The Breed History
Predominantly found in the US Midwestern states, this dog is thought to have arisen from the Curly-coated Retriever, Tweed and Irish Water Spaniels, and Field Spaniels. The Boykin Spaniel may also be related to this breed. First recognition by the AKC occurred in 1940. The American Water Spaniel is the designated State Dog of Wisconsin and is considered a rare breed.
Breeding for Function
Strictly developed as a dual-purpose gun dog, they are excellent at following scent and flushing the quarry such as birds and rabbits. American Water Spaniels possesses an excellent ability to swim, and thus excel as a water retriever. The heavy tail can help to steady the dog in water like a rudder.
Height at Withers: 15-18" (38-45.5 cm).
Weight: females 25-40 lb (11.5-18 kg), males 30-45 lb (13.5-20.5 kg).
Coat: The haircoat may be wavy or curly and a thick undercoat is present. Colors include liver, chocolate, or brown. Small white markings are accepted on the toes and chest. They are light to moderate shedders and have moderate grooming needs; the haircoat can be a bit oily.
Longevity: 11-12 years
Points of Conformation: Medium size, longer than tall, and solid bone and muscling characterizes this breed. The eyes are light brown, hazel, or dark brown. Eyes are medium-sized, moderately deep set and the palpebral margins are tight. The skull is flat and broad. Ears are long, wide and heavily feathered. The stop is moderate, the muzzle square and fairly long, and the nose is dark brown or black. The neck is short-to-medium, and not throaty. The topline is level, and the thorax moderately deep with well sprung ribs. The tail is carried fairly level, is moderately feathered and tapers at the terminus. Limbs are straight boned, and the feet are webbed and compact. Front dewclaws may be left on. The gait is smooth, powerful and ground covering.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed characteristics include: Intelligent, high trainability, loyal, likes to please. He is also considered a good watchdog and has a high barking tendency. They are notable for a high tolerance of pain; a very stoic dog. High activity and exercise needs are evident especially when young. Early obedience training is recommended, as is early socialization; some have a stubborn streak. Can be possessive of toys and food, tending to dominance, and may develop boredom vices if not adequately exercised and challenged mentally. Slow to mature and sensitive; responds well to positive reinforcement in training.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 7.7% affected.1 Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. Too few American Water Spaniels have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Too few American Water Spaniels have been screened by OFA to determine an accurate frequency.
Mitral Valve Disease: Mitral valve prolapse and mitral regurgitation was identified in 56% of American Water Spaniels screened with echocardiography at the 2002 AWSC National Specialty. This was identified in dogs both with and without a heart murmur.
Distichiasis: Abnormally placed eyelashes that irritate the cornea and conjunctiva. Can cause secondary corneal ulceration. Identified in 30.07% of American Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus: Polygenically inherited congenital heart disorder, where a fetal vessel remains open after birth, causing a mixing of oxygenated and unoxygenated blood. Affected dogs are usually stunted, and have a loud heart murmur. Diagnosis with Doppler ultrasound. Treat with surgery. Identified in 5% of American Water Spaniels screened with echocardiography at the 2002 AWSC National Specialty.
Pulmonic Stenosis: Polygenically inherited congenital heart disorder, where there is a narrowing of the outflow from the pulmonic valve. This can cause exercise intolerance, and right sided heart failure. Diagnosis with Doppler ultrasound. Identified in 5%
of American Water Spaniels screened with echocardiography at the 2002 AWSC National Specialty. (See AWSC website) Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 3.7% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Cataracts: Posterior cortex cataracts predominate, although anterior intermediate and punctate cataracts also occur in the breed. Unknown mode of inheritance. Identified in 2.61% of American Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any American Water Spaniel with a cataract.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 1.63% of American Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal folds, geographic, and generalized retinal dysplasia with detachment are recognized in the breed. Identified in 1.63% of American Water Spaniels CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Idiopathic Epilepsy (Inherited Seizures): Control with anti-seizure medication. Frequency and mode of inheritance not known. Ongoing research in the breed at the University of Missouri.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): Affected dogs show an insidious onset of upper motor neuron (UMN) paraparesis at an average age of 11.4 years. The disease eventually progresses to severe tetraparesis. Affected dogs have normal results on myelography, MRI, and CSF analysis. Necropsy confirms the condition. Unknown mode of inheritance. A direct genetic test for an autosomal recessive DM susceptibility gene is available. All affected dogs are homozygous for the gene, however, only a small percentage of homozygous dogs develop DM. The susceptibility allele occurs at a frequency of 46% in the breed.
Allergic Inhalant Dermatitis, Cleft Lip/Palate, Cryptorchidism, Diabetes Mellitus, Follicular Dysplasia, Hermaphrodism, Growth Hormone-Responsive Dermatosis,Inguinal Hernia, Osteochondrodysplasia, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for DM susceptibility gene is available from OFA. Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required tests include hip radiographs, CERF eye examination (biannually until age 6), and cardiac evaluation. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org). Recommend elbow radiographs, patella evaluation and thyroid profile including autoantibodies.
- Breed name synonyms: Brown Water Spaniel, AWS.
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, NKC (National Kennel Club).
- AKC rank (year 2008): 136 (132 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: American Water Spaniel Club Inc.: americanwaterspanielclub.org
AWS Partners: home.earthlink.net/~awspartners/
American Water Spaniel Field Association: awsfa.org
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