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Irish Water Spaniel Dog Breed Profile

Irish Water Spaniel

Other Names
IWS, Whiptail 
Dog Group Kennel Club
Breed Classification
The Irish Water Spaniel is a member of the Gundog group. The breed as we know it today was bred in Ireland to hunt, flush and retrieve snipe and wildfowl in the bogs, marshes and river estuaries, giving rise to its nickname of "Bogdog". Today they are used for all types of game shooting activities, agility, obedience, drug sniffing, cancer prediction, as PAT dogs, as companions and are highly successful in the show-ring, frequently winning Gundog Groups and occasionally Best in Shows. In 2004 an IWS was top puppy of all breeds in the UK. 
Cost of Ownership
Average Food Cost
£7.50-10 per week
Feeding Requirements
The average cost for feeding is £10 per week. 
Other Expenses
The average cost of a puppy varies a great deal, depending on the breeder and what type of dog is wanted i.e. show, work or pet. Say between £400-£850 
9 - 15 years
The lifespan of an IWS is 10 –14 years. 
Average Litter Size
Litter size can vary enormously and can be anything between 1 and 14, with the average perhaps being around 6 or 7. 
General Physical Description
Always a medium to dark shade of liver, their distinctive coats make them stand out in the crowd. Other than their muzzles, a V-shape at the front of their necks and the tail, (apart from the first 3-4 inches), the entire body is covered in dense, tight ringlets. The tallest of all the Spaniels, IWSs are well-balanced dogs and the only breed of spaniel not to have a customarily docked tail, which gives rise to another favourite nickname - “Whiptail”. They are upstanding, strongly built, compact dogs that move freely, soundly and cover the ground with good reach and drive.

Height Min Max
Bitch 51cm (20") 56cm (22")
Dog 53cm (21") 58cm (23")
Weight Min Max
Bitch 20kg (44lbs) 26kg (57lbs)
Dog 25kg (55lbs) 30kg (66lbs)
Size Category
Weight Height Range
Bitches should measure between 51 -15 cms and weigh around 20 - 26kgs, dogs should measure aroung 53 - 58cms and weigh around 25 - 30kgs. It is quite common to find both dogs and bitches larger than that which the breed standard states. 
Good care with breeding has resulted in an excellent health record for the breed and they are relatively free from congenital and hereditary conditions. However, as with all breeds there are some potential problems and in the IWS things to look out for include skin and coat problems, hip dysplasia, auto immune disease and various cancers, especially lymphosarcoma. 
Common Ailments
Susceptibility To Illness
Although Persian manuscripts dating 4000 BC indicate the presence of Water Dogs, pinpointing the ancestry of the Irish Water Spaniel is quite difficult. The most reliable theory is that the breed is a result of various breeds of dog being brought over to Ireland by Spanish, Portuguese, French and Italian fishermen. The earliest record of the breed as we know it today is of a dog named Boatswain owned by Justin McCarthy who was born in Dublin in 1834. All IWSs can trace their ancestry back to this dog.  
A quick-thinking breed, the training should begin at an early age, although being slow to mature, formal training should not be approached until about 18-24 months of age. Whilst they learn quickly, consistency plays a large part in their training. Variety in training is needed to keep the breed’s attention and interest, and should always be enjoyable and something of a game for both dog and handler.< 
Show Characteristics
The head should be of good size with a high domed skull. The muzzle should be long and strong with a gradual stop. The face should be smooth with a large nose. The almond-shaped eyes should be comparatively small, medium to dark brown and look intelligent and alert. The ears should be oval shaped, set low and hang close to the cheeks. The jaws should be strong with a perfect scissor bite. The neck should be powerful and arching, long enough to carry the head well above the level of the back. The shoulders should be sloping and powerful. The front legs should be well boned and straight. The hind legs should be powerful, with a low set hock and a well-angulated stifle. The back should be short, broad and level with deep and wide loins. The feet should be large and spreading, well covered with hair over and between the toes. The tail should be short, not reaching the hock joint, straight, thick at the root, tapering to a fine point. It should be low-set straight and below the level of the back. The first 7.5–10cms (3-4 inches) at the root should be covered with close curls, which stop abruptly. The remainder should be bare or covered with short, straight, fine hairs. The IWS should move freely and soundly with reach and drive. The characteristic rolling motion should be accentuated by the barrel-shaped rib cage. The coat should always be a rich, dark liver with a purplish tint or bloom peculiar to the breed and is sometimes referred to as puce-liver. The body should have dense, tight crisp ringlets, the hair having a natural oiliness. 
Country Of Origin
Famous Examples
Records Held
Overall Exercise
60 - 80 minutes per day.
A fun-loving breed, IWSs have tremendous stamina and are natural water and wetland athletes and will take all the exercise on offer. A high-energy breed that needs both mental and physical stimulation, with a minimum of two, forty minute walks daily. Although this breed will adapt to an urban lifestyle if given adequate exercise, they are better suited to a rural existence.  
Distress if Left Alone
Personal Protection
Guard Dog Suitability
Risk of Sheep Worrying
Tendency to Bark
Level of Aggression
Compatibility With Other Animals
Suitable For Children


General Character And Temperament
Whilst sometimes cautious of strangers, this breed is very loyal and affectionate to their owners. They usually get on well with children and, if introduced to cats and other pets when young, there should not be any problems. They sometimes bark to warn of any danger, but in general, have a stable disposition. They can sometimes be shy, but should be bold and eager, courageous and effective, especially in the hunting field whilst hunting and retrieving game. They are lively, cheerful dogs that have considerable stamina, drive and a great sense of humour! As with any breed of dog, careful research into the breeder and their lines is important to a potential first time buyer.  
Coat Length
Grooming Requirement
Once a week 
Requires Professional Groomer
The oily coat consists of dense, permanent curls and needs regular grooming with a wide gauge comb (weekly) to prevent mats forming. They also need washing every few months to keep the coat odour free. Because of the density and curl in their coats, ticks and fleas can remain unnoticed. After a thorough combing, they should either be washed or allowed to swim which puts the curl back into their coats. The coat will need to be trimmed from time to time. Showing the breed requires considerable skill in presentation and these days it has become something of a trimming contest. The hair must be trimmed around the ears and between the toe pads to prevent infection, and grass seeds from being trapped. It is interesting that asthma sufferers are seldom allergic to the IWS coat, but of course this needs to be kept clean as asthma sufferers are frequently allergic to dust!  
Pups can be born with white spots on the chest and toes but these usually disappear between six to eight weeks. The adult dog is always a medium to dark shade of liver.  
Suffers From Allergies

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