The American Water Spaniel is a gun dog breed little known outside North America.
American Water Spaniel Appearance
Weighing 25 to 45 pounds (11-20 kg) and standing 15 to 18 inches (36-46 cm) in height, they have a curly to marcel coat that is dense and well-suited to resist cold water and inclement weather. The coat’s color is liver, brown, or chocolate. The American Water Spaniel (AWS) should have a rocker-shaped tail and be somewhat compact in size with well-proportioned features that give the dog an air of balance. Its head should be broad and spaniel-like with no topknot.
American Water Spaniel History
The American Water Spaniel originated around the mid-1800s but its true origin is a mystery. Most experts have come to accept that it was likely developed in the Fox River and Wolf River valleys of Wisconsin. There is no documentation as to the specific breeds that were used to develop the AWS. Doc Pfeifer, the man credited with obtaining recognition for the breed in the 1920s, believed that the AWS was developed by crossing extinct English Water Spaniel and the Field Spaniel. Others have disputed this claim and it is currently accepted that the breeds involved in the development of the American Water Spaniel include the English Water Spaniel, Field Spaniel, Curly Coated Retriever, Irish Water Spaniel, and possibly the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
The American Water Spaniel was developed as a hunting dog in the market hunting days of America’s history. Hunters needed a dog that could function on land as well as in the marsh and that could easily fit into a canoe or skiff without taking up much room. The AWS fit the bill and most breed historians note that Midwest market hunters made wide use of this dog. The AWS was not formally recognized as a purebred dog until the United Kennel Club did so in 1920, followed by the Field Dog Stud Book in 1938, and finally by the American Kennel Club in 1940.
Having reached its peak of popularity probably sometime in the 1920s and 1930s, the American Water Spaniel has become the “Forgotten American” at many times in its history. Still, with the tenacity of spirit that exemplifies this little brown dog, the breed’s enthusiasts have managed to maintain a reasonable population that is not likely to disappear from the scene any time soon.
The American Water Spaniel was likely one of the primary contributing breeds to the Boykin Spaniel.
American Water Spaniel Temperament
An American original, this flushing spaniel also doubles as a competent retriever. Like many of the spaniel breeds, he hunts both feather and fur with equal enthusiasm. Friendly, intelligent, and often willing to please, this little brown dog has many of the common spaniel characteristics.
The American Water Spaniel has a mind of its own at times and reaches peak performance with the owner that is dedicated to teaching the dog just what is expected of it. The breed takes well to training and especially excels at training that offers some variety rather than rote training drills. Harsh training techniques do not work for the majority of AWS. In fact, such techniques often cause a dog to become shy or even bite out of fear. This is a breed for the trainer that is consistent and fair when dealing with the dog.
American Water Spaniels do not have to hunt to be happy. They make fine companion animals and, because of their size, they fit well in todayâ€™s cramped quarters. However, the breed does need exercise and training to mature into that loving friend that people look for. To avoid possessiveness, excessive barking, and a willingness to take over the household, novice owners should attend a local obedience class and set aside daily play time for their companion.
American Water Spaniel Health
While there is no one health issue that plagues the American Water Spaniel, neither is it free of health concerns. A variety of problems have cropped up from time to time in the breed including cardiac abnormalities, cancer, hip dysplasia, diabetes, allergies, hypothyroidism, follicular dystrophy, epilepsy, and cataracts. All American Water Spaniels used for breeding should receive health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hips, heart, and hypothyroidism as well as an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation. All reputable breeders offer and supply the puppy buyer with a written health guarantee covering these more common health concerns.