American Water Spaniel
- AKC recognized in 1940
- Lifespan: 13- 15 years
- Size: Medium
- Energy: Medium
- Recommended Crate Size: 30” dog crate*
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Table of Contents
When it comes to being an athletic sports dog, the American Water Spaniel gets down to business. There’s no fluff about him. Everything about him is wonderfully made to get the job done and get it done fast. Able to quickly swim icy waters to retrieve a fallen bird, this dog doesn’t mess around.
This fine dog is flexible in more ways than one. Along with being quite “bendy” and agile, he’s adaptable. When properly exercised, he can fit right into apartment living or is quite at home on the range as well.
This curly-coated retriever is as smart as a whip, the American Water Spaniel is actually a rarity. With only 3000 gracing the planet, this dog is not just another fish in the pond. If you think the American Water Spaniel might be just the splash your life needs, dive on in and find out more about him.
The American Water Spaniel is a type of athletic dog (sporting dog) who was made in the USA. He’s got amazing athletic abilities and hunting qualities too. A pro swimmer and excellent fowl fetcher, this dog has a short, but interesting, history.
While many breeds boast a history that is centuries old with exotic stories like being coddled in the laps of royal kings and queens, this American dog is basically a newcomer on the scene. He was developed in Wisconsin in the 19th century by mixing water and sports dog breeds like the English Water Spaniels and Irish Water Spaniels.
The reason for his creation was simple. The pioneers who lived in the mid-west during that time needed to sustain from the land...and water. Since much of the land was covered by water, very cold water, they longed for a dog who could endure the elements and help them by retrieving fowl and other small game.
And so, the bright idea was born for this awesome dog who would be developed by a combination of European dogs who graced the land but didn’t quite master the exact needs the pioneers had. They needed a hunter and swimmer with versatile skills, one that was compact and could ride on small skiffs through the wetlands and handle the chilly waters too.
Plus, they had to have a dog that was obedient and disciplined enough to bring fallen fowl back to them. Through painstaking effort, the American Water Spaniel came to be and he miraculously fit the bill for the tall order.
Debuting as the “American Brown Spaniel”, the AWS was used to hunt duck, greater prairie chicken, ruffed grouse, some furry critters, and waterfowl. But then something happened. Both the duck and the American Water Spaniel began to disappear, partly due to the decline of duck, World War II, and the population of other specialized hunting dogs.
A man named Dr. Fred J. Pfiefer took an enthusiastic liking to the American Water Spaniel. He established Wolf River Kennels, on a mission to save the dogs. He promoted the breed and did all he could to make their presence known like going across the whole country, selling male AWSs for just $25.
Then, Pfeifer formed a breed club. He also set up the standards for him and worked diligently to attain American Water Spaniel recognition into the highly acclaimed American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club. His dream was realized in 1940 when the AWS finally got his due membership card to the AKC.
The breed is classified as a Spaniel, a working dog who loves to hunt and swim. He was crowned the honorable state dog of Wisconsin in 1985. He is actually an uncommon, rare breed with only around 3000 of the total on the entire planet, most concentrated in the mid-western United States.
It is speculated that the American Water Spaniel played a part in the development of the Boykin Spaniel. They hold many similarities. How that happened is a matter of controversy but one look at the two breeds side by side makes it impossible to argue that they are related in some form or fashion.
There was an attempt to officially specify the breed in the AKC to be a Spaniel or a Retriever, but, as of now, he is neither...or, as many see it, both. Spaniels are described as dogs used to flush fowl from bushes and oftentimes involve water fetching too. Retrievers are dogs that fetch birds or other small game and return them. So it is easy to see why this dog could fall into either category...or both.
Regardless of his somewhat sordid past, the American Water Spaniel (or...is he a Retriever?) is a selective stock canine, bred for stability, courage, intelligence, gameness, and beauty. He is a trusty soul, both in the home and as a field spaniel. What more could one wish for?
Through and through, this dog was created for what he does best...fetching waterfowl.
The AWS is medium sized. He’s actually longer than most Spaniels which has, in the past, been a matter of controversy. But...there’s a reason. His elongated, muscular body, strong legs allow him to move with ease through the water and to balance and pace with expertise too.
The average weight for males is between 35 to 40 pounds. Females usually weight in at about 25 to 40 pounds as they run a bit smaller than males. Both male and female stand somewhere between 15 to 18 inches tall. Their proportioning, excellent function and good substance is more important when being judged than their sex or their exact height and weight.
