• by Nico
  • onAugust 30, 2020

The American Water Spaniel: A Guide for Owners

Throughout the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as sensitive, playful, and eager-to-please. One of these dogs is the American Water Spaniel. Originally developed for the purpose of bird flushing and retrieving small game, this dog continues to fulfill this role in the modern-era and is a favorite for hunters and trappers alike. This work examines the American Water Spaniel and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general traits. This includes a discussion of the dog’s health concerns, grooming and exercise requirements, as well as water and nutritional needs. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

Dog Quote

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.”

— John Grogan

Scientific Classification

  • Common Name: American Water Spaniel
  • Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: Canis Lupus
  • Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Other Name(s): N/A

History of the American Water Spaniel

  • Life Span: 10 to 12 years
  • Group: Sporting
  • Area of Origin: United States
  • Date of Origin: 1800s
  • Original Function: Bird Flushing; Retrieving
  • Family: Spaniel; Gundog


As its name implies, the American Water Spaniel was first developed in the United States during the mid-1800s. The breed was first designed by frontier settlers seeking an all-purpose dog capable of retrieving a variety of small game (such as birds and various rodents). As a midwestern breed, early breeders crossed a variety of dogs to meet the region’s harsh terrain and conditions. These dogs included the Old English Water Spaniel, the Curly-Coated Retriever, as well as the Irish Water Spaniel. The end result of their efforts was the American Water Spaniel that we know and love today; a “versatile, powerful, and sturdy” breed of medium stature (American Kennel Club, 50).

Despite its early origins (and popularity) within the United States, the American Water Spaniel (or “AWS” for short), wasn’t officially recognized until 1940. Since its inception, the American Water Spaniel has proven to be a favorite for hunters and trappers alike.


The American Water Spaniel is a medium-sized breed first designed for the purpose of flushing and retrieving a wide array of game. As their name implies, they are excellent swimmers with coats that are both waterproof and resilient to colder climates. Combined with their intelligence and alert nature, the American Water Spaniel is a remarkable dog breed that excels in the realm of hunting and retrieving.

Appearance and Physical Characteristics

  • Weight: 30 to 45 pounds (male); 25 to 40 pounds (female)
  • Height: 15 to 18 inches (male and female)

The American Water Spaniel is a medium-sized breed reaching upwards of 18 inches tall, and weighing nearly 45 pounds at maturity (males). Bodies should be slightly longer than their overall height, and are accentuated by a well-muscled appearance that showcases their strength and agility.


Heads on the American Water Spaniel are generally medium in size and should be proportionate to their overall body. Muzzles are moderately long, and follow a square-like appearance. Accentuating this region is a scissor-like bite, tight lips, and dark nose that is either brown or black. Completing the head is a series of medium-sized eyes that are slightly rounded, along with loose-hanging ears that sit just above the eye line. Eye color for this breed varies widely, but is typically yellowish-brown or hazel in coloration.


Forequarters on the American Water Spaniel showcase the dog’s muscular build, with shoulders that slope gently towards the back, as well pasterns that are well-toned. Legs should be medium in length, and follow a straight and well-boned appearance when viewed from the front. Completing the legs is a pair of medium-sized feet that are webbed and well-padded with toes that are closely grouped to one another. This feature aids the American Water Spaniel tremendously when swimming in deeper water.


Hindquarters on the American Water Spaniel follow many of the same characteristics as the front. Hips and thighs should be well-muscled in appearance, with the hocks being slightly rounded. Likewise, the rear legs for this breed should be relatively straight and well-boned with the hocks running parallel to one another to the ground. Completing the rear legs is a series of medium-sized feet that are well-padded, webbed, and accentuated by close-fitting toes.


Tails on the American Water Spaniel are generally long in length, and follow a curved appearance. They are usually carried slightly below (or above) the back. Tails should be covered in fur and possess a great deal of feathering. Deviations to these standards are considered major faults that should be evaluated by a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible.

Coat and Coloration

Coats on the American Water Spaniel are either marcel (wavy) or curled, and vary significantly between each individual dog. Undercoats on this breed are generally quite dense, and provide the AWS with superior protection against weather, water, and the elements. Coats also vary in length across the dog’s body, with the throat, neck, and rear well-covered (and dense), whereas other areas are moderate in their overall density.

In regard to coloration, the American Water Spaniel generally comes in three colors. These include, chocolate, brown, or liver. In some dogs, white on the toes and chest is permissible for this breed.

Are American Water Spaniels Right for Your Home?

