American Water Spaniel – Everything You Need To Know

The official state dog of Wisconsin, the curly-coated American Water Spaniel (AWS), is a medium-sized sporting dog breed from the United States known for its strong water retrieval skills. They have a muscular, well-balanced, dense, water-repellent coat and webbed toes, allowing them to navigate icy waters comfortably. This little brown dog is a classic big dog in a small package. As hunters, they merge the working traits of spaniels and retrievers. Their admirers portray a merry, intelligent, and versatile spaniel suited to various dog sports. AWS is an amiable, loyal, intelligent breed that would be excited to connect with your active family. The American Water Spaniel will be your furry partner if you love adventure.

American Water Spaniel Overview

The American Water Spaniels were bred to work on the icy waters and marshy banks of the Great Lakes region due to their dense coat, waterproof, thickly padded feet, and webbed toes. Even though they are not well known outside the Great Lakes area of the US, AWS has qualities that make them well worth your consideration, mainly if you’re outdoorsy and live near the water. Like other hunting dogs, they need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. However, their versatility serves them well in various activities such as agility, hunt tests, rally, therapy work, obedience trials, tracking, search and rescue, and conformation. In addition, AWS will be friendly toward people if they have been properly introduced. Yet, they make an excellent watchdog and will alert you with a warning bark when hearing any strange noises.

American Water Spaniel Pros and Cons

Eager to please and easy to trainCan have a stubborn streak
Great family dogRequires lots of activity and mental stimulation
Good for an outdoorsy lifestyleProne to separation anxiety

American Water Spaniel Basic Information

  • Name: American Water Spaniel
  • Origin: United States 
  • Group: Sporting
  • Size: Medium 
  • Height: 15 – 18 inches 
  • Weight: 30 – 40 pounds
  • Coat: Curly, double coat 
  • Color: Solid liver, brown, and dark chocolate
  • Energy: High
  • Activities: Walking, hiking, playing fetch, agility, companion dogs, guard dogs, conformation, obedience, herding.
  • Barking Level: Occasional
  • Shedding Level: Occasional
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Litter Size: 1-8 puppies
  • Other Names: AWS
  • Life Span: 10 – 14 years

History of American Water Spaniel

During the mid-1800s, the American Water Spaniel was developed as a working gun dog in the American Midwest, especially in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and excelled at retrieving game birds in water or on land. They were used primarily for hunting pheasant, duck, grouse, quail, and rabbit. However, their ancestors probably include the Curly-Coated Retriever, Field Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel, and Old English Water Spaniel.

AWS is a rare breed, even though these dogs have many traits that make them excellent family pets. However, this rarity has saved them from splitting into two groups, one used for dog show competitions and others to continue the breed’s traditional job as a hunting partner, as seen in some other retriever breeds. 

  • AWS was named the state dog of Wisconsin in 1986.
  • AWS entered the AKC Stud Book in 1940, the United Kennel Club’s recognition of the breed in 1920, and the Field Stud Book in 1938.

American Water Spaniel Highlights

  • AWS craves human companionship, and if you leave him alone for extended periods, they may express their boredom and loneliness in detrimental ways. 
  • AWS can be stubborn and manipulative.
  • AWS is cheerful, bouncy, energetic, and easy to train.
  • AWS is an active dog requiring one to two hours a day of walks, runs, or games of fetch.
  • AWS likes to roam and may leave your backyard or your side to go hunting on their own if they’re not restricted by a fence or controlled by a leash.
  • AWS has a natural tendency for digging, chewing, and jumping, but you can overcome these demeanors with proper training.

American Water Spaniel Personality

The American Water Spaniels are known for the following personalities: 

  • Loyal and confident 
  • Affectionate and lively 
  • Smartness and playful 
  • Friendly and outgoing 
  • Intelligent and people-pleasing 
  • Independent and charming 

AWS is recognized for its exceptional companionship and charming personalities. In addition, they make excellent family pets and are patient with kids and the elderly. They are not excessive barkers but will warn of the presence of outsiders. They have medium-sized, well-proportioned bodies with long, floppy ears, broad heads, and round eyes.

AWS is alert, friendly, lively, and obedient as long as you provide adequate, consistent training and leadership. However, ensure you use training methods to reward rather than punishment; when treated harshly, they can become sulky or timid.

