American Water Spaniel

Amy Tokic
by Amy Tokic
fast facts

About American Water Spaniel

25-45 lb
13-15 years
AKC Sporting
Best Suited For
Families with children, active singles and seniors, houses with yards, hunters, rural/farm areas
Energetic, sensitive, willing to please, alert
Comparable Breeds
Curly-Coated Retriever, Irish Water Spaniel
15-18 inches
American Water Spaniel Basics

You may know the American Water Spaniel as the “little brown dog.” This curly-coated breed is the classic “big dog in a small package.” Although this dog looks small and cute, don’t be fooled – the American Water Spaniel (nicknamed AWS) is a tough hunting dog that’s known for having a stubborn streak. A water retriever, this dog can be a hunter’s best friend… as well as a life-long companion for your family.

The American Water Spaniel is also famous for its love of barking, which makes it a wonderful watchdog. It’s just one of the qualities that make them a great family pet. Add a loving nature and a willingness to please, and you’ve got a dog that will offer many years of joy and happiness. Energetic and sensitive, the American Water Spaniel is a good fit for numerous lifestyles. One of the rarer breeds, it may take some work to find one. Read on to find out if this breed is a fit for you.

Energetic and sensitive, the American Water Spaniel is a good fit for numerous lifestyles.


No one is exactly sure of the origin of the American Water Spaniel, but the breed did make its first appearance in the 1860s. These dogs followed settlers that moved to the developing areas of the Midwestern United States. A hunting and retrieving dog, the American Water Spaniel was bred to flush and retrieve game in all conditions and terrain, including water. Although it was seen primarily as a duck and waterfowl retriever, it evolved into a combo of hunting spaniels and the hunting retrievers. Working equally well in water and on land, the AWS is a great swimmer and can sniff out its prey. Thanks to its small size, the American Water Spaniel fits nicely in canoes or other small boats needed to hunt waterfowl on inland lakes.

By the end of the 19th century, the American Water Spaniel had made a name for itself, gaining popularity with sportsmen in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.


You can call the American Water Spaniel’s pedigree a mystery. Developed sometime in the late 1860s, many believe that the AWS is descended from crosses of the Irish Water Spaniel, the Old English Water Spaniel, the Curly Coated Retriever, the Field Spaniel and the Poodle.

Food / Diet

You should feed your American Water Spaniel a dog food that contains a mix of poultry, lamb, fish meal, wheat, and corn. Avoid feeding this breed anything that contains white rice, soy, beet pulp, or horse meat.

You’ll find the American Water Spaniel easy to train, because it is intelligent and eager to please.


You’ll find the American Water Spaniel easy to train, because it is intelligent and eager to please. When training, use positive and gentle reinforcement, rather than strict or harsh discipline, as this can cause distrust.

One thing you won’t have to teach your AWS is how to fetch – it comes already built in. They are born to chase, hunt, and retrieve, and will happily do it all day long. Once your American Water Spaniel masters the basics, enroll your dog in advanced training. With its high intelligence, this breed needs to be challenged and mentally stimulated.

The American Water Spaniel is wary of strangers, and if it is not properly socialized, it will distrust people it doesn’t know. Start socialization early, so the AWS will be exposed to new people and new situations.


American Water Spaniels range in height from 15 to 18 inches. Weight ranges between 25 to 45 pounds, with females averaging 32 pounds and males averaging 40 pounds.

Temperament / Behavior

Friendly and eager to please, the American Water Spaniel is a good-natured dog that will keep your children entertained. It can play all day long, and at the end of the day, curl up on your lap for extra cuddles. It will partake in all kinds of activities, on land or in water. This breed loves to be around people and will want to follow you around no matter where you go.

The AWS is not a dog for people who spend a lot of time away from their home. This breed develops separation anxiety if let alone for alone periods of time, and will bark or howl. This dog needs plenty of companionship, exercise and play time to combat boredom.

A vocal breed, it’s an understatement to say that the American Water Spaniel likes to bark. When they are happy, need attention or left alone, the breed will bark… just to hear the sound of its own voice. Start training to avoid this behavior when your dog is a puppy.

Common Health Problems

Some of the common health concerns for the American Water Spaniel include hip dysplasia, mitral valve insufficiency and pulmonic stenosis. A few of the less common concerns include patellar luxation and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA).

Life Expectancy

The American Water Spaniel has an average lifespan of 13 to 15 years.

Exercise Requirements

Because this is a hunting breed, the American Water Spaniel needs plenty of exercise. Running, hunting, swimming, hiking and bike rides – these are just a few of the ways you can tire your dog out. The AWS needs room to run, so you’ll need to have a fenced in yard. If you have a swimming pool, even better! And even though this is a smaller breed, the American Water Spaniel doesn’t do well in apartments. Because of the lack of space to run around, this dog may become destructive.

Great with children, the American Water Spaniels are patient and will put up with boisterous kids. However, the AWS will snap if startled, so children need to be taught to never sneak up on a sleeping dog or approach from the rear.

Friendly and eager to please, the American Water Spaniel is a good-natured dog that will keep your children entertained.


The American Kennel Association says this about the breed: “Although a very rare breed, the American Water Spaniel has its own state-wide fan club as the State Dog of Wisconsin! A truly dual-purpose dog, bred for companionship and top-notch retrieval ability, the AWS is active, muscular and medium in size.” The AKC first recognized this breed in 1940.


A tough coat is needed when hunting – that’s why the American Water Spaniel is outfitted with a double coat with a dense undercoat. This protects the dog from water, extreme temperatures and underbrush. Its topcoat can be wavy or curly, or both. Short fur covers their faces and the fur on the legs is slightly feathered. As for color, the American Water Spaniel’s coat can be solid liver, brown, or dark chocolate. A small amount of white on the toes or chest may also be apparent.

Expect some light shedding throughout the year, as well as a heavy shed during season changes. It helps to implement a regular brushing routine to keep loose and dead hair from accumulating in your house. You should only wash your dog when needed, as it can strip the natural oils from the coat, leaving the dog with dry, irritated skin.


Because American Water Spaniels can be wary of strangers, it is best to get them used to new people and situations as early as possible.

Amy Tokic
Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic, Editor of, is a passionate animal lover and proud pet parent of Oscar, a Shih Tzu/Chihuahua cross, and Zed, a Japanese Chin. Her love of animals began in kindergarten, when she brought her stuffed dog Snoopy into class with her every day. Now, she writes about her adventures in pet ownership and tirelessly researches products, news and health related issues she can share with other animal enthusiasts. In her free time, Amy loves perusing used book and record stores, obsessing over the latest pet products available and chasing squirrels with wild abandon (a habit attributed to spending too much time with her pooches).

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