American Water Spaniel History, Health And Care

Introduction American Water Spaniel Dog

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.

American Water Spaniel Dog Breed Quick Facts

Affection Level 4/5
Apartment Friendly 3/5
Barking Tendencies 4/5
Cat Friendly 3/5
Child Friendly 4/5
Dog Friendly4/5
Exercise Need 3/5
Grooming Needs 3/5
Health Issues 3/5
Intelligence 4/5
Playfulness 4/5

American Water Spaniel – Appearance & Grooming


American Water Spaniels are medium-sized dogs with wither tightly curled or wavy coats lined with a dense and protective undercoat. The coat can be solid liver, brown, or dark chocolate, and will occasionally have a small amount of white on the toes or chest. The head is long but well-proportioned and the muzzle is smooth and square, and the breed boasts the classic spaniel “smile.” Water Spaniels ears are long, pendant, and covered with curls. The nose is either dark brown or black and the eye color of the individual dog will usually match with the coat color in shades of brown or hazel. The feathered tail, which is used as a rudder when swimming, tapers, ending in a slight upward facing curve.

Size and Weight

American Water Spaniels range from 15 to 18 inches at the shoulder. Their weight ranges between 25 to 45 pounds, with females averaging in at 32 pounds and males averaging 40 pounds.

Coat and Color

Water Spaniels have a double coat with a very dense undercoat that protects the dog from water, extreme temperatures and underbrush that may be encountered in the hunting field. The topcoat ranges from wavy to curly, with some dogs boasting a uniform wave throughout their body, where others may have some areas of wave and some areas of tight curl. Their faces are covered in short fur which lays flat against the skull, and their legs are often slightly feathered.

The American Water Spaniel’s coat can be solid liver, brown, or dark chocolate, and will occasionally have a small amount of white on the toes or chest.

Grooming Needs

Water Spaniels shed lightly throughout the year and heavily twice a year during season changes. Regular brushing can help remove the loose, dead hair and keep floors and furniture neat. Some people prefer to trim the coat, while others leave them naturally wavy. The coat of the AWS is naturally very oily to repel water and dirt in the field, so they often leave oil spots on walls and furniture. Bathing should only occur when needed – over-bathing a Water Spaniel will strip the natural oils from the coat and leave the dog with dry, irritated skin.

Their pendant (hanging) ears are prone to infection, so weekly cleaning with at cotton ball and a veterinarian-approved solution can keep bacteria at bay.

American Water Spaniel – History and 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.

American Water Spaniel – 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.

Photo Library of American Water Spaniel

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.