American Water Spaniel

American Water Spaniel
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The American Water Spaniel is a beautiful dog breed that is one of the few that has actually come from the United States! They were bred in Wisconsin with a few dog breeds, among those are the Water Spaniels from Ireland and England, in the 19th century. These hunting dogs love to be in the water and are great swimmers who have a lot of energy and will always chase and retrieve game while hunting. This amazing breed makes a great family dog because they have lots of energy and love to play around and are loyal and loving to their family.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Sporting Dogs
Height:1 foot, 3 inches to 1 foot, 6 inches tall
Weight:25 to 45 pounds
Life Span:12 to 15 years

Even if you live in the United States, you still may not have heard about the American Water Spaniel if you live outside of the Midwest. That’s because this sporting breed comes right out of Wisconsin and the breed was started in the 1800s and has a mix of breeds in it including the English and Irish Water Spaniels, Curly Coated Retriever and the Field Spaniel, among others.

This breed of spaniel is perfect for sporting because of its coat that is very curly, which protects from the water and anything in the woods. They are very good at hunting in different terrain, catching may waterfowl like duck or pheasant, or birds each day with its owner, which is due to their endurance. This breed fits perfect into a boat that can be taken with the owner out to areas of water where the dog can easily bring back ducks, quail, pheasant and anything in the area.

However, they will not stray too far from their leader, lest they get lost or attacked by another animal, so you will not have to worry about them straying too far, though they do wander occasionally.

In the mid-1800s, the breed was going extinct due to England having much bigger retrievers, which became wildly popular, and a man named Dr. Fred Pfeifer, of Wisconsin, set up his own kennels that held over 100 dogs and he began breeding what we know to be the modern American Water Spaniel, which was formerly called the American Brown Spaniel. Soon, he was advertising the dogs all over the United States and the breed was thriving.

The United Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1920, the American Kennel Club in 1940, and it was named the state dog of Wisconsin in 1985. The majority of dogs of this breed live in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, and is considered rare, and it is the 143rd most popular breed in America.

In appearance, they look much like they did when originally bred; brown or chocolate brown coat with curly fur, which comes in two forms, which is tight curls or wavy curls and feels coarse or harsh. Their coat will have a smell to it because the fur appears oily in nature. This dog stands at about 15 to 18 inches tall at the shoulder and generally weighs between 25 and 25 pounds if healthy. In most cases, the tails of this dog breed are not docked, but they can be if it is the owner’s preference.

Besides catching waterfowl, this breed is quite the family companion! They enjoy being the focal point of your attention and if they are not, they will make sure you pay attention to them! While they are a family dog, they will usually choose one person in the family to be their favorite. Overall, they are great with children, and require a lot of exercise, but they do have an independent streak at times and they need a leader who can focus them back in.

Sometimes they are stubborn and can seem not as smart as other dogs. One thing to keep in mind is that some dogs of this breed can get aggressive and want to be dominant but with proper training, they can be wonderful pets.

Main Highlights
  • This breed of spaniel does not enjoy being all alone for more than a few hours, and can get anxious. They may get destructive within the home if left by themselves too long. Using training and speaking to a vet can be helpful in dealing with this.
  • They do require exercise each day and they are highly active dogs. If they go without exercise, they will gain weight, possibly become depressed, bark a lot and chew up your home!
  • Some dogs have a stubborn and independent streak so they need a leader who is calm and consistent who can make rules and enforce those rules on the dog. Sometimes you have to show them you are the dominant person. In this case, taking training classes will curb the behavior.
  • While they are a great family dog overall, they might not be too crazy about strangers. Generally, they will not get too excited over them, as they feel that they belong in a pack, and their human family is that pack, not strangers. Oddly enough, though they love to be in a family, they usually pick one member as their “favorite”.
  • Many American Water Spaniels will need training due to their nature of digging, jumping on people and chewing things up. Most dogs outgrow this once they are not puppies anymore, but this breed is different. Having chew toys will help stop them from chewing up your pillows!
  • This breed comes from the Fox River and Wolf River valleys located in Wisconsin and continues to be most popular in the Midwest region of the United States, in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. Their ancestors include Irish and English Spaniels and the Field Spaniel.
  • Generally, this is a healthy breed but they can be prone to certain types of Dysplasia, Dermatitis, Baldness, Epilepsy and Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Regular visits to the vet can help with early detection and possible solutions for these issues.
Breed History

The breed began in the mid 19th century in Wisconsin by Dr. Fred Pfeifer, who was trying to save the American Brown Spaniel. He set up kennels in Wisconsin where he was breeding over 100 of these Spaniels with other Spaniels like the Irish and English Water Spaniels and came up with the modern day American Water Spaniel. He then began advertising his dogs around the country, saving the breed, and coming up with this beautiful, curly haired, chocolate colored breed.


The American Water Spaniel, both male and female, stand between 15 and 18 inches tall at the shoulder. These beautiful, brown dogs weigh between 25 and 45 pounds if healthy and exercised properly. The females weigh between 25 and 40 pounds while the males are usually 35 to 45 pounds.

Personality and Character

This breed has a great personality and character, despite sometimes being territorial and aggressive. Through proper training, the temperament can be controlled. Overall, they are a gentle and loving dog who has a big spirit and friendly attitude. He thrives on having attention and doesn’t like to be left alone too long. They may bark when they need your attention or get bored, but they make great family pets and love the children.

