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  • Temperament: Eager, Happy, Charming
  • AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 156 of 194
  • Height: 15-18 inches
  • Weight: 30-45 pounds (male), 25-40 pounds (female)
  • Life Expectancy: 10-14 years
  • Group: Sporting Group

    The AKC has grouped all of the breeds that it registers into seven categories, or groups, roughly based on function and heritage. Breeds are grouped together because they share traits of form and function or a common heritage.

American Water Spaniel standing sideways
American Water Spaniel sitting facing forward

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.

HEAD

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.

BACK

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. The body is 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.

FOREQUARTERS

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.

COAT

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 well groomed appearance; the ears may be shaved; but neither is required.

HINDQUARTERS

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.

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american water spaniel illustration

About the American Water Spaniel

American Water Spaniels are muscular midsize gundogs, not flashy in looks or performance, recognizable by a luscious brown coat that is either tightly curled or wavy. Bred to work the icy waters and marshy banks of the Great Lakes region, AWS are ideally outfitted for the job: The coat is dense and waterproof, the feet are thickly padded, the toes are webbed, and the body is small enough for the dog to hop in and out of a skiff without rocking the boat. AWS admirers describe a merry, intelligent, and versatile spaniel suited to a variety of dog sports. As hunters, they combine working traits of spaniels and retrievers. The key to AWS happiness is activity, especially alongside their adored human—an underemployed AWS can be barky and destructive.

Breed Clubs and Rescue

Want to connect with other people who love the same breed as much as you do? We have plenty of opportunities to get involved in your local community, thanks to AKC Breed Clubs located in every state, and more than 450 AKC Rescue Network groups across the country.
American Water Spaniel

Find a Puppy: American Water Spaniel

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Find American Water Spaniel Puppies

Care

NUTRITION

The American Water Spaniel should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.

GROOMING

The American Water Spaniel has a dense, waterproof coat that can be either tightly curled or wavy. The AWS was bred to work in the icy waters of the Great Lakes region, and its insulating, double-layer coat makes that possible. Weekly grooming is required, but it is a fairly simple process. During the summer, the coat is sparser, and can be brought into shape with a rubber-tipped pin brush. The rest of the year, and especially during shedding season, a slicker brush should be used to remove the dead hair from the undercoat. As with all breeds, the American Water Spaniel‘s nails should be trimmed regularly.

Grooming Frequency

Occasional Bath/Brush
Specialty/Professional
2-3 Times a Week Brushing

Shedding

Infrequent
Frequent
Infrequent

EXERCISE

American Water Spaniels are outdoorsy athletes who love hunting and swimming, so they need ample exercise. They need to be active, or they can become barky and destructive. At a minimum, vigorous play sessions with their owner or a companion dog in a park or a large backyard are needed every day. An AWS truly thrives, however, when given a job to do. They make great hunting companions—after all, it’s in their DNA. Participating in field trials or obedience, agility, or dock diving events will give the American Water Spaniel a chance to burn off all that excess energy in a positive way.

Energy Level

Couch Potato
Needs Lots of Activity
Regular Exercise

TRAINING

As with all breeds, early socialization puppy training classes are highly recommended. Socialization—gently exposing the puppy to a wide variety of people, places, and situations between the ages of about 7 weeks and 4 months—will help him develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult. American Water Spaniels are often aloof with strangers, and some may have a touch of stubbornness, but they are happy creatures who want nothing more than to please their owners. This makes training them easy and fun. Given the dog’s energy and innate talents, owners and their AWS enjoy participating together in canine sports such as tracking agility, barn hunt, and flyball, as well as field events, which teach the dog to flush game and retrieve waterfowl.

Trainability

May be Stubborn
Eager to Please
Eager to Please

Temperament/Demeanor

Aloof/Wary
Outgoing
Friendly

HEALTH

As with all breeds, a majority of American Water Spaniels will live long and healthy lives when given proper care and regular veterinarian visits. A responsible breeder will test breeding stock for health concerns such as hip dysplasia, eye disorders, cardiac abnormalities and degenerative myelopathy.

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

Read the Official Breed Club Health Statement.

American Water Spaniel
American Water Spaniel
American Water Spaniel
American Water Spaniel

History

The development of the American breeds is a classic case of  “Yankee ingenuity”—a particular genius for adapting Old World materials to solve New World problems. An obvious example would be how American settlers utilized European breeds in the creation of the “coonhounds” who helped propel our nation’s westward expansion by supplying a steady source of meat and fur. Another good example of Yankee ingenuity is the American Water Spaniel.

The European immigrants who settled Wisconsin and Minnesota depended for sustenance on the region’s plentiful waterfowl. Over generations they utilized various European breeds in creating a wholly new dog, the American Water Spaniel, to meet the unique challenges of hunting in and around the Great Lakes. Exactly how, when, or where the breed was created will probably remain a mystery. The Irish Water Spaniel, the Curly-Coated Retriever, and the now extinct English Water Spaniel have been mentioned in histories as possible component breeds.

Their names have been lost to history, but the practical-minded frontiersmen behind the AWS conceived the breed as an all-in-one hunting companion possessed of an excellent nose, expert at retrieving downed waterfowl (they swim like seals, say AWS admirers) but also adept at springing such upland gamebirds as grouse, quail, and pheasant. The AWS has even been known to do a little rabbit hunting on the side.

Before you set your heart on an AWS, be advised that these days the breed is scarce. The American Water Spaniel Club estimates that there are probably no more than 3,000 in existence.

The American Water Spaniel entered the AKC Stud Book in 1940 and was named Wisconsin’s official state dog in 1985.

Did You Know?

The American Water Spaniel was the first breed developed in the United States as an all-around hunter that could retrieve from boats.
The breed was named the state dog of Wisconsin in 1986.
Prior to recognition by the AKC, the American Water Spaniel had been purely a working gun dog.
The American Water Spaniel craves companionship. The breed is best suited for households where someone's home during the day.
The breed was named the state dog of Wisconsin in 1986.
The breed tends to gain weight easily, so should not be overfed.

The 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.

HEAD

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.

BACK

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. The body is 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.

FOREQUARTERS

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.

COAT

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 well groomed appearance; the ears may be shaved; but neither is required.

HINDQUARTERS

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.

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american water spaniel illustration

Colors & Markings

Colors

Description Standard Colors Registration Code
BROWN Check Mark For Standard Color 061
CHOCOLATE Check Mark For Standard Color 071
LIVER Check Mark For Standard Color 123

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