American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel Comparison Guide to These Curly Pooches

American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel: Comparison Guide to These Curly Pooches

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Ever heard of a water dog?

Let’s see what that could mean…

Is it a dog that lives in the water (or under it)? Close to the water? Loves water?

It is simple enough: These are dogs that are excellent swimmers with a water-resistant coat that allows them comfort in the wet, including frigid waters in winter.

That brings us to two popular water dogs: The AWS or American water spaniel vs Boykin spaniel.

Most people often struggle in telling these two dog breeds apart. To the untrained eye, they look VERY similar!

But if you look more closely, they do also have some stark differences both in features as well as temperament.

This post will shed light on those similarities as well as highlight the differences between the two breeds. 

Let’s start with a comparison table.

American Water SpanielBoykin Spaniel
 American Water SpanielBoykin Spaniel
Size and weightThe breed is medium-sized and weighs between 30 to 45 pounds. It stands at a height of 15 to 18 inches.This is a medium-sized breed with a weight that ranges from 30 to 40 pounds with a height of 14 to 18 inches.
AppearanceIt has a handsome face with distinct and sizeable droopy ears covered with long drooping fur. The dog is muscular with a double coat. Coat color can range from solid liver, dark chocolate or brown. The tail is slightly longer.The dog is gorgeous with a proportionate muscular body. The ears are a distinct feature with a drooping look covered in long curly strands. The coat can have a flat or wavy look. Coat color can range from a solid deep reddish-brown to chocolate brown and liver color. The tail is docked.
Life Expectancy13-15 years14-16 years
TemperamentVery energetic breed that loves the outdoors and loves to play. The breed is intelligent and eager to please with a friendly demeanor. It also has a protective streak.High energy breed that requires plenty of exercise. Very playful, intelligent, friendly and companionable.
Health issuesSaddle Alopecia, cataracts, allergies, Hypothyroidism and Retinal dysplasiaCataracts, saddle Alopecia, patellar luxation, Hip dysplasia, Pulmonic  Stenosis
GroomingThe coat has tight curls also called marcel curls. The coat is naturally oily and frequent brushing should keep it neat. Grooming needs for this breed are average.Their double coat needs a weekly brush at the very least to keep it neat.
TrainabilityThis breed is trainable. While it may be energetic in the field, it is easy to command as it has a decent obedience level.Very easy to train and a willing worker and eager to please.
American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel — Comparison Table

Related post: Golden Retriever vs Labrador Retriever — Know the Difference Between a Lab and a Goldie!

Over and above their swimming prowess and their high prey on both land and water, these two breeds are appreciated for their energy. 

Because they are quite rare, you can expect to wait for more than a year to acquire one from a breeder due to a long waiting list of buyers

Breeders also tend to be careful about ensuring that this special breed goes to families who can keep up with the breed and provide it with a happy life.

1. Personality & Temperament

Brown male spaniel dog playing with ball

Jumpy, bumpy! Licky, frolicky!

Both of these breeds are incredibly cheerful and they’ll enjoy making you laugh and melt with joy.

Your family (especially kids!) will enjoy these happy-go-lucky breeds. But you should also keep in mind that these pooches are highly energetic and incredibly curious. 

To really be happy, they need LOTS of running around and exploring the big, beautiful world!

(Swimming is another treat.)

If you don’t give them that, they might wander off and seek their happiness elsewhere. Not because they don’t love you, but because activity and discovery is what they thrive on.

So, city people who live in apartments will have to adjust their lifestyle accordingly. Both breeds make for excellent apartment dogs, but only if they get enough workout. They also get along with other pets very well!

These are amazing breeds to have if you are outdoorsy and can keep up with their energy. They make excellent family dogs because of their amiable nature.

One potential problem with this particular breed is that they aren’t very good at staying home alone as puppies. You’ll have to invest some extra effort in training them NOT to be super sad or take to destroying your furniture. Leave them alone for small periods of time at first, then work your way up.

However, even though their temperaments are similar, they have subtle differences too. While Boykins suck at guarding and protecting what they deem as their property, American Water Spaniels have some knack for it.

Not that an AWS will make for a guardian poster dog, mind you! For that, there are much better equipped breeds such as Tibetan Mastiffs.

2. Boykin Spaniel vs American Water Spaniel: Appearance

Since these two breeds have a lot of similarities, their differences may not be so obvious. Not when you look at their weight and height, at any rate! 