Health and Potential Problems

While this breed is overall healthy, they can be prone to certain health issues, along with common dog problems and diseases that can range from life threatening to just taking medication, and some require surgery.

  • Hip Dysplasia is a condition in which the bone in the thigh does not fit correctly into the hip joint. One way to tell if this is hurting your dog is to check for pain and lack of use of that area. While this condition is hereditary, it can be attained from other factors like diet, falling, or any injury. A veterinarian can help to provide comfort for a dog with hip dysplasia.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy means loss of vision, which is when the retina is losing the ability to process light. Most dogs who begin to suffer from retinal atrophy will first have a hard time seeing at night, and over time their vision will suffer when the sun is out. This can and does lead to full blindness, and is not treatable currently.
  • Hypothyroidism in dogs happens when there is little to no hormones produced by the thyroid gland itself. Dogs can be put on medication to make up for the lack of production, which the dog will have to take for life. Hypothyroidism mostly occurs after the age of 4 years, and symptoms include lethargy, hair loss, skin infections, weight gain, seizures, and more.
  • Cataracts, which occurs in the lens of the eye, causes cloudiness and therefore will give your dog blurry vision. When they become thicker, the dog can go blind if surgery is not an option. Most times, genetics are the cause of this but injury, age, and other diseases can inhibit this type of degeneration.
  • Epilepsy is a disease that can not be cured that, which causes seizures and can be treated only by mediation. This is a genetic disorder and the dog can live a regular, happy, healthy life with this disease.
  • Retinal Dysplasia causes folds in the retina and can cause blindness. While genetic, outside factors can contribute, such as an injury to trauma, but they can live long lives with this despite possible blindness.
  • Pattern Baldness is the loss of hair, or thinning, that starts under 1 year of age and is most noticeable on the neck, back, tails, and thighs. So far, there is no treatment for this.
  • Growth Hormone-Responsive Dermatitis makes the skin change because of the lack of Somatropin in the body, which is a hormone. They will begin noticing hair loss as well and the pigment of the skin will be darker than normal. Treatment for this is costly and there is a theory that neutering your dog can help this condition.
Care Features

The American Water Spaniel was bred for outdoor work and thus prefers having big open spaces to exercise, hunt and play. They can do well in apartment living if they get their daily exercise, which they need no matter where they live. Since they are a family companion, having the children play with the dog is great for all of them to get proper exercise and bond.

Since they are prone to chewing, using a crate to train them is helpful to keep your house in order. They need a good leader who is firm but fair to train them properly, which works best for them in short sessions. Using reward methods are best for this spaniel, because it keeps them in a positive mood for learning.

Feeding Schedule

Your American Water Spaniel will do best if there is not dog food left around to graze. They need to be fed twice a day, at 1 to 1.5 cups that is split into those two meals, in the morning and at night. Measuring their food and feeding them instead of leaving food out will prevent them from gaining excess weight. You can give treats during the day as well. If your dog has food allergies, you can discuss this with your vet who will direct you to a dry kibble that your dog can digest properly.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The first thing you notice about this breed’s coat is that it is curly! Note that they have two types of curls; the tight curl and the wavy curl, along with their brown or chocolate brown color. Some dogs have a white patch on them. The coat is harsh on top and a bit dense on the undercoat to protect them from water and brush in the woods. Also, their coat is oily, which gives off a smell, but it is good for them because it lets the water fall right off of them.

The coat should be brushed weekly to remove any dead hairs and burrs from the coat. Always check your dog’s ears for infection as they are prone to them because of their large ears. Their nails can be trimmed each month or as needed and their teeth should be brushed a few times each week. Bathing them should only occur when they are dirty or stink as the oils from the dog will lessen and cause dry skin.

Each week you should check over your dog’s body for infection, inflammation, sores or cuts that may need to be treated. Be sure to examine the mouth, eyes, and feet as well, and alert the vet if you seem unsure about anything.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The American Water Spaniel is a great family companion and loves to be around children and play with them in the yard or in the home. There are some dogs of this breed that can seem aggressive or territorial and need training.

Teach children how to approach dogs, and be sure they know to never touch a dog’s food while eating, or pull their tail or pinch them and provoke them in any way. Small children should always be supervised around dogs, big or small. This breed especially does not like their food messed with in any manner. But overall, they are great with children and are gentle and playful with them.

As far as other dogs in the home, the Spaniel should be fine, unless it has an aggressive nature or is possessive of his territory. Training your dog or raising it with other dogs from birth will help them bond with other animals in the home, such as dogs and cats.

Overall, the American Water Spaniel is a great hunter for waterfowl like pheasants and ducks. They love to be in the water and are excellent swimmers. Training them is easy and so is keeping them on track if the owner is a great leader and friend to them. While some can be territorial or aggressive, training will help curb that behavior.

They make wonderful family pets and companions and love to play with their owner or the children within the home. Their temperament is mild usually and they are gentle and loving to those they love and bond within their pack, even with cats and dogs. Another great thing is that if they have daily exercise, they can live anywhere from a home with wide open spaces to an apartment in the city.

The American Water Spaniel would make a great addition to most homes that have the energy to keep up with them and that have lots of love and attention to give, because they will require all of it, and the whole family will be better as a unit that bonds with the Spaniel.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.