Breed Birthday, Homecoming Celebration
(American Water Spaniels)
By Dave Duffey
Birthdays for hunting dog breeds are nebulous and most lines
which trace back to their origins are hazy. But the official
birthday of the American later Spaniel is conceded to be Feb.
8, 1920 and that birthplace was New London, Wisconsin at the
confluence of the Wolf and Embarrass rivers.
So Aug. 18-20, 2000 was set aside for a homecoming celebration
for the American Water Spaniel when the American Water Spaniel
Club of America scheduled its 7th annual National Specialty hunt
test on the breed's home grounds where 80 years before the "father"
of the curly, brown gun dog breed, Dr. F. J. Pfeifer, a New London
physician and surgeon convinced the United Kennel Club to I acknowledge
the breeds existence. "Curly Pfeifer" on Feb. 8, 1920
became the "original" American Water Spaniel, first
ever recognized by an official registry.
While the compact, long tailed spaniels existed in the U. S.
in recognizable form for perhaps another 80 years before official
acknowledgment this birth date paved the way for subsequent recognition
by the Field Dog, Stud Book in 1938 and the American Kennel Club
in 1940. While long-known, the AWS today is a rare breed and
will continue to be relatively unknown as long as the majority
of serious fanciers consider it unique and not a comfortable
fit in either the spaniel or retriever classifications designated
for gun dogs.
Appropriately, the field work at "the National" (which
also included conformation showings, and obedience work) took
place at the Wolf River Game Farm which accommodate an American
record entry of over 100 in the serious hunt testing and the
"for fun" hunts and water races designed for the breed;
owners from New York, California and varies states in between
As in real estate sales, the top three factors when conducting
a successful hunting test are location, location, location. Dean
and Tammy Daebler's Wolf River Game Farm is not only appropriately
named avid located for testing hunting dogs indigenous to that
region, but it had upland and water areas ideal for the type
of testing and fun hunting events laid out by Chairman Jack Davies.
Officials of the sponsoring American Water Spaniel Club Inc.
have their own testing procedures and terminology which precludes
their breed from being considered either spaniel or retriever.
This test site (with clubhouse, various bird species available
on site and utilized by dog, trainers and hunters in the area),
is suitable for testing done by UKC, AKC, NAVHDA or NSTRA trials
(Suitable training, and testing facilities are of major concern
and information, hard to come by today. For the of hunt test
chair-persons, pro trainers or sportsmen who want to work their
own gun dogs the contact is: Wolf River Game Farm, W6796 State
Road 156, Shiocton, WI 54170, Ph. 715-758-8106.)
After winning UKC recognition for Curly Pfeifer, "Doc"
Pfeifer launched an ambitious-breeding program during which he
guaranteed satisfaction with any of the hundreds of puppies he
sold annually through-out the U.S. and Canada. There were as
many as 132 "American Browns" (as they were called
then) in his kennel on the Trambauer brothers' farm near New
One of the few breeds of dogs developed in the U.S., because
of the AWS's origin and past popularity with hunters in this
lake and river rich area of Wisconsin, the state legislature
in 1985 declared the American the official state dog. A commemorative
(featuring the misspelling of Dr. Pfeifer's name) has been erected
in one of New London's parks by the state historical society.
Another park (with the correct name spelling) has been named
for the "country doctor" who not only "invented"
a dog breed but was the subject in the 1950s of an extensive
feature article in LIFE magazine.