General Characteristics

  • Energy Level: 4/5
  • Exercise Needs: 3/5
  • Playfulness: 4/5
  • Affection Towards Owners: 3/5
  • Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 2/5
  • Training Difficulty: 2/5
  • Grooming Level: 3/5

Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)


The American Water Spaniel is a moderately energetic breed renowned for its sensitive nature. As its name implies, this breed loves the water, and is highly skilled at retrieving (when properly trained). Although their sensitive nature can result in shyness, the Water Spaniel often makes for a great family dog due to its playfulness and eagerness to please. Prospective owners should note, however, that the American Water Spaniel is prone to excessive barking, whining, and drooling. This breed is also quite wary of strangers (including both humans and animals). For this reason, owners should take extra care when introducing others to their Water Spaniel in order to avoid unpleasant encounters.

Is the American Water Spaniel Good With Children?

Yes! The American Water Spaniel is a great choice for families with children due to their gentle demeanor. They are also quite energetic and fun-loving, making them a perfect companion for kids of all ages. As with all dog breeds, however, owners should always supervise their children (especially younger kids) when in the presence of their American Water Spaniel. This helps to ensure that roughhousing and inappropriate behaviors (such as ear and tail pulling) do not occur. Kids should also be instructed at an early age to avoid approaching dogs that are sleeping or eating, and to never take their pet’s food away. Following these basic guidelines will go a long way in developing positive relationships between your pet and children.

How Smart is the American Water Spaniel?

The American Water Spaniel is an incredibly intelligent breed with a desire to learn new tricks and commands. They are also quite obedient and versatile, making them relatively easy to train. This is due, in part, to the dog’s high-level of “adaptive intelligence,” which provides them with a natural ability to learn from past mistakes, or from repetitions of an action. As a sensitive breed, they are also efficient at “reading” their owner’s facial expressions and body language. For these reasons, owners seeking an intelligent breed will not be disappointed with the American Water Spaniel

Grooming and Exercise Needs

Grooming Requirements

As a double-coated breed, the American Water Spaniel requires regular grooming to maintain its natural curls and to prevent excessive matting. Experts generally recommend a weekly brushing to remove hair buildup, followed by baths on a monthly basis. Due to the natural oils that are present within their coat, however, the American Water Spaniel should only be bathed when they are extremely dirty (or smelly) as frequent baths tend to strip the coat of its natural oil.

As with all dog breeds, owners should also pay attention to their American Water Spaniel’s ears, nails, and dental hygiene. Ears should be checked daily for excessive dirt, earwax, and debris (such as the accumulation of hairs that result from regular shedding). Prompt removal of these substances will go a long way in preventing the onset of sores and infections within your pet’s ears. Likewise, nails should be kept clean, short, and trimmed on a regular basis. Failure to do so can result in painful tears to the nail, resulting in bleeding, pain to the feet, as well as infection (in serious cases). This is due to the fact that longer nails have a tendency to become “snagged” on various objects (and terrain) over time.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, dental hygiene is also extremely important for the American Water Spaniel. In spite of its importance, however, dental hygiene is often one of the most neglected aspects of grooming. Owners should brush their dog’s teeth on a daily basis (ideally) to remove food-based substances, and tartar buildup. Failure to do so can result in painful cavities, tooth decay, bad breath, gum disease, and gingivitis over time.

Exercise Requirements

The American Water Spaniel is considered a “country dog” that requires a great deal of exercise (and playtime) on a daily basis. As a result, potential owners should be plan to devote an hour (each day) to exercise. This should include a variety of activities such as running, walking, swimming, and playtime (i.e. fetch). Failure to provide your American Water Spaniel with regular exercise will often result in destructive behaviors (such as chewing, excessive barking, and digging) as the dog attempts to entertain themselves.

How to Train an American Water Spaniel

In regard to training, it is vital for owners to stimulate their American Water Spaniel’s mind on a daily basis as well. This is due to the dog’s remarkable level of intelligence, and need for mentally stimulating activities. Training sessions can be incorporated into daily exercise routines in order to maximize results.

Due to the dog’s short attention span, most experts agree that short and “motivating” sessions are well-suited for this particular breed. When training, repetition is key, and can be augmented by reward-based incentives (such as doggy snacks). It is crucial to note, however, that the American Water Spaniel is exceptionally sensitive to their owner’s facial expressions and body language. As a result, screaming, yelling, and physical punishment should NEVER be used against this breed. Failure to heed this warning will result in the development of shyness and timid behavior in your American Water Spaniel (which is extremely difficult to correct once it begins).

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, the American Water Spaniel is a wonderful dog breed renowned for their playfulness, intelligence, and devotion towards owners. Although this breed is known to exhibit a great deal of stubbornness, as well as a natural wariness towards strange dogs and individuals, these issues are pale in comparison to their positive attributes. As a result, owners seeking a companion for themselves (or family members), will be hard-pressed to find another breed as loving and devoted as the American Water Spaniel. For these reasons, the AWS will likely remain a favorite of dog lovers for the foreseeable future.

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