The American Water Spaniel, native to the lake country of the upper Midwest, is an upbeat, outdoorsy athlete who loves to hunt and swim. They are known to be happy, eager, and charming, though aloof with strangers and a bit stubborn. American Water Spaniels are muscular midsize gundogs, not flashy in looks or performance, and recognizable by a luscious brown coat that is either tightly curled or wavy. Bred to work the icy waters and marshy banks of the Great Lakes region, these spaniels are ideally outfitted for the job: The coat is dense and waterproof, the feet are thickly padded, the toes are webbed, and the body is small enough for the dog to hop in and out of a skiff without rocking the boat. The breed’s admirers describe a merry, intelligent, and versatile spaniel suited to a variety of dog sports. As hunters, they combine the working traits of spaniels and retrievers. The key to the American Water Spaniel’s happiness is activity, especially alongside their adored human. An underemployed dog can be barky and destructive.
The development of the American breeds is a classic case of “Yankee ingenuity”—a particular genius for adapting Old World materials to solve New World problems. An obvious example would be how American settlers utilized European breeds in the creation of the “coonhounds” who helped propel our nation’s westward expansion by supplying a steady source of meat and fur. Another good example of Yankee ingenuity is the American Water Spaniel.
The European immigrants who settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota depended on the region’s plentiful waterfowl for sustenance. Over generations, they utilized various European breeds in creating a wholly new dog, the American Water Spaniel, to meet the unique challenges of hunting in and around the Great Lakes. Exactly how, when, or where the breed was created will probably remain a mystery. The Irish Water Spaniel, the Curly-Coated Retriever, and the now-extinct English Water Spaniel have been mentioned as possible component breeds.
Their names have been lost to history, but the practical-minded frontiersmen behind the American Water Spaniel conceived the breed as an all-in-one hunting companion possessed of an excellent nose, an expert at retrieving downed waterfowl (they swim like seals, say the breed’s admirers) but also adept at springing such upland game birds as grouse, quail, and pheasant. The breed has even been known to do a little rabbit hunting on the side.
Before you set your heart on this dog, be advised that the breed is scarce these days. The American Water Spaniel Club estimates that there are probably no more than 3,000.
The American Water Spaniel entered the AKC Stud Book in 1940 and was named Wisconsin’s official state dog in 1985.
Temperament: charming / eager / happy
Height: 15-18 inches
Weight: 25-45 pounds
Life Expectancy: 10-14 years
As with all breeds, the majority of American Water Spaniels will live long and healthy lives when given proper care and regular veterinarian visits. A responsible breeder will test breeding stock for health concerns such as hip dysplasia, eye disorders, cardiac abnormalities and degenerative myelopathy.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- Cardiac Exam
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
The American Water Spaniel has a dense, waterproof coat that can be either tightly curled or wavy. The breed was bred to work in the icy waters of the Great Lakes region, and its insulating, double-layer coat makes that possible. Weekly grooming is required, but it is a fairly simple process. During the summer, the coat is sparser, and can be brought into shape with a rubber-tipped pin brush. The rest of the year, and especially during shedding season, a slicker brush should be used to remove the dead hair from the undercoat. As with all breeds, the American Water Spaniel’s nails should be trimmed regularly.
American Water Spaniels are outdoorsy athletes who love hunting and swimming, so they need ample exercise. Without sufficient activity, they can become barky and destructive. At a minimum, vigorous play sessions with their owner or a companion dog in a park or a large backyard are needed every day. They truly thrive, however, when given a job to do and make great hunting companions’ after all, it’s in their DNA. Participating in field trials or obedience, agility, or dock diving events will give the American Water Spaniel a chance to burn off all that excess energy positively.
As with all breeds, early socialization puppy training classes are highly recommended. Socialization’¿gently exposing the puppy to a wide variety of people, places, and situations between the ages of about 7 weeks and 4 months’¿will help him develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult. American Water Spaniels are often aloof with strangers, and some may have a touch of stubbornness, but they are happy creatures who want nothing more than to please their owners. This makes training them easy and fun. Given this breed’s energy and innate talents, owners and their dogs enjoy participating together in canine sports such as tracking agility, barn hunt, and flyball, as well as field events, which teach the dog to flush game and retrieve waterfowl.
The American Water Spaniel should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.