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The Breed History
The tallest of the spaniel breeds is also an ancient one, and original spaniel type fits the modern type of this breed. A member of the water spaniel group that includes the extinct Tweed water spaniel, these dogs are thought to have arisen from the South Country Water Spaniel and the North Country Water Spaniel. Written records begin in 1607. The first Irish Water Spaniels came to America around the year 1873. and became an AKC breed in 1884.
Breeding for Function
Their primary function was to perform as a high endurance waterfowl retriever. They were bred with a heavy oily coat to allow them to retrieve in cold waters. They were less commonly used for upland game hunting.
Height at Withers: females 21-23″ (53-58.5 cm), males 22-24″ (56-61 cm).
Weight: females 45-58 lb (20.5-26 kg), males 55-65 lb (25-29.5 kg).
Coat: The tail, front of the neck and face are covered in very short hair. The main haircoat is a longer crisp, dense, oily, and tightly curly overcoat. The undercoat is short and dense. The standard coat color is liver. The liver haircoat has a purplish tinge referred to as puce liver.
Longevity: 12-14 years
Points of Conformation: The water-repelling curly coat, rat-tail, beard and sideburns and the loose curly topknot that reaches the eyes of this dog are distinctive breed characteristics. They possess a strong square conformation, and the wedge-shaped head is well chiseled. The skull is domed, stop is moderate, and occipital protuberance is prominent. The muzzle is long and square, the nose large and liver colored. Almond shaped eyes are medium sized and hazel in color. The very long pendulous ears are low set with extensive curly feathering at the tips. The neck is arched, long and muscular. The topline is level, though it may be slightly higher in the rear. The thorax is deep and the ribs are well sprung. The rib cage extends well back. Limbs are straight boned, feet large and spreading with webbed toes, and the low set tail is generally carried level. The ground-covering gait is long, low, smooth, and seems effortless.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Loyal with family, some dogs are so reserved as to be aggressive with strangers, and intelligent. They have a strong willingness to please, high activity and exercise needs, and high trainability. Grooming needs consist of a weekly combing. They are a low to moderate shedder depending on the season. This breed is not always good with other pets. Early obedience training and socialization are recommended. This breed is considered a good watchdog, but has a low barking tendency otherwise. They are also considered an excellent swimmer.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Some Irish Water Spaniel females can have irregular heat cycles.
The Irish Water Spaniel breed club websites alert to possible reactions to potentiated sulfonamide antibiotics.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 16.1% affected.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 12.0% affected.