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American Water Spaniel


The American Water Spaniel - originally called the Brown Water Spaniel and now nicknamed the "AWS" - is a medium-sized, dark brown woolly-coated dog that has long been appreciated by American sportsmen - especially in the Midwest, where it gained its reputation as a steady, all-around working gun dog. Today's American Water Spaniel looks like a shorter, smaller Irish Water Spaniel, except that its legs are less hairy and its tail is more hairy than its larger cousin. This breed is not well-known outside of the United States and is not common even within this country. However, among enthusiasts the American Water Spaniel is prized as an eager and efficient hunter, retriever, watch dog and friendly family companion. The American Water Spaniel is a high energy dog. While they can fit nicely into smaller homes and apartments, they require regular exercise. They tend to be a bit "barky," which nearby neighbors may not appreciate. The American Water Spaniel was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1940, as part of its Sporting Group.
The average height of the AWS is 15 to 18 inches. Males typically weigh 30 to 45 pounds, while females weigh between 25 and 40 pounds. Their coat can range from marcel (uniform waves) to closely curled, and the degree of waviness or curling can vary at different places on the animal. The undercoat must be dense enough to provide protection against inclement weather, icy water and rugged terrain. Their medium-length coat requires regular grooming. American Water Spaniels do well in both cold and warm climates. Acceptable colors are solid liver, brown or dark chocolate. White on the toes and/or chest is permissible.

History & Health


The history of the American Water Spaniel is somewhat of a mystery. The breed supposedly was "created" sometime in the late 1860s, when it accompanied settlers to remote but developing areas of the Midwestern United States. They were bred as hunting dogs that would be capable of flushing and retrieving game in all conditions and terrain, including water. The early American Water Spaniel was primarily a duck and waterfowl retriever, but it actually became a unique combination between the true hunting spaniels and the hunting retrievers. The breed works equally well in water and on land. He has an excellent nose and is a sound swimmer. According to an American Kennel Club publication: "As a retriever the American Water Spaniel leaves little to be desired. He will watch the huntsman drop perhaps four or five birds, then work swiftly and merrily until every one is brought in. Rabbits, chickens, grouse, quail, pheasant, ducks – he handles all with unfailing dispatch and tender care. He swims like a seal, hence few wounded waterfowl escape him; his tail serves as a rudder to aid him, especially in turbulent water." While the actual ancestors of the American Water Spaniel are unknown, it is suggested that they descend from crosses of the Irish Water Spaniel, the Old English Water Spaniel, the Curly-Coated Retriever, the Field Spaniel and the Poodle. The breed was well-established by the end of the 19th century and was particularly popular among sportsmen in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The American Water Spaniel Club was founded in 1937. The breed was formally recognized by the American Kennel Club Registry in 1940, as a member of the Sporting Group.
The American Water Spaniel's small size still endears him to hunters, especially those using canoes or other small boats to hunt waterfowl on inland lakes. Despite its rarity, this truly American breed also thrives as a family companion and makes an especially good watch dog.


The lifespan of an AWS is between 10 and 15 years, and they do have a higher risk for developing some health conditions than do other dogs in their size range. Breed health concerns include diabetes; epilepsy; eye problems; heart problems; hip dysplasia; and hypothyroidism. They have a medium length curly coat which requires regular grooming. They do well in both cold and in warm climates. Other breed health concerns include pattern baldness, cataracts, focal retinal dysplasia and adult-onset growth-hormone responsive dermatosis.

Temperament & Personality


American Water Spaniels are friendly dogs with a great desire to please. A true family dog, they will run and play with children, but will also relax on the lap of an adult at the end of a hard day. As the name suggests, this breed loves to swim and retrieve in water, as well as on land. They crave companionship with people and like to be included in outdoor activities.

Activity Requirements

This active breed needs plenty of exercise and enjoys running, hunting and swimming. Their medium size may be appealing for apartment dwellers, but too much confinement can lead to chewing and other destructive behavior. While they enjoy long walks, this breed needs space to run. Families with yards to run in, or pools to swim in are ideal matches for the American Water Spaniel.
American Water Spaniels are good with children. They are patient, and open to rumpus playing. They will snap, however, if startled, so children should be taught never to disturb a sleeping dog, and never approach a dog from the rear.


Intelligent and eager to please, the American Water Spaniel is easy to train. Harsh discipline can cause them to distrust people, so a confident, but gentle positive-reinforcement strategy works best.
There is no need to train the American Water Spaniel to fetch. They are born with the innate desire to chase, hunt, and retrieve, and can spend hours engaged in this activity. Once basic obedience training is completed, this breed should be enrolled in advanced training, or agility training to keep them challenged and mentally stimulated.
Unlike other breeds of spaniels, the American Water Spaniel is wary of strangers. They will bark to alert a stranger's arrival, but can can grow to be distrusting of strangers, if not properly socialized. The earlier this breed is exposed to new people and new situations, the more easy-going they will be in adulthood.

