What is an Irish Water Spaniel?
The Irish Water Spaniel is considered one of the rarer breeds with the AKC in terms of registrations but is still widely respected and sought-after for its unusual qualities. IWS have several immediately distinguishing characteristics which place them among the more unique of all breeds: The topknot of long, loose curls growing down from the head in a well-defined peak which covers the eyes; a beard growing at the back of the throat often accompanied by sideburns as well; the crisply curled, liver-colored coat covering the body; and the smooth "rat tail", completely free of long coat except at the base where it is covered for 2-3 inches with curls.The face is entirely smooth-coated and, unlike the poodle, should require little or no trimming to stay that way. He is ruggedly built and the feet are webbed between the toes to aid the IWS in its powerful swimming. Altogether, the IWS presents a picture of a smart, upstanding, strongly built but not leggy dog, combining great intelligence and rugged endurance with a bold, dashing eagerness of temperament. The IWS must be seen for its unique qualities to be appreciated.
Like most dogs of the Sporting group, the Irish Water Spaniel is essentially an active, willing and energetic companion. Because it has been bred from stock used to fetch game and return it to hand without a fuss, it has the natural instinct of wanting to please. Its keen sense of working as a team makes it a relatively easy dog to train and discipline. Because of its great intelligence and quizzical nature, it has the reputation of being the clown of the spaniel family and will do ordinary things in extraordinary ways to achieve that which is asked of it. Some individual dogs can be very wary of strangers and not every IWS can be trusted to get along with other pets. Early socialization and training is a must.
The Irish Water Spaniel is primarily a one-family rather than a one-person dog. Because of its long tradition of faithful service as a retriever, the IWS comes by its willingness to please instinctively. The IWS is a devoted companion and can be an exceptional watchdog if properly socialized from an early age. Socialization is particularly important when an enthusiastic IWS is expected to coexist with small children. While it has innate courage and will protect itself or its owners when necessary, the IWS has been bred for the characteristic of not barking excessively.
All Irish Water Spaniels require a grooming regimen that includes maintaining healthy ears, teeth and nails. The tight double coat of the IWS sheds slightly, however many allergy sufferers have found them to be a comfortable pet with which to live. The texture of the hair prevents the coat from becoming tightly woven into fabric and upholstery and any stray hairs are easily removed as they will gather together to form "dust bunnies". The coat can be maintained by even the novice owner if a regular effort is maintained to keep it clean and free of mats. A thorough combing to the skin should take place every 1-2 weeks to promote healthy skin and to remove any objects from the coat. Scissoring will be required every 6-8 weeks to neaten and shape the coat while regular exposure to water will promote the correct "ringlets" over the body coat.
In 1982 and 1991, the IWSCA sponsored membership surveys to identify health problems most often encountered in the breed. Hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, entropion, seizures, cancer, irregular heat seasons, ear infections, skin and coat problems were areas of concern. Some IWS fanciers have reported a 'breed' sensitivity to ivermectin, sulfa drugs, and to various forms of anesthesia.
The Irish Water Spaniel was bred to be a companion hunting dog and its continued purity of breeding and its relative rarity have kept these instincts very much alive. There is no distinction between a "field" dog and a "show" dog. Because the breed is not sought-after as an extremely popular show breed, many of the breeders of IWSs have been able to follow breeding programs which produce the type of sporting dog most desired - that of a good family companion and a marvelous retriever.
The coat of the IWS is actually two coats: a dense, short , thick undercoat for warmth, and the outer, longer coat for water-resistance and added protection. Even after a dozen retrieves the skin of an IWS might well be dry. The pads on the feet of an IWS, when properly conditioned, are tough enough to handle saw grass or dry river bed. He is a powerful swimmer and great speed in the water assures that few wounded birds will escape. Stouthearted enough to tackle the elements during the rigorously cold seasons of northern climates, IWSs have the size, power, dash and pure heart that wins the respect of all who see them work.
The IWS can also be a true dual-purpose hunting dog, as qualified with upland game as with waterfowl. The excellent vision and marking abilities of the IWS, combined with a keen nose, a protective coat and an attitude that will not quit, help to contribute to a full game bag each and every day.