Breed Information

Why Rottweilers Don’t Have Webbed Feet – Blame the Romans

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Rottweilers are a well-known and popular breed with striking features and a long, noble history of service and friendship with mankind. Despite this, there is still a lot of misconception out there surrounding this beautiful breed.

Are they the vicious animals’ people say they are? What were they first bred for? And do they have webbed feet or not?

Read on below to find out the answers and see how they relate to each other and the history of this noble breed.

Do Rottweilers Have Webbed Feet?

The breed standard for Rottweilers doesn’t include webbed feet. Rottweilers can have some webbing between their toes, but this is generally the result of being crossed with another breed more suited for the water like Labradors or Newfoundlands.

Webbing on a dog’s feet is an interesting trait. Technically, all dogs (and even humans) have webbing to some extent.

The extensive webbing that can give a duck-like appearance, though, is generally only present in dogs that were bred specifically to work in water.

This explains why Rottweilers don’t generally have webbing between their toes. Unlike some other working dogs, Rottweilers have never been used much in the water.

Read on to learn more about what causes webbed feet in dogs, what Rottweilers were bred for, and why they generally don’t need extra webbing between their toes.

What Causes Webbed Feet?

Webbed feet are the result of membranes that are stretched between the phalanges that make up toes.

If you look at a duck’s feet, they still have the same bones and toe structures that dogs and humans have, just with extra skin stretched between them.

According to Epigenetic Principles of Evolution by Nelson Çabej, most land animals, including dogs and humans, have webbed fingers and toes when they are developing in the womb.

This is an evolutionary hold-over from when most mammals needed some advantage in an aquatic environment.

Most land-dwelling embryos lose this webbing as they develop. This happens through a process called apoptosis.

This process releases genetic coding that identifies cells programmed to die off in later stages of development and begins this elimination.

However, some creatures will retain this webbing either fully or partially once they’re born. This sometimes happens unintentionally if the embryo doesn’t develop as it should.

News Medical observes this birth defect in children who are born with partially or sometimes fully webbed fingers and toes.

However, the retention of webbed feet is, in some cases, a deliberate evolution to give land-dwelling animals that spend a lot of time in the water, such as ducks, swans, and geese, an advantage in water and on slick surfaces.

As you probably know, webbed feet make it much easier for an animal to swim. The webbing creates a larger surface area to push against the water and propel the animal forward.

What you may not realize is that webbing also helps animals navigate muddy or slippery surfaces. The extra surface area distributes weight more evenly and makes it easier for animals with webbed toes to walk on the ground where non-web-toed creatures might struggle.

It is for similar reasons that some dogs have developed webbed feet, either through a natural evolutionary process or through deliberate selective breeding.

Why Do Some Dogs Have Webbed Feet? 

Charles Darwin notes in his book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication that some dog breeds have varying degrees of webbing between their toes.

According to Darwin, this webbing is the process of selective breeding, though not with intentionality when it comes to webbing in particular.

Over the centuries that mankind and dogs have been coexisting, humans have been breeding dogs to perform specific jobs. While some dogs were needed for guarding, herding, and hunting, other dogs were used in more aquatic-based roles.

This is certainly the case for Newfoundlands and Portuguese Water Dogs. These breeds were both the product of a fishing culture that needed dogs who would be willing to dive into the water to save fishermen who had been swept overboard.

Labradors were also bread to be well-suited for water. This was the result of needing a smaller dog that would be willing to swim out to retrieve lost fishing nets and later birds that had been shot by a hunter.

This video from Animal Planet shows how the webbing between a Lab’s toes makes it so well-adapted to the water.

As Darwin observed, breeding dogs specifically for water-based jobs was probably an intuitive rather than deliberate process when it came to encouraging webbed feet.

Over the years, people likely encouraged those bloodlines that seemed well adapted to the water without realizing that the more extensive webbing between their toes was part of the reason some dogs did so well in the water.

