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American Water Spaniel

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This hound, a mix of several breeds, is the official state dog of Wisconsin.

Here is the American Water Spaniel at a Glance
Name American Water Spaniel
Other Names AWS
Nicknames None
Origin United States
Average size Medium
Average weight 25 to 45 pounds
Average height 15 to 18 inches at the shoulder
Life span 13 to 15 years
Coat type Curly, rough
Hypoallergenic No
Color Various shades of brown
Popularity Low
Intelligence Above average
Tolerance to heat Average
Tolerance to cold High
Shedding Minimal
Drooling Not a drooler
Obesity Some risk
Grooming/brushing Some needed
Barking A barker
Exercise needs High
Trainability Smart but stubborn
Friendliness Average
Good first dog Okay
Good family pet Yes
Good with children Yes
Good with other dogs Not always
Good with other pets Not always
Good with strangers Tends to be wary
Good apartment dog Can be
Handles alone time well Not really
Health issues Cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy
Medical expenses $235 annual average
Food expenses $120 annual average
Miscellaneous expenses $45 annual average
Average annual expense $670
Cost to purchase $900
Biting Statistics Unknown

The American Water Spaniel’s Beginnings

In the American Midwest of the nineteenth century, hunting was less a sport than it was a source of food. If you didn’t hunt, you didn’t eat that well. At the same time, most of the dogs living in the area were breeds that came originally from Europe. Hunters in this country wanted an animal that would fit in better with the less civilized environment of the United States.

In the Fox River area of eastern Wisconsin, breeders began putting together a dog that would be a good hunter and retriever both for upland game and waterfowl. They also were aiming for a hound that would be small and compact enough to ride the lakes and rivers of the area in small skiffs. They experimented with a mix of English and Irish Water Spaniels, and Poodles, among other breeds, and then threw a dollop of Native American dogs into the mix. The result was a medium size dog that originally bore the name American Brown Spaniel.

By the end of the nineteenth century ducks and geese had been badly overhunted, and subsistence hunting was, at any rate, become less necessary. One result was that fewer American Brown Spaniels were being bred, and their numbers dwindled. However, the efforts of a few Wisconsinites kept the breed going, and it got recognition from the United Kennel Club in 1920 with a new name, the American Water Spaniel. It was also recognized under that name by the American Kennel Club in 1940, and is now the official state dog of Wisconsin. It is still, however, largely unknown outside of Wisconsin and a few other Midwest states. The best estimate is that there are probably no more than three thousand in the United States overall.

The Dog You See Today

The American Water Spaniel is a medium-size dog. Its weight ranges from twenty-five pounds for the smaller females to about forty-five pounds for the males.

The American Water Spaniel has a course, curly outer coat and a thick inner coat to protect it from water and cold. The coat is typically a shade of liver, chocolate or brown. The eyes are wide set and always a shade of brown. The AWS has long, floppy ears set high that hang straight down. The head is broad and the muzzle firm. The body is strong and compact.

The Inner American Water Spaniel



The American Water Spaniel is basically a friendly dog, but tends to be wary around strangers. Emotionally and behaviorally it is slow to mature, and will show puppy impulsiveness for longer than many breeds. American Water Spaniels like to be the center of attention, and will not do well being left to their own devices for extended periods of time. Being left alone too much will frequently result in destructive behavior. Also, the AWS is a barker, which will need to be controlled, especially if it is going to live in an apartment. American Water Spaniels are wary of strangers. It does tend to bond most strongly with a primary person, but is not aggressive or snappy with other family members.

Living with an American Water Spaniel

Training needs

It is quite trainable, especially when it comes to hunter-specific skills such as tracking, trailing and retrieving. It can, however, be stubborn and impulsive, and will sometimes resist discipline. Its owner needs to be patient and to be as strong willed and determined as the dog. Being wary of strangers makes them great watch dogs, but it also means they need early and intense socialization, as well as ongoing training after that.

Exercise and activity

The American Water Spaniel is a high energy dog with tons of endurance. It loves running, loves the water, and loves that combination of running in the water best of all. It is primarily a hunter, and will do well in any terrain. It has a strong retrieving instinct, and a soft mouth. Although the AWS is an active dog and needs exercise, it does not need huge amounts of space. It can do fairly well in an apartment, as long as its owner is able and willing to make sure the dog gets ample exercise—daily walks at the least—and also provides it with ample attention.

