The limited popularity of the American Water Spaniel restricted development, resulting in the breed being relatively unchanged since its origins in the 19th century. They are a medium sized dog, with a curly liver, brown, or chocolate colored coat. The average height at the withers for the breed is 15–18 inches (38–46 cm), whilst weighing around 25–45 pounds (11–20 kg). They have similar features to the Irish Water Spaniel, but the Irish breed is larger at between 21–24 inches (53–61 cm) and weighing 55–65 pounds (25–29 kg). The coat of the American Water Spaniel can fall in two different patterns, either tightly curled or in the "marcel pattern" where the fur falls in waves. Working and show lines have not diverged as with some other breeds of spaniel, and both appear the same, with show dogs of this breed being rare.
The coat has a coarse outside layer which keeps water away and protects the dog from foliage such as briers. The inside layer provides insulation to keep the dog warm. The coat has an oily feel to it, which gives off a "doggy smell". The breed standard specifies color of the eyes should harmonize with the color of the coat, and should never be yellow. The skull is broad, and carries long, wide ears. The tail is not typically docked.
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