As one of only five American-bred breeds, the American Water Spaniel has had official recognition from the AKC since 1940. The American Water Spaniel Breeder's Association (AWSBA) was the breed's first parent club, which was formed in the 1930s but was inactive for almost 30 years after World War II. However, beginning in 1985 the American Water Spaniel Club (AWSC) took on the role as the parent club for the breed.
The first meeting of the AWSC was held in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on 23 February 1985. Vaugh Brockman lead the first meeting with guidance and historical context about the breed. Those in attendance felt the formation of the club was necessary for the following reasons: to "improve the breed; share and disseminate information; get together and enjoy our dogs; record individual dogs' accomplishments; promote the AWS in field trials; make decisions regarding their status as retrievers or flushing spaniels; and gather enough dogs for the show ring." In addition to these issues, they also elected temporary officers including, John Hattram, president; Carolyn Kraskey, vice president; Sue Liemohn, Secretary-Treasurer; Tom Olson, Corresponding Secretary.
For the next several years, the club worked diligently to gain recognition from the AKC. And in response, the AKC accredited the club to hold Plan B (OB) matches in May 1990. Further advancement for the club occurred in June of 1993 when it was accredited to hold Plan A (OA) matches. Finally, in October 1993, the club was licensed to hold specialty shows. It held its first national specialty show on 12 August 1994, where Ch. Waterway's Bodee-O-Do, WDX won Best of Breed. Judge Dorothy MacDonald described the dog as "�a lovely size, sound as he could be. Beautiful type, lovely tail, good topline, carried it well, moving and standing." The club was eventually elected as a member of the AKC in December 1996.
During the 1990s, the AWSC was challenged with mounting opposition from another club, the American Water Spaniel Field Association. According to the AWSC newsletter, its purpose, among other things, was the advancement of the breed. In fact, the AWSFA asked for recognition to hold hunting tests, but in response, John V. Carroll, AKC Director of Operations stated, "The breed is presently represented by the American Water Spaniel Club, and there is little possibility of a second national club being recognized to represent the same breed." The issue of who would represent the breed was settled.
The combination of retrieving waterfowl and flushing upland game makes the breed unique. The dog's tenacious ability to search for crippled game, intelligence and size make it ideal in the field. In addition to its hunting prowess, it also makes an excellent family dog. The breed's history has been shrouded in mystery, but there are certain unmistakable facts about its development in the United States.
The breed was initially developed during the late 1800s in the Midwest by market hunters who needed a dog small enough to retrieve pheasant out of heavy thicket, solid enough to retrieve game over and over and to retrieve waterfowl. Its curly coat was useful during long and harsh Midwestern winters. It was and solid enough to withstand heavy, thorny thicket in the field and waterproof for retrieving waterfowl. Its stamina and size proved useful for canoe hunters who would be out for days hunting in the field.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Fred J. Pfeifer, a physician and surgeon from Wisconsin, was the first person to begin breeding the American Water Spaniel. He owned Wolf River Kennels, which was awarded a purple ribbon from the United Kennel Club in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for his breeding. Thereafter, the breed received recognition from the AKC in 1940. The breed, popular in Midwestern states, particularly in Wisconsin, was made the official state dog in 1986 by the then-Governor Anthony Earl.
The breed inherits many of its traits from its ancestors, including the Irish Water Spaniel, English Water Spaniel (now extinct) and the Curly Coated Retriever. According to its standard, "The breed's emphasis is placed on proper size, and a symmetrical relationship of parts, texture of coat and color."