Do Dogs Get Along With Fish?

I’ve known quite a few people, myself included, who keep fish. Whether you’re a breeder or just a hobbyist, keeping fish is both peaceful and rewarding. But if you’re thinking of getting a dog or wondering if the two can mix in the same house, it’s best to do your research. After all, you wouldn’t want either the dog eating a fishy snack or having the contents of the aquarium all over your house. Or perhaps it’s a pond with fish, and you’d rather not have your dog go in and kill the fish. Either way, we’d better take a look and see just how well dogs do with fish.

Some dog breeds are good with other species like fish, and some are not. The answer lies within each particular dog breed, and you can’t generalize about the entire dog world. Most dogs would chew on a fish, given a chance. But, some dogs wouldn’t, and some might even try to help the fish.  

We’ll take a look at some breeds to give us more definite answers, so keep with me here.

The first and most important thing that we have to understand is that a dog is a bit of an opportunistic omnivore. Dogs will eat what they can when they can. And although dogs have a sweet disposition, it takes a highly trained dog to resist stealing goodies off the table when no one else is in the room.  

So, let’s assume for a moment that you have what I like to think of as a ‘medium-trained’ dog. That is an average household with a dog that will do the basics. By this, I mean the dog can sit, stay, fetch, roll-over, go to bed (or den or whatever you call it), and knows the word NO and good boy or girl knows their name—that sort of thing. We’re not talking a trained working dog or hunting pointer or anything like that, and I’ll get into those groups by the way.

This ‘medium-trained’ dog is the type that may or may not beg when you’re at the dinner table, but they might just steal some food given the opportunity, such as when they think that no one is watching. Take most dogs and plop a fish out of the aquarium or allow the dog to jump after one in a pond and they might just try to give the fish a taste.

But again, it comes down to the dog’s personality and training. Let’s take a look at a few examples of breeds from each of the main groups of dogs and examine how their behavior might dictate what would happen when they encounter a fish.

Understanding Fish Behavior Relating To Dogs

A beautiful Amazonian Discus Cichlid is shown in this file photo.
A Discus Cichlid. A crafty little fishy.

I know what you’re thinking. And I know, this is supposed to be about Dogs and so why am I talking about fish behavior? Wait, fish have behaviors? I can tell you that yes, without any doubt in my mind, fish have reactions all right. Let me tell you a little something about how fish and dogs get along.

I’ve kept dogs my entire life. Okay, maybe there were a few years in college when I didn’t have a dog, but for most of my life, I’ve had a dog or two around. I even had a pet shop in Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. But I digress, just giving a bit of back story. I’ve also kept and bred African Cichlid fish for many years. These fish are ridiculously smart for fish. And feisty.  

So I was living in this one apartment, and I didn’t have a dog, I had a cat. The cat would watch the fish, and I had this one fish in particular who would try to scare away the cat to protect his harem of girls in the tank. He would swim up and splash water over the edge of the aquarium, right at the cat. It worked like a charm, the cat would run away every time, and I’d have dribbles of water on the floor and front of the aquarium to clean up.

Well, I had a few friends with dogs, and the same thing happened to them. The dogs were sitting in front of the tank, and I don’t think they even knew fish were there. And splash, here comes this mini-wave of water sailing over the edge and gets one of the dogs right on the head. He had no idea where the water had originated. Then another splash and the other dogs back gets hit.

If Only I’d Had My Camera…

I wish I had filmed it. Hilarious to watch this fish about five inches long, try to scare away medium-sized dogs. It was fantastic, and I wish you could have seen that with me.

Anyway, my point is that some fish species will be an issue, some jump out of the tank, some are territorial (like the Cichlids I kept), some are skittish, some only come out at night, the list goes on and on.  

So, before you go and consider how a dog will react to a fish, perhaps we should also consider how the fish will respond to the dog. It is a complicated question that may seem simple to answer, but depending on whether we’re talking about what variable, it’s difficult to generalize. For that reason, I’ve broken down a few key reasons why each group of dogs may be associated with a fish and then drawn some logical conclusions as to the result of the interaction. Let’s take a look at how this plays out for each dog group.

Working Dogs and Fish

A pack of dogs pulls a dog sled along rough terrain in this file photo.
A pack of dogs pulls a dog sled along rough terrain.

