9 Best Dog Breeds for Living on the Water

If splashing were a sport, these dogs could be Olympic gold medalists. They were born to get wet — in fact, it’s often their job. Bred to retrieve waterfowl, hunt water-dwelling critters, pull in fishing nets or rescue swimmers, these nine breeds have distinct physical characteristics that suit them to a water-intensive lifestyle: They have webbed feet that enhance their swimming ability and may also have thick, oily coats that help insulate them from cold temperatures and repel water, so they dry quickly. If you live an active lifestyle near an ocean, river or lake and enjoy boating, swimming, surfing or other water sports, one of the dogs here could be your new best friend.

Of course, any time you’re on or near the water with your dog, be sure to take all appropriate precautions to insure his safety — and yours.

Best Dog Breeds for Living on the Water

American Water Spaniel dog breed walking on dunes

Tara Gregg, Animal Photography

American Water Spaniel

The little brown dog, as this breed is nicknamed, has a curly coat and a reputation for being a big pooch in a small body. He was developed specifically to hunt from a boat and will usually enjoy floating down a river or across a lake with you in your canoe, kayak or speedboat. If you’re a hunter, all the better: He can be trained to dive in and retrieve ducks, geese or other waterfowl you bring down. Cool fact: The AWS is the state dog of Wisconsin.

Boykin Spaniel

Robin Burkett, Animal Photography

Boykin Spaniel

This medium-size dog is the Southern cousin of the American Water Spaniel. He hails from swampy, coastal South Carolina — where he is the state dog — and, like the AWS, was bred to hunt from small boats with little room for big dogs. You can typically count on him not to rock the boat. Generally cheerful and boisterous, the Boykin is often highly active and can be a good choice for a family with older children. His wavy to curly coat may need to be trimmed short in summer if you live in humid conditions as the muggy climate could promote skin infections.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Dog Breed

Mary Bloom

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Are you one of those crazy people who enjoys doing polar bear plunges in the middle of winter? If so, the Chessie may be your canine match. He’s typically a tough, hardworking retriever who thrives in all conditions. This serious hunting dog earned his chops in the brutally cold, rough waters of the Eastern Seaboard, specifically the Chesapeake Bay. He lives to retrieve large waterfowl and will often be protective of your home, family and belongings. Be aware that the Chessie tends to think for himself and needs a confident leader he can respect, one who can meet the desire to hunt that often drives this dog’s existence. The Chessie’s wavy, water-resistant coat comes in shades of deadgrass, sedge and brown.

Irish Water Spaniel

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

Irish Water Spaniel

Handsome as an Irish spring, the IWS loves to swim, and his coat is naturally water-repellent. His rarity means he can be hard to find, and he is prone to some health conditions, but he typically loves his family and is usually willing to please — except when he’s being stubborn. Touchably soft curls cover a dense, insulating undercoat. A topcoat of loose curls and a smooth rattail give him a distinct appearance.

Labrador Retriever in Water

Tara Gregg, Animal Photography

Labrador Retriever

It’s no surprise to see Labs make a splash in dock diving competitions — in almost every case, these dogs live to get wet. The most popular purebred dog in the United States for more than a decade, he can hunt, flush and retrieve. If only he had opposable thumbs, he could probably fry up your birds in a pan or, really, do anything else you taught him. The highly versatile Lab is a favorite family dog. He’s typically ready to swim in any body of water and can make an able first mate for a boater.

Three Newfoundlands in a field

Alice van Kempen, Animal Photography


With a history working on fishing boats in Newfoundland, Canada, the Newfie is one of the great water dogs of the world. Want proof? Check out his webbed feet, or see him demonstrate his abilities at a water test. Newfies are almost always fond of swimming, and although they might be a little large for a canoe or kayak, they will fit in nicely on your yacht.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever jumping into water

Andrew Howells, Animal Photography

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

On the shoreline, he dances seductively, luring ducks to their doom. Really! He does! The toller, as this medium-size redhead is called, moves along the edge of the water and his motion is said to attract ducks, curious about what he’s doing. Not surprisingly, he tends to love to swim and may be willing to fetch toys out of the water endlessly, often long after you’re tired of throwing them. He can emit a piercing scream at the sight of birds, toys or other exciting objects, so he may not be the best choice for city or suburban living. He’s highly active, intelligent, complex and driven, so be sure you’re prepared for life with a redhead before you get one.

Otterhound With Puppies at Water

Ron Willbie, Animal Photography


This hairy hound may bear a resemblance to a mutt, but he’s actually an old, purebred breed who once hunted otters in England’s rivers. He almost went the way of the dodo when otter hunting was outlawed, and he remains rare to this day. His webbed feet make him an excellent swimmer, and he’s happy to get wet and muddy. The Otterhound’s topcoat dries quickly, but it’s important to make sure he gets thoroughly dry underneath, as well, to avoid a mildew effect.

Ron Willbie, Animal Photography

Portuguese Water Dog

This water-loving dog started out as the fisherman’s friend, swimming messages between boats and helping retrieve nets from the water. He usually loves getting wet and can enjoy going swimming and boating with his crewmates — er, family. The Portie, as he’s nicknamed, has a curly or wavy coat that requires regular maintenance, webbed feet and a tail he uses as a rudder when swimming.

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