Portuguese Water Dogs. Irish Water Spaniels. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. These dog breeds are all excellent swimmers but having ‘water’ or a body of water referenced in your dog’s name isn’t a prerequisite for water-loving dogs. Many dog breeds and rescue dogs enjoy splashing around and swimming. And some adore the water so much they seem part amphibian.
Many of these breeds share physical characteristics that make them naturals in the water, including water-resistant coats, webbed toes, and long, powerful legs. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at a few of the dog breeds known for their swimming talent and love of the water.
Dogs Who Love Water
Portuguese Water Dog
As their name implies, this robust, web-footed breed is a natural in the water. Bred to help fishermen who travelled from Portugal’s coast to the frigid waters of Iceland and back, PWDs are true seafaring, salty dogs. Their oily and dense, wavy coats offer insulation from the cold, and their powerful limbs propel them through the water with speed. Other erstwhile on-the-job responsibilities of the Portuguese Water Dog included herding fish into nets, retrieving fishing gear, and carrying messages between ships or ship-to-shore. Today, PWDs put their swimming skills to work as water rescue dogs. Beyond being a fun swimming buddy, this large breed dog is always top of the class in obedience training, and makes a cheerful, amiable companion.
Labs take to swimming like ducks to water. Labrador Retrievers have oily, waterproof double coats, as well as webbing between their toes, paddle-like ‘otter tails,’ and powerful legs that propel them in water. They are descendants of the now-extinct St. John’s Water Dog, a working breed that aided fishermen in the icy waters off Newfoundland. The modern Labrador Retriever is a jovial, athletic, easygoing dog known for excellence in the field, in the water, and as the ideal family dog.
Another dog with Newfoundland roots, Newfies are working dogs comfortable doing heavy lifting in and out of the water. In this Canadian island’s cold and choppy coastal waters, Newfoundlands were tasked with towing shipping lines to shore and rescuing distressed swimmers. The massive dogs are agile in the water, and their thick, water-resistant coats offer insulation from icy seas.
German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer is a strong swimmer—and this lean hunting dog usually loves the water. It usually takes only one swimming lesson for your GSP to embrace their aquatic side. Just toss floating dog toys into shallow water for them and they’ll enjoy paddling around in no time.
Irish Water Spaniel
The curly coat of the Irish Water Spaniel is naturally water resistant. Following a dip, she dries off quickly with a vigorous shake and some time in the sun. The largest of the spaniel breeds, the Irish Water Spaniel is an athletic dog who makes a strong swimmer, and usually splashes right in with no need for prodding. If your Irish Water Spaniel loves water, make sure their collar and lead are securely hooked if you pass a pond or lake on your daily walks—she may dash off to take a dip.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The American-made Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an exceptional swimmer with webbed feet and strong legs. The Chessie’s wavy and dense, waterproof coat helps keep them warm in the large estuary off Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, which is frigid from early winter and sometimes well into spring. Their thick, well-muscled chest and powerful hindquarters help them push through ice flows and manage the rough waters of the bay. It’s believed that two other swimming breeds on this list—Newfoundlands and Irish Water Spaniels—are among the Chessie’s ancestors.
Can Golden Retrievers swim like the breed’s Lab and Chessie cousins? Yes, they can. And most Goldens love taking a dip and swimming to retrieve sticks. With roots in Scotland, Goldens were bred from a mix of water spaniels and retrievers. The breed’s wavy double coat offers protection from cold waters, and they also have the webbed toes, paddle tails, and strong legs typical of water dogs.
Keep in mind all dogs have distinct personalities and preferences, and some dislike or fear swimming. If your dog doesn’t splash in fearlessly, introduce them to the water slowly, using plenty of positive reinforcement in their swimming lessons. Then let them set the pace and never force the issue, no matter how much you want a four-legged swimming buddy. Even dogs who are strong swimmers get tired during long swimming sessions: if your dog swims often, or frequently tags along on boats for fishing excursions, a dog life vest ensures their safety.
What Breeds of Dog Can’t Swim?
Many people assume all dogs can swim. It’s called the ‘doggy paddle,’ after all. But Pugs, French Bulldogs, Basset Hounds, and Dachshunds are among the dog breeds that can’t swim, or struggle mightily in the water. These breeds share one or more anatomical traits that raise a red flag when it comes to swimming.
Dogs with short (brachycephalic) snouts, including Pugs, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, and Boxers, have difficulty keeping their flat muzzles above the waterline. Dogs with stubby legs relative to their bodies (e.g., Corgis, Scottish Terriers, Dachshunds, Basset Hounds) don’t have the paddling power needed to keep themselves above the surface. Dogs with dense bones and heavy barrel chests have buoyancy challenges, while very lean dogs get cold quickly when swimming. Thick, long coats not adapted to water can weigh dogs down and tire them out quickly in water.
Finally, a special shout out to the Bulldog, whose short snout, muscled chest, and short, wide-set legs make them the quintessential canine landlubber.
If your dreams of welcoming a dog into your family include visions of jumping into the backyard pool with your furry best friend or playing catch with sticks or dog toys in a nearby watering hole, choose a dog breed known for ease in the water. If you’re adopting a shelter dog, look for mixed breeds that are part Labrador, Golden Retriever, Newfoundland, or other natural swimmers. Be patient when you teach your dog to swim, and always watch them closely when they’re in or near water—then enjoy your splashy play sessions.