AWS are a primitive breed and were actively: pack bred through the early part of this century; in fact, some folks were still doing a form of pack breeding through the early 60’s. AWS, up until the last few years were NOT always bred with temperament or looks in mind, but rather, one good hunting dog to another, thereby preserving the hunting instincts, but not always getting “good”, easy going temperaments or particularly beautiful dogs. AWS are smart, determined and often want to make their own decisions. Understanding how a pack works will enable you to work with your AWS more easily. They need to understand their place and who is PACK LEADER. Most will want to be alpha dog. The responsible owner must assume this position from day one and understand that periodically the second in line may want to test that. Owners who submit to their AWS, even young puppies, may find themselves with a problem later on. They do well with children as long as the child either maintains its position in the pack or does not threaten the dog’s position. AWS like to be with their leader and will strive to please him or her to the extent that it maintains its position or moves up. They like to touch their leaders; it is not necessarily affection, but rather a combination of affection and pack behavior. They do best as a housedog to maintain the bond.
Many people will tell you that AWS are natural hunters; they are, for themselves. You need to work with them from a fairly early age to establish a partnership. AWS need to be treated fairly but firmly. They are smart and will get bored with repetition. They tend to follow you around the house or yard to see and to be a part of what you are doing. They do mature mentally more slowly than other sporting breeds; they get their independence i.e. The spaniel questing nature, at an early age, but tend not to take to more formal training until they are 9-11 months old. Many of the hunting breeds are considered “finished” at that age.
AWS need lots of early socialization to learn that people are good. If the puppy is left out in the kennel or only with other dogs at the early stages, it will bond to other dogs rather than to humans and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to win it back. I do not believe that you can buy a “started” AWS. AWS tend to be one person, or one, small family dogs and usually do not work for other people. They do not do well being moved from one family to another. If you buy an older dog, you will have to work much harder with it. Also keep in mind that the bitches are often harder to work with and tend to be the more aggressive in this breed.
American Water Spaniels are one of only six AKC recognized breeds to be developed here in the United States. They have been and are continuing to be bred as a versatile waterfowl and upland hunting dog. They are also fine family companions, being of a size and temperament to fit into today’s smaller homes
and yards. They also have the honor of being designated the Official State Dog of Wisconsin.
American Water Spaniels tend to do best as a part of the family unit (the pack). They learn very quickly if treated fairly; gently but firmly. They do require exercise but fit nicely into a smaller home/yard and don’t take up much room on the end of a couch. They are protective but not overbearing. AWS are a very personal dog. They generally become attached to one family, especially one family member. He/she focuses their life on that one person, bonds only with them and manipulates other family members as required. For that reason, that one person should train the dog. AWS DO NOT respond well to being sent away to a professional trainer for that reason. I have seen a couple of dogs that have been to pros, and while they completed some basic exercises, it was done with NO enthusiasm. I feel very strongly that an AWS does best if they have some formal obedience training (in a class room structure) to bring out the best in your dog. If you plan to hunt with your AWS, it is VERY important to have some obedience work BEFORE you take the dog into the field or the duck blind. This will help to establish the working partnership needed for a rewarding hunting life. It works much better if the dog comes back when you call it, and NO, it does not take any of the enthusiasm/drive out of the dog. Dogs want to know what you expect of them and obedience helps to set up the lines of communication.
Profile information courtesy of Lara A. Suesens at Wave Crest American Water Spaniels
The following health screenings are often performed by responsible American Water Spaniel breeders:
Cardiac Evaluation - OFA
CERF Screening (Canine Eye Research Foundation)
Elbow Displasia (OFA, by X-Ray)
Hip Dysplasia (OFA or PennHIP)
Patellar Luxation Test - OFA
The following conditions may be a concern in the American Water Spaniel: