A medium-sized, muscular hunting dog, the American Water Spaniel is true to the Spaniel type. If you happen to own one yourself, you know just how much they enjoy running, hunting, and swimming. Due to their water-resistant double coat, they are perfectly adapted to swim and retrieve, in water as well as on land. But their tireless temperament has a prevalent downside and that is… stubbornness. They become very protective of their territory and are more discriminating with strangers than most spaniels. How do you cope with a fun-loving, energetic yet extremely stubborn furry companion such as the American Water Spaniel? Let’s find out more about it together.
The Root of the Behavior
The American Water Spaniel is one of the few dog breeds specifically developed in the United States, having an energetic, sensitive and willing to please personality. With a long and abundant history in hunting and retrieving, the American Water Spaniel’s origins go back to the time of the Civil War (the mid 1800’s), although the exact time and place of birthplace have never been confirmed. During that period, huntsmen needed a compact dog who could flush and retrieve and was able to withstand the cold and harsh elements of nature. The American Water Spaniel was easy to carry on small boats and met all the personality requirements needed: intelligent, eager to learn, confident, obedient and an excellent watchdog and swimmer. The breed craves human companionship, is enthusiastic about his work and is a disciplined and precise hunting partner. The great thing about the American Water Spaniel is that they are wonderful with children, patient, and always eager to please, making them the perfect addition to any family.
Due to their alpha dog characteristics however, American Water Spaniels can be stubborn and even manipulative, which makes them a bit of a challenge to train. Consider this negative trait as having a mind of their own. The reason is that, in the early years of the development of the breed, the American Water Spaniel was allowed to live in packs or groups, so the need to establish their status among other group members was always present. Which is why you will see them act stubbornly at times, especially when among unfamiliar or new dogs. They will also bark to alert a stranger's arrival, being prone to whining and howling. Furthermore, American Water Spaniels can become destructive and bark or whine excessively when you don’t allow them to expel their energy properly. Although sensitive to harsh discipline, American Water Spaniels are extremely versatile, outgoing, good with children, and an ideal watchdog.
Encouraging the Behavior
One of the major traits of the American Water Spaniel’s personality is his high sensitivity and defensive behavior. Apart from being extremely stubborn at times, due to their alpha-dog mentality, this type of breed can suffer from separation anxiety (when left alone too much), suspiciousness toward strangers, barking, whining, and even yodeling. On the other hand, you should know that temperament and behavior can also be shaped by raising and training. This means that you can avoid some of his negative traits by teaching him to respect you.
Avoid heavy-handed techniques that use punishment for getting it wrong instead of rewards for getting it right, and make sure you expose him to new people and places as well. The earlier you do it, the more easy-going they will be in adulthood. This way you reduce their need to being too aggressive or protective of their territory. Once basic obedience training is completed, you should enroll your pup in advanced or agility training to keep him challenged and mentally stimulated. Control his innate desire to chase, hunt, and retrieve by exposing him to regular exercises and mental stimulation as well as proper socialization. Yes, American Water Spaniels can be stubborn and manipulative at times, but you need to show them that you mean what you say.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Given the fact that American Water Spaniels need room to run and can spend hours engaged in this activity, it’s best if you can provide him with plenty of space to do just that. These pooches prefer wide spaces and water nearby, but if you live in an apartment, don’t fret. You can still channel his energy into dog sports such as agility or flyball. Make sure you give your pup one to two hours a day of walks, runs, or games of fetch and establish rules for him to follow. It’s also better if you train him yourself rather than sending him off to be tutored by a stranger. He'll work much better for someone he knows and loves.
Because this breed is so energetic, you need to provide them with daily exercise including regular walks and outdoor playtime. To teach your American Water Spaniel to listen to you, it is essential that you take the role of the alpha leader by establishing rules and being consistent in reinforcing them. In the meantime, take your beloved American Water Spaniel with you next time you go boating or canoeing… they will most likely turn into the “life of the party.”