Is the American Water Spaniel your dream pet?

If you have an active lifestyle, preferring to spend most of it in the great outdoors, the American Water Spaniel dog breed is the perfect furkid for you. 

These little brown dogs are a setter spaniel, specialized in hunting and retrieving

American Water Spaniel portrait
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They’ll comfortably retrieve grouse, quail, and pheasant from boats as their double layer water-resistant coat protects them from the cold water. They’re also intelligent and make excellent family dogs. 

Where did the American Water Spaniel originate? 

American Water Spaniel hunting pheasant
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Their origins are a bit fuzzy, but you can trace the history of this unique breed back to the Great Lakes area in the 1800s.

Rumor has it that native American Indians may have had a hand in developing this breed.

By the end of the 19th century, spaniels that could comfortably hunt from a boat as well as perform well on land, became an established breed called the American Brown Spaniel.

The breeding community believes that the AWS stems from a mix of the Field Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel, Curly-Coated Retriever, and the now extinct English Water Spaniel. 

One of the very few native breeds of America, the American Water Spaniel was officially recognized in 1920 by the United Kennel Club due to the efforts of Dr. Pfeifer, who rescued them from being replaced by larger retrievers and gundogs.

By 1938 the Field Dog Stud Book also included the American Water Spaniel as a gundog. The American Kennel Club followed suit in 1940.

In 1986, these dogs adept at waterfowl hunting became the State dog of Wisconsin. 

Today, they are most popular around the Midwestern United States, namely Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. 

What does an American Water Spaniel look like?

American Water Spaniel side view
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American Water Spaniel pups have slightly rounded eyes that vary according to coat color. The American Kennel Club considers bright yellow eyes a fault.

Unlike other spaniel breeds, the AWS’s tail is kept natural. It should be medium-length, curved, and tapered. The shape of the tail allows it to act as a rudder when hunting in fast-flowing water.

This breed has webbed toes, which makes them robust and agile swimmers. 

Watch Torrie as she demonstrates her retrieving capabilities:

Size: How big do American Water Spaniels get?

The AWS breed standard is a small to medium-sized dog, standing at 15 – 18 inches (38 – 45 cm) tall.

A healthy American water spaniel should weigh between 25 – 45 pounds (11 – 20 kg), with females on the lower end of the spectrum, usually not exceeding 40 pounds (18 kg).

The small size and temperament of this breed make it an excellent indoor companion. They do not fare well in kennels

While they could feasibly live in apartments, the farm-life is better suited for this active breed. It goes without saying that these dogs will love having a pool or pond to swim in.

The American Water Spaniel’s curly coat

The American Water Spaniel has a water-resistant double coat that protects it from the cold as well as briars and thorns, making him a versatile dog capable of hunting on both land and water

The undercoat is dense and curled. Their outer curly coat can feature tight curls or uniform waves, called a marcel coat. 

This coat is naturally oily and can give them a doggy smell or leave behind greasy stains on your furniture.

Don’t try to use frequent showering to remedy this, as it will remove the coat’s waterproof properties.

The purebred AWS can range in color from solid liver, dark chocolate, or brown. They also have patches on the toes occasionally, resembling the Springer Spaniel.

Running Springer Spaniel dog in a sunny summer day
A Springer Spaniel dog running in a sunny summer day

Are American Water Spaniels good family pets?

The breed’s an excellent multi-purpose dog. American Water Spaniels might be bred for hunting and retrieving, but they have high affection levels.

Companionship is not optional. They can’t be left alone for more than a few hours. 

The best homes for these little brown dogs are where their humans are. Even when hunting, they tend to stick close to their human hunting companions.

And after a long day of work, they love nothing more than curling up at your feet, making them a wonderful family pet.

They can get quite noisy, though and their need for attention usually spurs their barking spells.

You can easily remedy this by teaching them the quiet command. But his tendency to bark makes him an ideal watchdog.

American Water Spaniel playing ball in the park
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The AKC refers to the American Water Spaniel as a charming, eager, and happy pet.

They can be a one-person dog but can also be trained to be people-friendly, depending on how they were socialized as a puppy. 

Early socialization is vital so they can go on to be good-natured and easy-going dogs. AWS isn’t known to be aggressive, and their high trainability makes them an excellent choice for service dogs. 

It’s essential to start with obedience and behavior training early on. The American Water Spaniel is an intelligent breed that can be rather willful if consistency is not reinforced.

Neither do they enjoy repetition. They’ll learn new commands fast, and you’ll need to work to keep their interest

These sensitive dogs do not like irregular routines and harsh words. Strange dogs are seldom welcome, but their pack mentality allows them to get along swimmingly with animals they were raised with.

They also love children but harsh treatment will not be tolerated.

To sum it up, the American Water Spaniel is a multi-faceted dog that adapts well to various environments. The AWS responds very well to training, especially when started at a young age. 

How to care for your American Water Spaniel

This breed has high energy levels and has specific exercise needs. A hunting dog, the AWS requires daily exercise.

Walks are a great way to stimulate your dog because of all the sensory stimulation the outside world offers, but it shouldn’t be the only form of exercise they get.

AWS are highly friendly dogs and will demand attention from you. If they don’t get enough exercise or attention, they will pull up your plants or chew on your slippers.

Their mischievous behavior might seem destructive to you, but it’s just a way to entertain themselves. 

Make sure that they are given ample opportunity to exercise their brains as well as their physical body. Mental stimulation is helpful in keeping your dog happy and well behaved.

