10 Best Dog Breeds for Swimming and Water Activities


Dogs have long been loyal companions to people both on land and in water. In fact, some dog breeds were bred to accompany people on boats while others were developed to be hunting companions for waterfowl. These dogs tend to have an inherent love for the water, and they possess traits that allow them to be successful when navigating the waves. For example, they sport thick, water-repellent coats to insulate their bodies against the dampness. They also generally have athletic builds with webbed toes to enable them to be good swimmers.

If you live by water, spend a lot of time boating, or are an avid swimmer, here are 10 dog breeds that love to make a splash.


Not all dogs are natural swimmers. In fact, some breeds, such as pugs and French bulldogs, often find swimming very challenging. Always monitor a dog around water, even if it’s a breed that’s typically good in the water. Discuss water safety measures, such as using canine life jackets, with your vet.

  • 01 of 10

    Portuguese Water Dog

    Portuguese water dog leaping into water
    Julia Christe / Getty Images

    Portuguese water dogs have such a natural affinity for water that it became part of their official name. These avid splash masters don’t have to be asked twice to enter the water. They were originally bred for life as a fisherman’s friend, so it’s a natural sight to see these dogs on boats. Today, they’re often used in dock-diving competitions and other water-related dog sports. They are a natural fit for water-loving families and will happily spend the day aboard a vessel.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working

    Height: 20 to 23 inches (male); 17 to 21 inches (female)

    Weight: 42 to 60 pounds (male); 35 to 50 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Wavy or tightly curled coat; colors include black, black and white, and brown

    Life Expectancy: 11 to 13 years

  • 02 of 10


    Carol Howell / Getty Images

    You might imagine a poodle to be more at home strolling a city street than pouncing into the water, but the truth is these are true water dogs at heart. The name “poodle” derives from the German word “pudl,” which translates as “to splash in water.” The dog was bred to plunge into water to retrieve game, and its characteristic curly coat would keep it warm. The familiar puff balls of fur over a poodle’s knees, feet, head, body, and tail were originally a functional grooming choice, rather than a fashion statement, to keep these vital areas warm.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Non-Sporting (standard and miniature) or Toy (toy)

    Height: Standard: over 15 inches; miniature: 10 to 15 inches; toy: up to 10 inches

    Weight: Standard: 60 to 70 pounds (male); 40 to 50 pounds (female); miniature: 10 to 15 pounds; toy: 4 to 6 pounds

    Coat and Color: Curly, dense, single-layer coat; comes in many colors, including white, black, gray, brown, and apricot

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 18 years

  • 03 of 10

    Labrador Retriever

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Labrador retrievers have long been one of America’s most popular pooches, and these dogs are happy on land or sea as long as they’re with their people. The Lab was bred with waterfowl hunting in mind. And today, these dogs are always game for hopping into pools, ponds, lakes, oceans, and anything else wet—especially if there’s a toy to retrieve involved.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting

    Height: 22.5 to 24.5 inches (male); 21.5 to 23.5 inches (female)

    Weight: 65 to 80 pounds (male); 55 to 70 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Smooth, dense, water-resistant coat; comes in black, yellow, and chocolate

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 04 of 10

    Chesapeake Bay Retriever

    Ktatarka / Getty Images

    Known as the Chessie, these retrievers are a slightly stockier dog with a thicker, denser coat than the Lab. The Chesapeake Bay retriever’s double coat is oily and provides excellent water-resistance as well as insulation. These dogs were originally bred in Maryland and Virginia to be hunting companions in search of waterfowl. Their warm coat, combined with strength and stamina, made the dogs a natural fit for spending hours in the wet estuaries of the mid-Atlantic region.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting

    Height: 23 to 26 inches (male); 21 to 24 inches (female)

    Weight: 65 to 80 pounds (male); 55 to 70 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Short, wavy, waterproof coat; comes in solid shades of brown

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 13 years

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.

