Not all dogs can swim, despite the phrase "doggie paddle." But some breeds were made for water. This is because of their origins, the reason they were bred in the first place. Some were meant to be waterfowl hunters and retrievers, some were meant for hauling in fish and beyond. Here are 21 dog breeds that love water, many of which you may not have known about. Just remember, every dog is unique with their own personality and some individuals within the breed may not end up liking water.
1. American Water Spaniel
The American Water Spaniel is a rare breed originating from the Midwest of the United States. They were bred to help hunt and retrieve waterfowl in the icy waters and marshy banks of the Great Lakes. Though their exact origins are unknown, the breed possibly descended from Irish Water Spaniels, Curly-Coated Retrievers and the now extinct English Water Spaniel. American Water Spaniels were made for swimming thanks to their water-repellant coat, muscular body and padded, webbed feet. Their wavy or tightly curly dense coat protect them from cold temperatures and their small body allowed them to jump into water without rocking a boat. Not only do these dogs excel at swimming, they are also capable divers and floaters.
The Barbet is a water dog from France that's been around since at least the 16th century. They were bred to find and retrieve birds, like waterfowl, particularly in swamps and marshes. The breed is known to be an avid swimmer and isn't afraid to get muddy, which is where one of their nicknames ("Mud Dog") comes from. They have webbed paws specifically for swimming and a thick, waterproof curly coat.
3. Boykin Spaniel
The Boykin Spaniel was bred by hunters in South Carolina during the 1900s as a hunting companion. They were developed to hunt ducks, turkeys and waterfowl in swamps and lakes. Their small size comes from the need to be compact for boat travel but able to retrieve on both land and water. Boykins have webbed feet and an athletic body that allow them to excel at swimming.
4. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever (or Chessie) originated in the United States, unsurprisingly in Virginia and Maryland around the Chesapeake Bay. This 200-mile-long and shallow estuary, which gets very cold beginning in early winter, is part of the waterfowl flight path during their seasonal migration. The breed was developed in the 19th century to retrieve game from water, pull fishing nets and perform water rescues. The Chessie has an oily, thick, wavy, waterproof double-coat to help keep them dry and insulated in cold water. Their broad, powerful chest would help break ice when retrieving in cold water. And they have webbed feet, strong hindquarters and a muscular build to withstand the Chesapeake Bay's strong winds. All of this combined to give the breed efficiency and endurance when swimming in cold, deep and rough waters.
5. Curly-Coated Retriever
Originating in England and dating back to the 1800s, the Curly-Coated Retriever is one of the oldest retrieving breeds. They were bred to retrieve game, even in icy waters. In fact, their tightly curled coat is waterproof and helps maintain body temperature. They are eager swimmers that enjoy water activities and games, such as fetch.
6. English Setter
The English Setter is one of the oldest hunting dog breeds, dating back to the 14th century. It was bred to retrieve game on both land and water. Evidence shows that the English Setter is crossed with Spanish Pointer, English Springer Spaniel and large Water Spaniel. Their body has a short to medium long, silky coat that lies flat. They have longer fur called feathering, likely for insulation, around the ears, neck, chest, back of the front legs, stomach, back legs and tail. Because they were bred to take well to water, combined with their energy and athleticism, English Setters tend to enjoy swimming.
7. Flat-Coated Retriever
The Flat-Coated Retriever was bred to be a dual-purpose retriever, meaning they retrieve game both on land and from water. Because of this, the breed tends to love to retrieve toys from water (bonus: using squeaky toys will resemble the prey they used to retrieve). It is believed that the Flat-Coated Retriever is a mix of Newfoundlands, Setters, Sheepdogs and Water Spaniels. The breed is characterized by a beautiful straight, long coat that also protects it from cold water and weather.
8. German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) was bred to hunt, point and retrieve game both on land and in water. Their webbed feet, muscular build and water-repellant coat allow them to excel at swimming. Most GSPs love water but not in lower temperatures, as they easily become cold thanks to their short fur.
9. German Wirehaired Pointer
The German Wirehaired Pointer (GWP) is a close relative the German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) but was bred to be more rugged. Breeders focused on developing a thick, water-resistant coat so the dogs would more comfortable when retrieving in water. In addition, the long beard and eyebrows help protect the GWP's eyes and face. Like the GSP, this breed has webbed feet and a muscular body, which make them skilled swimmers.
10. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever originated in in Scotland in the mid-1800s when the need arose for dogs that were more effective at retrieving game, especially from water. It is believed that Goldens were developed by crossing a yellow colored retriever with the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel. The resulting litter was then crossed with Irish Setter, light-colored Bloodhound, Newfoundland and Wavy-Coated Retriever. The activity level and body makeup of Goldens allow them to excel in water. They have long, powerful legs - particularly hind legs - with webbed feet to swim efficiently and over long distances, maneuver through waves and stay afloat. Their topcoat is water-resistant and protects against debris, while their undercoat is wooly to keep them warm in cold water.
