that this pet is such a good watchdog. However, this desire to take care of their family is part of the reason that they struggle with anxiety.

Types of water dogs - Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniels are highly curious and alert.

©Nikolai Belyakov/

How to Take Care of an Irish Water Spaniel

With any rescue dog, there are specific ways that you should care for them to ensure that they are happy, healthy, and thriving. The Irish water dog is relatively easy to care for, but it is still important to consider certain factors. Adopting a puppy or a full-grown dog as a pet is a big choice, but these tips should easily prepare you.

The Best Dog Food for Irish Water Spaniels

High-quality dog food is encouraged for the Irish water spaniel. Though it doesn’t matter if the food is prepared at home (under vet recommendation), or commercially prepared. The dog’s age plays a major role. Senior dogs will need more hydration and puppies will need more vitamins and protein. If purchasing a commercial dog food, look for the age that the particular bag is meant for.

As an adult, this spaniel needs about 1.5 to 2.5 cups each day. But the total amount should be divided into two meals.

While treats are a helpful incentive during training, feeding the dog too much can cause excess weight gain. The only nourishment that this dog should have consistent access to is a fresh bowl of water. Consider also that many Water Spaniels deal with allergies and food sensitivities. Luckily, there are plenty of limited ingredient and allergy-control dog foods.

A-Z Animals finds that the best dog food for Irish Water Spaniels is Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food.

A lentil- and pea-free recipe, this food has raw protein bits for an extra boost of less processed nutrition. With beef salmon, and chicken, this food delivers leading amounts of glucosamine to help stave off issues like hip and elbow dysplasia. The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids lead to happy skin and a gleaming coat.

Try out Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused dog food, available on Chewy and Amazon.

Best Grain-Free
Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Healthy Grains Dog Food
  • Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Dry Dog Food
  • Contains Healthy Grains, Freeze Dried Dog Food
  • Beef, lamb and rabbit delivers balanced nutrition for all breed sizes

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Maintenance and Grooming

One of the advantages of the breed is that it doesn’t shed very much. However, it still requires consistent care. With some gentle brushing and regular cleaning of the ears and nails, care can be done on a weekly basis. The breed is known for its hypoallergenic coat, but you’ll need to trim it every two months to keep it neat. If you aren’t taking care of this coat yourself, take this pup to an experienced groomer.

Irish water spaniel - regal in the field

The Irish water spaniel does not shed much.

©Julie Morrish/


As long as the Irish water spaniel gets enough exercise during the day, it will be easy to train. They are eager to make their owner happy, and they like to work hard to show their intelligence. The sessions should be fun and engaging, and they will respond to positive reinforcement throughout the training.

This dog is so loving and obedient that it is often trained as a therapy or assistance dog.


With all of the high energy of the Irish water spaniel, it definitely needs to have an outlet for its active nature. It doesn’t take much activity to make them happy, and they are extremely easy to train if they get the exercise that they require. Whether you take this pup on a long walk, a jog next to a bicycle, or chasing a ball around at the park, all of these efforts will meet the mental and physical demands they have.

One of the favorite activities of the Irish water spaniel is to swim. They are particularly strong swimmers, and they love to get plenty of time in the water as it is needed.

Irish water spaniel - swimming in the creek

Irish water spaniels use their strong swimming abilities to exercise.


Irish Water Spaniel Puppies

Grooming efforts need to start when the dog is still in their puppy stage, even though it won’t need a lot of upkeep. Starting early allows you to establish this time as a positive experience.

Irish Water Spaniel and Children

To get the best chances of positive interactions with children, the Irish water spaniel should be raised with them around. Early exposure is the best, but all children should have your supervision around the dog while they are learning to interact together. Children should not be allowed to roughly play with this breed by pulling their ears or tails, and your dog should not be allowed to bite.

Just like with children, any animals should be introduced to the Irish water spaniel early as well. They are natural hunters, and they may see small animals as a type of prey.

Irish water spaniel

Ideally, the Irish water spaniel should be introduced early to children and other animals in the family.


Dogs Similar to the Irish Water Spaniel

If the Irish water spaniel is difficult to find, or you want a different breed that suits your lifestyle, there are many other species available. Consider the Australian labradoodle, English setter, or the Epagneul Pont Audemer.

  • Australian Labradoodle: The Australian Labradoodle is hypoallergenic as well, offering a much more social personality.
  • English Setter: The English Setter dates back centuries ago as a cross between the Spanish pointer, the water spaniel, and the springer spaniel.
  • Epagneul Pont Audemer: The Epagneul Pont Audemer looks a lot like the Irish water spaniel, offering a gentle and affectionate temperament.
Australian labradoodle dog portrait isolated on white

Australian labradoodle is hypoallergenic like the Irish water spaniel.

©Jne Valokuvaus/

Famous Irish Water Spaniels

The Irish water spaniel has been featured in a few television shows, including a UK-based series in the 1980s called “The Irish R.M.” A few celebrities even have called these dogs their companions, including Justin McCarthy (who allegedly created the breed).

As easy to train as these dogs are, their introverted personality may be the reason that more of them have not been included in movies and television shows.

Some of the common names of the Irish water spaniel include:
– Bailey
– Sasha
– Mara
– Sammy
– Bobby
– Holly
– Phoebe.

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What's the right dog for you?

Dogs are our best friends but which breed is your perfect match?


If you have kids or existing dogs select:

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Should they be Hypoallergenic?

How important is health?
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How much energy should they have?

The lower energy the better.
I want a cuddle buddy!
About average energy.
I want a dog that I have to chase after constantly!
All energy levels are great -- I just love dogs!
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About the Author

Catherine Gin has more than 15 years of experience working as an editor for digital, print and social media. She grew up in Australia with an alphabet of interesting animals, from echidnas and funnel-web spiders to kookaburras and quokkas, as well as beautiful native plants including bottlebrushes and gum trees. Being based in the U.S. for a decade has expanded Catherine's knowledge of flora and fauna, and she and her husband hope to have a hobby farm and vegetable garden in future.

Irish Water Spaniel FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Irish water spaniels good pets?

Despite their adaptability to almost any routine or home, Irish water spaniels still require a high-energy lifestyle that requires plenty of exercise.

How much does an Irish water spaniel cost?

From a reputable breeder, the price of a puppy ranges from $1,500 and $2,000.

Are Irish water spaniels aggressive?

In general, they are not aggressive toward humans or children. However, their breeding creates a tendency to attack prey like fowl and rodents, which is likely to follow them into non-work situations.

Can Irish water spaniels be left alone?

While Irish water spaniels can be left alone for short periods of time, prolonged time alone can cause them to become very mischievous.

How big is an Irish water spaniel?

Depending on sex, care, and general health, Irish water spaniels weigh between 45 and 68 pounds.

Are Irish water spaniels good with kids?

While these spaniels are typically family-friendly, supervision with young children is always a good idea with any dog.

How long does the Irish water spaniel live?

With tentative grooming and medical care, the Irish water spaniel has an average lifespan of 10-12 years, though some can life longer.

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