Types of Working Dogs

There are several different types of working dogs, so lumping them all together concerning how they will react with other pets like fish doesn’t make sense. Here’s a taste the different types of working dogs:

  • Assistance dogs
  • Detection dogs
  • Draught dogs
  • Guard dogs
  • Guide dogs
  • Herding dogs
  • Military dogs
  • Search & rescue dogs
  • Service dogs
  • Sled dogs
  • Therapy dogs

As you can see, there exist a lot of different jobs for a lot of different kinds of dogs. For the sake of not falling so far down the rabbit hole that fish can’t exist, I’ve chosen to only talk about a couple of the most common of the working dogs, the Herding and the Guard dogs. I’ve chosen these two because they tend to be somewhat opposite on the spectrum of how they react to other animals and pets. It includes how they may respond with fish as well, so I thought it relevant to include here.

Some Working Dog Breeds (not herding or guard dog)

  • Great Dane
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
  • Siberian Husky
A man sits in a portable chair on shore.  The man is fishing and has a young Husky beside him in this file photo.
Fishing with a Husky

Herding Dogs and Fish

What Herding Dogs Are Like

Herding dogs are highly intelligent, caring, and active dogs. They require a lot of exercise and stimulation, or they don’t behave as well. The herding group of dog breeds responds well to learning training commands and excels at many different tasks.

Some Herding Dog Breeds

  • Belgian Sheepdog
  • Border Collie
  • Australian Shepherd
  • German Shepherd
  • Pyrenean Shepherd

Herding Dogs And Aquarium Fish

These dogs are intelligent and caring and are not likely to care about your fish tank. Some may find solace in having a fish tank to watch, especially if you live in an apartment. These dogs love to be active, so you have to watch the playing near the fish tank for obvious reasons.

Generally speaking, a well-trained herding dog won’t be a problem when it relates to your fish tank. Just make sure you don’t forget to keep the dog exercised (in other words, don’t just stare at the fish tank, spend time with the dog too).

Herding Dogs And Pond Fish

I’ve had pond fish for most of my life, and the dogs we’ve had have always left the fish alone. I only once had a herding dog, a Border Collie, pay any attention at all, and that’s because her ball had gone in the pond with the koi and a big old koi was tasting the ball. The dog appeared to display a bit of jealousy and wanted to protect her toy. However, the dog hesitated to jump into the water. And after about thirty seconds, the koi lost interest in the ball. I was there to fish it out of the water anyway. No harm, no fuss. If you are concerned, put a small fence up or keep the dog leashed around the pond.

Herding Dogs And Fishing

Herding dog breeds make fantastic companions. With that in mind, they are great to take fishing with you. Just be warned, most of the herding dogs are smart and will want to help you fish. Fish hooks and dogs don’t mix well, so keep your wits about you.

If you land a fish in the boat, keep the dog at bay. They will get very excited, and this will be something they may not have experienced before, so be aware of that. Keep them clear of any fish that’s flapping around, so they don’t get a sharp fin in the eye. I’ve gotten my fingers cut from a pointed fin of a bass, and they aren’t huge fish or anything. Just take it easy, okay? Use common sense and keep the dog from the fish hooks.

Guard Dogs and Fish

What Guard Dogs Are Like

Guard dogs are often territorial, sometimes even shy, to the point of aggression. It’s this shy nervous nature that makes some breeds good watchdogs. But the more aggressive territorial guard dogs, watch out. You don’t want them near your other pets, that’s for sure. Wonder what will happen if a fish is involved? Read on.

Some Guard Dog Breeds

  • Bullmastiff
  • Cane Corso
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Giant Schnauzer
  • Rottweiler

Guard Dogs And Aquarium Fish

Most guard dog breeds will kill your fish, given the opportunity. Luckily, most of the time, the prospect doesn’t present itself. Some of the more intelligent guard dogs, like the Dobermann for example, might be curious enough to sniff the aquarium, but it’s unlikely they’ll pluck any fish from the tank. But if a fish jumps out, it’s fair game.

Keep the tank elevated and the top cover, and everything should be okay. Just make sure you’ve got it out of reach of where the dog might run if playing and excited. Many guard dogs are significant, and a big dog who is excited near a glass aquarium spells trouble.

