The largest of the spaniels, the Irish Water Spaniel is a solid rich-to-dark liver, crisp-textured, curly-coated dog with a hairless, rat-like tail and smooth short-coated face. The curly outer coat is lined with a dense undercoat that helps insulate the dog in even the coldest waters. A topknot of curls on the head hangs down to cover and protect the eyes. The occiput is prominent and the stop gradual. The muzzle is long, square, and powerful. The long ears are covered with curls. Eyes are hazel. The chest is deep, but rather narrow, for free movement when swimming. The hindquarters are as high as or slightly higher than the shoulders. Large webbed feet assist in swimming.
Although there are several different theories about his origins, the Irish Water Spaniel is probably descended from Poodle/Irish Setter or Poodle/Curly-Coated Retriever crosses in early Ireland. In fact, he looks a lot like a brown Standard Poodle. The Irish Water Spaniel gained a reputation in England and Ireland for daring retrieves in frigid waters. He also has been used on upland game and even has a soft enough mouth to retrieve dove. The breed became popular in the United States in the 1800s for duck hunting until the easy-care short-coated Labrador Retriever displaced him. Now considered a rare breed, the Irish Water Spaniel is classified as a retriever by the AKC, allowing him to participate in AKC retrieving sports. The Irish Water Spaniel has the winning combination of strong retrieving ability in any weather and the disposition of a gentle family dog.