Behavioral Traits

Because they crave companionship, American Water Spaniels can develop separation anxiety, barking or howling behaviors, especially if they are bored or left alone for long periods of time. Plenty of exercise and play can stave off boredom while the family is away.
This breed is very vocal. They bark when they are happy, they bark to get attention, they bark when left alone. They are also prone to whining and howling. If corrected early in puppyhood, these behaviors can be kept in check.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The American Water Spaniel was developed in the United States as an all-around hunting dog, bred to retrieve from skiff or canoes and work ground with relative ease. The American Water Spaniel is an active muscular dog, medium in size with a marcel to curly coat. Emphasis is placed on proper size and a symmetrical relationship of parts, texture of coat and color.

Size, Proportion, Substance
15 to 18 inches for either sex. Males weighing 30-45 lbs. Females weighing 25-40 lbs. Females tend to be slightly smaller than the males. There is no preference for size within the given range of either sex providing correct proportion, good substance and balance is maintained. Proportion--is slightly longer than tall, not too square or compact. However, exact proportion is not as important as the dog being well-balanced and sound, capable of performing the breed's intended function. Substance --a solidly built and well-muscled dog full of strength and quality. The breed has as much substance and bone as necessary to carry the muscular structure but not so much as to appear clumsy.

The head must be in proportion to the overall dog. Moderate in length. Expression is alert, self-confident, attractive and intelligent. Medium size eyes set well apart, while slightly rounded, should not appear protruding or bulging. Lids tight, not drooping. Eye color can range from a light yellowish brown to brown, hazel or of dark tone to harmonize with coat. Disqualify yellow eyes. Yellow eyes are a bright color like that of lemon, not to be confused with the light yellowish brown. Ears set slightly above the eye line but not too high on the head, lobular, long and wide with leather extending to nose.
Skull rather broad and full, stop moderately defined, but not too pronounced. Muzzle moderate in length, square with good depth. No inclination to snipiness, The lips are clean and tight without excess skin or flews. Nose dark in color, black or dark brown. The nose sufficiently wide and with well-developed nostrils to insure good scenting power. Bite either scissor or level.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck round and of medium length, strong and muscular, free of throatiness, set to carry head with dignity, but arch not accentuated. Topline level or slight, straight slope from withers. Body well-developed, sturdily constructed but not too compactly coupled. Well-developed brisket extending to elbow neither too broad nor too narrow. The ribs well-sprung, but not so well-sprung that they interfere with the movement of the front assembly. The loins strong, but not having a tucked-up look. Tail is moderate in length, curved in a rocker fashion, can be carried either slightly below or above the level of the back. The tail is tapered, lively and covered with hair with moderate feathering.

Shoulders sloping, clean and muscular. Legs medium in length, straight and well-boned but not so short as to handicap for field work or so heavy as to appear clumsy. Pasterns strong with no suggestion of weakness. Toes closely grouped, webbed and well-padded. Size of feet to harmonize with size of dog. Front dewclaws are permissible.

Well-developed hips and thighs with the whole rear assembly showing strength and drive. The hock joint slightly rounded, should not be small and sharp in contour, moderately angulated. Legs from hock joint to foot pad moderate in length, strong and straight with good bone structure. Hocks parallel.

Coat can range from marcel (uniform waves) to closely curled. The amount of waves or curls can vary from one area to another on the dog. It is important to have undercoat to provide sufficient density to be of protection against weather, water or punishing cover, yet not too coarse or too soft. The throat, neck and rear of the dog well-covered with hair. The ear well-covered with hair on both sides with ear canal evident upon inspection. Forehead covered with short smooth hair and without topknot. Tail covered with hair to tip with moderate feathering. Legs have moderate feathering with waves or curls to harmonize with coat of dog. Coat may be trimmed to present a wellgroomed appearance; the ears may be shaved; but neither is required.

Color either solid liver, brown or dark chocolate. A little white on toes and chest permissible.

The American Water Spaniel moves with well-balanced reach and drive. Watching a dog move toward one, there should be no signs of elbows being out. Upon viewing the dog from the rear, one should get the impression that the hind legs, which should be well-muscled and not cowhocked, move as nearly parallel as possible, with hocks doing their full share of work and flexing well, thus giving the appearance of power and strength.

Demeanor indicates intelligence, eagerness to please and friendly. Great energy and eagerness for the hunt yet controllable in the field.

Yellow eyes.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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