The history of the American Water Spaniel is somewhat of a mystery. The breed supposedly was “created” sometime in the late 1860s, when it accompanied settlers to remote but developing areas of the Midwestern United States. They were bred as hunting dogs that would be capable of flushing and retrieving game in all conditions and terrain, including water. The early American Water Spaniel was primarily a duck and waterfowl retriever, but it actually became a unique combination between the true hunting spaniels and the hunting retrievers. The breed works equally well in water and on land. He has an excellent nose and is a sound swimmer. According to an American Kennel Club publication: “As a retriever the American Water Spaniel leaves little to be desired. He will watch the huntsman drop perhaps four or five birds, then work swiftly and merrily until every one is brought in. Rabbits, chickens, grouse, quail, pheasant, ducks – he handles all with unfailing dispatch and tender care. He swims like a seal, hence few wounded waterfowl escape him; his tail serves as a rudder to aid him, especially in turbulent water.” While the actual ancestors of the American Water Spaniel are unknown, it is suggested that they descend from crosses of the Irish Water Spaniel, the Old English Water Spaniel, the Curly-Coated Retriever, the Field Spaniel and the Poodle. The breed was well-established by the end of the 19th century and was particularly popular among sportsmen in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The American Water Spaniel Club was founded in 1937. The breed was formally recognized by the American Kennel Club Registry in 1940, as a member of the Sporting Group.
The American Water Spaniel’s small size still endears him to hunters, especially those using canoes or other small boats to hunt waterfowl on inland lakes. Despite its rarity, this truly American breed also thrives as a family companion and makes an especially good watch dog.
The lifespan of an AWS is between 10 and 15 years, and they do have a higher risk for developing some health conditions than do other dogs in their size range. Breed health concerns include diabetes; epilepsy; eye problems; heart problems; hip dysplasia; and hypothyroidism. They have a medium length curly coat which requires regular grooming. They do well in both cold and in warm climates. Other breed health concerns include pattern baldness, cataracts, focal retinal dysplasia and adult-onset growth-hormone responsive dermatosis.