Irish Water Spaniel

Introduction | History & Health | Temperament & Personality | Breed Standard

Irish Water Spaniel

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Introduction

The Irish Water Spaniel, also known at times as the Southern Irish Water Spaniel, the Irish Water Dog, the Bogdog, the Rat-Tail Spaniel, the Shannon Spaniel, McCarthy's Breed and the Whip-tail Spaniel, is an intelligent breed known for its characteristic topknot and peak of hair between its eyes. It is also known for its unusual tail, which has curly hair the first four inches from the base, while the rest of the tail is nearly hairless. The Irish Water Spaniel was bred as a bird-dog and is the tallest of all spaniels. Unlike other spaniels, this breed was not developed to flush birds but rather to jump into the frigid waters of Ireland to retrieve dead or wounded wildfowl. He loves water, and his coat is naturally water-resistant. The Irish Water Spaniel was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1884 as a member of its Sporting Group.
The average Irish Water Spaniel stands 21 to 24 inches high at the shoulders and weighs between 45 and 65 pounds. A naturally-oily double coat, with tight ringlets, is critical to the breed standard, providing protection for the dog while it is working in water or on land. The hair on the face, throat, tail and lower rear legs should be smooth and short. The unique, dark liver coloration of this breed has an almost purplish sheen. The Irish Water Spaniel should be groomed regularly to prevent matting. This breed is not prone to shedding hair or dander. According to the American parent club, "no existing breed of dog has a more marked individuality of type and no breed has shown less inclination to diverge from it."

History & Health

History

The remains of dogs nearly identical to the Irish Water Spaniel, dating back to the 7th or 8th century A.D., are documented in reports from archaeological expeditions to Ireland conducted in the 1930s. The modern version of this ancient breed is thought to have developed in southern Ireland sometime in the late 1100s, before the time of King McCarthy II. Sir Robert Cecil reportedly sent an Irish Water Spaniel to the King of France in 1598. In 1607, in his book, History of the Foure-Footed Beastes, Topsell refers to the "Water Spagnel with his long, rough, curled hair and a tail somewhat bare and naked." In the mid-1700s, Captain Thomas Brown is said to have remarked on the long ears of the Irish Water Spaniel and its curly-textured coat. The first painting of an Irish Water Spaniel was made in 1841. These and other historical references suggest that the Irish Water Spaniel existed for centuries before the mid-1800s. Many have speculated that the breed descended from crosses among some or all of the following: the Portuguese Water Dog, Poodle, native Irish Spaniel, French Barbet, English Water Spaniel, Irish Setter and/or Curly-Coated Retriever, although this is largely conjecture.
A dog named Boatswain, who lived from the early 1830s to 1852, is widely credited as being the foundation of the modern Irish Water Spaniel. He sired many outstanding field and show champions, and after his successes the breed retained a consistent, recognizable type. In 1849, Boatswain sired Jack, who is prolific in the pedigrees of today's Irish Water Spaniels. The first specials class for the breed was held in 1859. A great-grandson of Boatswain named Doctor won the first Best of Breed at the Birmingham show in 1866.
The Irish Water Spaniel Club was formed in 1890. Many fine breed specimens were exported to North America, Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. By 1875, the Irish Water Spaniel was the third most popular sporting dog in America. Four Irish Water Spaniels were entered in the very first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1877. The Irish Water Spaniel Club of America was organized in 1937. This breed continues to be popular with bird hunters, show fanciers and families, alike.

Health

The average life span of the Irish Water Spaniel is between 10 and 13 years. Breed health concerns may include ear infections, elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, follicular dysplasia, epilepsy, cataracts, entropion, distichiasis, megaesophagus and hypothyroidism. Irish Water Spaniels can have adverse, life-threatening reactions to Ivermectin and Sulfa drugs.

Temperament & Personality

Personality

The individual personality of Irish Water Spaniels vary from dog to dog. Some are energetic and outgoing, others are shy and prefer to laze around the house. You can't really tell what your adult Water Spaniel will be like based upon his behavior as a puppy, either. However, all Water Spaniels are loving family companions who adore their families, have a zest for life and have a propensity for clowning around. He can make a game out of just about any activity, and no matter what he's doing he appears to be having the time of his life. Water Spaniels are spirited companions and will want to be included in all family activities. They are polite to strangers and can be trusted around well mannered children.

Activity Requirements

Irish Water Spaniels need a lot of activity to maintain health and happiness. As their name suggests, this breed loves water and people with swimming pools should expect to find their dog swimming and splashing about. Hunters can take them into the field, as they are reliable trackers and retrievers and have the stamina to work all day. Couch potatoes would be better suited for another breed. Even a lazy Water Spaniel will come alive outdoors, and if he doesn't get enough exercise will quickly become hyper active and destructive.
This breed is too large and requires too much space to be confined to an apartment, even if a commitment is made to exercise.

Trainability

Water Spaniels are fairly easy to train, but they do have a willful streak which can can make them inconsistent students. Positive reinforcement and lots of treats help the process along, as does mixing up training activities. Keeping training sessions light and fun is also helpful, as Water Spaniels will enjoy any activity he thinks is a game. Once leadership is established and basic obedience mastered, Water Spaniels should graduate on to advanced obedience or agility training to keep their bodies and minds active.
Early and frequent socialization is important to building an even tempered Water Spaniel. While they adore their own family, they are often wary of strangers. Teaching him early on to accept new people and new situations can keep them from becoming shy or fearful.