Caring for the American Water Spaniel

Grooming needs

This dog is not a heavy shedder, and weekly brushing is sufficient in that area. However, it really is a shaggy dog, and will benefit from trips to the groomer on a fairly regular basis. It will need to be bathed as and when it really needs one, avoid bathing on a too frequent basis as that is not good for its skin.

Other grooming needs will include checking its ears once a week for infection signs and giving them a clean by wiping gently, not inserting anything. Nails should be clipped should they not wear down naturally. As there are blood vessels in dog nails this needs experience or should be done by a vet or groomer. Finally oral hygiene is as important for dogs as it is for people so brush its teeth at least a couple of times a week.

Feeding an American Water Spaniel

Like many high-energy canines, American Water Spaniels love to eat, and while the risk of obesity is not as high as in such dogs as the English Bulldog, it must not be overlooked. Other than training and occasional rewards for good behavior, treats should be kept to a minimum. As to the dog food, many owners are willing to cook and mix food for their dogs. This can take about one or two hours a week. Commercial dog food is fine, although it is a good idea to examine the mix to make sure it is suitable for this dog. The best is a mix of poultry, lamb, fish meal, wheat and corn. Dog foods containing white rice, soy, beet pulp and horsemeat should be avoided.

Kids and other pets

The American Water Spaniel is a good family dog and is mostly accepting of children, although it does better with older kids. An exception here may have to do with eating. The AWS tends to be quite possessive of its food bowl, and so young children need to be trained to leave the food along.

Also, although the AWS does not have strong dominance needs, it does prefer to be the center of attention, which can create problems in a household with other dogs. And, as it is a hunter, it may not always do well with other pets, especially smaller ones.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The American Water Spaniel is a pretty healthy dog. It is vulnerable to the kinds of injuries any active dog is prey to, but is not genetically disposed to joint problems such as hip dysplasia and patellar luxation. It is at risk for cataracts, and also for progressive retinal atrophy, a disorder which can lead to eventual blindness; but mostly this does not occur.

As noted, obesity can be a problem, but making sure the American Water Spaniel gets plenty of exercise, and being careful with its diet, will make this no problem.

Biting Statistics

While the American Water Spaniel is wary of strangers it is known to be aggressive and there are no reports of attacks on people in recent years. Since it is true that any dog can become aggressive if mistreated or brought into conditions not suitable for it, making sure you choose the right dog for you and that you train, socialize and raise it properly.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

As already noted, Wisconsin state dog or not, there aren’t that many American Water Spaniels around. Locating a dependable breeder may not be that easy. Also, because of their rarity, you are not likely to find one at a pet shelter; if you do, then you are probably looking at about $150 to $200 to adopt the dog, including neutering or spaying. In that case, also, you are likely to be getting an older dog, not a new puppy. That can actually be a plus, of course, since your new dog will already be housebroken.


If you manage to purchase a new pup from a breeder, it will be on the pricey side. The going rate for an American Water Spaniel pup these days is around $900.

Next comes spaying, if the dog is female, or neutering, if it is male. This will usually cost around $200, and at the same time you will need to get some routine veterinary work done—puppy shots, de-worming, and the like—for another $70 or so. Add to that the cost of a pet license at $15 or $20, and a leash and collar for another $35 to $45.

Many people these days purchase veterinary pet insurance for their animals. This amount can vary, but basic coverage usually starts at about $200 a year.

Obedience training is a necessity for this dog. Most obedience classes will run in the neighborhood of $110 for the initial series, and you may want to go on with skills training after that. This is usually a good idea with any hunting breed.

Food for the American Water Spaniel can be expected to cost around $120 a year, and that does not include treats.

Overall, you can expect that, after the initial purchase and other costs, your American Water Spaniel will set you back something in the neighborhood of $670 a year.


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The American Water Spaniel began its life as a hunting dog known as the American Brown Spaniel, and received its contemporary name in 1920, when it was recognized by the United Kennel Club. The breed was developed in Wisconsin from a mix of canines including English and Irish Water Spaniels and Poodles. It was intended to be an al-around hunter and retriever that would be equally effective with upland game and waterfowl. It eventually was dubbed the official state bird of Wisconsin.

The American Water Spaniel is an intelligent, high-energy dog that is at home in all terrain. It is very much a hunter, and loves nothing better than tracking, trailing and retrieving game. It is a friendly dog, and a good family dog. It is good with children, although not always so great with other family pets. It tends to bond most firmly with one family member.

The American Water Spaniel is not highly popular or well known. It is estimated that there are probably only about three thousand of them in the United States.

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