GL American Water Spaniel Club logoLast updated on: July 18, 2019

An AKC licensed club
training hunting spaniels since 1993

Rescuing Little Brown Dogs

Over the years the Great Lakes AWSC has been active in the rescue of American Water Spaniels. From the Great Lakes AWSC's creation of the first national rescue program, to its fund raising efforts supporting other rescue programs, to its members' efforts to pickup, transport and house AWS, the organization has done what it could to help AWS who have been abandoned, lost or otherwise displaced from their home.

The Great Lakes AWSC gave up its rescue program when the AWSC, Inc. started its own national rescue service. At that time the Great Lakes AWSC became a contributor of money, time and manpower to the parent club's rescue efforts. Today the only AWS rescue program is run by a private organization unaffiliated with either the Great Lakes AWSC or the AWSC. AWS Rescue, Inc. can be contacted through its website

In a continuing effort to support the rescue of AWS and other little brown dogs (Irish Water Spaniels, Boykin Spaniels and AWS) the Great Lakes AWSC maintains this page that is used by many rescue groups to help them distinguish between the three breeds. If you examine this page and believe that you have a dog from one of these breeds, please contact the appropriate organization below.

American Water Spaniel - American Water Spaniel Rescue, Inc.
Boykin Spaniel - Boykin Spaniel Rescue
Irish Water Spaniel - Irish Water Spaniel Club of America, Inc.

Identifying American Water Spaniels

Which of these dogs is an AWS?

awsbigpic2.jpg (14776 bytes)  matt.jpg (17468 bytes)   effiespruce.jpg (22020 bytes)

Read on, the answer may surprise you!

Take a look at the photos above. Can you tell which is which?

Many people have difficulty distinguishing between the little brown dogs or brown spaniels; known by their more common names as the American Water Spaniels, Boykin Spaniels, and Irish Water Spaniels.  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.

1.) Check the length of the tail.

hollow-creek-chocolate-mouse.jpg (14496 bytes)The tail of the American Water Spaniel is left long and will often be 12" or more in length. Similarly, the IWS also has a long tail. The tail of the Boykin Spaniel (pictured to the right) is usually docked (i.e. cut short) to about 2-4 inches in length. 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 can be rather flat-coated.

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

AWS tail
AWS tail

Both of these tails belong to American Water Spaniels. On the right is a plumed tail and on the left is a well-covered tail without a lot of feathering.

IWS tail
Both the American Water Spaniel and the Irish Water Spaniel have long tails, but the patterning of the tail's fur 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". AWS can also exhibit such a tail but with a more pronounced rocker shape. Normally, the American Water Spaniel's tail varies from having a well-feathered plume to a light covering of curls or waves and it does not generally 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 predominately near the end of the tail, creating a sort of  "flag." The AWS tail typically has sort of a "rocker" shape to it.

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

AWS legs IWS legs
The Irish Water Spaniel's legs (left) tend to be more "poodle like," often completely encircled in curls. In contrast, the American Water Spaniel's legs (shown on the right) tend to be more "spaniel like" with smoother hair on the front, and the waves or curls mostly on the backside of the leg.

4.) Check the overall expression of the face.

AWS face

American Water Spaniels (shown at the left) 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.

IWS Facial expressionThis is an Irish Water Spaniel
Boykin Spaniel This is a Boykin Spaniel

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.

Many American Water Spaniels that turn up in shelters are larger than the breed standard; even so, they are usually shorter than the typical Irish Water Spaniel. Several 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 but not necessarily so. If you see a dog that looks like an IWS but it seems a little small, it is quite likely that you are actually looking at a large AWS.

7.) Look at the "big picture".

awsbigpic.jpg (21684 bytes)

Looking only at one or two features of a dog can lead to a false identification. You may need to take a step back and look at the "whole dog". The dog to the left, with his prominent 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 organizations listed above. They'll try to find an experienced dog owner in your area to help you make a positive identification. Some AWS breeders microchip their puppies before they are placed and you can still find an AWS that is tattooed (look on the bottom side of the ear or inside the thigh), so check for permanent identification.