About AWS

About the American Water Spaniel

American Water Spaniel Portrait

The American Water Spaniel is said to have originated along the woodlands, shores, and marshes of eastern Wisconsin. These territories northwest of Green Bay are rich in natural resources and this area was instrumental in the settlement of the region thru statehood in 1848. Game, both fur and fowl, was plentiful and the waterways offered access for shipping to markets in Chicago and New York. By the 1900’s the local brown spaniel was known as a market hunters dog, ready to hunt and retrieve whatever the game of the day might be. The dogs size was an added bonus, a smaller dog was easier to handle in the skiffs and easier to keep at home.

Dr F.J. Pfeifer of New London, Wisconsin saw these little brown spaniels bred true – brown to brown makes brown, anything else and things get variable.  Thanks to his efforts the American Water Spaniel was officially named and recognized by the UKC in 1920.   The American Water Spaniel was accepted into the Field Dog Stud Book in 1938, and in 1940 admitted to the AKC.  

Since then the breed has been a quiet favorite. Plain brown and curly, the American Water Spaniel didn’t really take off in the show ring. But hunters throughout the Midwest have kept the breed going, because they were, and are still are, the “best little hunting dog, I’ve ever seen!”  This is a common response heard by many owners when someone meets their American Water Spaniel for the first time. After a scritch behind those floppy ears, they go on to remember “my grandfather, (or some other family friend) had one of these dogs years ago.” These stories don’t always jump out in a flash, it takes a moment to think back, but it’s always the same memory: that dog could hunt!

Historical American Water Spaniel photo

The American Water Spaniel is a great size!  The breed standards say they should be 15”- 18” at the shoulder and weigh 25-45 pounds.  In profile, they’re slightly longer than they are tall, but only slightly.  They come in solid brown, all liver, or totally chocolate.  The curls can vary, ranging from a tight ring curl to a wavy marcel and everything in between.  The coat is thick and repels water naturally. The face and head are smooth with short hair, although curly topknots are fairly common. Eyes should be a dark amber, to blend in with the rest of the brown.

The breed is a perfect size for urban living – as long as owners understand the American Water Spaniel’s need for regular exercise.  An American Water Spaniel has to get out and move!  A leash walk or time alone in a fenced yard is not going to cut it for most American Water Spaniels.  And a bored American Water Spaniel is going to get into mischief.

The American Water Spaniel is a true multipurpose hunting dog with a strong prey drive.  They are equally at home retrieving waterfowl from a blind or a skiff as they are finding and flushing a pheasant, grouse, or woodcock.  Their talents don’t stop with feathers, they’ll hunt whatever small game their owner is after.  They have a natural desire to retrieve and a soft mouth.  

American Water Spaniels are quick learners and they come home ready to go!  An 8 week old pup is ready to start learning everyday manners and the beginnings of basic obedience the day they come home.  They’re smart, so once they learn something – good or bad – it sticks.  American Water Spaniels are curious and that can get them in trouble sometimes.  The earlier they learn foundation skills like ‘wait’ ‘come’ and ‘leave-it’ the better.  

There is no love like being loved by an American Water Spaniel! They get along fine with other dogs and people, but they tend to really like their one special person, the best.  They always know where their person is!   An American Water Spaniel is almost always within arm’s reach, if not pressed right up against you.  The bond between an American Water Spaniel and their person is something everyone should be lucky enough to experience.  

The American Water Spaniel is a fun and loyal companion and a perfect sized dog for people that enjoy the outdoors.

Historical American Water Spaniel and Deer

Images from Wisconsin Historical Society used with permission