American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel Weight and Height of Males and Females
American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel Weight and Height of Males and Females


You’d expect such similar breeds to have identical eyes, but they DON’T.

The eyes of AWS are medium-sized and set well apart. They have a round shape and do not appear to be deep set. But they aren’t bulging or protruding either.

(If that’s what you’re looking for, Frenchies and Boston Terriers say hello!) 

The eyelids are tight and don’t droop. Eye color can range from a dark tan to brown, hazel, or light yellowish-brown.

In contrast, Boykin Spaniel’s eyes are almond-shaped. But they are also medium-sized and set well apart.

Eye color varies from shades of brown to yellow and amber.


Both breeds have handsome coats that are fairly oily which gives them the ability to remain water-resistant. 

Yes, they really are water dogs!

The AWS coat has distinct uniform or curly waves also known as a marcel coat. 

These curls will vary in intensity in varied parts of the body. 

Their coat features a dense undercoat that protects from thickets, weather, or water. The coat is neither smooth nor coarse and barely sheds. 

It is fair to say their shedding is minimal.

Compared to the AWS’s coat, the Boykin spaniel’s coat is of medium length but it can be wavy to curly. 

Chocolate brown boykin spaniel on the snow

This breed has a single coat as a rule. But don’t be surprised to find that some of them have an undercoat as well!

The coat has light feathering around the legs, chest, belly, and neck as well as the rear sections.

Boykin Spaniels tend to shed moderately all year round while the American Water Spaniel is known to shed more during spring.

The good news is that you do not have to fear blown coats with these two breeds.


The AWS has lobular years set right above the eye line. 

The leather of the ears droops to the nose. That’s what really adds to their charm! 

But since the outer leather of the ears is covered with a thick mass of long-stranded curly hair, their length does seem to extend to slightly lower than the mouth.

In the same way, the Boykin’s ears also hang loose, flat, and close to the breed’s cheek. 

When extended, the leather of the ear should reach the nose tip. The leather of the ear is covered with a thick mass of long-stranded fur.

These cutie pies both look like they have a luxuriant pigtail hairstyle going with their floppy ears covered with curly hair!


The body of the AWS is well developed and moderately muscled. 

The Boykin may be just about the same size as the AWS but with a subtly smaller build

The breed is moderately muscled. Both breeds have well-developed and muscled fore and hindquarters with impressive reach and drive.

3. Grooming American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel

Grooming spaniel dog breed

Brush those curls!

Grooming the coat of the AWS will call for occasional trimming of the outer curly hair to present a neat look. 

Owners find it convenient to occasionally trim the outer hair to prevent matting. But the trimming also makes it easier to remove burrs. 

Brushing the coat once a week ensures the natural hair oils are well distributed to help with waterproofing the coat as well as preventing mats.

This applies to both the American Water Spaniel and the Boykin Spaniel.

The fur on the ear and the feathery coat can also be clipped to maintain a presentable look.

Frequent washing of both breeds is not advisable as it strips the coat of natural hair oils that help with water resistance for these swimming breeds. 

These cousins only need a bath when it is ABSOLUTELY necessary. 

Basically, your nose will tell you when!

But you don’t have to fear sleeping with a skunk. This happens once in a blue moon. 

Remember to use the right dog shampoo and conditioner to best preserve the state of their skin and coat as much as possible.

One of the subtle differences, but easy to spot between these two breeds, is the tail. At least when you look at the breed standards!

The tail of the AWS is noticeably longer while the tail on the Boykin is often docked. 

However, both tails are densely coated and heavily feathered

Both require a brush once a week alongside the rest of the coat to ensure that dead hair falls off and hair oils are well distributed.

Caring for floppy ears

Breeds with pendant or hanging ears are more likely to be prone to ear infections. 

Drop ears (also known as lop or pendant ears) is a type of ear found on many breeds of dog. These dogs typically have drooping or hanging ears which hang down from the top and rest near their cheekbones, instead of at the base where they would normally be attached to an upright canine head.

Since both of these breeds have pendant ears, it is very important to examine the ear canal and pinna for any redness and wipe them out with a cotton ball moistened with a dog ear cleaner once a week.

As a rule of thumb, it is advisable that when cleaning, you NEVER stick cotton swabs or pointy objects like toothpicks into the ear canal or you might damage it. 

If the ear smells foul, then it’s likely that your AWS or Boykin spaniel may have an ear infection. 

Look out for any signs of redness or tenderness. If any of these are present, it’s best to consult with your vet before attempting to clean the ears.