Friendliness Overview

Affection levelHigh
Dog-friendlyLow to medium

Adaptability Overview

Good for apartment livingLow
Good for new ownersMedium
Sensitivity levelHigh
Tolerates being aloneLow 
Cold toleranceLow to medium
Heat toleranceMedium to high

American Water Spaniel Physical Features

Head: The head is proportional to dog size, neither too large nor too short for the body. AWS is alert, intelligent, soft, self-confident, and appealing. They have slightly rounded medium-sized eyes, wide-set ears, broad skulls, square-shaped moderate muzzles, tight lips, and scissor or level bites.

Neck, Topline, Body: Strong, muscular, medium-sized neck with straight slope topline from withers, well-developed body, and briskets. 

Tail: Tapered, lively, moderate in length tail carried either slightly above or below the back line.

Forequarters: Clean, muscular, sloping shoulders with medium-sized legs, strong pasterns, closely grouped, webbed, and well-padded toes.

Hindquarters: Well-developed thighs and hips with slightly rounded, moderately angulated hock joint

Coat: Coat ranges from uniform waves (marcel) to closely curled. 

Color: Solid liver, brown or dark chocolate. Also, a little white on the toes and chest is permissible.

Gait: Elegant in action and moves with well-balanced reach and drive. 


  • Yellow eyes

American Water Spaniel Temperament

The American Water Spaniels are known for the following temperaments: 

  • Loving and loyal 
  • Energetic and smart 
  • Affectionate and intelligent 
  • Calm and eager to please 
  • Excitable and quick learner 
  • Caring and playful 
  • Confident and adaptable 

AWS is a happy, energetic gundog that is also perceived as friendly and hyperactive. They are sportive and excel in any dog game, mainly in field trials and confirmation shows. Some AWS is territorial and aggressive with strange dogs, but they generally get along well with family dogs and cats. They are devoted, prefer to be around humans, and make perfect companion dogs. They will easily get along with children, provided they are socialized as puppies and were raised with them. 

American Water Spaniel Training

American Water Spaniels are intelligent, lively, and respond quickly, making training sessions more convenient. Like any other dog, AWS requires early socialization and puppy training, classes. The training demands patience and consistency during the period. They are sensitive to any unfavorable reactions and need positive reinforcement while training. They love being around people and treats, and cuddling does wonder while training. However, they do not respond to offensive commands. Obedience training and proper socialization help with behavioral correction and bring out the best in any canine. They can be easily trained in field trials, agility, obedience, and flyball. Their training activities can include the following:

Trainability Overview

Easy to trainHigh
Prey driveLow to medium
Mouthiness tendenciesHigh
Barking and Howling tendenciesMedium
Wanderlust tendenciesHigh 

American Water Spaniel Exercise Needs

American Water Spaniels are active, energetic dogs with high stamina and enjoy outdoor games, hunting, and swimming. Depending on their age and energy levels, AWS requires around 30 – 40 minutes of daily exercise or interactive play sessions. Also, take them on short brisk walks, jogging, hiking, or swimming, as this is a perfect way to fight their tendency to become obese. These breeds may become restless or destructive without good workouts. 

AWS responds well to short, motivational training sessions. However, avoid heavy-handed methods that use punishments for getting it wrong instead of rewards for getting it right, as they could make them sulky or withdrawn. In addition, they may chew when you aren’t home, so crate training is a must to keep your residences safe.

You can meet your AWS’s daily exercise essentials by:

  • Teaching new tricks 
  • Walking 
  • Fetching 
  • Playing with puzzle toys 
  • Frisbee 
  • Flyball 
  • Agility training 
  • Hiking 
  • Dog park 

Exercise Needs Overview

Energy levelHigh
Exercise needsHigh
IntensityLow to medium

American Water Spaniel Grooming

The American Water Spaniels are non-hypoallergenic, low-maintenance breeds with a dense, waterproof double coat that needs to be groomed weekly. AWS’s basic grooming routine includes weekly brushing of their coats to remove any loose fur. In addition, bathe them roughly once a month, trim their nails once or twice monthly, brush their teeth at least twice a week to remove tartar build-up and the bacteria that lurk inside them, clean their hanging ears and eyes weekly, and maintain dental hygiene in regular grooming. 

