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Home > Dogs > Dog Breeds > American Water Spaniel Dog Breed: Pictures, Info, Care Guide & Traits

American Water Spaniel Dog Breed: Pictures, Info, Care Guide & Traits

american water spaniel_Shutterstock_Steve Bruckmann

Ranked 167 out of 195 dogs on the AKC’s most popular list, the American Water Spaniel certainly isn’t winning any popularity contests. Don’t let that speak for this breed’s positive qualities though. Despite the lack of popularity, the American Water Spaniel is an utterly charming dog. As part of the sporting group of dogs, American Water Spaniels are gundogs bred for hunting, They’re not athletic studs like some breeds, but they’re well suited for working the freezing waters of the Great Lakes region where the breed originates.

Breed Overview


15 – 18 inches


25 – 45 pounds


10 – 14 years


Brown, chocolate, liver

Suitable for:

Families in which someone is home most of the time


Friendly, hardy, merry, smart, happy, active, energetic

In the American Water Spaniel, you’ll find a great mix of retriever and spaniel, making these dogs perfect for long days of hunting in the field. They have thick waterproof coats that keep them warm in frigid waters with webbed feet that help them glide through the water quickly. Because they’re smaller in size, a Water Spaniel won’t rock the boat as it gets in and out. Bred to work, these dogs aren’t happy unless you’ve given them a task to perform, and if you fail to occupy your American Water Spaniel with a satisfactory job, then it could become destructive and loud.

American Water Spaniel Characteristics

High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.
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American Water Spaniel Puppies

The American Water Spaniel is a utilitarian breed. They’re bred to hunt and retrieve, and these tasks are where the breed excels. They’re not commonly kept as companion pets, so the average pricing for these dogs reflects their innate abilities and talents. Granted, they can still make excellent pets, but they’re generally bred and sold for the hunt.

All this is just to say that you should expect to spend a bit more for an American Water Spaniel than you might on another breed because of their working pedigree. There’s a lot of care that goes into your new dog, and you’ll need to get all sorts of items for it like a crate, bed, food, water bowls, vaccinations, checkups, and more. If you purchased your puppy from a reputable breeder, then it might already have been vaccinated and dewormed, but you’ll still want to take it to the vet for a checkup.

Make sure you don’t purchase an American Water Spaniel from a backyard breeder. Look for a reputable breeder that’s known for taking good care of the puppies. This way, you can ensure that you’ll get a healthy puppy that’s already been screened for hereditary conditions and was raised in a safe and sanitary environment.

Temperament & Intelligence of the American Water Spaniel

American Water Spaniels are known as alert and friendly dogs. They’re obedient and full of life when well trained, though they tend to be stubborn and difficult if not trained properly. This breed hates to be alone and they constantly seek out attention and affection. If you’re going to be gone from the home with no one there for long periods, this breed isn’t a good fit. Without ample attention, they can become quite loud and destructive, tearing up things in the house and barking loudly for attention.

As long as you’re providing ample attention, these dogs are energetic and playful. They want to play a lot, and they’ve got tons of energy for it. You’ll need to make sure you give that energy an outlet with plenty of mental and physical engagement, including playtime and exercise. These dogs were built to hunt, and without a job or task to occupy them, they can easily get bored and anxious.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪

An American Water Spaniel will take love from anyone in the family and happily return it, forming bonds with each family member. However, there’s a special place in its heart for the family member that provides the most love and affection, and it is that family member who the dog will bond with the strongest.

This breed is generally gentle and playful with children. Since they’re not too large, these dogs aren’t going to accidentally step on a child and hurt it, making them better suited for households with kids than many large breeds. These are also very playful dogs, and you’ll probably find your kid and dog playing together all the time. In fact, it’s likely to be your child that the dog bonds with the strongest!

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets?

American Water Spaniels tend to get along great with other dogs that are of a similar size or larger. But they do have a pretty strong natural prey drive, so you need to be careful with smaller animals. These dogs were bred to chase through the brush to drive out small game, and any small animals might still trigger that instinct. Socialization will help a lot, especially if you start early and regularly socialize your dog. Even still, the prey drive could be too strong to leave small animals around your American Water Spaniel unattended.


Things to Know When Owning an American Water Spaniel:

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

American Water Spaniels are medium-sized dogs, rarely weighing much over 40 pounds. As such, they’re only going to eat a moderate amount of food. They don’t have any special dietary needs, though supplementing with a good joint supplement is a great idea since this breed is susceptible to hip dysplasia.

Exercise 🐕

Dogs bred for the hunt, American Water Spaniels have tons of endurance and energy. While they’re usually pretty calm despite all the energy, you will still need to provide an outlet to ensure it doesn’t build up. You’ll need to exercise your spaniel for an hour or more every day. Furthermore, these dogs require a yard that they can run around in aside from that hour of exercise. Mental stimulation is also necessary for an American Water Spaniel. These are dogs that were made for hunting, and if you don’t give them some sort of task, they can get bored pretty quickly.

Training 🎾

American Water Spaniels are relatively easy dogs to train. You’ll want to stick to positive reinforcement here. Punishments and negative reinforcement can cause an American Water Spaniel to become withdrawn and timid. But these dogs want to please and they’re naturally obedient, even if they do have a bit of a stubborn streak.

