The “Rocking” American Water Spaniel

The American Water Spaniel is among the smallest duck dogs standing only 15 to 18 inches high. Developed in the region around the Fox and Wolf river valleys of east-central Wisconsin around the time of the Civil War, some believe the dog’s small stature is because Wisconsin hunters wanted a dog that would fit in their small boats, skiffs, or canoes without taking up too much space.

As a hunter, the dog is a dynamic dynamo. She can spend a day in the field putting pheasant, grouse, or rabbit before the gun, or she can sit patiently in a duck blind. As a retriever, the AWS is better suited to work marshes, potholes, rivers, and small lakes for waterfowl, but she can hunt in the uplands the AWS where her exceptional nose can scent game out of gun range. She can track a wounded bird,  or chase down a running pheasant.

Though the breed’s name includes “spaniel,”  it wasn’t always a sure thing. Decades of debate within the breed club was the result of the breed’s versatility. There were those who felt that in the field, the AWS was equal parts retriever and flushing spaniel, and it was a challenge to pinpoint how exactly to categorize the breed. Though the AWS was recognized by the AKC in 1940, it wasn’t classified until 2005.  So what was the fuss? In point of fact, a well bred and properly trained AWS not only hunts the uplands with impressive “spaniel-esque” style and enthusiasm, but she also works like great retriever breeds in waterfowling, regardless of the weather and water conditions. In many regards, the breed is half-retriever and half-spaniel.

All that said, you’d never know it so far, but what we really wanted to mention is the dog’s tail.
The tail of the American Water Spaniel is left long (one way to tell it apart from a Boykin Spaniel whose tail is usually docked) and it can be carried either slightly below or above the level of her back. What makes the AWS’s tail singular, and indeed, its standard is unique among all AKC breeds, is that it calls for the tail to be curved in “rocker” fashion, which is to say that it arches like the rocker of a rocking chair. The AWS uses its tail as a rudder when swimming, but an “otter-type” tail of, say, the Labrador Retriever would be ungainly for a dog the size of the AWS.

Image: American Water Spaniel by ©Radomír Režný|Dreamstime.com

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