Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Irish Water Spaniel
Average Cost to keep/care for a Irish Water Spaniel
The Irish Water Spaniel is an ancient breed and one of the tallest spaniels bred to retrieve water fowl and other game. They boast a lovely dark liver coat that's made up of tight ringlets that cover their entire body except their muzzles, the front of a dog's neck and the majority of their tails. These charming dogs not only boast quite a unique coat, but they are also known to have very kind and affectionate natures with the added bonus of them having a sense of humour which makes them great fun to be around. The Irish Water Spaniel is an adaptable character being just at home in the field as they are in a family environment which are just some of the reasons they make such lovely companions and family pets.
The actual origins and ancestry of the Irish Water Spaniel remain a bit of a mystery although there are records of "Water Dogs" in Persia that date as far back as 4000 BC. However, there are those who believe the breed came about when foreign fishermen bought their dogs with them to Ireland. This included fishermen from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. What is known is that all the Irish Water Spaniels we see today can trace their ancestry back to one dog named Boatswain, a IWS owned by Justin McCarthy during the 1800's. The breed became popular when they were exhibited for the first time in Birmingham in 1862.
Here in the UK, the Irish Water Spaniel is classed as a "spaniel" in the showring, whereas when these dogs compete in any field trials they are classed as "retrievers". Today, the Irish Water Spaniel has become a popular choice as both a companion dog and as a family pet with people who lead active, outdoor lives and who are able to dedicate the time these dogs need to be truly happy, well-rounded characters.
Height at the withers: Males 53 - 58 cm, Females 51 - 56 cm
Average weight: Males 25 - 30 kg, Females 20 - 26 kg
Irish Water Spaniels have a very distinctive coat that helps these dogs stand out in a crowd. They have quite domed heads and long, strong muzzles with a gradual stop. The hair on their faces is smooth with dogs having relatively small almond shaped eyes that can be medium to dark brown in colour. Dogs always have an intelligent and alert look about their eyes. Their ears are oval shaped and long being set low on a dog's head and hanging close to their cheeks.
The Irish Water Spaniel has a strong jaw with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Their necks are strong and powerful with dogs holding them arched which adds to their noble appearance. Their shoulders slope but are powerful with dogs having reasonably deep wide chests and nice, straight well boned front legs.
Their bodies are nicely proportioned with ribs being well laid back and well sprung. Backs are broad, short and level with dogs boasting deep, wide loins. Their hindquarters are also powerful with dogs having strong back legs and nice round, large feet that are well covered in hair which includes in between the toes. An Irish Water Spaniel's tail is quite short and thicker at the root, but it tapers to a fine point at the tip. It's set low and the base is covered in tight curls which stop abruptly. Dogs carry their tails straight out and never over their backs.
When it comes to their coat, the Irish Water Spaniel boasts a mass of tight, dense ringlets that cover most of their bodies and their coat is oily to the touch. Their front legs are covered with curls or ringlets down to their toes. However, below a dog's hocks and on their back legs, the hair is smooth at the front whereas it is curly on the back right down to a dog's feet. Dogs have a very pronounced "top knot" on their heads which is made up of long curls. Their ears are also covered in long ringlets. However, the area around a dog's throat is smooth and it forms a very distinct V-shape from the back of their lower jaw down to the breast bone. The accepted breed colour is as follows:
Irish Water Spaniels are known to be "people" dogs loving nothing more than to please their owners whether they are working in the field or in a home environment. They form strong bonds with their families and don’t like being left on their own for even shorter periods of time. If they are left to their own devices, these charming and attractive dogs can suffer from separation anxiety. They thrive on human contact and are therefore, a great choice for people who lead active, outdoor lives and like to have a canine companion at their side. They do well when they live in a household where one person usually stays at home when everyone else is out.
They are can be a little wary of people they do not know, but an Irish Water Spaniel would rarely show any sort of aggressive behaviour towards a stranger, preferring to just keep out of their way. They are courageous, bold characters by nature and love nothing more than to be kept busy which means they are high-energy dogs that need a ton of mental stimulation and exercise on a daily basis. The Irish Water Spaniel has a lot of stamina with the added bonus of them having a real sense of humour too.
With this said, an IWS is not the best choice for a first time owner because they need to be trained and gently handled by someone who is familiar with the breed or they might start to show a more dominant side to their nature which can turn an Irish Water Spaniel into a more wilful character that's harder to manage.
The Irish Water Spaniel is known to be highly intelligent, they are not only quick on their feet, but they learn new things extremely fast too. As such, their training has to start early and it has to be consistent and always fair for these dogs to mature into well-behaved and obedient characters. It cannot be stressed enough the importance of early socialisation for an IWS. As soon as a dog has been fully vaccinated, they need to be introduced to as many new situations, people, animals and other dogs as possible for them to grow up to be well-rounded adult dogs.
An Irish Water Spaniel is slow to mature which has to be taken into account when they are being trained. It's best to take things slowly always showing an IWS a lot of patience and understanding in order to get the best results. They are sensitive dogs by nature and do not respond well to any sort of harsh correction or heavy handed training, but they do answer well to gentle, positive reinforcement. Their training also has to be as diverse as possible to keep an IWS focused because if things get too repetitive, these intelligent dogs soon lose interest in a training session.
The Irish Water Spaniel boasts a loving and affectionate nature and as such they get on well with children of all ages. However, any interaction between younger children and dogs should always be well supervised to make sure play time does not get too boisterous which could end up with someone getting scared or being hurt.
When well socialised from a young age, an Irish Water Spaniel generally gets on well with other pets which includes the family cat. They are also known to get on well with other dogs. However, an IWS would think nothing of chasing the neighbour's cat if they venture into a back garden.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of an Irish Water Spaniel is between 9 and 15 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
Like so many other breeds, the IWS is known to suffer from a few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these active and good looking dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most include the following:
As with any other breed, Irish Water Spaniels need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
An Irish Water Spaniel's coat is oily to the touch and is made of dense curls and ringlets that cover virtually their entire body. As such they are quite high maintenance on the grooming front. Ideally, these dogs need to be brushed at least twice a week to prevent any matts or tangles from forming. Because their coats are so dense, it is also important to check dogs over for ticks and fleas on a regular basis too.
Their coats need to be trimmed to keep things tidy and this includes trimming the hair between a dog's paw pads and the hair around their ears. It's also important to check a dog's ears on a regular basis and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax is allowed to build up in a dog's ears, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. In short, prevention is often easier than cure when it comes to ear infections.
An Irish Water Spaniel is a high energy dog and therefore they need to be given a heap of physical exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis for them to be truly happy, well-rounded dogs. This means giving a dog a minimum of 2 hour's exercise a day. A shorter walk in the morning would be fine, but a longer more interesting one in the afternoon is a must.
These dogs also like to be able to roam around a back garden as often as possible so they can really let off steam. However, the fencing has to be extremely secure to keep an IWS in because if they find a weakness in the fence, they will soon escape out and get themselves into all sorts of trouble.
With this said, Irish Water Spaniel puppies should not be given too much exercise because their joints and bones are still growing and too much pressure on them could result in causing a dog a few problems later on in their lives. They should not be allowed to jump up or off furniture nor should they be allowed to run up and down the stairs because this puts too much pressure on their still growing joints and limbs.
If you get an Irish Water Spaniel puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.
Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
If you are looking to buy an Irish Water Spaniel, you would need to pay anything from £400 to over £800 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old IWS in northern England would be £20.16 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £41.22 a month (quote as of May 2016). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether or not they have been neutered or spayed.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £40 - £50 a month. On top of all of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with an Irish Water Spaniel and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over a £1000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for an Irish Water Spaniel would be between £70 to £100 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a pedigree puppy.
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