The Fluffy, Fabulous, and Fun Irish Water Spaniel Dog Breed

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The Irish Water Spaniel hails from Ireland, where it was a top retrieving dog breed. They may look like poodles, but these hounds definitely meet the specifications for the sporting dogs they are. A rare breed, they are not suitable pets for first-time pet parents. They are however celebrated companions for the more active human. They go by many nicknames: IWS, Whiptail, Shannon Spaniel, Rat Tail Spaniel, and Bog Dog.

A Brief History of The Irish Water Spaniel Dog Breed!

The Shannon Spaniel’s origin is shrouded in mystery. Archaeological finds suggest that writings from the Stone Age, and 17th-century allude to them. In the 1100s, Water Spaniels were mentioned south of the Irish Shannon River, likely inspiring the nickname, Shannon Spaniel.

In 1598 this smooth-tailed spaniel from Ireland was gifted by Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Sir Robert Cecil, to the King of France. The 1607 publication, Historie of the Four-Footed Beastes, describes a curly-haired ‘water spagnel’ boasting a naked tail.

The breed took part in their first show class in Birmingham in 1862. 1877 saw four Shannon Spaniels entered into the first Westminster Kennel Club Show. In 1899, the first of the breed ran in a field trial. The IWS first arrived in America in the 1870s and was recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1884.

irish spaniel swimming in river

English, American and Irish Spaniel: What’s the Difference? 

Most notably, the American and English Spaniel are bred smaller than the original IWS, by approximately twenty and ten pounds respectively.

Looks-wise, the American and English breeds have medium length coats while the Irish Spaniels have a long coat. The Irish Spaniels do not shed, while the American sheds infrequently and the English occasionally.

A significant difference in appearance is the Bog Dog’s frizzy top knot in contrast to the American and English breeds’ smooth skull. The American and English tails are frizzy while the Irish are bare and rat-like.

Temperamentally, the American counterpart is charming, happy and eager. The English Spaniel is obedient, playful and friendly. The Irish are playful, hardworking and brave.

10 Facts You Didn’t Know About These Puppers! 

  1. Properly socialized Bog Dogs make superb watchdogs.
  2. The actress, Geena Davis, gives her pet Shannon Spaniel all the dues for her landing her husband. She tells how her dog bit the man while in the care of her friend, which led to Geena and the man meeting.
  3. Nicknamed “Rat Tail,” the tail is smooth and hairless, with only two to three inches at the base covered with curls.
  4. The hairless tail performs the task of rudder in the water, making them better swimmers.
  5. The tough pads of the Whiptail’s feet withstand harsh underfoot conditions, avoiding injuries during dog sports and activities over rough surfaces.
  6. Bog Dogs have webbed toes which assist them as adept swimmers.
  7. The Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest of all spaniels.
  8. They are known as the Clowns of the Spaniel family, maybe because of their looks or hairdos, but perhaps also due to their animated characters.
  9. An encouraged characteristic of the breed is their tendency to bark very rarely.
  10. Allergy sufferers will have little cause for angst with this almost “hypoallergenic” hound.

The Appearance of this Fluffball Breed 

These Clowns of the Spaniel Family are not unlike poodles in looks, with their soft-to-touch coats. Look out for the tell-tale spaniel smile! Another of its discerning features is the topknot of breed-peculiar hair, falling down in loose curls from the top of the head over the eyes.

In contrast, the rat tail is predominantly hairless and bare, and the face is smooth-coated. They are large-sized, well-balanced dogs with a deep chest, muscular hindquarters, and powerful forelegs, but not the least bit leggy.

A long, well-proportioned head, tapers to a smooth and square muzzle. In true spaniel-style, the ears are like long pendants covered in curls. The body of the Rat Tail Spaniel terminates in a tail that starts off wide but tapers to a definite point.

full grown brown irish water spaniel standing in field

American Cocker Spaniel vs. English Cocker Spaniel: What’s the Difference? 

