Why Do Dogs Have Webbed Feet?

Adrienne Farricelli

Why Do Dogs Have Webbed Feet? You may have heard that certain breeds of dogs have webbed feet and may be wondering why they were equipped with such feature. Webbed feet are a characteristic of animals who have toesconnectedby a membrane and are typically seen in animals who spend time in water. The function of webbed feet is to allow animals to paddle through water, allowing them to propel themselves just as flippers help people who go snorkeling. Other than helping in swimming, webbed feet allow animals to effectively walk over mud.

A Matter of Wording

If you look at lists of animals who have webbed feet, you will find ducks, frogs, geese, swans and otters listed. For a good reason you won't find dogs listed. The reason for this is that dogs don't have completely webbed feet in the real sense of the word. If dogs did have webbed feet like ducks, swans or geese, they would have a hard time walking on certain surfaces and would perhaps even end up "waddling" like a duck!

All Dogs Have Webbing

If you look at the feet of any dog, you'll notice that, regardless of breed, they all have a "web" of skin in between their toes. This characteristic doesn't make them officially webbed though, just as humans aren't webbed just because of the skin found between the fingers.

Some Breeds Have More

While all dogs have some degree of "webbing" between the toes, it can't be ignored that some breeds selectively bred to work in water have more than others. For instance, Charles Darwin in his book " The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication" mentions that according to Isidore Geoffroy, the webbing in Newfoundlands extends to the third phalanges, whereas, in other dogs it extends up to the second. The American Kennel Club refers to webbed toes as toes connected by a skin membrane that play an important role for water-retrieving dogs, providing them an aid in swimming.

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Dog Breeds with Webbed Toes

The American Kennel Club mentions "webbing" only in a few breeds of dogs. Curiously, the Labrador retriever standard doesn't mention any webbing. The standard asks only for "well-arched toes and well-developed pads." However, many Labrador dog owners report their dogs have webbed feet. Dog breeds where webbing is mentioned in the standard include the following.

  • Portuguese water dog: This breed was selectively bred to work in the water and they were very helpful herding fish into nets and retrieving lost nets. According to the American Kennel Club standard:"Webbing between the toes is of soft skin, well covered with hair, and reaches the toe."
  • Otterhound As the name implies, this breed was used for tracing down otters who back in time were depleting fish in local streams. According to the American Kennel Club standard "They have thick, deep pads, with arched toes; they are web-footed (membranes connecting the toes allow the foot to spread)."
  • Newfoundland: This breed was selectively bred to help fishermen in the frigid waters of Canada. This breed's duties included various tasks such as hauling nets and rescuing the occasional person who went overboard. According to the American Kennel Club standard: "Feet are proportionate to the body in size, webbed, and cat foot in type."
  • German Wire-haired Pointer:  This versatile breed was selectively bred to carry out a variety of tasks. Among them was retrieving waterfowl from water.According to AKC standard: " Round in outline, the feet are webbed, high arched with toes close."
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever: As the name implies, this breed was bred to toll, lure, and retrieve waterfowl in the early 19th century. According to the American Kennel Club, the feet in this breed are "strongly webbed, slightly oval medium in size, and tight, with well-arched toes and thick pads."
  • Weimaraner: This breed was originally bred to hunt large animals such as boar, deer and bear, but later was also utilized for retrieving both on land and on water. According to the American Kennel Club standard this breed's feet are firm and compact, webbed, and with toes, that are well arched.
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever: This breed was known for swimming through the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay retrieving duck after duck. According to the American Kennel Club, this breed has "well webbed hare feet that should be of good size with toes well-rounded and close."
  • Wirehaired Pointing Griffon: This breed was bred to point and retrieve downed fowl in the swampy country where it originated. According to the American Kennel Club the griffon's feet are "round, firm, with tightly closed webbed toes."
  • American Water Spaniel: This breed as many others breeds with webbed toes was selectively bred to retrieve birds over land and water. According to the American Kennel Club the toes in this breed are closely grouped, webbed and well-padded.

Did you know? Nelson Çabej  in his book "Epigenetic Principles of Evolution" explains that all embryos of vertebrates, including humans, have webbed feet, but as they develop through a process of apoptosi, they later disappear.