"Spaniels" is a broad term that refers to the group of gun dog or bird dog breeds. Spaniels were originally bred to assist with small game hunting. Often, people mistake one spaniel breed for another, and indeed there are congruent similarities among them. Among those that are often misidentified and mislabeled with each other are the American Water Spaniel, the Boykin Spaniel, and the Irish Water Spaniel.
Here are some key pointers as to how to distinguish one of these from the other.
Probably the most distinct and recognizable feature of these three different breeds is the coat. For starters, the color of the coats should be considered. With the American Water Spaniel, coat coloration is limited only to liver, brown, and chocolate (browns of different hues). This dog may also exhibit a small amount of white spotting on the chest and toes. The Boykin Spaniel's coat coloration is defined by its rich and dark liver and chocolate coloration. Any white color on its coat (on any part of the body) is considered "undesirable" for the breed. The Irish Water Spaniel is limited only to one coloration and that is liver, or to be more specific, puce. Puce is brownish purple or purplish brown. Whichever way you look at it, the Irish Water Spaniel has a definite purple hue to its coat that is obvious under direct sunlight or under the glare of artificial lights.
Another thing that separates the three breeds is the texture of their coats. The American Water Spaniel has a dense curly coat that looks loosely ringed and wavy, which is perfect for inclement weathers and temperatures. The Boykin Spaniel has flat and straight to moderately wavy hair which may look fluffy because of the feathering on the belly, chest, ears, feet, and legs. The Irish Water Spaniel has small tightly ringed curls as hair. This dense coat is also virtually water proof and unlike the two breeds, this coating is also hypoallergenic.
In physiological stature, there are also great differences when it comes to the three breeds. The American Water Spaniel male dog and the Boykin Spaniel male dog usually measure 15 to 18 inches at the withers. The Irish Water Spaniel is taller and usually stands at 22 to 24 inches at the withers. When it comes to weight, the Boykin Spaniel is the lightest at only 30 to 40 pounds. The American Water Spaniel weighs a bit heavier at 30 to 45 pounds. The Irish Water Spaniel weighs a hefty 55 to 65 pounds.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to differentiate between the three breeds is to simply look at their tails. The American Water Spaniel has a rocker-shaped tail, arched and a bit feathered. The Boykin Spaniel's tail is usually docked at an early age, and for competition purposes, the animal only usually retains 2½ to 3 inches in length, and it is also feathered. The rat tailed Irish Water Spaniel has a completely hairless and long tail which is very similar to the tail of a sewer rat.