by Laura Bauer
The American Water Spaniel was bred in the Midwest for hunting birds from boats. Wisconsin hunters needed a versatile, hearty dog that could withstand cold temperatures and would easily fit in a skiff. It is generally thought that the Irish Water Spaniel and the Curly-Coated Retriever, along with other smaller spaniels, are the ancestors of the American Water Spaniel.
The small spaniel was developed in the Fox and Wolf River valleys of Wisconsin during the mid 1800s. It was frequently used by the market hunters of the day to help harvest all manner of game, but most notably waterfowl in the Great Lakes Region.
In the early 1900s, Doctor Pfiefer of New London, Wisconsin, was the first to recognize that the little brown spaniels were actually a distinguishable breed. Through his efforts, the American Water Spaniel was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 1920.
Without his efforts, it is likely that the region’s native water spaniel would have disappeared.
In those days, retrievers were quickly gaining in popularity. During this time, various spaniel breeds and strains disappeared or were made part of the retriever breeds. Had it not been for Doctor Pfiefer’s dedication to the breed, such could have been the fate of the American Water Spaniel.
Over the following years, others took up his cause and the breed was eventually recognized by the Field Dog Stud Book in 1938 and the American Kennel Club in 1940.
In 1985, it was made the state dog of Wisconsin; it’s the only dog breed to have originated there (and one of the few truly American breeds). Even today, the majority of the American Water Spaniel owners and breeders are located in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and surrounding states.
The American water spaniel packs a lot of ability into a relatively small dog. Its muzzle is long and strong enough to carry a large goose, and it has strong quarters to propel it through water and over land. It is slightly longer than tall, solidly built and muscular.
The coat can range from uniform waves (marcel) to close curls, with a dense undercoat. This combination provides protection against weather, water or briars. “Their coats can get long and ropey, and their thick double coat does shed,” says long-time American Water Spaniel breeder Pam Kozak, owner of Kei-Rin Kennel. “They do require regular grooming.”
Living With and Hunting Over an American Water Spaniel
Although a boat-sized hunting breed, the American Water Spaniel is prized for its versatility. They are equally successful in water and on land. “They tend to hunt close range and quarter naturally,” says Kozak. Unlike some of the more popular hunting breeds, a soft mouth and birdiness comes naturally to the American Water Spaniel.
While the breed instinctively hunts, they may not be the best choice for a first time dog owner. The American Water Spaniel is exceptionally smart and can be tricky—meaning that without boundaries, they’ll make up their own rules.
With the proper guidance, the breed makes for a “naturally good hunting partner and incredibly loving family dog,” says Kozak. At the end of the day, the American Water Spaniel loves nothing more than to snuggle with the family.
Visit the American Kennel Club for their complete Breed Standard.
Learn more about Kei-Rin Kennel.