Two dogs swimming underwater. They are side by side and swimming towards the viewer.

Why Do Some Dogs Have Webbed Feet?

What is Evolution?

Evolution is like nature’s way of upgrading living things over a long, long time. It’s like updating software, but for animals and plants, it takes many generations.

Changes happen in their genes, which are like tiny instruction books inside every living thing. Sometimes these changes help them survive better in their environments.

How Does Evolution Work?

Imagine you have a bag of different coloured marbles. If you keep picking out only the red ones over time, soon you’ll have a bag mostly full of red marbles. This is a bit like evolution. Nature ‘picks out’ animals with helpful traits, and over time, these traits become more common.

A hessian bag laying on its side. many red glass marbles are spilling out of it.

Dogs and Their Ancestors

All dogs, from tiny Chihuahuas to big Great Danes, are related to wolves. Long ago, there were no dog breeds, just wild wolves. Humans started befriending and raising wolves, and over time, these wolves changed and became the first dogs.

Different Dogs For Different Jobs

As people started to live in different places like mountains, forests, and near oceans, they needed dogs that could help them with different tasks. Some needed dogs to guard, some to hunt, and others to pull sleds.

Dogs With Webbed Feet

Now, let’s talk about the dogs with webbed feet. Webbed feet mean they have skin between their toes, like ducks or frogs. This is really rare in land animals but great for swimming.

The feet of a Newfoundland Dog

Imagine you’re swimming. If your fingers were webbed, you’d move faster in the water, right? That’s what happens with these dogs. The webbing helps them swim better.

Why Did Some Dogs Get Webbed Feet?

A long time ago, in places near water, people needed dogs that could help them with jobs in the water. Like fetching things that fell into the water or even saving people from drowning. To do these jobs, a dog needed to be a really good swimmer.

An old black and white sketch style image of  a dog swimming. The image shows a lot of wear and tear.

Now, all dogs have a bit of webbing between their toes. But in these water-side places, the dogs with more webbing were better at these water jobs. People noticed this and when these dogs had puppies, the ones with more webbing were chosen to help and later, to have more puppies. So, generation after generation, these water-loving dogs started to have more and more webbing.

How Did People Help This Along?

This process got a boost from humans. When people choose which dogs to breed based on certain traits, it’s called selective breeding. So, in places where swimming was important, people kept choosing the dogs with more webbing for breeding.

Examples of Dogs With Webbed Feet

Breeds like the Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, and Portuguese Water Dog are known for having webbed feet. These dogs were often used for jobs like helping fishermen, saving people in the water, and retrieving things from water. Because they were good at these jobs, they were chosen to have more puppies, passing on their webbed feet trait.

A black Newfoundland dog swimming. Only its head is visible above the water.

Does This Only Happen in Dogs?

No, this kind of change happens in all sorts of animals. It’s all about how useful a trait is for the environment they live in. For dogs near water, webbed feet were extremely useful.

Why Don’t All Dogs Have Webbed Feet?

Not all dogs needed to swim well. Some dogs were raised in mountains or on farms, where swimming wasn’t important. So, the dogs in these places didn’t develop webbed feet. Just like not all people need to be good at climbing mountains or running fast. Different environments need different skills.


So, the story of dogs with webbed feet is a tale of how animals change slowly over time to become better suited to their homes and jobs. It’s about how nature, with a little help from humans, can shape living things in fascinating ways. This story is just one example of how diverse and amazing the process of evolution can be, showing us how creatures can adapt to their unique needs and environments.

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