The American Water dog’s head is medium length and is proportionate to his body. His skull is broad and full with a moderately defined stop. His head area is adorned in a short, soft coat of fur. His top coat can be tightly curled or may flow in uniform waves. His muzzle is an average length and somewhat square in shape and is built to perfection, long enough to carry a goose in it. His wide, curly-haired lobular ears hang long and low which help him hear well when he’s on the hunt.
The nose of an AWS is black or dark brown and is wide...the better to sniff with. His teeth are scissored or level...for great grabbing abilities. His face itself is said by many to be almost human.
His eyes are expressive - bursting with self-confidence, alertness, and intelligence. They are medium sized and set widely apart, never drooping or bulging, and his eye color ranges from dark brown to hazel and usually coordinates with the color of his double coat.
While brownish-yellow eyes are acceptable, lemon yellow eyes are a disqualification for showing but certainly not for being an awesome non-competitor, companion dog.
The neck of an American Water Spaniel is strong and muscly like his body. With it, he carries his head high with dignity and grace. His body itself it developed well with sturdy construction but lean enough to be extremely agile for running, sprinting, and swimming. His legs are muscled but limber. His gait is spirited and driven...of course. Would you expect less from him?
The coat of this guy is a thick, curly double and he’s weather proof which helps him shake off the frigid temperatures of ice cold water and air. He is either solid liver, dark chocolate, or brown. Sometimes he sports a little white on his chest and toes.
It is recommended to provide your American Water Spaniel special food that is formulated to medium-sized breeds. It is also highly encouraged for pet parents to discuss your dog’s feed with your veterinarian and/or breeder in order to determine the size and frequency of meals in order to ensure a healthy, long life.
AWSs will need plenty of protein to fuel their bounding energy. Your vet or breeder will help you figure out a high-quality food that will be optimal.
As many other breeds are, this dog is prone to love food. He digs tasty treats and human food too. But, especially if he’s not getting a whole lot of hardy exercise, he is liable to become overweight. Obesity is as bad for dogs as it is for humans. It can open the door for a world of medical conditions so keep his snacking to a minimum and let him fill up on his healthy dog food instead.
As with all pets, it is also important to ensure that clean, fresh water is always available.
The American Water Spaniel definitely sports some curls but, contrary to what many believe, he’s not that difficult to clean and groom. He is a light shedder the whole year round but brushing will certainly help the situation.
You can use a comb or a brush to get rid of any loose fur under the coat. A recommended brush for his type of hair will be a rubber-tipped pin brush.
This will help make his coat look great. Besides maintenance, these brushes can also be used to distribute oil used on your pet's skin which will keep it well circulated and healthy.
If he’s in the field much, you’ll need to check him for burs and stickers. Gently pull or cut them off if you find any.
AWSs don’t have to be bathed too often unless they get into salt water, roll in mud or dirt, or have a close encounter with a skunk. When you do bathe him, use a conditioning, dog-friendly, hypoallergenic shampoo. Fluff his springs of curls with a towel once he’s been rinsed.
You’ll also want to keep his nails trimmed. He may or may not be outdoors enough to naturally wear them down but regardless, you’ll need to watch for cracking, chipping, or splits and tend to them right away.
With floppy long ears, this breed is apt to collect dirt and debris. Keep his ears clean and dry. Also, keep a watchful eye out for ear infections and seek treatment immediately if you feel he has one.
Brush his teeth at least once per week with a doggie toothbrush and toothpaste to keep his teeth and gums from getting dental disease and to help freshen his breath too. If you get a yummy dog flavored toothpaste, you’ll be more likely to gain his cooperation.
With a medium energy level, this dog breed must be exercised every single day. He will let you know if you slack on that. A 45-60 minute walk is advised but it can be cut into two walks if that works best for you.
When walking him, be sure to lead. He’s a good natured dog who loves to please but if you don’t let him know what you expect from him, he’ll naturally take the helm. It is important that you be the pack leader. The AWS in the days of old was guided by his owner and nothing has changed. He still has that need.
In between his walks, he’ll need some active playtime. You can take him for a swim or engage in interactive play like Frisbee or Fetch. He is a breed that is loads of fun so it will be enjoyable for both of you. He’s a dog who prefers interactive play rather than playing alone with toys so fill his toy box with items you two can have fun with and he’ll be set.
Don’t forget to exercise this dog’s brain with problem-solving brain games and other activities that stimulate his intelligence. He is smart and will shock you more times than not. In fact, he’s pretty creative too so he may come up with some brain games of his own.
