Bred for a Reason: Best Dog Breeds for Swimming

Some dogs are more sink than swim, find out which dog breeds have traits that will keep them afloat.

By | Posted: August 6, 2014, 8 a.m. PST

One day as I watched my daughter’s Australian Shepherd, Cooper, and Labrador-mixed-breed, Kane, paddling in a lake, I noticed a rather significant variance in swimming form and style.

Kane’s webbed paws and strong legs moved him gracefully on the top of the water, his tail a remarkably effective rudder. Cooper, on the other hand, relied mainly on athleticism and determination. His paddling was powerful; his style was sub-par. But ever the herding dog, Cooper happily followed Kane back and forth in the water. As he grew tired, his "never give up” solution was to try to hitch a ride on Kane’s back. Thankfully Kane is as strong as an ox, and ridiculously tolerant about being his brother’s keeper, and/or his lifeboat.


Labrador Swimming


Swimming skills run the gamut with dog breeds. Most sporting breeds swim well; many hounds and herding breeds swim okay. Some individual dogs, regardless of breed, either love or despise water. Practice can help, but generally a dog’s swimming ability is inherent. Let’s take a look at a sampling of renowned swimmers, and then end with a few land-lubbers.


8 Dog Breeds Born to Swim

1. Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chessies were developed as vigorous water retrievers, strong enough to swim in the cold, rough Chesapeake Bay, and retrieve a hundred birds per day. The Chessie has webbed feet to assist his Olympic-level swimming. Good luck tiring him out in the water throwing a ball. More About Chessies>>

2. Labrador Retriever

Predecessors of the Labrador Retriever worked with Newfoundland fisherman off the Labrador Sea shores. Renowned for energy in the water and out, the breed was further developed in England for hunting and retrieving. The powerful Lab has webbing between his toes and a strong otter-like tail for swimming. Odds are he’ll match his swimming talent with dock diving, if given the chance. More About Labradors>>  

3. Newfoundland

The Newfoundland was bred to brave freezing cold waters as he worked with fishermen. Fantastic water rescue tales abound about the valiant Newfoundland. With his raw strength, webbed feet, and water resistant coat, the Newfoundland today can’t wait for the opportunity to take to the water. Hopefully his owner likes liquid of all sorts, given the Newfie’s famous drooling and slobbery kisses. More About Newfoundlands>>

4. Portuguese Water Dog

Bred to accompany fisherman, Portuguese Water Dogs can dive as well as swim. Historically developed to dive for fish and retrieve nets, Portuguese Water Dogs also delivered messages between boats and guarded boats in port. Families today will find their Portuguese Water Dogs head straight into water when the opportunity presents. Getting the dog to come back to land may be more challenging. More About Portuguese Water Dog>>

5. Brittany

Developed to both point and retrieve, the Brittany became a popular gun dog in the early 20th century. His breed history lacks the swimming legacy of the water-retrievers, but he’s game for activity on both land and water. The Brittany has limitless energy, a wash-and-go coat, and -- weighing in at about 30 pounds -- he’ll hardly mess up your car after a swimming day. More About the Brittany>>

6. Poodle

The Poodle breed name probably originates from the German Pudel, meaning "one who plays in water.” The famous Poodle clip in actuality was designed not for glamor, but to facilitate swimming. A Toy Poodle can swim too, but smaller dogs may tire over long distances. More About Poodles>>

7. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Bred to toll, lure, and retrieve waterfowl, water might as well be this breeds middle name. Hunters took note the behavior of wild foxes, who playfully lured waterfowl to the shore making them easy pray and trained these dogs to mimic the action. Believed to be related to the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the Brittany it's no surprise that this breed is such a graceful swimmer. More About Tollers>>

8. Australian Shepherd

Now it’s time to defend Cooper and Aussies everywhere. Bred as an all-around working dog, Aussies can swim. They don’t have webbed feet or a rudder-like tail (or much of a tail at all for that matter). Their swimming will certainly lack the finesse of other water breeds. After all, Aussies were bred to help ranchers and herd livestock. Nevertheless, the endlessly energetic Aussie will work and play anywhere, including in the water. More About Aussies>>

Australian Shepherd Swimming


4 Dog Breeds That are Less Likely Swimmers

1. Bulldog

Dogs bred with heavy chests relative to their hindquarters aren’t designed for swimming. Given their body type, paddling to carry their weight can be daunting if not impossible. While many are known to surf and skateboard they are happier going along for the ride than rowing their own boat. Many enjoy sitting in a kiddie pool, but anything deeper than that, get them a raft and a life jacket. More About Bulldogs>>

Can Bulldogs Learn to Swim?>>

2. French Bulldog

Like the Bulldog, Frenchies are not buoyant by nature. The Frenchie won’t likely care about his aquatic inadequacy; he was bred for companionship, not athletic adventures. Owners inclined to take a Frenchie near water should invest in a dog life jacket. More About French Bulldogs>>

French Bulldog Swimming


3. Basset Hound

Due their unique size and shape, Bassets more closely resemble an anchor than a swimming dog. Swimming can be a difficult feat for the Basset Hound. The breeds short legs, heavy front-end and drooping skin, makes it hard for them to keep their heads above the water. While they need a life jacket for anything deep, they will enjoy cooling off in shallow water. Sprinklers are probably a bit more their speed. More About Bassets>>

4. Pug

A breed with roots to antiquity, the Pug in the Toy Group was bred for friendship, not to work for a living. A few Pugs may enjoy a casual dip in the water, but the breed’s short snout contributes to his lack of stamina. Owners must supervise closely and fit the lif ejacket on the Pug…snug. More About Pugs>>


Swimming Safety

Whether your dog shares genes with the best swimmers,or the worst, it's important to make sure your dog is safe and comfortable in and around water. When introducing any dog to water, start slow and move at your dog's pace. Make sure your dog always has an exit route when in the water and keep him in a life jacket till you know he is water safe.

9 Must Read Tips to Keep Your Dog Afloat>>



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Selissa - 216807   New braunfels, TX

8/11/2014 9:30:57 AM

I would love to have a Newfoundland, as I live near rivers a lake and a beach a few miles away.

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