11. Irish Setter
The Irish Setter was bred to help hunt and retriever waterfowl. It is believed to be a mix of English Setter, Gordon Setter, Irish terrier, Irish Water Spaniel, and Pointer. They are characterized by their beautiful red coat, which is glossy and flat to repel water and insulate the body. They also have long, strong legs that make them great swimmers and enable them to stay afloat for extended periods of time.
12. Irish Water Spaniel
The Irish Water Spaniel was developed by a sportsman from Dublin in the early 1830s. The breed's popularity rose in England and Ireland because of its ability to hunt and retrieve waterfowl in cold waters, such as the North Sea. Their waterproof, tightly curled double coat served to keep them warm in cold waters during their tasks. In addition, their webbed feet and endurance allow them to excel at swimming.
13. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever originated from Newfoundland (not Labrador, interestingly) and descended from what's called the St. John’s water dog. They were the smaller Newfoundland dog of the 1800s, bred to retrieve fish and game. They acted as the fisherman's aid, hauling in nets and doing any other task that involved swimming. Dogs with short, dense waterproof double-coats were preferred over those with long hair, as the latter would encrust with ice in the cold Canadian winter water. The thick, tapered tail (often called an "otter tail") serves as a powerful rudder to steer through water and their webbed feet help them swim more quickly.
The Newfoundland (or Newfie) originated in the early 1800s, bred as a working dog for fishermen in Newfoundland, Canada. Tasks included pulling fishnets, hauling carts and equipment, and water rescues. Genetic testing has indicated that Newfies are related to Labrador retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels and Curly-Coated Retrievers. The breed excels at swimming thanks to its webbed feet, muscular build, and large lung capacity. In addition, their thick double coat served to insulate them in the cold waters. The breed's origins in water rescue operations mean they have high stamina and adept navigation in the water today.
15. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was bred to lure waterfowl within gun range and retrieve game from water. They are the smallest of the American Kennel Club's retrievers within the sporting group. Originally called Little River Duck Dogs, they were renamed to its current longer title and now often referred to simply as a "Toller." Tolling comes from the Middle English word "tollen," meaning "to entice." These dogs were made for water, with physical characteristics like webbed feet and a double coat.
The Otterhound is one of the rarest dog breeds, with just 600 estimated in the world. These scent hounds were bred in medieval England as otter hunters to control the population so locals could rely on fish to survive. Because of this, the Otterhound was made for water, particularly rivers and streams. They have webbed feet, powerful shoulders and a board chest for prolonged swimming. Their dense, shaggy, water-resistant double coat insulates them in cold water. And their nose is so sensitive, it can detect an otter's underwater trail over several days and long distances.
17. Portuguese Water Dog
The Portuguese Water Dog (PWD) originated in Portugal as fishermen's helpers. They herded fish into nets, retrieved broken or lost gear and equipment, and guarded ships. They were also dispatched as messengers from ship to ship or shore. Many PWDs accompanied fishing boats from the warm waters of Portugal all the way up the coast to the cooler waters of Iceland. Breeders believe that PWDs possibly came from Poodles, Irish Water Spaniels and Kerry Blue Terriers. Thanks to their history, as well as their webbed feet and muscular build, these dogs are excellent swimmers.
18. Redbone Coonhound
Unlike other breeds on the list, the Redbone Coonhound was not bred to aid waterfowl hunters or fishermen. They were bred to use scent to swiftly track and locate treeing game, such as raccoons. They originated from red foxhounds brought to the U.S. in the late 18th century and continued to be developed in the southeastern states. Because of this, the breed is able to swim and track in marshes. These swamp dogs also have webbed feet (one of the few hounds with them), allowing them to swim quite well.
19. Spanish Water Dog
The origins of the Spanish Water Dog are uncertain, but they have existed in Spain for nearly 1,000 years. Although it is a herding breed, the Spanish Water Dog was bred to also retrieve waterfowl. They are athletic and tend to be strong swimmers, thanks to their webbed feet. Because of this, they usually enjoy water games like fetch with a toy.
20. Standard Poodle
The Poodle is a type of dog originally used to flush and retrieve game from water. Interestingly, the breed originated in Germany with its name coming from the German word "pudel" or "pudelin," which means “to splash in the water.” It is now the national breed of France and is called "Caniche," meaning "duck dog" in French. These athletic dogs are believed to be related to Irish Water Spaniel and Barbet. The Poodle's characteristic coat was not just fashionable or hypoallergenic, but also functional. The curls on the body and long hair around the chest helped provide insulation and buoyancy. Clipping the fur, especially on the hindquarters, made the breed quicker and more efficient swimmers. But keeping puffs of fur around the knees, feet, head, torso and tail protected their joints and vitals by keeping them warm.
The Weimaraner were bred for hunting in the early 19th century, first for large game such as boars and deer. As large game hunting declined in popularity, Weimaraners shifted to hunting smaller animals like fowl and rabbits. They became an all-purpose gun dog that was skilled at tracking, pointing, hunting and retrieving on both land and in water. Their athletic, muscular bodies and webbed feet make them great water dogs.