If your canine buddy frequently shakes his head or scratches at his ear, that too is often a sign of an ear infection. 

Weekly cleaning of the ears is the best way to avoid ear infections in both the AWS and Boykin Spaniels.

Help! My nails are in the way

Overgrown nails can be uncomfortable for any breed. The AWS and Boykin spaniel are not any different in this respect. 

Checking the status of their nails once a month is good practice. 

If they are a bit lengthy, use a dog nail clipper or nail grinder to bring them back to a short and comfortable size for your pooch.

Both dogs tend to have dark-colored nails that match their general colors. So, make sure that you use a nail guard during trimming to avoid cutting the quick.

Pay attention to the feet?

Make it a habit to examine their feet once a month when you tend to your curly buddy’s nails. 

This way you can catch any hairs that are overgrown in between the dog’s claws as well as those that extend to the paws and may reduce paw traction when walking or running. 

Since both breeds have medium-sized hair, this is likely to happen in equal measure.

Clippers or scissors and a steady hand should take care of the problem for your AWS or Boykin spaniel.

A clean smile

happy dog lying on the grass

Generally, the AWS and the Boykin spaniel have strong teeth and strong jaws with a soft bite for retrieving birds from the water. 

The level or scissor bite can be impaired by missing teeth as a result of common dental diseases such as periodontics. 

Healthy teeth are an integral part of the overall health of these two hunters. 

We recommend that you brush their teeth 2 to 3 times a week

Alternatively, you can also ask your vet for advice on the best dental chew options that will help in keeping your buddy’s teeth healthy for the long haul.

The AWS may be harder to keep still when brushing teeth because of their more muscular build. But with patience and training, that can be overcome.

4. Training American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel 

Because of their vibrant and highly energetic nature, both AWS and Boykin spaniel need LOADS of exercise in a day.

At least 3 hours of exercise everyday should do the trick.

The secret lies in dividing that exercise time across the day by throwing an hour here for walks and runs when you are putting in your own exercise, and allot the rest with the kids playing fetch and whatnot with Fido.

If they get bored, they can easily resort to destructive behavior such as excessive chewing as a way of communicating their discontent. 

Fortunately, with enough ‘workout’ a day, a healthy diet, and companionship, both of these breeds are guaranteed to become happy campers.

training spaniel dog breed

Yes, they are highly trainable. But it’s better to not skimp on the treats during training to motivate them more.

Also, begin socialization from an early age to ensure they live a fulfilled and happy doggie life!

5. What About Their Health?

Skin conditions to expect 

Saddle alopecia causes hair loss under the neck, back of thighs, and on the back as well as the tail.  

The condition starts from the age of 6 to 9 months and results in hair thinning. With time, it may lead to complete hair loss and baldness in the affected areas. This disease is hereditary and affects both the AWS and Boykin Spaniel. 

Unfortunately, there is NO known treatment to cover the baldness. Your vet can only help with options to manage the condition.

Check the eyes

Cataracts are a common hereditary condition affecting most dog breeds. 

Perhaps, the only consolation is that the condition tends to come during old age where the eyes of either breed may have a cloudy appearance. 

If this happens, they can be treated surgically thanks to modern day medicine.

Both breeds are equally likely to develop cataracts.

I am allergic to…..

Unfortunately, both spaniel dog breeds are prone to allergies. This can be triggered by something they eat, touch or smell. 

Look out for anything from pollen to a bothersome ingredient in the food like grains, byproducts, gluten and others.

The first symptoms of allergy on dogs can be sniffles or excessive scratching. Should you notice this, an immediate visit to your vet is advisable.

What about joints?

The AWS is more likely to suffer from patellar luxation, a dislocation of the knee cap. While the Boykin Spaniel suffers more from hip dysplasia, a poor fit of the hip joints.

Recommended diet

A balanced diet that is age appropriate is important in maintaining the health of the AWS and Boykin spaniel. 

It should have probiotics and prebiotics for good digestion, high protein diet with lean meat for replenishing energy and repairing spent muscles and joints, as well as low carbs for boosting energy for these highly active two gunshot breeds.

6. How Much Do They Cost: American Water Spaniel vs Boykin Spaniel

American Water Spaniel puppy vs Boykin Spaniel puppy

The average cost of an American Water Spaniel Puppy is $1200 to $1500 while a Boykin average puppy cost will range between $900 to $1500 when buying from reputable breeders.

