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Which of these dogs is an AWS? Read on, the answer may surprise you!

Identifying American Water Spaniels

Many people have difficulty distinguishing between the "brown spaniels"---American Water Spaniels, Boykin Spaniels, and Irish Water Spaniels.  Take a look at the photos above. Can you tell which is which?

The fact is, ALL of the dogs in the above three photographs are American Water Spaniels! With so much variation within a breed, it's little wonder people get confused. The following identification guide is designed to help newcomers and shelter workers identify whether or not a given dog is an American Water Spaniel.


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1.) Check the length of the tail.

The tail of the Boykin Spaniel is docked (i.e. cut short) to about 2-4 inches in length. In contrast, the tail of the American Water Spaniel is left long (12+ inches). This tends to be the most reliable and easy way to separate the AWS from the Boykin. Boykins, on average, tend to be more flat-coated than AWS---although this is not as reliable of an indicator, since some Boykins are quite curly, and some AWS are rather flat-coated.


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2.) Check the patterning of fur on the tail.

Both the American Water Spaniel and the Irish Water Spaniel have long tails, but the patterning of fur on the tail is often slightly different. Irish Water Spaniels typically have a clump of dense curls at the base of the tail, with the rest of the tail very smooth and "whip-like". The American Water Spaniel's tail varies from having a well-feathered plume to being somewhat ratty, but the American Water Spaniel generally does not have the dramatic switch from a curly clump at the base to completely smooth hair the rest of the way down. Many American Water Spaniels have feathering mostly near the end of the tail, creating a sort of  "flag". The AWS tail typically has sort of a "rocker" shape to it. Note also the high rear on the dog in the middle---more common in IWS than AWS.


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3.) Check the patterning of fur on the legs.

The Irish Water Spaniel's legs tend to be more "poodle like"---often completely encircled in curls. In contrast, the American Water Spaniel's legs tend to be more "spaniel like"---smoother on the front, with the waves or curls restricted mostly to the backside of the leg.


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4.) Check the overall expression of the face.

American Water Spaniels tend to have pronounced brows that give them a very thoughtful or expressive look. Many American Water Spaniels have a partial topknot of curls on their foreheads, but rarely do these curls form long bangs that cover the eyes, as with the Irish Water Spaniel. Check for tattoos on the inside of the ear---several AWS breeders tattoo the ears of their dogs.

5.) Check the personality and behavior.

American Water Spaniels tend to be very outgoing with strangers. Irish Water Spaniels are often somewhat reserved with strangers. American Water Spaniels have ravenous appetites---they frequently wolf down their food, and eat everything and anything they can get their mouths on. The Irish Water Spaniel is often a little less like a wild animal when it comes to eating! Throw the dog a tennis ball and watch it run---American Water Spaniels have a gallop similar to many other spaniels and retrievers. But when the Irish Water Spaniel runs, it has a distinctive, rolling, gait.


6.) Check the height, weight, and leg length.

An estimated 80% of the American Water Spaniels that turn up in shelters are larger than the breed standard. However, they are STILL usually shorter than the typical Irish Water Spaniel. Several male AWS rescues have weighed between 45 and 55 lbs. and have stood 19-20 inches at the shoulder. Compare this to a typical male Irish Water Spaniel, which usually weighs 55 to 65 lbs and stands 22 to 24 inches at the shoulder. Bitches in each breed are typically 10 lbs. lighter and 1" shorter than their male counterparts. So if you see a dog that looks like an IWS---but it seems a little small---it is quite likely you are actually looking at a large AWS.


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7.) Look at the "big picture".

Looking only at one or two features of a dog can lead to a false ID. You may need to take a step back and look at the "whole dog". The above dog, with his prominant topknot, could easily be confused with an IWS. But his comparatively shorter legs, his level back, the patterning of hair on the foreleg, and his "flag" type of tail (not visible in photo) reveal that he is, in fact, an AWS. With such dogs, evaluation of the personality becomes more critical---the outgoing dog with the insatiable appetite is more likely an AWS.

When in Doubt, Ask!

If you see a brown, curly spaniel in a shelter---and are still unable to tell if it's a Boykin, American, or Irish---contact the head of rescue of one or more of the respective breed clubs. They'll try to find an experienced dog owner in your area to make a positive I.D.

American Water Spaniel Rescue: goatdoc@thrifty.net ; http://americanwaterspanielclub.org
Boykin Spaniel Rescue: ameldock@bellsouth.net ; http://www.boykinspanielclub.org/
Irish Water Spaniel Rescue: colleen@aocb.com or Eclawiws@aol.com ; http://clubs.akc.org/iwsc/