Nevertheless, this selective breeding has resulted in a unique type of cursorial animal that isn’t seen in nature without the intervention of man.

According to Wikipedia, cursorial animals are those that have been bred or have naturally adapted to run on land. Dogs are one example of a cursorial animal.

Horses, cheetahs, and gazelles are also examples of cursorial animals that have developed specifically to run on land, either to catch prey or to avoid being prey.

Generally, while webbed feet will provide sure footing in slick areas, they usually result in an awkward waddle on dry land. In contrast, most animals suited for land-living don’t naturally have webbing to help them in water.

Dogs are unique in that they are still cursorial animals, but selective breeding has resulted in some dogs having just enough webbing that they can swim faster and have sure footing in damp environments without compromising their agility on dry ground.

Why Don’t Rottweilers Have Webbed Feet?

Simply put, Rottweilers don’t have webbed feet because they’ve never needed them. Rottweilers have a long history dating back to Roman times.

While they have been valuable working dogs for centuries, they were never developed – intentionally or otherwise – to work in the water.

Let’s take a look at the history of the Rottweiler and why webbing would be superfluous in light of the jobs that they are used for:

Early Origins

The Ancient Romans were ingenuitive problem solvers, which could be seen clearly in their love of breeding dogs. Many of the breeds we have today and the way we breed dogs date back to practices and breeds established by the Romans.

One such breed is the Rottweiler. Originally, the ancestors of the Rottweilers were used as drover dogs to help drive and guard livestock to feed the Roman armies on the move.

Once the Roman Empire collapsed, these dogs became popular in the German town of Rottweil. The cattle town needed dogs who could protect and drive the herds, pull carts of butchered meat, and protect the owners when they carried their profits home.

These dogs were so popular, they were bred specifically to help out the butchers of the town and came to be known as Rottweiler Metzgerhund, or the Butcher’s Dog of Rottweil. Later, this name was simply shortened to Rottweiler.

Their Purpose Today

Rottweilers were used as cattle dogs until the advent of railroad cattle cars in the 1800s. However, their protectiveness, loyalty, and hard-working attitude made them good candidates for all kinds of jobs like police dogs and guard dogs.

According to the American Kennel Club, Rottweilers were even among the first dogs to be used as guides for the blind. They also worked as search and rescue dogs at disaster sites like the World Trade Center.

Today, the protective instincts of a Rottweiler can be refined to make them excellent guard dogs. This breed is also incredibly loyal and intelligent which makes them excellent family dogs. And, of course, Rottweilers are still great working dogs that can fill a variety of roles in society.

What Dogs Have Webbed Feet?

Here is a list of 13 dogs with webbed feet:

  1. Newfoundland
  2. Portuguese Water Dog
  3. Otterhound
  4. German Shorthaired Pointer
  5. Labrador Retriever
  6. Dachshund
  7. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  8. Irish Water Spaniel
  9. Poodles
  10. American Water Spaniel
  11. German Wire-Haired Pointer
  12. Weimaraner
  13. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


To sum up, Rottweilers don’t typically have webbed feet. While they have a long history of working alongside humans, their purpose has never really included the need to do well in water.

Dogs that have webbed feet are the result of long breeding to encourage this trait in dogs that need to be agile in water as well as on land.

Since Rottweilers were primarily descended from cattle dogs and guard dogs, they never needed to retain the webbing that all dogs once had.

Rottweilers can have more extensive webbing between their toes, but this is generally the result of cross-breeding with dogs that are better adapted to water.

If your Rottweiler has some slight webbing between its toes, this may just be an evolutionary hold-over that most terrestrial animals still have – even you! Humans retain some residual webbing between their fingers and toes, just like dogs.

Whether or not Rottweilers have webbed paws has no bearing on the wonderful companions and hard workers these dogs have proven themselves to be time and again.

Why Rottweilers Don't Have Webbed Feet