American Water Spaniel
The American Water Spaniel is a gundog little known outside North America. This breed is known for its superior sense of smell and friendly disposition. The AWS is equally adept at retrieving waterfowl, flushing game, and being a companion animal.Appearance The AWS stands 15 to 18 inches (38 to 46 cm) in height and weighs in at 25 to 45 pounds (11 to 20 kg); females usually range from 25 to 40 lb (11 to 18 kg) while males weigh 30 to 45 lb (14 to 20 kg). They have a curly to marcell (uniformly wavy) coat that is dense and well-suited to resist cold water and inclement weather. The coat's color is liver (tan), brown, or chocolate. (A small amount of white on the chest or toes is permissible, and spots become smaller in size as pup grows to adulthood.) The AWS should have a rocker-shaped tail and be somewhat compact in size with well-proportioned features that give the dog an air of balance. Its head should be broad and spaniel-like with no topknot. Eyes are yellowish brown to brown, hazel or of dark tone and should harmonize with coat; yellow eyes are a disqualification in the show ring. Temperament An American original, this competent retriever also doubles as a flushing spaniel. Like many of the spaniel breeds, it hunts both feather and fur (and even fish) with equal enthusiasm. This dog is very soft-mouthed but can be trained to play tug-of-war. Friendly, intelligent, and often willing to please, this dog is also very protective of its owner. It will become highly attached to the alpha of the house and will think of children as kennel mates until they grow up. Unspayed females will have a mind of their own when in heat (even when very well trained). In old age the dog may become temperamental. This little brown dog also has many of the common spaniel characteristics. The AWS has a mind of its own at times and reaches peak performance with the owner who is dedicated to teaching the dog just what is expected of it. The breed takes well to training, and especially excels at training that offers some variety rather than rote training drills. Harsh training techniques do not work for the majority of AWS. In fact, such techniques often cause a dog to become shy or even bite out of fear. This is a breed for the trainer that is consistent and fair when dealing with the dog. American Water Spaniels do not have to hunt to be happy. They make fine companion animals and, because of their size, they fit well in cramped quarters. However, the breed does need exercise and training to mature into a loving friend that some people look for. To avoid possessiveness, excessive barking, and a willingness to take over the household, novice owners should attend a local obedience class and set aside daily play time for their companion.
The American Water Spaniel originated around the mid-19th century but its true origin is a mystery. Most experts have come to accept that it was likely developed in the Fox River and Wolf River valleys of Wisconsin, and most AWS owners and breeders are still located in the Great Lakes region.
There is no documentation as to the specific breeds that were used to develop the AWS. Doc Pfeifer of New London, Wisconsin, the man credited with obtaining recognition for the breed in the 1920s, believed that the AWS was developed by crossing the (now extinct) English Water Spaniel and the Field Spaniel. Others have disputed this claim and it is currently accepted that the breeds involved in the development of the American Water Spaniel include the Curly Coated Retriever, Irish Water Spaniel, English Water Spaniel, Flat Coated Retriever, Field Spaniel, Tweed Water Spaniel, and possibly the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
The American Water Spaniel was likely one of the primary contributing breeds to the Boykin Spaniel.
The American Water Spaniel was developed as a hunting dog in the market hunting days of America's history. Hunters needed a dog that could function on land as well as in the marsh, that could easily fit into a canoe or skiff without taking up much room, and could work out of a boat. The AWS fit the bill, and most breed historians note that Midwest market hunters made wide use of this dog.
The AWS was not formally recognized as a purebred dog until the United Kennel Club did so in 1920, followed by the Field Dog Stud Book in 1938, and finally by the American Kennel Club in 1940. It was made the state dog of Wisconsin in 1985.
Having reached its peak of popularity probably sometime in the 1920s and 1930s, the AWS has become the "Forgotten American" at many times in its history. Still, with the tenacity of spirit that exemplifies this little brown dog, the breed's enthusiasts have managed to maintain a reasonable population that is not likely to disappear from the scene any time soon.