Let's talk American Water Spaniels

Outdoorsy and active American Water Spaniels are immediately recognisable by their adorable – but also practical – wavy waterproof coat. Those thick brown curls are ideally suited to their origins: The breed was developed in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. where the dogs helped hunters by retrieving game from the icy waters. While this rare breed can now make an affectionate and enthusiastic companion dog, American Water Spaniels have lost none of their early energy and need plenty of exercise. Freezing cold water optional.

Official name: American Water Spaniel

Other names: None

Origins: United States

Close-up black and white portrait of an American Water Spaniel
 Drooling tendencies

Very low

Warm weather?
 Shedding level Medium
Suited to apartment living? 
 Energy level (high, low, medium) *: High Family pet? *
Very high
 Compatibility with other pets
Can stay alone?* Very low

* We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behaviour. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

Every pet is different, even within a breed; this snapshot of this breed’s specifics should be taken as an indication.

For a happy, healthy and well-behaved pet, we recommend educating and socialising your pet as well as covering their basic welfare, social and behavioural needs.

Pets should never be left unsupervised with a child.

All domestic pets are sociable and prefer company. However, they can be taught to cope with solitude from an early age. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or trainer to help you do this.

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Illustration of an American Water Spaniel
38 - 46 cm translations.feature.breeds.height
13.5 - 20.5 kg translations.feature.breeds.weight
38 - 46 cm translations.feature.breeds.height
11.5 - 18 kg translations.feature.breeds.weight


 Baby age:  Birth to 2 months
 Puppy age:  2 to 12 months
 Adult age:  1 to 7 years
 Mature age:  7 to 10 years
 Senior age:  from 10 years

Chocolate brown American Water Spaniel laying head on paws


Get to know the American Water Spaniel

All you need to know about the breed

Running, jumping, splashing, swimming, fetching: When it comes to the American Water Spaniel, active is the word. In short, this is a dog that needs plenty of exercise. Hardly surprising for a breed that started out as the all-rounder companion to waterfowl hunters, leaping in and out of boats (just the right size not to capsize them in the process) to retrieve game.

As hunting declined, so did the American Water Spaniel’s numbers. Luckily, in the early part of the 20th century, efforts were made to revive the breed: Good news for fans of this charming and versatile dog. The American Water Spaniel’s distinctive thick, double-layer curly and waterproof coat in lustrous shades of brown is perhaps their defining physical feature, but the breed’s technical specifications go further, also including thickly padded paws and even webbed toes.

The American Water Spaniel may be full of energy, but if you can persuade them to sit still for five minutes – grooming is a useful pretext – they are also affectionate dogs and make lovely family companions. Once trained, they get on well with children. Like other spaniel breeds, American Water Spaniels are intelligent: That means they need plenty of mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise. With too much time on their paws, they may resort to barking.

Black American Water Spaniel in the woods looking around


2 facts about American Water Spaniels

1. State dog

American Water Spaniels may be a rare breed – with only around 3,000 in existence at any one time – but in their home state of Wisconsin, where the majority of those 3,000 are to be found, they’re the equivalent of canine royalty. The breed was named Official State Dog of Wisconsin in 1985.

2. Back from the brink

As hunting gradually evolved from survival strategy to hobby, and other breeds gained in popularity, American Water Spaniels began to dwindle in number. Luckily one enthusiast, Dr J. Pfeifer, set about saving the breed from extinction, breeding and selling the dogs and contributing to the development of the breed standard. His efforts eventually led to American Water Spaniels being officially recognised. Pfeifer’s own dog, the appropriately named Curly, was the first registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1940.


History of the breed

European settlers, probably located in the Fox River and Wolf River Valleys in Wisconsin, developed the American Water Spaniel over generations, having started out using breeds they had brought over from the Old World to help them hunt the abundant waterfowl in the local lakes and rivers.

Generations of cross-breeding led to the emergence in the 1800s of a brand new breed for the New World. The exact canine components of the American Water Spaniel’s make-up are not recorded, but the Irish Water Spaniel, the Curly-Coated Retriever, the Field Spaniel and the now extinct Old English Water Spaniel may feature. The early breeders of the American Water Spaniel wanted an all-round dog, combining an impressive nose with great swimming and retrieving skills as well as speed and strength on land. They certainly got all that and more in the American Water Spaniel, which was recognised as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1940.

Black and white portrait of a standing American Water Spaniel


From head to tail

Physical characteristics of American Water Spaniels

1. Ears

Thick, long hanging ears covered with dense curls.

2. Muzzle

Open, inquisitive expression with medium-length muzzle.

3. Body

Sturdy and muscular mid-sized build.

4. Tail

Medium-length, curved tail with feathering.

5. Coat

Thick curly coat in dark brown, chocolate brown or liver.

Close-up of an American Water Spaniel with its tongue wagging


Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your American Water Spaniel
American Water Spaniel running through a sandy landscape


Caring for your American Water Spaniel

Grooming, training and exercise tips

Those thick waterproof coats need weekly grooming to stay in good condition—it’s straightforward and a good chance for a cuddle with your otherwise constantly on-the-go dog. Exercising your American Water Spaniel will take more effort, it’s fair to say, although it will also be fun.
These athletic dogs, bred for the great outdoors, need plenty of chances to let off steam: Play sessions, walks on the lead, runs off the lead in a safely enclosed space ... and, of course, swimming. It’s all good for this active breed. American Water Spaniels are intelligent people-pleasers, which should make training a walk in the park, as long as you start early and remain consistent and patient.
Remember, any treats should come out of their daily rations to avoid the risk of them becoming overweight, especially if your dog is neutered. These dogs can be a little wary of strangers, so early socialisation is a good idea to help them thrive with their human families.


All about American Water Spaniels

American Water Spaniels have thick, curly waterproof coats to protect them from the elements but while they do lose a fair amount of hair, especially during the annual shedding season, they are not among the worst offenders: As an American Water Spaniel owner you may need to vacuum a little more frequently than before but no need to decorate your home entirely in shades of brown.

As long as they are not joining a family determined to spend all its time sitting indoors on the sofa, then yes. American Water Spaniels are friendly, affectionate dogs that enjoy playing and, once trained, get on well with children. However, they do need regular exercise and plenty of it.



1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/