The American Water Spaniel is an intelligent, upbeat, athletic breed that excels at hunting and retrieving. These eager bundles of energy are friendly, affectionate, and playful—all of which make them loving companions.
American Water Spaniels originated around the mid-nineteenth century. There’s some dispute about which mix of breeds they came from, with candidates ranging from the English Water Spaniel to the Curly Coated Retriever.
Though its exact origins aren’t known, the reason for developing the breed is. Hunters in the Midwestern United States—probably in the areas of the Fox River and Wolf River valleys of Wisconsin—wanted an all-in-one hunting dog. They needed a dog that could function on land as well as in the marsh, while comfortably fitting into a canoe or boat without taking up much room. So, it’s not surprising that the American Water Spaniel has gained the reputation of being an excellent hunter and farm dog over the years.
The breed reached its peak of popularity sometime between the 1920s and 1930s, after which time its numbers started to dwindle. Fortunately, breed enthusiasts have managed to maintain a reasonable population that is not likely to disappear anytime soon. That said, American Water Spaniels are relatively rare outside of America’s Great Lakes region.
The American Kennel Club formally recognized American Water Spaniel in 1940; Wisconsin later dubbed it the state dog in 1985.
The American Water Spaniel is a muscular, solidly built, medium-sized dog with an alert, self-confident expression.
The American Water Spaniel is known for its coat, which may be marcel (uniform “S” shape waves) or tightly curled. The number of waves or curls may vary from one part of the dog’s body to another. American Water Spaniels also have an undercoat that’s dense enough to protect them from water and inclement weather.
The coat may be various shades of brown, from liver to dark chocolate. Small white markings on the toes and chest are also possible.
The American Water Spaniel is slightly longer than it is tall, with a body that’s not too square or compact. The ears of an American Water Spaniel are set slightly above the eye line, but not too high on the head. They are lobular-shaped and long and wide, with leather (i.e., the ear lobe) extending to nose. The tail is moderate in length and curved in a rocker fashion, and covered to the tip with moderately feathered hair.
American Water Spaniels are intelligent, playful, and energetic dogs. They are excellent with children and typically friendly towards other pets, which makes them a welcome addition to many families—provided you can keep them well-exercised.
These sporty dogs need plenty of activity and enjoy staying active with their human companions. Their keen sense of smell combined with expert retrieving and swimming skills make them excellent hunters. However, this also means they tend to bark a lot.
Though typically happy, eager, and charming, American Water Spaniels can be aloof with people they don’t know. They can also have a bit of a stubborn streak.
American Water Spaniels should eat high-quality food meant for their specific life stage (e.g., puppy, adult, senior). A diet formulated specifically for medium-sized dogs may also be appropriate.
To keep their weight in a healthy range, you should closely monitor their food intake. Avoid accidental overfeeding by portioning out food with a standard measuring cup. And don’t forget to account for treats when considering their daily calories. As a guideline, treats should make up no more than 10% of a dog’s calories each day.
American Water Spaniels are relatively low-shedding compared to other breeds. Weekly brushing to keep their coats clean and healthy will typically suffice. However, more frequent brushing may be necessary during periods of seasonal shedding.
Trimming nails, cleaning ears, and brushing teeth should also be part of every dog's grooming routine, regardless of breed.
Due to their backgrounds as active hunters and swimmers, American Water Spaniels need plenty of regular exercise to keep them happy. If they don’t get enough exercise, they may respond with nuisance barking or destructive behaviors.
American Water Spaniels enjoy vigorous play sessions in the backyard or at the dog park. But to truly maximize their breed’s inherent interests and skills, consider activities such as field trials, competitive obedience, agility, or dock diving events.
Reviewed July 26, 2020 by Annette Louviere, DVM