If you want them cheaper, you can look for this breed in rescue shelters that will have it for adoption and you will likely get the breed for a significantly lower cost. The range may be $300 to $500 (or even less!).

However, these breeds as well as their cousin English Cocker Spaniel are pretty unique and lovely, so you may need to be patient as you’ll likely be joining a long waiting list. 

That also plays into the price setting it higher depending on the breeder.

7. A Glance at American Water Spaniel Vs Boykin Spaniel: History and Fun Facts

These two pure breeds are fairly popular in the United States. 

The American Water Spaniel breed is native to the US and was created in the Wolf and Fox valleys of the State of Wisconsin. Breeding records show that it existed as far back as the mid-1800s

Although no one knows for sure the actual origins of the AWS breed, it is widely thought to be a descendant of the Field Spaniel, Curly Coated Retriever as well as Irish Water Spaniel.  

AWS embodies the best of the Spaniel ancestors

Boykin Spaniel, on the other hand, was created more recently. It is also native to the United States and was created in the State of South Carolina. The breed was created in the 20th century. 

Whit Boykin is the breeder credited with coming up with the Boykin Spaniel. 

He used the AWS and bred it with crosses such as Cocker, English Springer, Chesapeake Bay Retriever to come up with the Boykin Spaniel breed as we know it today.

Here is a fun fact: these two breeds are referred to as ‘gun dogs‘.

No, it doesn’t mean they can shoot!

It just means that they were bred as hunting dogs with the amazing ability to help hunters flush out birds in water and foliage as well as retrieve the birds.

hunting dog

Both breeds are energetic and easy to control in the field because they remain close to the owner.  

Amongst the many traits that the AWS is favored for include endurance and the ability to tackle numerous terrains from uplands to marshes.

The Boykin spaniel, on the other hand, was favored for its ability to flush out birds in the water as well as retrieve them. 

While it’s a medium-sized dog, it is slightly lighter than the AWS and easy to accommodate on a small boat or canoe that has limited space. 

And so the nickname for the Boykin “the little brown dog that does not rock the boat” was born. 

Unfortunately, AWS started to fall out of favor, when hunters got bigger retriever dogs from England.  

With time, the breed would likely have been extinct as large foreign retriever breeds gained popularity. 

But, thanks to an AWS enthusiast in F.J. Pfeifer, a doctor in New London, Wisconsin, the breed was saved. 

He bred and sold the AWS and went on ahead to form a breed club for the AWS which paved the way for the breed recognition by United Kennels Club in 1920.

Not only did the breed survive but also went ahead to be recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1940.

In comparison, the Boykin is a recent addition to the American Kennel Club which recognized the breed fully in 2009. 

Guess who has an ENTIRE holiday that celebrates their existence?

Yep. The Boykin Spaniel.

In South Carolina, the breed is well-revered and is celebrated every September 1st on Boykin spaniel day. 

The AWS is considered the state dog of Wisconsin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Boykin Spaniels bark a lot?

Boykins are known to be responsible barkers. They tend to bark only to alert you of impending danger or something out of the ordinary.

That is one of the reasons they are popular in apartment buildings. 

If your Boykin is barking frequently, most likely there is an underlying problem with that particular dog.

Can I leave my American Water Spaniel alone?

This breed makes an excellent companion for families because they love being around people and other pets. 

But leaving them alone for extended periods will lead to the dog developing separation anxiety and even depression.

If you have to leave the dog, consider getting a pet sitter to spend some time with your AWS in your absence.

Alternatively, consider getting another pet to keep your dog company when you are gone.

Are Boykin Spaniels Protective?

This breed is NOT meant to be a guard dog. They may bark when a stranger approaches the house but soon they become welcoming of the newcomer.

That doesn’t make for a very good guard dog.

They are also eager to please, which can be manipulated by burglars.

So, if you are keeping a Boykin, do not expect much protection but plenty of companionship.

Final Thoughts

Spaniel with reddish brown coat

The American Water Spaniel and the Boykin Spaniel are an excellent breed for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts

While the two breeds specialize in hunting, they also make exceptional family dogs because they love human company. 

Both breeds being trainable and easy to live with has seen them grow in popularity even outside the States. The only one thing that you must be prepared to match, other than the generally good care of AWS and Boykin Spaniel, is their zest for life outdoors and plenty of living. 

You must have quite a motor yourself to keep with these two breeds that are a literal bundle of unfettered energy.

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