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Irish Water Spaniels: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em

Irish Water Spaniel temperament, personality, training, behavior, pros and cons, advice, and information, by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Irish Water Spaniel dog breed

The AKC Standard says, "Great intelligence is combined with rugged endurance and a bold, dashing eagerness."

The tallest of the spaniels, with a unique quizzical expression, the Irish Water Spaniel has a distinct, purposeful presence.

He varies in personality more than some other breeds, but most are bold, inquisitive, and eager to play. Irish Water Spaniels need plenty of vigorous exercise, including retrieving and swimming.

He should be accustomed to a variety of people and new situations at an early age, as he tends to be reserved and often protective, and these traits could easily slide into shyness or sharpness.

Irish Water Spaniels can be aggressive with strange dogs, sometimes even with other pets.

Most have strong opinions and are not hesitant about expressing them, yet he is capable of learning a great deal from an owner who knows how to lead.

Handled properly and given outlets for his exuberance, the Irish Water Spaniel is a fun-loving, extremely perceptive dog.

However, this is not a breed to be teased or ignored, nor one to be chosen by a nonassertive owner.

If you want a dog who...

  • Is medium to large
  • Thrives on vigorous athletic activities
  • Makes a keen watchdog but is not aggressive
  • Is extremely perceptive and sensitive to the moods and emotions around him

An Irish Water Spaniel may be right for you.

If you don't want to deal with...

  • Vigorous exercise requirements
  • Rowdiness and exuberant jumping, especially when young
  • Destructiveness when bored or not exercised enough
  • Suspiciousness or fearfulness when not socialized enough
  • Potential aggression toward other animals
  • Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge
  • Regular coat care
  • Waiting lists (hard to find)

An Irish Water Spaniel may not be right for you.

Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.

More traits and characteristics of the Irish Water Spaniel

If I was considering an Irish Water Spaniel, I would be most concerned about...

  1. Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. Irish Water Spaniels were bred to be active hunting dogs. They don't need miles of running exercise, but a couple of walks around the block won't do it either. You need to take your Irish Water Spaniel into the Great Outdoors where he can romp and play.

    Without enough opportunities to vent his energy and do interesting things, an Irish Water Spaniel is likely to become rambunctious and bored, which dogs usually express by barking and destructive chewing.

  2. Providing enough socialization. Standoffish by nature, Irish Water Spaniels need extensive exposure to people and to unusual sights and sounds. Otherwise their natural caution can become suspiciousness or shyness.
  3. Potential animal aggression. Some Irish Water Spaniels are not tolerant of other dogs of the same sex. Some don't appreciate cats.
  4. Mind of their own. Irish Water Spaniels are smart dogs, but not pushovers to train. They can be both willful and sensitive, which makes training a bit tricky. These dogs do best with experienced owners who won't allow their clever dog to manipulate them. To teach your Irish Water Spaniel to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. My Irish Water Spaniel Training page discusses the program you need.
  5. Grooming. To keep their coat short, clean, and free of mats, Irish Water Spaniels require clipping and trimming every few months. You can learn to do it yourself, or pay a professional groomer, but it needs to be done faithfully or your dog will be a sad, tangled mess.
  6. Finding one. With very few puppies born each year, you should expect a waiting list.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.

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