  • 05 of 10

    Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

    Jagoda Matejczuk / Getty Images

    One of Canada’s most treasured breeds is a small-stature, water-loving retriever that possesses a unique tolling talent. The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, sometimes referred to as a “toller,” gets its name from its peculiar ability to toll, or lure, ducks within range of the hunter by using playful antics. Once the waterfowl is downed, the toller is happy to jump into the water and retrieve the game.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting

    Height: 18 to 21 inches (male); 17 to 20 inches (female)

    Weight: 35 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length, water-repellent, dense double coat; golden red, orange, or copper coloring, usually with white markings on the face, chest, and paws

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 06 of 10


    Tara Gregg / Getty Images

    The Newfoundland is a gentle, water-loving giant. This big breed got its start when European fishermen brought dogs on boats that landed in Canada. These fishermen lived and worked by the sea, and they began breeding a capable, hardworking companion that also had a knack for water rescue. These powerful dogs can adeptly navigate through the water. And their intuitive ability to help a person in distress have made them literal lifesavers.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working

    Height: 28 inches (male); 26 inches (female)

    Weight: 130 to 150 pounds (male); 100 to 120 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Thick, medium-length coat that falls flat; colors include black, brown, gray, and white and black

    Life Expectancy: 9 to 10 years

  • 07 of 10

    Curly-Coated Retriever

    bloodstone / Getty Images

    Like other retrievers, the curly-coated retriever is a natural fit for life by the water. The tight, curly coat of this dog assists in maintaining its body temperature when diving into water on a hunt. These dogs are descended from two extinct breeds that also served as water dogs: the English water spaniel and the retrieving setter. It’s also believed that the poodle might be responsible for lending this breed some of its characteristic curls—and its affinity for water.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting

    Height: 25 to 27 inches (male); 23 to 25 inches (female)

    Weight: 60 to 95 pounds

    Coat and Color: Small, tight, water-resistant curls that cover the body from the tail all the way up to the top of the head; feathering fringe of hair on the ears, belly, thighs, feet, legs, and tail; colors include black and liver

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 08 of 10

    Boykin Spaniel

    Redsidephoto / Getty Images

    Hailing from the Southern United States, the Boykin spaniel has a reputation for being an easygoing family companion that’s well-suited for life on water. It sports webbed toes and a compact, athletic body that is perfect for swimming. Take this dog on the boat or out for your next waterfowl hunting adventure, and you’ll have a happy pal that’s always ready to swim.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting

    Height: 15.5 to 18 inches (male); 14 to 16.5 inches (female)

    Weight: 30 to 40 pounds (male); 25 to 35 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Deep brown, medium-length, curly coat with a lighter reddish fringe

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.

  • 09 of 10


    slowmotiongli / Getty Images

    The little schipperke originated in Belgium and became popular to bring on ships and keep in dockyards as a rodent exterminator and watchdog. In fact, “schipperke” is Flemish for “little captain.” Despite its small size, this pup is quite energetic, agile, and fearless. And its thick coat helps to keep it warm in the water.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Non-Sporting

    Height: 11 to 13 inches (male); 10 to 12 inches (female)

    Weight: 10 to 16 pounds

    Coat and Color: Thick, black double coat that’s shorter around the face than on the body

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 10 of 10

    Irish Setter

    Achim Schuelke / Getty Images

    The Irish setter was developed from mixing the Irish terrier, Irish water spaniel, English setter, and pointer. It was designed for hunting and retrieving waterfowl. Its long and powerful limbs help to keep it afloat in water for long periods of time. And its glossy, flat coat helps to repel water and insulate its body.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting

    Height: 27 inches (male); 25 inches (female)

    Weight: 70 pounds (male); 60 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Flat, silky, long coat of deep chestnut red or mahogany; feathering on the chest, belly, legs, and tail

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Breeds to Avoid

Dogs that aren’t designed for swimming include top-heavy breeds, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, and short-legged dogs. Avoid dog breeds such as boxers, bulldogs, pugs, and dachshunds if you want a water-savvy pup. These breeds tend to have problems staying afloat, or they tire easily due to the structure of their breathing organs. Moreover, while many small dogs can be good swimmers, they often can’t tolerate cold-water conditions.

Do Dogs Need Life Vests to Go Swimming?

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