Guard Dogs And Pond Fish

With guard dogs, it’s not typical for them to jump into a pond. Most won’t do it unless provoked or excited. With that said, maybe if they see a big fish in the water, they might jump in to get it, but it’s not as likely as with some of the other types, like the Sporting dogs, for example.

Guard Dogs And Fishing

Guard dogs can make decent enough companions to take fishing with you. Again, be warned of the fish hook war with dogs. The fish hook wins most of the time, much to the dog’s chagrin. You should also watch out for too much sun if you’re taking a guard dog out fishing on a boat or other place out in the open. Many breeds of guard dogs have dark fur and can get overheated.  

Sporting Dogs and Fish

A Golden Retriever stands on a gravel covered shore near where fish likely hang out in this file photo.
Captain Golden At The Ready!

What Sporting Dogs Are Like

Sporting dogs have a range of personalities, from kind and gentle to determined and ambitious. The majority of Sporting dogs, if not all of them, come from a hunting heritage. It means they are not the best dogs to have around other pets like fish.

It is not to say that you can’t have an extremely gentle retriever; in fact, you can. What I’m saying is that you should always remember the hunter instinct is behind the sweet exterior. And a flopping fish can trigger those hidden hunting desires.

Some Sporting Dog Breeds

  • Curly-Coated Retriever
  • Golden Retriever
  • Gordon Setter
  • English Setter
  • Irish Setter

Sporting Dogs And Aquarium Fish

Most sporting dogs are quite intelligent and perceptive. The pointers and setters are particularly adept at noticing things move. And fish are no exception. Keep an eye out for the dogs showing interest in the fish tank. It’s rare, but I have read of accounts of both setters and pointers getting a little too inquisitive.  

Again, when a fish jumps out there is little hope unless you’re right there anyway. However, it’s best to train your dogs to know that all other animals in the home are pets. And keep the tank out of their reach.

Sporting Dogs And Pond Fish

With the koi pond I had for years, I didn’t ever have issues with dogs of any type. No real problems anyway. However, I never had a pointer or a setter around either. Not myself anyway. So, I had to do some digging on this one. Most of the retrievers are really good swimmers, but the pointers are not known for their swimming prowess. That is not to say they cannot swim, indeed they can. But the pointer is a dog that usually prefers land and will avoid swimming.

With that in mind, the pointer is also a hunting dog, but their training was not like that of other hunting dogs like the Jack Russell Terrier, for example. No, the pointers and setters jobs were to point out the direction of prey and freeze in that pointing sort of position. This notified the hunter where to look and it was the hunter who took out the prey, not the dog.  

I don’t think that the pointers and setters are as much of a threat to a fish as other dogs, but if a dog was on the edge of a stocked pond and saw a fish, it might try to get it. Exercise caution and bring a towel.

Sporting Dogs And Fishing

Before I proceed to talk about this, don’t you think sporting dogs and fishing go hand in hand? I mean, all of these dogs are basically hunting dogs, right? And fishing, in essence, is a form of hunting. So, if my math is right, then sporting dogs and fishing are two things that can be combined. There are always things to consider though.

  1. How curious is the dog. In other words, how likely is it that the dog is going to get it’s nose into something like a hook?
  2. What is your dog’s hunting aggression like? If your dog barks and or crashes into the window or tries to dig through the window, or any such behavior occurs when a squirrel walks by the window, then think twice. These sorts of behaviors are violent hunting responses. They are programmed into the dog. And although you might think its cute, or maybe you can yell a sharp “NO” and you’re dog will back off, but it’s a red flag.  

The warning I’m giving here is that whether you’re out on a boat with your dog (like in our article about boating with dogs), or you’re on shore, a dog that sees a fish flopping around is likely to grab it like a toy.

Ideally we would like the dog to not get the fish in its mouth. First, there’s likely a big old fish hook or two still on the fish. Why else would it be flopping around in front of your dog? Second, many fish have rather sharp fins they can cut you with and the dog can get some rather nasty infections in and around their mouth and face from cuts from flailing fish fins. And last, if you intend to clean and eat the fish, you probably don’t want dog slobber or tooth marks on it. 

