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American Water Spaniel

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Curly-haired water babies with charming looks, American water spaniels are memorable dogs. They relish life in the great outdoors and are skilled retrievers. These dogs are rare and so a puppy can be hard to find. But owners will be rewarded with a loyal companion which responds well to firm but reward-based training.

Which breed group is the American water spaniel in?

Breed group: none – Sporting (American Kennel Club)

American water spaniel breed history

Breeding records for the American water spaniel date back to 1865. These dogs were developed to be versatile hunters which specialised in waterfowl. The breed’s ancestors were probably the Irish water spaniel, curly coated retriever and old English water spaniel.

American water spaniels emerged along the Mississippi where they could work in all terrains including the marshes and uplands. When large retrievers from England rose in popularity, water spaniels feel out of favour, but their future was assured by Doctor F. J. Pfeifer of New London, Wisconsin. He continued to breed the dogs, formed a club for the breed and helped to develop the breed standard. The American water spaniel was recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1940. The AWR nonetheless remains a rare breed with fewer than 3,000 dogs in existence.

American water spaniel breed characteristics

These gregarious dogs boast dense curly coats which keep them warm in cold water. The course outer layer also provides a defence against thorny foliage.  Coats have an oily feel and are either liver brown or chocolate. The AWRs’ feet are thickly padded and their toes are webbed. Of medium size, these spaniels are energetic and require a copious amount of exercise. They like to be busy and excel in obedience competitions, agility tests and tracking. American water spaniels are friendly as long as they have been socialised and can be excellent watchdogs. They are not prone to excessive barking unless they are left home alone.

  • Lifespan: 10-14 years
  • Height: up to 43cm
  • Weight: up to 20kg
  • Dense curly coat in liver brown or chocolate
  • Oily feel to coat
  • Thickly padded feet
  • Webbed toes
  • Energetic
  • Great swimmers
  • Intelligent
  • Easily bored
  • Friendly when socialised
  • Good watchdogs
  • Can bark excessively if left alone

Health issues with American water spaniels

  • American water spaniels are generally robust dogs which live relatively long lives. The diversity of early breeding programmes has ensured that AWRs don’t suffer from many of the hereditary conditions which afflict other breeds, However, they are prone to the following issues:
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Growth Hormone-Responsive Dermatitis
  • Pattern Baldness (Saddle Alopecia)
  • Cataracts
  • Retinal Dysplasia
  • Allergies
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypothyroidism

What is the American water spaniel bred for?

The American water spaniel was bred as a hunter’s companion to retrieve kills and to specialise in the retrieval of waterfowl.

What sort of owners does the American water spaniel suit?

A fabulous companion for an active owner, the American Water Spaniel is most at home in the great outdoors. These dogs are loyal and obedient, and they will tend to become attached to one person in particular. They love swimming and so their time outdoors should feature trips to the water and they can be playful. The AWR is best suited to an experienced and patient owner who can train them effectively and devote time to exercising them. These dogs can be good with children if socialised from an early age but may not enjoy living with other dogs.


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