AWSC logo

American Water Spaniel Club, Inc.

AKC Member and Parent Club

Grooming the American Water Spaniel

by Pam Kozak

So you want to groom your dog... maybe not but you have a Water Spaniel. A certain amount of grooming is necessary for health and eye appeal. I will try to explain basic grooming, limiting equipment to the very least a spaniel owner should have.

  • BRUSHI use a slicker because they remove a good deal of dead undercoat. Work in layers for that post winter coat.

  • A rubber tipped pin brush is great for sparser coated dogs and the summer months. The rubber tips give a massaging effect, promoting the natural oils throughout the coat.

  • COMBAny metal dog comb with rounded teeth is good. I like the wide teeth for working out loose snarls.

  • SCISSORSName your size or shape... just make sure they’re sharp. Keep them that way by not grooming dirty dogs.

  • NAIL CLIPPERSGuillotine type work well but any kind will do if they are sharp.

  • ATTITUDEThis is most important; you’re the boss and you will accomplish nothing if your dogs thinks otherwise!


Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. Toenails can be a real problem. Most dogs don’t like this part. I find a mental advantage in grooming on a raised surface. The top of the washer or dryer is a good height with the added advantage of being slippery. Toenails that are long and curved are unsightly and a health hazard. If they are hooked or jagged they can catch on carpet, upholstery, or almost anything found in the field. This can cause shards to rip off exposing the quick (that’s the living part that bleeds), or worse, pulling a nail out all together.

Long nails can also cause splayed feet. Nice arched feet give a dog more spring to his walk and endurance for a day afield. How do you feel when your feet are tired? Start by taking a small tip off each nail. Your dog will not die if you cut into the quick, but he will not look forward to the next time. Styptic pencils or powder type Kwik-stop to stop the bleeding.

When your dog is standing, his nails should not touch the floor. To achieve this length may take several sessions, giving a week or so for the quick to recede before nipping off the tip again. Brisk walks on concrete help to file the ends as well. Don’t forget the dewclaws. Dewclaw removal is a simple procedure on 3 day old pups. Dewclaws are a major problem in a dog whose dewclaw has been torn loose in the field.

Getting back to attitudemake sure your dog knows you are going to do this whether he likes it or not. Be soothing yet firm. If your dog is obedience trained give him a sit-stay or down-stay command. Sometimes it’s helpful to put him on top of his crate or similar unsteady surface. (The mental advantage!)


Brushing the hair up on the top of the foot, scissor the scraggly hair that comes up from between the toes. You can scissor between the toes being careful not to cut into the webs between the toes. Holding the front foot out straight, scissor the pasterns from the heel pad to that fake thumb. The hair between the pads on the bottoms of the foot can be scissored even or trimmed between the pads. Anything you trim off will mean less dirt and burrs that will accumulate and track into the house. Do the same with the hind feet. Brush the hair on the hock up and out. Remove the excess hair by scissoring from the heel pad to the top of the hock. If your dog is a hunter, the shorter the hair length the better. For showing, you can play with length and angle of scissoring to sculpt the outline you like.

Feathering on the front and rear legs can be trimmed to even off the scragglies or shortened quite a bit to attract fewer burrs. Our standard calls for moderate feathering. Your dog’s coat will determine how short you can take them down without looking hacked off. The curly coats hide many mistakes. The straighter feathering of the marcel coat is a bit trickier. For those of you showing in the conformation ring, try to groom two weeks before a show so any divots you create can grow back a bit by show time. I like to brush and bathe my dog, towel off most of the moisture then comb through and let him air dry. Then when dry I can easily scissor a nice outline as the wispy, flyaway hairs stand out. Here again coats vary greatly. I like to shorten the bib in front if a dog has a large chest. We don’t want any feature to appear excessive and in the field the chest hits the brush first, gathering much of the woods with it. The hips, elbows and neck can also get quite thick so I comb these up and scissor even with the rest of the body. One of my pet peeves is long scraggly hair that is bleached out. I’m often asked if my dogs get the long, ropey coats. I honestly don’t know! My dogs are in indoor/outdoor runs most of the time. Consequently, they suffer from sun bleaching. I personally hate that; so off it comes! Even the house hound looks healthier and neater with the wispies trimmed.

The tail can be trimmed shorter near the rump and the rectal area can be tidied up. Your dog’s tail should reach the top of the hock joint, anything more is not needed. Scissor the length of the tail in a carrot shape or curved to show off the rocker tail our standard requires. Here again, less fringe means easier burr removal.

This may be a good time to add a field tip used by many. A light coating of cooking spray such as PAM can ease burr removal. Light please, as the oil also attracts and holds dirt.

If you are going to take your dog to a groomer, or own a clipper yourself, a pixie cut can be done by going over the entire dog ears to tailwith a number 4 blade. You will still need to trim the feet. This leaves the dog enough hair for upland work. The coat should be left longer for cold water work. This is a nice summer cut for pets and should grow out in time for Duck Season if done in June.


Our standard does not require trimming here. Coat types and head shape determines what I do. For field work you can trim the hair to a length of an inch or so on the ears, shorter than that isn’t very attractive. You can get a very attractive effect with almost any coat by combing the hair up, on the head and top of the ears. Now trim a halo 1/2 inch around the head blending into the 1/4 of the way down. Blend also into the top of the neck. Any ear, show, pet, or field, should be trimmed short in front of the ear canal toward the cheek and eye. This allows air to get at the inner ear and helps us to see wax and other nasty thingslike mites. A good monthly swabbing out prevents most ear problems.

I have tried to avoid the use of expensive equipment, but here I must make an exception. If you choose to shave your dog’s head for show or personal preference, here is the method I use. Brush the hair against the grain on the head and top of ears. Using a #10 blade (at least two weeks before shows) or a #7 blade, clip from behind the eye sockets to the base of the skull past the occiput. Now you can either groom to the base of the ear, slightly above the eye level, or continue down the ear no more than mid-cheek. I like to create a V rather than clipping flat across the ear. Lastly, comb the ear feathers out well and trim the outline. I like to curve this in the lobular shape. Others just round off the bottom.

However you trim your dog, take 15 minutes when you return home from the field to comb through with that metal comb and your fingers. This should allow you to leave those burrs outside. If taught to sit still and not allowed be become matted, most dogs actually enjoy being brushed. If your dog doesn’t like grooming sessions, don’t call him to you and then throw him up on the grooming table! Good way to ruin your recall work! Get him and remember to reward him for his patience. Keep grooming sessions short at first.

Happy Grooming!