Grooming ✂️

This breed is covered in a thick double coat that keeps them warm when they’re swimming in freezing cold waters. Natural oils produced by the coat help it to repel water, so you’ll probably end up with oily spots around your home where your dog rubbed its body. But surprisingly, this coat doesn’t require much upkeep.

In the spring, they shed the most, so you’ll need to brush your American Water Spaniel often during this season. For the rest of the year, once-per-week brushing should suffice. Limit bathing to when the dog is particularly stinky or dirty because bathing removes the natural oils your dog’s coat needs.

Health and Conditions 🏥

American Water Spaniels are rather hardy dogs, able to dive into freezing waters without worry. But when it comes to their health, there not the most resilient. There are quite a few conditions that are common in this breed, and you’ll want to watch out for signs of them to catch them as early as possible.

Minor Conditions
  • Cataracts: Cataracts are cloudy or opaque film that starts to form on the lens of the eye. This occurs when proteins in your dog’s eye liquid start to clump together. Soon, the lens becomes clouded with these proteins, making it very difficult or impossible for your dog to see. Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop a cataract once it starts to form, but they can be removed through surgery.
  • Pattern Baldness: Also known as saddle alopecia, this condition starts early in a dog’s life, usually before they reach a year old. It causes hair loss in particular areas, including the underside of the neck, the tail, and the back of the legs. In the affected areas, all hair will be lost until those spots are bald. There’s no treatment for this condition, but it won’t prevent your dog from living a great life; it will just look a bit ragged.
  • Allergies: Just like humans get allergies, so do dogs. Similar to us, dogs can be allergic to many different substances, including fleas, foods, and environmental allergens like dust, mold, and pollen. In most cases, allergies in dogs aren’t a big deal, though if the reaction is severe, it could cause anaphylactic shock, which could be fatal if left untreated. Look for diarrhea, itchiness, hives, swelling, and red skin as symptoms of allergies. A vet can prescribe allergy medication for your dog if necessary.
  • Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is a condition that causes a dog’s thyroid to be underactive, which results in a lower metabolic rate. It is often caused by an underlying disease, with lymphocytic thyroiditis and idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy being the most common causes.
Serious Conditions
  • Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a rather common condition in canines, and American Water Spaniels are quite susceptible to it. This is when the femur and hip fail to form properly. The femur then rubs on the hip instead of fitting into the socket like it is supposed to. This rubbing causes pain and reduces mobility. Eventually, it can even lead to lameness.
  • Retinal Dysplasia: Simply put, retinal dysplasia is a condition that causes lesions to appear on the retina of the eye. These lesions result in tears of the peripheral retina, which can then lead to retinal detachment. Eventually, this will impair the dog’s vision and could lead to blindness. Retinal dysplasia is an early-onset form of progressive retinal atrophy, and it’s usually diagnosed in young puppies around two or three months old.
  • Epilepsy: In canines, epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder, affecting nearly 1% of the entire dog population. Epilepsy in dogs is pretty similar to the same condition in humans, though classifying the type of epilepsy occurring in a dog can prove to be more difficult. Essentially, epilepsy is a brain abnormality that results in recurring unprovoked seizures.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Atrophy means to degenerate, so a dog with progressive retinal atrophy has retinas that are progressively degenerating. This condition causes the photoreceptor cells of the retina to deteriorate until the affected eye loses the ability to see.


Male vs Female

Between male and female American Water Spaniels, the difference is minimal. Both sexes reach the same heights of 15-18 inches. Males can outweigh females, but only slightly. The heaviest females weigh in at 40 pounds with the largest males weighing just five pounds more.


3 Little-Known Facts About the American Water Spaniel

1. They Become Destructive When Left Alone

Once you bond with your American Water Spaniel, it will never want to leave your side. These dogs hate to be left alone for long periods, which is why they’re only a good fit for households that generally have a member home. If you’re going to be gone at work all day five days each week with no one home to keep your spaniel company, then this breed probably won’t be a great fit for you.

2. They’re Naturally Prone to Chewing and Digging

Lots of dogs learn to chew and dig, but the American Water Spaniel is naturally attracted to these behaviors. You’ll probably see them starting early on, and if you want to put a stop to them, it’s at this early stage when you should take action to train such behaviors out of your dog.

3. There Are Fewer Than 3,000 In Existence Today

If you want to add one of these dogs to your family, you’re going to have to do some searching. As far as officially recognized breeds go, the American Water Spaniel is one of the rarest. This is probably why it’s so low in the popularity rankings. It would probably be more popular if there were actually puppies around to purchase! But it’s estimated by the American Water Spaniel Club that there are fewer than 3,000 of these dogs alive today.

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Final Thoughts

Equal parts retriever and spaniel, the American Water Spaniel is the perfect dog for hunting in frigid environments. Like most spaniels, these dogs can tear through brush to weed out upland game, but they’re just as comfortable diving into a frozen lake to retrieve your waterfowl. Of course, these dogs are good for more than just hunting and retrieving, even though they’re purpose-bred for those tasks.

American Water Spaniels also make great pets and companions. They’re incredibly friendly and loving dogs. Once you bond with one, it never wants to leave your side, and they hate being alone for long periods. If you want to add an American Water Spaniel to your family, make sure that someone’s home most of the time to keep it company. Furthermore, ensure you can provide ample engagement and activity for your spaniel. Otherwise, it will likely become destructive and loud, which is the opposite of how the breed behaves when healthy.

Featured Image Credit: Steve Bruckman, Shutterstock

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