The Irish water spaniel is the largest and the oldest of the spaniel breeds. It was essentially bred to be an active sporting dog, fetching live game and returning it to hand. The Irish water spaniel is officially recognised by the Kennel Club.
The Irish Water Spaniel’s desire to please makes him a fun-loving dog often having a clownish personality to bring the laughs. This trait also makes him extremely motivated in training, thus, he easily learns new commands.
The Irish Setter's thick double coat needs 2 to 3 times of brushing a week and occasional trimming. With his high energy levels, he needs to blow off steam daily. An hour or two of exercise and mental stimulation is enough to tire him out.
The Irish water spaniel is one of the native breeds of Ireland, along with the Irish terrier, Glen of Imaal terrier, and Irish wolfhound. The Irish water spaniel (IWS) dates back to least one thousand years and is believed to be the descendant of the Dobhar-chu (translates as water hound), a mythical creature from the Irish folklore.
There is speculation that its genetic make-up was developed from more than one ancient spaniel breed. However, there was no historical evidence to support such a theory since the acknowledged breeder of the Irish water spaniel, Justin McCarthy, did not leave any records. Few breeds were suggested as its ancestry, including the poodle, barbet, Portuguese water dog, some northern and southern water spaniels, and even the now-extinct English water spaniel.
All these are mere speculations without substantial proof, but one thing is for sure—the Irish water spaniel has ancient roots. The modern Irish water spaniel we see today was developed in Ireland in the 1830s through Boatswain, Justin McCarthy's dog. This particular Irish water spaniel lived from 1834 to 1852, siring a couple of excellent hunting and show dogs. In 1862, the first Irish water spaniel appeared in a dog show in Birmingham, and in 1899 in a field trial. The breed is recognised by the Kennel Club in the UK.
Appearance and Grooming
The Irish water spaniel is the largest and the oldest of the spaniel breeds. It weighs 45–65 pounds and stands 51–58 centimetres at the withers. It has several distinct characteristics that make it an easily recognisable breed such as the topknot of long and loose curls from the head often covering the eyes, the beard that grows from the throat along with sideburns, and a curled coat giving it its rugged appearance. Another distinguishing feature is its smooth rat tail, which is devoid of any coat except at the base where it is covered with 2–3 inches of curls. Its webbed feet meant for a powerful swim completes the picture of a bold and dashing dog breed.
When it comes to its coat, the IWS sports a tightly curled double-layered coat with a dense, short, and thick undercoat and a longer outer coat for protection. Its coat always comes in solid liver colour, often described as a deep reddish brown. It sheds lightly, but unlike other dog hair types, it does not cling to the furniture or clothing. Brush or comb the coat at least once to thrice a week as needed to remove matts or tangles. If you want your Irish water spaniel to have a neater look, have its coat trimmed every 6–8 weeks, including the fur around the footpad. You can take your dog to the professional groomer or ask the breeder to teach you how to do it.
Frequent baths are not necessary since this will only remove the protective oil from its coat. However, getting the coat a bit wet will help form those pretty ringlets that give the Irish water spaniel its distinct look. The rest is simple grooming regimen. Check the ears regularly for signs of infections and keep them clean and dry especially after your IWS went swimming. Trim the nails at least every week and brush the teeth frequently using a vet-approved toothpaste.
Temperament and Intelligence
The Irish water spaniel is known to be a people-loving dog and its only desire is to please its owners whether in the home setting or out in the field. It forms strong attachments with its families and suffers from separation anxiety, which results in bad habits when left alone for longer periods of time. It thrives in human companionship and will be more suitable for households with at least one person staying at home. Irish water spaniel also leads an active life being bred as a sporting dog, which means it craves the outdoors and likes nothing more than to engage in outdoor activities with its family.
The Irish water spaniel is wary of other people, especially strangers, but will never exhibit aggressive behaviour unless it senses that its family is in danger. It is alert and curious and will not hesitate to bark to alert its family, which makes it an excellent watchdog. Since this dog breed has a strong desire to please, it is easy to train. However, its high intelligence and independent nature make it less suitable for first-time owners with no experience in handling this type of active breed.
When it comes to getting along with children, the Irish water spaniel is affectionate and a great playmate. But then again, supervision is still warranted to avoid accidents especially when interaction becomes too boisterous. It gets on well enough with other dogs and even cats if socialised early. However, it will think nothing of chasing the neighbours' small furry animals when given a chance.
Nutrition and Feeding
A typical serving for an adult Irish water spaniel is 1.5–2.5 cups of excellent-quality dry dog food per day, which should be divided into two equal meals. As a responsible dog owner, it is best to seek out advice from a veterinarian or a canine nutritionist when it comes to what and how much to feed your IWS. Remember that each dog has unique nutritional needs considering factors such as age, size, gender, health, metabolism, and activity level.
The following is the typical daily calorie needs of an adult Irish water spaniel:
- Senior and less active: up to 1,252 calories daily
- Typical adults: up to 1,400 calories daily
- Physically active/working dogs: up to 1,565 calories daily
Feed your Irish water spaniel premium-quality food with balanced nutrition. Dog food can be mixed with canned food and water or broth. The dog can also be fed with cottage cheese, cooked eggs, fruits, and vegetables. Always provide potable water available nearby.
Health and Exercise
With a lifespan of up to fifteen years, the Irish water spaniel is generally healthy but is also prone to certain health issues, including ear infections, hip and elbow dysplasia, follicular dysplasia, epilepsy, cataracts, entropion, distichiasis, megaesophagus, and hypothyroidism. This dog breed is also allergic to Ivermectin and Sulfa drugs, which may be life-threatening.
The Irish water spaniel is an energetic dog breed that requires at least one to two hours' worth of daily exercises. Not being able to let off steam through activities can lead to destructive habits that it is easily picked up since it is a quick learner. Irish water spaniel has an incredible stamina, which means it will need at least one hour of running, long hikes, and other vigorous activities including swimming. Keep in mind that an Irish water spaniel must not be left unsupervised, even in a fenced yard, or it will find a way to escape.
Cost of Ownership
If you intend to buy an Irish Water Spaniel puppy, prepare to pay anything from £400 to £800, especially for a well-bred one. The next thing you will need to consider is affordable pet insurance. Most often, costs to insure a dog will depend on your location and the age and health of the dog. An estimated quote reveals that the cost to insure a three-year-old IWS is around £20.16 for a time-limited cover and to £44.22 a month for a lifetime one.
Food cost will vary depending on the age and size of your Irish Water Spaniel, but a safe bet is £40 to £50 a month, excluding treats. You also need to factor in the initial cost for dog accessories and equipment such as food bowls, leads, collars, and beds, which will likely be about £200 depending on the brand.
Other outgoings to consider are veterinary expenses that may not be included in a pet insurance coverage such as vaccinations, routine checks, neutering or spaying, and annual boosters, which can have a combined cost of £1000 annually. Roughly, you will be setting aside £60-£90 a month for recurring expenses, depending on the type of insurance cover you choose. This estimate is also exclusive of walking or grooming services that you might want to use at times.
Irish Water Spaniel Breed Highlights
- The Irish water spaniel is a people-loving dog with a strong desire to please.
- It forms a strong attachment with its family and may have a tendency to suffer separation anxiety if not trained.
- It sheds slightly and will need to be brushed at least once to three times a week.
- It is alert and curious, which barks to alert its family, making it an excellent watchdog.
- Irish water spaniel is an active breed since it was bred to be a sporting dog. It craves for outdoor activities.
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