The American Water Spaniel, (often abbreviated to AWS), is a breed of spaniel which is one of a small number of breeds originating in the United States. Developed in the state of Wisconsin during the 19th century from a number of other breeds, including the Irish Water Spaniel and English Water Spaniels. The breed was saved by Dr. Fred J. Pfeifer, who set up the Breed club and Breed standard (dogs), and whose work led to recognition for the breed by the United Kennel Club, and later, the American Kennel Club. While they are the U.S. state dogs of Wisconsin, they remain a rare breed.They are medium sized dog, and have a double layered coat, which comes in a variety of brown related shades. A versatile hunting dog, they are also suitable for apartment life due to work by breeders to develop a breed with an even temperament. The AWS may have been involved in the development of the Boykin Spaniel.
Developed in the United States, the American Water Spaniel originated in the areas along the Fox River (Wisconsin) and its tributary the Wolf River (Fox River) during the early 19th century. Hunters needed a dog that could operate in both land and water for a variety of game whilst being compact enough to be transported in a small rowboat and able to stand the native cold water temperatures. Breeds involved in the creation of the American Water Spaniel are thought to have included the English Water Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel, Curly Coated Retriever, and either the Sussex Spaniel or a type of field spaniel.Over the years however, the numbers of the breed began to dwindle due both to a reduction in the duck population through those valley areas, and because of a switch in hunting – from a means to gather food for survival to that of recreation. Additionally, following World War II, Prior to recognition by the AKC, the breed had not been shown in the Conformation show ring before.The breed has links to the Boykin Spaniel, and is thought to have been the main breed used to develop the Boykin. The differences between the Boykin and the AWS are negligible with some dog historians suggesting that the original Boykin, called "Dumpy", who was found on the streets of Spartanburg, South Carolina, was actually an American Water Spaniel who had been misplaced in transit. However the breed clubs for the Boykin do not agree with this account. The American Water Spaniel remains a rare breed. During 1998 only 233 puppies were registered with the AKC, with an estimated 3,000 dogs being in existence mostly around the Midwestern United States, The dogs are not classified specifically as either retrievers or as spaniels and so may not compete in AKC hunt tests or field trials, but may compete in retriever hunting tests sponsored by the AWSC, the breed club in the United States. In a vote held of members of the AWSC in 1999, they chose to keep the breed unclassified.The coat has a coarse outside layer which keeps water away and protects the dog from foliage such as briers. The inside layer provides insulation to keep the dog warm. The coat has an oily feel to it, which gives off a "doggy smell". The breed standard specifies color of the eyes should harmonize with the color of the coat, and should never be yellow. The skull is broad, and carries long, wide ears.
Pack breeding early in its development led to a level of genetic variation, so the hereditary conditions of more popular breeds are not common in the AWS. The breed however is known to suffer from eye issues including cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy. The hair loss occurs at around six months of age, affecting the neck, thighs and tail; however the frequency has been reduced through work conducted by the breed clubs. Hip dysplasia (canine) is seen in around 8.3% of the breed, according to surveys conducted by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals over a twenty five year period between 1974 and 1999. This was one of the lower results of the sporting breeds, with Greyhounds coming lowest with 3.4%, and the related Boykin Spaniel coming in second highest at 47%. There was no evidence of elbow dysplasia found. The breed has an average life span of 10–13 years.