It's not everyday that a dog is given the honorary title of State Dog but Wisconsin certainly found the American Water Spaniel worthy of the designation. After all, the breed is believed to have gotten its start in the Wolf and Fox River Valleys of Wisconsin in the late 1800's. Upon crossing an Olde English Spaniel, the Irish Water Spaniel and the Curly Coat Retriever, the result was a compact water dog called the American Water Spaniel. Used for retrieving, the breed had everything hunters needed for swimming the marshy waters to locate and return downed waterfowl. Were it not for the American Water Spaniel hunting in such areas would have been extremely difficult to pursue.
There is no actual documentation of the breed's early beginnings; however, this is because it is likely that there was little intention of the American Water Spaniel ever reaching the widespread recognition that it has. Hunters simply needed a dog that was compact enough to fit in a skiff plus intelligent and sturdy enough to work on land and water. The American Water Spaniel was a crowning achievement and a key player in the world of hunting in its early years. Many a reference is made to the breed in both literature and art from the early 1920's into the 1940's.
Were it not for the fact that the river valley areas became a major port of industry and market hunting hit an all time high, it is possible the American Water Spaniel may have never come about. Because the breed was one that could retrieve from the boat, hunters could venture farther off into to untouched hunting grounds and find a larger amount of quarry. Many private hunters found an appreciation for the breed as well, developing bloodlines that became legendary with local huntsmen. The pups were held in great value and sometimes even prized greater than money. With only three bloodlines left in the entire world, the breed has now become a rarity; however, this has all but kept the American Water Spaniel's lineage in pristine condition.
The American Water Spaniel gained such respect with hunters that many did not want the dog registered as a breed for fear of having it aptitude for fieldwork ruined. However, Dr. F.J. Pfeifer of New London, Wisconsin worked with others to develop a breed standard and finally had it registered with the United Kennel Club in 1920. The American Water Spaniel eventually found its way into the Field Dog Stud book nearly eighteen years later, with the American Kennel Club recognizing the breed some time in 1940. Forty five years later, Wisconsin chose to recognize the small part of Americana by officially naming the breed as state dog.