Remember, the American Water Spaniel is a people dog. He thrives on being with you so when you take part in an activity, like walking, hiking, swimming, or biking, might as well let him come along. He’s great company and will eat up the attention and the chance to get some energy out.
Pet Crates Direct recommends 30” dog crates* for most adult American Water Spaniels.
The American Water Spaniel is a medium energy dog who is extremely devoted and friendly. He is very intelligent too. His talents on the field and in the water are nothing short of amazing. Don’t think he doesn’t know it. He does. But, although he’s self-confident, he’s fairly humble about it too.
This dog loves deeply. He is very attached to his family and is awesome with all members of it from very young children to other dogs and even cats.
The American Water Spaniel makes an excellent guard dog. Remember he used to guard barges back in the days when robbers loved to steal from them. He prefers to alert his owner of danger with his persistent barking and is not given to violence.
This fine dog is loyal almost to a fault though and if the need should arise, he’s not going to allow his family to be harmed. Although he’s really good with other family dogs, if a strange one comes up, he may not be so receptive.
He will bark, that’s for sure, but he may take off after them too. It’s not that he’s trying to be rude or mean, but unless he’s sure they belong on his turf, he’s not that welcoming.
It’s not the norm that such a serious working dog be a fun-lover as well but this guy is. He loves to play and is into entertaining his loved ones at times too.
Never ever talk in a harsh tone to this pup. You will crush his heart. He is quite sensitive. Use that in your favor because it will come in handy at training time. He lives to please his family. He does have a stubborn streak though.
He gets that from the need to pursue the critters he hunted and also when retrieving which can be a challenge. The determination required in the field and water made him headstrong but that’s nothing that can’t be curbed through training.
One thing this dog requires is his daily dose of exercise. He has to have it to be his best. He’s fine in an apartment or condo as long as you work with him to keep his barking (and occasional whining) down to a minimum and providing you walk him a good bit each and every day.
If you live where there is a body of water, like on the lake or the beach, this dog will be ecstatic. But, keep an eye on him. He knows no limits and could easily swim off to the other side of the lake or to a distant island somewhere. He's probably made it there. He’s that good! You don’t want to lose tabs of him though so...just know and beware.
Although he’s a hero in the field, he’s also a bit of a baby when it comes to being left. He can suffer from separation anxiety. You might not expect that with such a breed but this pup is full of surprises. Fortunately, he loves to go for car rides, to the park, to the lake, to the beach, or practically anywhere else you may go so...explore the option.
All in all, this dog is dynamite. He’s energetic and athletic enough to accompany you on difficult hikes in the woods or up steep mountains or to go for a good swim with you. But he’s loving enough to curl up with you on the sofa at night and even in your bed with you...if you’ll let him.
The fact that this guy is a working dog (and gun dog) by nature makes him a prime candidate for successful training. He longs to please and has a natural pack hierarchy mentality so when you establish your role as his leader, he’ll follow suit. He is also very smart so catching on won’t be an issue. He does have a mind of his own, though, so there are some rough patches you’ll need to work through.
There are several things that can totally botch your ability to train your AWS. One is being harsh. He simply won’t have it. He’s much too sensitive to be talked to gruffly and will buck you every bit of the way, mostly out of self-defense. Plenty of praise, pets, and occasional treats are very effective rewards he’ll respond well to.
The other thing he won’t tolerate is boredom. Just like smart human students can bore easily and become problematic, so can these dogs. You have to keep him challenged and stimulated physically and mentally too.
You’ll doubtfully have much trouble housetraining your American Waterdog. He’ll be willing to please you and typically isn’t into pottying in his close quarters anyway. Be sure to praise him when he “goes” where he’s supposed to and take him out often.
Socialization should come early. This breed is given to love people and be very cordial and even friendly with other pets in the home. He may not be so welcoming of strange dogs and cats but if you assure him they are supposed to be around, like if a friend brings a dog, then they are generally fine with it.
Exposing him to many sights and sounds is important when he’s young. Take him to noisy busy places and have him around a good variety of different settings. Make sure to let him meet pets of all ages and personalities too. Failure to socialize your AWS early on can lead to shyness and apprehension.
Obedience training is not optional. It’s a must. With your role as the leader set into play, this should not be a difficult task at all. Teach him the basic commands but don’t stop there. He’s bright enough to handle a good bit of commands.
Obedience training is for his own safety and well-being and for that of other humans and animals as well. One issue you’ll most likely be addressing during obedience class is his persistent barking. Let him know when to stop. Your neighbors and family members will appreciate that.