Behavioral Traits

Water Spaniels are eternally happy animals and often never outgrow their bounciness. Even an old dog will bound to the door and jump to greet you when you get home. They are not the most graceful dogs, and this bouncy behavior can lead to toppled lamps or spilled drinks. "Stay" and "down" are two important commands that should be mastered early on.
They can be aggressive toward dogs of the same sex and are prone to chasing cats or smaller animals. Water Spaniels should be kept on a leash or in a fenced in are to avoid potentially sticky situations.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
That of a smart, upstanding, strongly built moderate gundog bred for all types of shooting, especially for water-fowling. Great intelligence is combined with rugged endurance and a bold, dashing eagerness of temperament. Distinguishing characteristics are a topknot of long, loose curls and a body covered with a dense, crisply curled liver colored coat contrasted by a smooth face and a smooth "rat" tail.

Size, Proportion, Substance
Strongly built and well-boned, the Irish Water Spaniel is of medium length making it slightly rectangular in appearance. A well-balanced dog that should not appear leggy or coarse.
Size: Height: Dogs22 to 24 inches (measured at the highest point of withers) Bitches 21 to 23 inches
Weight: Dogs 55 to 68 pounds
Bitches 45 to 58pounds

Head and Skull
The head iscleanly chiseled. Theskull is large and high in dome with a prominent occiput and a gradual stop. The muzzle is long, deep and somewhat square inappearance with a strong underjaw. Lips are fine in texture, tight and dry. The nose is large and dark liver in color. The teeth are even with a scissor or level bite. Hair on the face is short and smooth except for a beard of long, loose curls growing at the back of the lower jaw whichmay continue up the side of the face as sideburns.

Topknot: A characteristic of the breed, the topknot consists of long, loose curls covering the skull and falling down over the top of the ears and occiput. The contrast between the smooth face and the topknot is evident in a well-defined peak between the eyes. The topknot, a breed characteristic, should not be trimmed in an exaggerated or excessive manner.

Eyes: Set almost flush, the eyes arecomparatively small and almond shaped with tight eyelids. The color is a warm toneof medium to dark brown, dark amber but never yellow. The expression is keenlyalert, intelligent, direct and quizzical.

Ears: Long, lobular, set low, hanging close to the head and abundantly covered with long loosecurls of hair.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck: The neck is long, arching, strong and muscular and is smoothly set into cleanly sloping shoulders.

Topline: The rear is equal to or slightly higher than the front never descending or showing sag or roach

Back: Strong, broad and level.

Body: Medium length. The ribs are carried well back and so well sprung behind the shoulders as to give a barrel shape. Thechest is deep with a brisket extending to the elbows. The loin is short, wide, muscular, and deep so it does not give a tucked-up appearance.

Forequarters
The entire front gives the impression of strength without heaviness. The forechest should be moderate. Shoulders are sloping and moderately laid back, clean and powerful. The upper arms are approximately the length of the shoulder blades with clean elbows set close to the body. Forelegs are well boned, muscular and straight, set well under the withers.
Hindquarters Sound hindquarters are of great importance to provide drive and power while swimming. They are as high as or slightly higher than the shoulders withpowerful, muscular, well-developed thighs. The hips are wide. The croup is rounded and full with the tail set on low enough to give a rounded appearance. The stifles are moderately bent. Hocks are set low and moderately bent. Balance of front and rear angulation is important.

Feet: Large, round, somewhat spreading. Well clothed with hair. Pads are thick.

Tail: The "Rat Tail" is a striking characteristic of the breed and is strong, low set and carried level with the back and is not quite long enough toreach the point of thehock. The tail is thick at the root where it is covered for two to three inches with short curls which stop abruptly. From that point the tail is covered with smooth hair and the tail tapers to a fine point.

Coat
Proper coat is of vital importance to protect the dog while working. The coat on the face is short and smooth framed by the distinctive topknot and ears of long, loose curls.
The coat on the throat is smooth forming a V-shaped patch from the back of the lower jaw behind the beard to the breastbone. The remainder of the neck, body and base of the tail are covered with dense, tight, crisp curls. The remainder of the coat on the tail is short and smooth coated. Forelegs are covered down to the feet with curls or waves all around. The hind legs are also abundantly covered with curls or waves except that the hair is short and smooth on the front of the legs below the hocks.

Feet are well clothed with hair.
Dogs may be shown in natural coat or trimmed. However, no dog should be groomed or trimmed so excessively as to obscure the curl or texture of the coat.

Color
Rich liver to dark liver with a purplish tinge, sometimes called puce liver. No white hair or markings except for the graying of age.

Gait
Moves freely and soundly with balanced reach and drive. Should be true, precise and not slurring; may have a characteristic rolling motion accentuated by the barrel-shaped rib cage.

Temperament
Very alert, inquisitive and active. Stable in temperament with an endearing sense of humor. May be reserved with strangers but never aggressive or shy.

Faults
The foregoing description is that of the ideal adult Irish Water Spaniel in hard working condition. Any deviation from the above-described dog must be considered to the extent of the deviation, keeping in mind the importance of various features toward the basic original purpose of the breed, which is that of a gundog used for work in all types of shooting and particularly suited to water fowling in difficult marshy terrain.

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