Like many of the sporting dog group, in particular the spaniel types within the group, the American Water Spaniel is largely unknown to the general public. This has helped to keep the breed from some of the major issues that come with sudden spikes in popularity as there are few backyard breeders or puppy mills producing these very interesting types of dogs.
Also like most of the spaniel types, the American Water Spaniel is not only a great hunting dog but also a wonderful companion pet. They are very intelligent, highly geared to pleasing their owners and a true delight to train. The American Water Spaniels has been bred both to find game such as pheasants, grouse, rabbits and quail, but also to retrieve both on land and on water. Many hunters use these smaller sized dogs as water retrievers, an ideal option for those that enjoy duck hunting as well as upland game bird hunts. Of course this strong hunting and tracking instinct does mean a higher prey drive, which puts the owner on alert for early socialization with cats in the house. Since they are trained to hunt rabbits, other smaller mammals in the house such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters or even ferrets may not be a good combination with this breed. They are considered to be great farm dogs and have a natural watchdog ability although they are not aggressive and are not suited to being guard dogs because of their smaller size and friendly disposition.
The American Water Spaniel is distinct from other spaniel types in its appearance. They were originally bred from the Irish Water Spaniel and the Curly Coated Retriever, although the exact breed foundation stock is a bit of a guess. They were very common in the Midwestern areas of the United States and are actually the state dog of Wisconsin. Although registered with the American Kennel Club there are very few, actually less that 500, of the breed registered. This may be a somewhat misleading figure since most are actively used as field or hunting dogs and are therefore often not registered with the AKC since this is not a requirement for competitions. Still a very popular farm dog in the Midwestern area, the American Water Spaniel can adjust to living in town or even in an apartment provided they have enough daily, routine exercise.
As a breed the American Water Spaniel is a very active dog both inside and outside. They should ideally live in a home with a medium to large sized securely fenced yard where they have several hours of outdoor time per day to run and play. They are a roaming breed and do need to be in a fenced environment in urban and suburban settings. Prone to chasing squirrels, birds and cats, the American Water Spaniel will certainly keep all other smaller animals out of the yard.
In appearance the American Water Spaniel has a distinctive medium to shorter coat that is very thick, dense and covered in a natural water repellent oil. This oil does have a slightly "doggy" smell at all times, however it is not overpowering or problematic for most owners. The double coat, which is either a darker red known as liver or a brown or chocolate color is solid, but a slight white patch on the chest is acceptable. The coat is wavy to tightly curled and there is slightly fringing on the front legs, hind legs and the throat area. Considered a light shedder year round, most American Water Spaniels need only twice a week grooming with a pin brush to keep their coat in great condition. The tail is left natural, carried down towards the hock and tapered. There is slight fringing on the tail as well. Like the retriever group, the American Water Spaniel uses its tail like a ship's rudder to be able to move easily through the water.
The head of the American Water Spaniel is very typically of the spaniel type with a moderate stop, round, dark eyes and a wide, dark nose. The muzzle is slightly tapered by overall is square in appearance and the skull is very rounded when viewed from the front or sides. The ears are really beautiful and are one of the most defining features of this breed. They are lower set and long, with lots of curly to wavy hair that extends down well to the top of the chest and lower part of the neck.
The body of the American Water Spaniel is longer than it is tall, muscular but not heavy or cobby in appearance. The topline slopes gently back to a sloping croup, giving an appearance of flowing lines and strength. The legs are moderately long and straight and the feet are compact and webbed, making this dog an excellent swimmer.
Like most spaniel types the AWS is very sensitive to any type of harsh training or punishment and needs to be trained using only positive methods. If treated harshly this breed can become frightened or easily startled and may snap, but this is only in a defensive type behavior. Dogs that are trained using gentle but firm and consistent methods will not use this type of behavior. They are typically a very good dog with children of all ages, but again children have to learn not to yell at the dog or play in a rough fashion until the dog is accustom to this type of interaction. American Water Spaniels raised with children will not have any issues with kids, however adult dogs that are not used to children may have difficulty with loud or boisterous kids. Children should be involved in obedience work with this breed so the dog understands the child is a leader. As a natural retriever, the American Water Spaniel loves playing fetch, a great activity for kids and the dog to participate in together.
Even though there are not a lot of American Water Spaniels outside of the Midwestern United States, this breed has a lot of potential as both a companion as well as a hunting dog.
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