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Irish Water Spaniel

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Origin / History The Irish Water Spaniel is a rare and ancient breed known for its curly coat and remarkable ability in the water. It is one of the oldest of the spaniel breeds, dating as far back as the 7th and 8th centuries. Although its name suggests an Irish lineage, the exact origins of the Irish Water Spaniel are still unclear. Many believe it is a mix of several other breeds, including the Poodle, Irish Setter, and Curly Coated Retriever.

Justin McCarthy, a Dubliner, is acknowledged as the father of the breed; his dog Boatswain is said to be the first of the modern Irish Water Spaniels. Boatswain was remarkably long-lived—he lived close to 20 years—and went on to sire many show champions. For many years, the Irish Water Spaniel was a favorite sporting dog in the West, until the more low-maintenance Labrador Retriever was introduced. Although now one of the rarest spaniels, the breed remains a popular show and companion dog within and outside its native country.

Appearance The Irish Water Spaniel has a stout body covered with tight, dense curls, much like that of a poodle. In contrast, its tail is short and plain; it has been described as rat-like. The head is proportionally large, the face with a shorter, thinner coat than the rest of the body. As with most water dogs, its feet are webbed to give it better mobility in the water.

Colours The Irish Water Spaniel has a solid liver coat with a dark purplish tinge unique to its breed. Only solid colors are accepted in show rings, except for graying due to age.

Temperament These dogs have the classic spaniel temperament: active, alert, intelligent, and curious. They are known to be somewhat clownish—they tend to be clumsy while at work and have lots of funny antics. They are normally playful and affectionate around their family, but may be rather shy around strangers. They also love to please, whether it’s by clowning around or retrieving tools from the floor. Irish Water Spaniels get along great with children and are usually tolerant of other pets.

Height and Weight It is taller than other spaniels, measuring 22 to 24 inches at withers and weighing 55 to 65 pounds.

Common Health Problems This breed has a high incidence of hypothyroidism and entropion, an eye condition where the lid curls inward. Hereditary problems run only in some lines, so owners should get a health certificate upon purchase to make sure there are no inborn diseases. Puppies who are shy at birth tend to drool as adults and may be more prone to ear infections.

Living Conditions Irish Water Spaniels will thrive best in a country or rural location, preferably in a house with a large fenced yard. They can get used to apartment life, as long as they are taken out regularly. They can stay outdoors for long periods, since their coats are thick enough to protect them. However, they should be taken in during extremely hot or cold days. They can sleep outdoors as long as they have proper shelter.

Exercise Requirements These dogs are very active and will do well with regular vigorous exercise. They should be taken on long brisk walks every day, and allowed to run off the leash once in a while. They also enjoy other forms of exercise such as swimming, retrieving, and playing games outdoors.

Training Requirements Irish Water Spaniels are very trainable. They learn new ideas quickly, especially when trained as puppies. They are not bred for guarding, but with proper training they can make excellent watchdogs. Owners should be very consistent when training these dogs, as they are very curious and easily distracted. Socialization and housebreaking should also begin at an early age.

Life Expectancy Irish Water Spaniels live an average of 10 to 12 years.

Grooming Irish Water Spaniels need regular grooming to keep the coat from matting. They shed very little hair, but should be trimmed regularly to keep the coat at a manageable length. The coat is naturally water-resistant, so baths can be given only as needed.

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