The AWS is agile and athletic. Many really like the agility course or lure coursing. Those types of training let him get his energy out and learn discipline.
Trick training can be a blast with this fun loving breed. You’ll need to get in his element though. He’s not one for dancing and singing but if you come up with some water-based tricks, he’ll be gun-ho!
It can’t be stressed enough that the American Water Spaniel needs to be mentally stimulated. Some brain game training is perfect for him. Let him problem solve as he used to when he hunted, guarded, and retrieved. He’ll be very happy and a happy student is a great student.
The American Water Spaniel is known to be a healthy breed that generally enjoys 13 to 15 years of life expectancy. During those years, most are free from health problems, especially those who came from a responsible, reputable breeder who checked the parents (and their parents) out thoroughly before breeding them.
There are, however, some ailments that are common to this dog. Knowing what those conditions are and watching for signs so you can take him in for treatment right away should he come down with anything is imperative and will help ensure the best for him.
Skin issues are a problem with this dog. Chronic allergies are one reason for skin trouble in the AWS sector. They can be sensitive to things that touch their skin like grass, laundry soap residue on their bedding, or to the carpet. They are also prone to be sensitive to new foods so keep an eye out for that.
Hypothyroidism is a deficiency of hormone within the thyroid system. It can leave your dog sluggish. Some of the signs are the loss of hair, decreased energy, irritation, and unexplained weight gain or loss. If you suspect your pooch has this condition, his vet can run a test. Treatment is fairly simple and usually very effective if the problem is caught early.
Mitral Valve Disease is not uncommon to the AWS. It can show up as early as four years of age or as late as six or beyond. The condition is a leaking of the mitral valve in the heart. It can start out as a murmur but progress to a more serious nature where there is regurgitation and more blood backs up into the atrium. The heart loses efficiency when this scenario occurs. If your dog is not acting as he normally does, is low on energy, or his breathing is labored, notify your vet and have him checked.
Canine Hip Dysplasia is the failure for the femur, or hip bone, to fit into its socket properly. This condition can be a birth deformity or can be caused by the environment such as walking of rough terrain frequently or jumping from extreme heights. The problem seen most within this breed is due to genetics. The signs involve the difficulty or inability to walk or great pain while walking. Be sure to have your vet look at any walking problem your AWS might have.
Patent Duct Arteriosus can be seen in dogs and in humans. It is a heart condition that involves a persistent opening between two of the heart’s main blood vessels leading from the heart. If your dog is tired much of the time or struggles to be active, you’ll want to have him checked for this condition. There is a treatment that may be available which your vet will discuss with you if he does have the illness.
Pulmonic Stenosis is a congenital disorder that can take place in dogs and in humans. This condition is characterized by blood flow being obstructed from the right ventricle going into the pulmonary artery. The blockage is caused because of a narrowing (which is referred to as stenosis) at one or multiple points going out of the right ventricle and leading into the pulmonary artery.
Signs of the issue are not wanting to exercise, not being able to exercise, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Some dogs have no symptoms. In the event that your dog has this condition, his vet can recommend treatment. Many dogs live otherwise healthy lives even though they do have it.
Just because there are medical woes that run in the breed, both hereditary and environmentally caused, there is certainly no indication your AWS will have any of them. Just keep an eye out and take him in if you suspect he is not up to par and hopefully, he will have a long, healthy, and very happy life.
Is an American Water Spaniel Right for Me?
He’s as American as...well, apple pie. He’s a swimmer, gun dog, guard dog, and hunting dog too. You might call him a jack of all trades. He’s a smart, friendly, athletic, handsome, and polite. While he’s close to being the perfect dog, what isn’t idea is that he’s not always easy to find.
So, with so much to love about him, who wouldn’t want an All American Water Spaniel?
If you are not going to be able to be with him much of the time, better leave him to someone who can be. This dog will never thrive without human companionship. Yearning to be with his people runs in his blood just like his love for the water does.
The AWS required a good bit of physical exercise and he needs to be challenged intellectually too. If you’re looking for a couch potato type, this dog is not the one. He can do with medium amounts of exercise though and will instigate play time on his own (providing you are up for interacting with him). So, if you are willing and able, exercise can be fun with him. If you are into swimming, hiking, or exploring with him, all the better.
If you have read up on the breed and feel that the American Water Spaniel is a good match for you...yay! He’s a waterlogged wonder who’s just waiting to make a splash.
* Links for crate sizes will bring you to the most appropriate Amazon page.