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American Water Spaniel

Dog Breeds

American water spaniels are intelligent, active dogs that are natural-born swimmers and hunters. Learn more about living with Wisconsin's official state dog.

American Water Spaniel Overview

OFFICIAL NAME American Water Spaniel
COMMON NAME American Water Spaniel
PET HEIGHT 15 to 18 inches
PET WEIGHT 25 to 45 pounds
LIFESPAN 10 to 14 years
GOOD WITH children, dogs, families
TEMPERAMENT friendly, gentle, playful, timid
VOCAL LEVEL frequent
BREED GROUP sporting
BREED SIZE medium (26-60 lbs.)
COAT LENGTH curly, medium
COLORS brown / chocolate / liver
OTHER TRAITS easy to groom, easy to train, good hiking companion, high prey drive, loves water, strong loyalty tendencies

If you're someone who loves adventure, the American water spaniel will be your furry BFF. Hailing from the Great Lakes region, the American water spaniel was originally bred to hunt and swim. These medium-sized outdoorsy pups are intelligent, obedient, and loving. With the right training and socialization, they can also make a wonderful addition to a family with children.

And while they're recognized as the official state dog of Wisconsin, the American water spaniel is a pretty rare breed to come across outside of the northern Midwest.


There's no mistaking an American water spaniel. These pups have a very distinct look, complete with their trademark curly brown coats. In fact, you'll only find these pups in shades of brown, chocolate, and liver. While this breed doesn't actively shed, they have thick double coats and will appreciate being brushed two or three times per week to remove any dead hair.

The American water spaniel has long and floppy ears—much like hound breeds, except with curlicues that make for a stylish hairdo. This breed tends to have a broad head with wide-set, round eyes and wide nostrils that (fun fact!) enhance their sense of smell when hunting and retrieving, according to the American Water Spaniel Club (AWSC).

The American water spaniel is well-proportioned. Her body is slightly long, and this lengthier shape has a purpose: to help her balance and improve her agility when hunting. In fact, these pups seem to be built perfectly for hunting and swimming.

"The American water spaniel has webbed feet that help propel them through the water and their powerful tail acts as a rudder to help them steer," says Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM at Not a Bully. "This breed also has a water-resistant double coat to help keep them warm, even when wet.

"But what really helps set American water spaniels apart from other retrieving breeds is their smaller size," she continues. "Their small size doesn't necessarily help them swim, but it does make them better at jumping in and out of small watercraft without rocking the boat, which is exactly what the American water spaniel was bred to do. So while double coats, webbed feet, and other swimming adaptations can be found in other retrieving breeds, few breeds can do it all in such a compact and boat-friendly little package!"


Though the American water spaniel was bred to be a powerful hunting partner, she also makes a great snuggle buddy. These pups are upbeat, cheerful, loyal, affectionate, and eager to please. When given the chance, they will gladly cuddle up in your lap or at your side.

American water spaniels are also incredibly intelligent and easy to train, which is partly why they make such wonderful hunting companions. They love the responsibility of being given a job to do and take their work seriously.

Because American water spaniels are so high-energy, they tend to be playful, enthusiastic, and thrive as the center of attention. Generally, they play well with children, though young kids always need to be supervised when playing with any dog, American water spaniels included.

"The American water spaniel can make great family dogs if they have proper socialization as puppies to be comfortable around children and if they get enough mental stimulation and exercise daily," says Sarah Wooten, DVM, veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance. "Otherwise, they develop destructive habits, like chewing and digging, and may bark excessively due to boredom."

Living Needs

As an energetic breed, the American water spaniel would love a home with a large, fenced-in backyard. However, they are certainly adaptable to apartment living, so long as you take them out for regular walks and trips to the dog park. Without enough physical activity, they can become antsy and try to find their own way to occupy themselves, which can include excessive barking and other undesirable behaviors.

The American water spaniel loves spending time in nature, whether it be swimming, hunting, or hiking. They were bred for retrieving waterfowl and birds, so they flourish when they are given a job to perform. But if hunting or rugged hikes aren't your thing, family-friendly activities like games of fetch in the backyard are more than enough to keep these pups happy.


The American water spaniel has a dense, waterproof coat that needs to be groomed weekly. Luckily, it's an easy groom; all this breed requires is a good brushing two or three times a week and regularly trimmed nails. And, because her ears are long and floppy, you'll need to clean them after every swimming excursion to prevent infection.

To keep their coat shiny and healthy, you'll need two types of brushes: a rubber-tipped pin brush and a slicker brush.

"Most of the year, a rubber pin brush is adequate for grooming," Wooten says. "During shedding season, a slicker brush should be used daily to remove dead hair. Brush the coat backwards first to loosen hair, and then brush with the haircoat to remove hair."

Because American water spaniels require a good amount of mental and physical stimulation, it's best to mix up the activities so this breed doesn't get bored of the same-old, same-old every single day. To keep your pup from falling into a monotonous rut, try exploring different walking trails or rotating toys for playtime to keep things interesting.

"The American water spaniel is happiest with a job, so if you plan on adopting one as a family dog, make sure you have time to keep these dogs mentally stimulated," Ushi Phillips says. "Regular games of fetch are a great option, since they tap into the American water spaniel's natural desire to retrieve and provide plenty of physical exercise."

When it comes to training your dog, your secret to success is to start early (when your American water spaniel is a puppy). Be consistent and be patient. These pups are eager to please and smart, so if you use positive reinforcement techniques they can pick up cues and tricks quickly.


If you're lucky enough to welcome an American water spaniel puppy into your life, you'll have your four-legged friend for the next 10–14 years. Fortunately, American water spaniels don't suffer from any severe hereditary health conditions, Ushi Phillips says, but there are some issues pup parents need to look out for.

"American water spaniels are known to suffer from some eye conditions such as cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy," she says. "However, if your American water spaniel is predisposed to these conditions, they'll often be seen within a year of age. That makes adopting an adult American water spaniel a great option for avoiding these conditions."

Other than eye issues, American water spaniels can develop hip dysplasia, though the prevalence is relatively low, Ushi Phillips says.

With regular veterinarian visits and proper care, your American water spaniel will be on a positive path towards living a long, healthy, and happy life.


Though details of the breed's origins are as murky as lake water, it's believed these athletic pups have been around since the 1800s. According to the AWSC, the early breeders crossed the Irish water spaniel, the curly-coated retriever, the field spaniel, and the now-extinct old English water spaniel to create a cold weather-tolerant worker perfectly sized for canoes and small hunting boats called skiffs.

Hunters in Wisconsin bred American water spaniels as working gun dogs to retrieve game birds on land or in water. But soon more breeds of hunting dogs started popping up, which almost caused the American water spaniels to go extinct.

With the addition of other spaniels, pointers, and setters, the popularity of the American water spaniel started to decline. But the dogs were saved from extinction by Dr. Fred Pfeifer, of New London, Wisconsin. According to the AWSC, he "decided to pursue the scientific breeding of the curly brown dogs," and became known as the Father of the American Water Spaniel.

Fun Facts

The American Kennel Club recognized the American water spaniel in 1940, and the breed became Wisconsin's official state dog in 1985.
It might sound silly, but owners of the American water spaniel claim that their dogs love bananas in particular—which happens to be a pretty healthy, low-calorie treat.
Though one of the American water spaniel's ancestral breeds—the Irish water spaniel—is considered a "hypoallergenic" dog, the AWS might not be the best fit for those with dog allergies.
For a daily dose of AWS cuteness, follow Carter and Stout on Instagram.