American Water Spaniel

A Rare Breed, But a Diligent, Enthusiastic Working Dog

American Water Spaniel

The American Water Spaniel is a Rare Breed, But a Diligent, Enthusiastic Working Dog

The American Water Spaniel is a small brown dog, and like many spaniels is a "big dog in a little package." With a weight of between just 25 to 45 pounds, your pet may look small – but is anything but in both personality and ability. This tough little dog is an excellent water retriever and hunter, and an excellent companion for those who love the sport. The state dog of Wisconsin, the American Water Spaniel may have its roots in the now extinct breeds of Irish Water Spaniel and Curly Coated Retriever. The American Water Spaniel remains a rare breed, with only some 3000 dogs in existence, mostly in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.


The American Water Spaniel is a true American – developed in the areas among the Fox and Wolf Rivers in the early 19th century. Originally, the breed was called the American Brown Spaniel, and weighed about 40 pounds. The breed's thick and curly fur protected it from the cold temperatures of both winter weather and icy water pursuits. This dog was used to hunt waterfowl, including the greater prairie chicken and the ruffed grouse, as well as other furred animals.

As the duck population began to dwindle in these valleys and because hunting became more a sport of recreation instead of a means to eat to survive, the American Brown Spaniel began to disappear, slowly. Other dogs also took over hunting pursuits, such as other Sporting Dog types of Spaniels, Pointers, and Setters, further hindering breed continuation and development.

In 1881, a breed club was formed to recognize these spaniels, but was ultimately overshadowed by the other more popular breeds. Fortunately, New London, Wisconsin resident and breeder Fred J. Pfeiffer sought to correct this oversight and worked to reestablish the breed. In 1920, he was ultimately successful in having the breed recognized as the American Water Spaniel by the United Kennel Club, and by the American Kennel Club in 1940. Although not previously a show dog, the breed's inclusion in the American Kennel Club's registry slowly shifted the focus of the breed from working dog to show dog. In 1985, the American Water Spaniel became the state dog of Wisconsin.

The breed remains rare, with only about 3,000 dogs in existence mostly in the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. It currently ranks 143 out of 167 AKC-registered breeds in popularity. Technically, the AKC has not registered the American Water Spaniel as either spaniel or retriever, so this breed may not compete in field trials or hunt tests through the AKC, but can compete in hunting tests for retrievers that are sponsored by the American Water Spaniel Club, Inc., the breed's official club in the United States. As of 1999, the AWSC had voted to continue to keep the breed in unclassified status.


The American Water Spaniel's appearance is relatively unchanged from that of the breed’s earliest ancestors, then called the American Brown Spaniel. The coat is oily which serves to be water resistant. It is always brown, whether true brown, liver, or chocolate in shade, with a texture that is very tightly curled or wavy. There can sometimes be a little white on the chest. The outer, coarse coating protects a thick undercoat, both for water resistance and warmth. Although yellow eyes are frowned upon according to breed standard, they should otherwise simply be "in harmony with" the coat color, and can be dark brown, brown hazel, or amber. The tail is feathered and is left long and natural, not docked. In adulthood, American Water Spaniels stand 15 to 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 25 and 45 pounds.


Eager to learn and an enthusiastic worker, this dog is both intelligent and trainable. While the American Water Spaniel as a breed is still often used for hunting quail, grouse, rabbit, pheasant, and duck, it is also simply an excellent companion and guard dog, as well as diligent worker. A very sensitive animal, training should be firm but gentle. The American Water Spaniel’s cooperative and lovable nature provides great companionship for children, who when old enough can find surprisingly easy success in training this dog as well. Since the American Water Spaniel can be slow to mature, it is important to maintain consistent disciplinary efforts in place well into adulthood. Always a delightful dog, the American Water Spaniel becomes even sweeter and more loving as it matures. While breeders have worked hard to develop a pet that is even-tempered and patient, this dog can still be somewhat oblivious and will be happiest if you establish very clear boundaries from the very start.

Proper Environment

This small dog can find adequate comfort in an apartment as long as it gets enough daily exercise. A vigorous walk is absolutely necessary, as is some rambunctious play. If you happen to be a hunter, the American Water Spaniel is also a great water retriever.


The American Water Spaniel is quite a healthy breed, with a lifespan of between 12 and 15 years. Eye issues such as cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy have been known to be problematic, and strongly believed to be a genetic problem. Dogs that develop cataracts generally get them by the time they are a year old. Other than that, the genetic variations present early in the breed's development has made this a very healthy, hardy dog that is not prone to many health problems.


Because of its oily coat, the American Water Spaniel has a distinct "doggie" odor most of the time. Some American Water Spaniels will also drool. Despite the coat's oily texture, however, it's important that you not bathe your pet unless absolutely necessary, as your dog needs the natural oils in its coat to protect against dry skin. Trim fur and nails regularly. This is a breed that sheds very little.


A bit about the AWS....

Retrieved August 3, 2013.

Adopt an American Water Spaniel.

Retrieved August 3, 2013.

AKC Meet the Breeds®: Get to know the American Water Spaniel.

Retrieved August 3, 2013.

American Water Spaniel.

Retrieved August 3, 2013.

American Water Spaniel (Amerikanischer Wasserspaniel) (AWS).

Retrieved August 3, 2013.

American Water Spaniel.

Retrieved August 3, 2013.

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