If you take a closer look at the beautiful paws of a Labrador Retriever, you’ll notice they are large, strong, and possess a remarkable feature: webbing.
This webbing within the paw allows them to excel in some of the activities that this breed of dog is best known for.
Do Labradors have webbed feet?
Yes, all Labrador Retrievers have webbed feet, as do many breeds of dog, but Labs typically have larger-sized paws and a significant amount of webbing within those paws, which works to their advantage on land and in the water.
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How does this work to their advantage in performing typical Lab activities? What benefit does this give Labradors over other types of dogs with smaller paws or lack of webbing?
Let’s go over the advantage that webbed feet give the Labrador Retriever, and how it helps them excel on both land and in the water.
Labrador Webbed Feet
Labrador Retrievers have been bred for centuries, originating in the Newfoundland area of northeastern Canada several hundred years ago. They developed a reputation for excellent performance as retrievers especially in the water, and comfortable even at colder temperatures in northern Canada.
Webbed feet were seen as a distinct advantage over other dogs who did not possess this trait, and those early Labs with webbed feet were likely selected for future breeding due to this feature giving them a tremendous performance advantage.
If you separate a Lab’s toenails gently on their paw, you’ll see webbing in between them that attaches and connects them together underneath their fur.
Throughout the last several hundred years, Labs have become extremely popular not only due to their physical abilities but to their playful, friendly personalities and strong bond to humans.
Lab breeders in both the United States and Great Britain have been able to breed to improve standards and traits they prefer in the dogs they produce and continue to breed dogs that demonstrate exceptional performance as both a family dog and retriever.
How Webbed Feet Helps Labs in Water
The webbed feet of the Labrador Retriever give it a huge advantage in the water, both in swimming and water retrieving.
Webbed feet act as “paddles” in the water to help displace more water when a Labrador is swimming. It’s similar to the idea of a human using swim paddles vs. their open hand to push through the water.
A paddle, or webbing, gives a more effective stroke through the water and allows more water to be moved out of the way, rather than water sliding between the fingers (or paw, in this case).
If you are able to see underwater when a Lab is swimming, and observe what they do with their paws, you’ll see that they “open up” their paws as wide as they can to expose the webbing in between each nail, and take up as much room as they can with their paws in the water.
By doing this, they are pushing and moving higher amounts of water with every stroke. This is a more efficient use of their paws than keeping them contracted. The webbing serves as additional surface area for water displacement.
If you happen to be in the water with your Lab when they’re swimming, be careful that you don’t get scratched! We’ve been scratched many times accidentally by exuberant Labs swimming with their paws extended wide and webbing exposed.
Those Labrador nails (and dew claws, if your Lab has them) can be fully extended in the water, and can unintentionally scratch you!
Labradors are known for being excellent swimmers, though they might need to be guided and introduced to the water carefully when you first try to teach them to swim.
If you have a new puppy, make sure you teach them to swim slowly and gradually, without causing a fear of the water. By taking the right steps to teach them, your Lab’s instincts should kick in and they will likely develop a natural love of being in the water.
Why Webbed Feet Helps Labs on Land & Snow
Labradors’ webbed feet also give them an advantage on land. The webbing in their paws can provide additional stability and traction, especially on muddy or slippery surfaces.
Labs often encounter muddy conditions, thick brush, rocky surfaces, and uneven terrain when retrieving or hunting, and having additional traction and stability can help the dog remain on its feet and avoid obstacles.
(Is your Labrador having paw issues? Read here for why Labs often have issues with paw chewing, biting, and itching)
Similar to having dew claws, which can provide traction on sand or in certain types of terrain, having webbing can help a dog on slippery or rocky surfaces where they need to extend their paws to regain stability.
Labs also can use their webbed feet to get traction and power in snow, especially when running or jumping. They can use the webbing within their paws to widen their stance in snow, prevent slipping or falling through deeper snow, and distribute their weight differently to avoid sliding as much.
If you’ve seen a Lab walk on ice or deep snow, they frequently will extend their paws outward, to create as wide a paw as possible. This is similar to when they’re underwater, in an attempt to increase the surface size of the paw and its connection to the ground.
This is your dog’s way of attempting to gain traction and stability on an icy or snowy surface.
Other Lab Physical Traits that Help Them Excel
There are several other notable Labrador physical traits that help them excel on water and on land that go along with having webbed feet.
The large size of the typical Labrador paw also helps Labs get power and traction behind their steps, especially when running or retrieving wild game.
It can also help Labs perform in agility or dock-jumping competitions, where power and traction are huge physical assets.
Labs also benefit in the water and on land from a thick double coat, which may give them added protection in cold water and in cold air temperatures.
Even though your Lab may be a hardy retriever in cold weather, it’s always a good idea to have them inside your home and we don’t recommend they live as an outside-only dog.
Labradors have a thick otter-like tail, which helps them swim by acting as a rudder for them to steer in the water.
You might notice that dogs referred to as the English type of Labrador have a slightly thicker and fluffier tail than American Labradors. Read more about some of the noticeable differences here between English and American Labs.
Both types of Labradors can be excellent swimmers, despite small physical differences you might see in tail size or shape.
Other Breeds of Dogs With Large Paws & Webbed Feet
Many other popular breeds of dogs are known for having webbed feet, and these breeds tend to also be excellent swimmers known for their exceptional performance in the water.
Some of the most famous dogs known for their webbed feet include:
- American Water Spaniels
- Portuguese Water Dogs
- Springer Spaniels
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- Irish Water Spaniels
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shorthaired Pointers
Some of these breeds you might recognize as being proficient retrievers and hunters, as well as excellent water performers like the Labrador.
These breeds of dog share some similar physical traits with the Labrador beyond having webbed feet, and it’s one of the reasons why designer dog breeds such as Labradoodles and Goldendoodles have become so popular recently.
Breeds such as the Labradoodle, pictured above, share many similarities with the Labrador Retriever in physical size, friendly temperament, and athleticism.
They give people another alternative to the benefits of the Labrador Retriever while adding in some features of the other breed, such as the Poodle, which can be helpful especially to people with allergies to Labrador fur.
Summary – Why Do Labradors Have Webbed Feet?
Labradors have been bred over time to maintain and promote some of the most effective traits that were most in demand by breeders and owners.
Physical traits such as webbed feet, large paws, a thick otter-like tail, and a double coat have been sought-after features that Lab breeders have focused on and bred for over the last hundred years.
You’ll find that the webbed feet of the Labrador Retriever give it a distinct advantage over other dogs, both in swimming and retrieving in water and on land.
It’s one of the wonderful physical traits of this amazing breed, and one of the reasons why they’ve continued to be the most popular dogs in the United States for the last 30 years.