Size wise, the English breed is a little bigger than its American counterpart. The English Cocker has a greater hunting instinct than its American equivalent and enjoys being outdoors significantly more.

As such, it goes without saying that the English breed wants more regular exercise of the two. Temperamentally, the American breed is known to be somewhat moodier than the more predictably tempered English Cocker Spaniel.

Water Spaniel Coats and Colors!

Bog Dogs have the thick double coat and dense protective undercoat typical of water retrievers. They have a V-shaped patch on the throat with short, smooth hair.

In contrast, ringlets cover the back, rear, and sides, with longer hair at the ribs and over the legs. The breed presents only in a solid liver color, without any sign of white markings. Unless the Clown Spaniel is greying with age, it will always be a solid deep reddish brown.

How Much Maintenance Do These Irish Spaniels Need?

Your IWS will thank you for a thorough combing right down to the skin, one to three times a week. Once every six to eight weeks, trim the coat and the fur around the foot pads.

Rather than regular baths, rinse the Whiptail after a dip in the water, to rid the coat of chlorine, algae or sea salt. Any pooch with prominent ears will need particular attention paid to these hearing pendants. Nail trimming and teeth cleaning are also standard requirements.

Do They Shed?

If Rat-Tail Spaniels do shed, it is very little, but they typically do not shed at all.

Their Average Breed Size and Weight! 

Males range in height from 22 to 24 inches. Females stand between 21 and 23 inches at the shoulder.

Typically, males weigh in at between 55 and 68 pounds. Females are a little lighter, weighing in at between 45 and 58 pounds.

What to Expect From Their Temperament and Personality! 

Whiptails have the typical traits of any dog which falls into the sporting group. They are certainly people-pleasers, although they do also very much have a mind of their own. Expect a companion who is not only willing but also significantly active, energetic and mischievous.

With an exuberant knack for having fun and a great sense of humor, any activity can become a game. Bog Dogs are highly intelligent which, together with their teamwork instinct, makes them relatively easy to train.

These highly intelligent pups would benefit from early positive reinforcement and discipline. The absence of training may lead to the puppy allowed to think for itself foregoing obedience whenever they feel they know better.

Irish Water Spaniel Puppy to Doggo Full Grown: What is Their Lifespan?

Your IWS will be a faithful companion for between ten and twelve years.

11 Potential Health Conditions to Be Aware of! 

This rare breed has a fair share of potential canine health issues including:

  1. Hip Dysplasia
  2. Elbow Dysplasia
  3. Follicular Dysplasia
  4. Hypothyroidism
  5. Cataracts and Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  6. Food, contact and inhalant allergies
  7. Entropion
  8. Paronychia
  9. Distichiasis
  10. Megaesophagus
  11. Epilepsy
  12. Canine Vaccination and Drug Sensitivity

happy spaniel dog smiling at the camera

Irish Water Spaniels for Sale! 

Finding a reputable breeder is paramount. Due to the rarity of the breed, pups may only be available months after you add your name to a waiting list. Costs vary according to location, gender, and parentage.

Irish Water Spaniel Puppies for Sale Near Me! 

Check the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the American Kennel Club’s websites for a good breeder or breed rescue shelter near you. Good breeders will issue certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals that their pups are sound.

English Cocker Spaniels for Sale Near Me! 

The American Kennel Club will point you to reputable breeders and Breed Club rescues in your locale.

American Cocker Spaniels for Sale Near Me! 

Find good breed-specific breeders and rescue shelters in your area on the American Kennel Club’s website.

Adopt, Don’t Shop! Ask an Animal Shelter About Adopting Spaniels That Need Rescuing!

Check with your local shelters for spaniels to adopt, or check with the local or national breed club.

Common Questions on The Irish Water Spaniel

Are IWS pups recommended for a first-time pet owner?

Are IWS dogs more energetic than most breeds? 

Can I adopt a Whiptail rather than buying from a breeder?

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