Grooming Overview

Easy to groomMedium
Drooling tendenciesLow
Amount of sheddingMedium

American Water Spaniel Health

American Water Spaniels are active and healthy dogs. However, it’s wise to be aware of their health requirements. To maintain your dog’s health, take them for regular vet check-ups and keep them updated with their vaccines.

Health Overview

General HealthMedium 
Weight gain tendenciesMedium 

Retinal Dysplasia: The retina becomes detached and abnormal, causing blindness. 

Von Willebrand’s Disease: The most prevalent hereditary bleeding problem in dogs is Von Willebrand’s disease (VWD). It’s caused by a lack of a specific protein that helps platelets (blood cells that aid with clotting) adhere together and form clots to close damaged blood arteries. Von Willebrand factor is the name of the missing protein (VWF). 

Allergies: AWS may be prone to skin allergies, which may occur as follows: 

  • Food-based allergies: If your dog is allergic to certain food components, you can adopt an elimination diet that gradually removes the suspected ingredients to which your dog may be allergic.  
  • Contact allergies: When your pup’s immune system reacts adversely to topical substances such as flea powders, dog shampoos, bedding, and other chemicals, they suffer from contact allergies. 
  • Inhalant allergies: If your dog inhales airborne allergens like dust, pollen, and mildew and suffers from any signs, they are said to have inhalant allergies. Proper treatment for these allergies varies with the severity of the disease. Often, ear infections accompany these allergies.

Epilepsy: The most prevalent neurological disorder in canines, affecting about 0.75 percent of the population. Epilepsy is a broad name for diseases indicated by repeated, uncontrollable seizures generated by a brain defect.

Hypothyroidism: A dog’s metabolism is slowed due to insufficient thyroid hormone production. Signs are:  

  • Lethargy  
  • Gaining weight  
  • Reluctance to work out  
  • Hair Loss 

Hip dysplasia: When a dog’s thigh bones fail to fit into the pelvic socket of the hip joint, it results in hip dysplasia, a genetic condition. 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy: A degenerative eye condition causing blindness from the failure of photoreceptors at the eye’s back. A very later stage is blindness. Puppies with this condition can survive for many years since they have the senses to compensate.

Elbow dysplasia: A disorder that occurs due to the elbow joint’s malalignment, resulting in chronic rubbing. This causes abnormal pressure at the joint, resulting in severe osteoarthritis. 

Growth Hormone-Responsive Dermatitis: This disorder causes skin changes due to a lack of growth hormone (somatropin). Without proper treatment, hairlessness and hyper-pigmentation will ultimately spread over the body except for the head and feet.

Pattern Baldness (Saddle Alopecia): This disorder causes a gradual, symmetric thinning and loss of hair (alopecia) that generally begins by 6 to 9 months of age and advances until affected areas are completely bald. Saddle alopecia causes hair loss beneath the neck, on the back of the thighs, and the tail.

Cataract: A disorder seen as cloudy spots on the eye lens that grow gradually. This condition can develop at any age and often doesn’t affect vision; however, rare cases cause vision loss. Fortunately, you can remove cataracts surgically with good results.

Recommended Health Tests

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

American Water Spaniel Diet and Nutrition

An American Water Spaniel will consume 1 to 1.5 cups of high-quality dry dog food daily, split into two meals, depending on their size, build, age, activity level, and metabolism. However, as they are prone to obesity, overfeeding must be avoided. You can seek advice from their veterinarian regarding any sensitivities or needs the AWS has. Frequently, provide your dog with clean and fresh water.

American Water Spaniel Living Condition

  • Well suited to apartment life as long as they are given everyday walks and routine play sessions.
  • AWS has a strong chase instinct, so they must be leash-walked and have a fenced yard.
  • Susceptible to extreme temperatures; avoid any prolonged exposure and be alert to the symptoms of heat stress.

Did You Know?

  • Owners of the AWS claim that their dogs love bananas, which happens to be a pretty healthy, low-calorie treat.
  • AWS was the first dog breed developed in the US as an all-rounder hunter who could retrieve from boats.
  • Before the AKC’s recognition, AWS had been purely a working gun dog.

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