Despite its name, the Irish Water Spaniel is classified as a Retriever for gundog work although for dog shows it is classified as a spaniel. These days, the majority of working Irish Water Spaniels are trained as retrievers for the shooting field, but the term “working” is widely interpreted by working Irish Water Spaniel owners.

It was originally bred in Ireland to hunt, flush and retrieve wildfowl in marshes and river estuaries and today it is still used by some for this purpose. Because of its versatility it is today still used for wildfowling, but it is also used in the beating line in driven shoots to flush game and also as a picking up dog and peg dog. It is used by rough shooters, there is at least one in the UK used as a deerstalking dog, the West Midlands Police force have one as a successful drugs dog and it has even been used on the continent to hunt wild boar.

There is a dedicated band of enthusiasts who enter Irish Water Spaniels in retriever working tests and in so doing, help to remind people of their existence and abilities and there are a very few who are entering field trials.

Its large, spreading, webbed feet give it the ability to work terrain where other dogs might struggle. Its dense, liver-coloured, waterproof coat gives great protection against the cold, as well as enabling it to blend into the landscape. Its strength, stamina and barrelled ribcage make it a powerful swimmer, able to cope with the toughest of conditions. An all-round gundog that is equally at home rough shooting, beating in line or picking-up, the Irish Water Spaniel is gifted with an exceptional nose. Perhaps not as fast as some other gundog breeds, it nevertheless fills the gamebag.

But, a Labrador it most certainly isn’t, so training one for the field can be a real eye opener for people not used to the breed.

The Irish Water Spaniel is slow to mature. It requires patient, kind, firm handling, and careful training. But the intelligent, characterful IWS will reward its owner by giving many years of honest and reliable work. It is also referred to as the “clown” of the spaniels which gives you some idea what you are letting yourself in for, so don’t expect a dog as robotically efficient as a Labrador

The characteristic coat of curls and ringlets requires some grooming, plus occasional washing and trimming. This is perhaps one of the reasons that the breed is not so popular as its working talents would otherwise indicate. Unlike most other breeds, the IWS does not moult, and for most asthma sufferers the coat is non-allergenic.

The largest of the spaniels, (20-22 inches for bitches and 21-23 inches for dogs at the shoulder), the IWS is always a rich, dark liver colour with a distinctive coat of dense curls and ringlets, except for the face, throat and tail which should be smooth. The only undocked spaniel, the IWS’ tail gives rise to its nickname, “Whiptail”

The topknot of ringlets falling from the slightly domed head, brown, smallish almond shaped eyes, a long, strong and square muzzle with a gradual stop,
all help to give an endearing expression of intelligence, kindness, affection and humour.

The Irish Water Spaniel should be well boned, with a barrel shaped rib cage and a unique rolling gait. It has wide loins and well muscled quarters,
well bent stifles and low set hocks, the overall look is of an alert, smart, compact, strongly built, powerful and hardy dog.