The American Water Spaniel – Are you curious?

American Water Spaniel

The American Water Spaniel is a happy and eager companion.

A strong and muscular small gun dog from the Great Lakes of the USA. This breed of Water Spaniel can be recognized by its glossy dark chestnut coat. They are built for cold water, and are extremely agile, being able to jump out of a small boat without disturbing it.

This is now quite a rare breed, and the American Water Spaniel Club states that are probably less than 3000 of these dogs. This is an American dog breed.

American Water Spaniel – Temperament

These are happy and cheerful dogs. They are not quite as ‘electric’ as Springer Spaniels, but in the field they are the equal of Golder Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. They may not swim quite as fast, but they possess seemingly endless endurance.

Close up of an American Water Spaniel, against a white background
Image courtesy American Kennel Club

The American Water Spaniel is happiest in a small family setting, and will usually bond closest to one particular family member. They are suspicious with people they don’t know at first. For the most part they are good with children, and will play happily with younger kids.

However, some blood lines have a tendency towards aggression, especially with food. Don’t get between your AWS and their food! Make sure to see the parents of the dog you are considering buying, and see how they react to you.

Due to their size, they are suitable for apartment life, providing you can give them enough exercise. This is an active dog, and they need daily walks to keep them in good shape.

An American Water Spaniel outdoors in a grassy field
An American Water Spaniel

American Water Spaniel –
Breed History

The Great Lakes hunters wanted a small and agile dog, one that could jump in and out of a small boat without upsetting it. And then retrieve game birds. They started with European dogs – the Curly Coated Retriever and the Irish Water Spaniel were definitely involved.

But they needed a dog that could withstand the cold waters of the Great Lakes, and also ‘spring’ birds from the undergrowth and bushes. They needed a small, agile dog with several abilities!

The exact breeding has been lost in time, as no records were kept of the breeding programs.The earliest mentions of this breed date back to the 1850s. In the early 1900s it was recognized that the breed was distinct and reproducible, and it gained breed status with the United Kennel Club in 1920, and the American Kennel Club in 1940.

The American Water Spaniel was bred to be a companion, a pointer, a springer of game birds, and a retriever of shot game birds from water or land. And all this in extreme cold. This background explains the energy of the breed, and their need for exercise.

As the American Water Spaniel became a stable and reproducible breed, in turn it became involved in the evolution of the Boykin Spaniel. The AWS was declared the State Dog of Wisconsin in 1985. It remains a rare breed, with most dogs being registered in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.

Vital Statistics;

Height; 15 inches to 18 inches

Weight; 30 to 45 lbs (male), and 25 to 40 lbs (female)

Life Span;  10 to 14 years

Color;  Brown, Chocolate, or Liver.

Ease of Training

This bright and alert breed is not difficult to train, although some dogs may appear to be a bit stubborn at first. They do best with an owner that is prepared to spend the time needed for proper training.

Early socialization is essential. From the age of about 7 weeks onwards, you will want to introduce the dog to new and strange sights, sounds and smells. And strange people. You do not want a dog that regards strangers as enemies. So you have to introduce your young dog to as many new humans as possible.

After the dog is 4 months old, it’s a good idea to go along to puppy training classes. This is another aspect of socialization, and also introduces the dog to learning.

After puppy training, you should take your dog to obedience classes, or even engage a professional dog trainer for a few months. It will be worth it!


Although the AWS is naturally distrustful of strangers, they will usually welcome visitors with wagging tail and a lick. Like most dogs, they will sense if someone has a dishonest intent, and bark to alert their owners if they feel something out of the ordinary.

As such, they make for average watchdogs. They will let you know if something strange is going on. However, they are NOT good guard dogs – they are simply too friendly, too trusting, and happy to make friends with everyone. And then, they are too small to offer any intimidation.

If you are looking for some extra protection, I recommend you look for a bigger breed.

An American Water Spaniel standing on grass in a park
Image courtesy American Kennel Club


The AWS has a double-layer coat. The undercoat is soft and dense, to provide insulation against cold temperatures. The top coat is thick, curly, wiry and oily. The oily top coat repels water, but can cause a ‘doggy’ smell.

In the warmer summer months, the dog should be brushed weekly with a rubber-tipped pin brush to remove loose hairs. The rest of the time a slicker brush can be used to remove dead hairs from the dense undercoat.

The nails (claws) should be checked monthly, and trimmed if needed. Ears should be checked every week for any signs of infection or injury, such as redness, swelling, or a bad smell. Any foreign objects such as twigs or gravel must be carefully removed. If in doubt, take your dog to the vet!

Health Considerations

The American Water Spaniel is a generally healthy breed, with few genetic issues. The National Breed Club recommends screening for the following conditions;

  •  Hip dysplasia
  •  Eye disorders
  •  Cardiac issues.

Famous American Water Spaniels

This is a rare breed of dog, and I couldn’t find any famous ones. If you know of one, please let be know by using the Contact Me link. Thank you!

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