Irish Water Spaniels are intelligent, energetic, and alert dogs. As with other spaniel breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel is used in hunting, taking advantage of its swimming and retrieving abilities. Irish Water Spaniels may have a reserved or wary nature with strangers, which indicates they may have a low level fear or concern about them that can be aided with socialization to minimize the development of fear-based defensive aggression.
The Irish Water Spaniel has ancient roots, and may very well be the largest and oldest of all Spaniel breeds. The modern version of the Irish Water Spaniel originated in Ireland in the 1830's, the founding father of the breed was a dog born in Dublin in 1834 named "Boatswain." While the exact lineage of the Irish Water Spaniel is unknown, it is possible that they share common ancestry with the Poodle, the Portuguese Water Dog and the Barbet. Irish Water Spaniels became popular in Britain for their ability to retrieve game from frigid waters. The breed was introduced to North America during Boatswain's time, and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878. In 1875 it was one of the most popular sporting dogs in Britain and America, but today is much rarer.