Grooming: Do American Water Spaniels Shed?

American Water Spaniels are not known to be hypoallergenic. They shed lightly throughout the year and slightly more during the molting season.

During their annual sheddings, you should use a slicker brush to remove the dead hair daily.

A rubber-tipped pin brush will do just fine for regular brushing. Hunters sometimes clip the AWS’ coat to make it more manageable as burs and twigs can easily stick to their curly coat.

As a pet, they can be groomed for a neater appearance. Never should they be shaved unless on a vet’s orders. 

Check their ears and keep them dry as the AWS is prone to ear infections. Avoid cleaning too deeply as this could hurt them. You should also brush his teeth 2 – 3 times a week.

Clipping their nails is also essential, otherwise it could exacerbate health issues such as hip dysplasia due to the way their body weight is distributed. Furthermore, it could hurt them if a nail cracks.

Feeding: American Water Spaniel Food Consumption

Adults typically eat one to one and a half cups of food a day, divided into two meals. The exact amount depends on the dog’s activity levels and its size. 

More importantly, you should ensure you feed high-quality dog food and practice portion control. They aren’t prone to obesity, but you can check with the eye and hands-on test.

Can you see or feel your dog’s ribs? If you can’t see or feel them, he needs to lose some weight. If you can see and feel them, he needs to gain some weight.

The following dog foods are great for American Water Spaniels:

  • Canidae All Stages Meals Formula
  • Merrick Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
  • ACANA Grasslands Formula Grain-Free New Formula
  • Fromm Adult Gold Dog Food

Health: How long do American Water Spaniels live?

Two happy American Water Spaniel dogs
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American Water Spaniels are healthy dogs with reasonably long life spans. Make sure you get your puppy from a responsible breeder.

Puppy mills might produce cheaper pups, but they are likely to be sickly. You also won’t get the same health guarantees that a reputable breeder can give you.

With proper love and care, you can expect your puppy to live up to 15 years old. Their life expectancy shouldn’t be shorter than 12 years. Provide your dogs with a good diet and adequate exercise to ensure a long and happy life.

Here are a few of the common health problems that this breed is predisposed to.

Eye problems
There are a fair few problems that can manifest in or around your dog’s eyes. Regular checking to ensure that their vision is normal can give you a peace of mind.

  • Cataracts: The lens of the eye goes opaque, rendering the dog blind. Fixable with surgery and early detection.
  • Retinal Dysplasia: Hereditary blindness avoided through genetic testing.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): A degenerative eye disorder that causes blindness.
  • Distichiasis: Eye irritation caused by abnormal eyelash growth.

Hip Dysplasia
An abnormal development of the hip joints that causes pain and lameness. Surgery might be an option but proper nutrition and care may help prevent or treat existing problems.

Degenerative Myelopathy
A disorder which develops in dogs eight years or older. It usually affects the hindlegs first.

Hair Loss
There are a few causes of hair loss, some of which is due to an underlying problem but others might just be purely cosmetic.

  • Growth hormone-responsive dermatitis is common in male dogs aged 1 to 5 years. 
  • Pattern baldness (saddle alopecia) is another condition that can cause your dog to lose his fur.
  • Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones and results in a slew of problems such as weight gain and lethargy. Hair loss is one of them. 
  • Allergies can also cause hair loss due to excessive scratching. There are two kinds of allergic reactions. It could be contact dermatitis or food allergies.

Causes dogs to have seizures. It is hereditary but treatable.

Heart problems
Mitral valve disease is a fatal condition that develops between 4 – 6 years of age.

How much does an American Water Spaniel puppy cost?

Two American Water Spaniel puppies
Two adorable American Water Spaniel puppies – Image source

The American Water Spaniel puppies are a very rare breed, and it may take months before you find a puppy in the United States.

Only 233 pups were registered in 1998 by the AKC, with only 3,000 American Water Spaniels found in the American Midwest at that time.

Because they’re uncommon, breeders often hand-select the buyers. Expect a thorough investigation and prepare to answer any questions, including how you plan to raise your puppy and what your living conditions are.

They may even ask personal questions. All this is to ensure their dogs go to a good home.

Each litter averages 4 to 6 puppies, with the average price between $1,200 and $1,500.

American Water Spaniel Breeders

With such a small population, the AWS is not an easy dog to procure. If you’re truly desperate, you can search through Instagram and contact owners of the dog breed to ask for contacts.

Barring that, the American Water Spaniel Club can be contacted for information about hunt tests; you can take that opportunity to see the dogs at work and also ask around regarding upcoming litters. 

The breed club offers a breeder directory. So far, the only active breeders in America are Little Brownies Kennel in Howell, MI.

On the AKC marketplace, they sometimes list available puppies.

American Water Spaniel Rescue and AWS adoption

You won’t easily find an American Water Spaniel at a rescue or a shelter due to their small numbers. If you are lucky enough to find one up for adoption, you should reach out immediately. 

There’s an official Facebook page for adopting American Water Spaniels, and you can contact them here. Another option is to reach out to dog breeders and see if they have any adult dogs up for rehoming.

Who should get an American Water Spaniel dog?

American Water Spaniel dogs
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If you’re either at home or exploring the great outdoors, the AWS is the ideal dog for you. These puppies form close bonds with their pack and require lots of time and attention.

Rural living is best suited to this breed. Because of its gentle and loving nature, the American Water Spaniel is an excellent companion for young children and older people.

Further Reading: Similar breeds to American Water Spaniel

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