Tips For Fishing With Sporting Dogs

A pair of dogs wait on a pier to go fishing with their owner in this file photo.
Mmm… Fish!
  1. If your dog isn’t well trained to stay, keep it leashed. Dogs like to chase things being cast out on the line. They also get excited when a fish is being reeled in. Best to keep them under control.
  2. Remember a water bowl and fresh water. Lake water may not be the best for your dog, especially if there’s parasites you can’t see in the water. Just bring a couple bottles of water and a small water bowl. I like to set a bowl down for my dog and just make sure it’s topped up for her. That way the dog won’t get dehydrated while you sit there for hours fishing.

Toy Breeds and Fish

A Chihuahua drinks water from a large bowl in this file photo.
That’s close enough to water for me!

What Toy Dogs Are Like

Most toy breeds are little princes and princesses. These dogs are not usually fond of water and will likely shy away from it. They are inquisitive and depending on their breeding and individual natures, they may or may not be good with other pets like fish. This group really needs to be judged on a case by case basis. Take a look at some of the different breeds we have in this group. Here’s a few examples.

Some Toy Dog Breeds

  • Affenpinscher
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chihuahua
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • Maltese

Toy Breeds And Aquarium Fish

As mentioned, this group is really a very mixed variety of breeds. I mean, they’re all small which is why they are all in this group. But some of the dogs in this group are terriers with strong hunting instincts. Take the Yorkshire Terrier for example. My little dog Kiki is a Yorkie and she would love to get her mouth on pretty much anything that might, could or may taste even remotely good. Well, she’ll eat things that make me quite nauseous just thinking about so nevermind. My point is that she will go after squirrels, cats, anything really. She gets spooked by other dogs but her hunting instincts to go after small stuff hasn’t gone away. And I have fish too. I have witnessed my Yorkie watching the fish, but she really pays little attention to them most of the time. But if one fell or jumped out, that would be a different story.

As long as the toy breed dog cannot access the top of the tank, it will be fine with an aquarium in the house. Nothing to worry about, as long as the dog can’t get up and in the tank.

Toy Breeds And Pond Fish

Like I was saying, these dogs are generally little princes and princesses. That means they usually are not fans of getting wet. My Yorkie needs a push from behind to go outside in the cold or rain. Try to get her in the bathtub and forget it.

Some dogs like taking a bath, but most in the toy breed won’t go jump into a pond or lake of their own free will. Some might after some coaxing, but it’s not likely these dogs will jump into a pond after fish. If they do, please try to get it on film and send it to me.

Toy Breeds And Fishing

Truthfully, toy breeds would probably be good with fishing. I’ve not taken one out fishing myself, but I imagine that my little lap dog Kiki would enjoy the opportunity to sit on my lap for hours while I sat and fished. And if I was standing, she’d just lay there beside me. As long as I brought her bed and a squeaky toy she’d be fine. But it would be more like babysitting than fishing really. And then there’s the risk of inquisitive minds and fish hooks and lures and all the interesting smells. I’m going to say leave the toy dog at home, that’s probably the best option.

The Hound Group of Dogs and Fish

A Basset Hound rests sitting in a park in this file photo.
Does this look like a dog who is going to go after a fish?

What Hounds Are Like

Hounds are hunters. All hounds were bred to hunt in one form or fashion. Be it as a scent hound, sniffing out and tracking prey, or be it a more aggressive hunter like the Basenji. Most dogs in this group are highly intelligent and even sneaky. But if you think about it, they have to be. And a dog that intends to outsmart prey had better be smarter than the prey it intends to outsmart. Otherwise it would be a futile attempt and the dog would fail at its purpose.

With the hunting characteristics of the hound group, caution should be taken when it comes to keeping them in the same house as other pets, fish included.

Some Hound Breeds

  • American Foxhound
  • Scottish Deerhound
  • Otterhound

The Hound Group And Aquarium Fish

How a hound will react to aquarium fish depends on several factors. First and foremost is whether or not the aquarium is even within reach. If it is, then we move on to the second question. This would be to ask whether or not the particular breed is more of a tracker or more of a hunter. Again, I’d like to look at the differences within this group. A Scent Hound will sniff out it’s prey and track it. An aquarium would have a strong smell to a dog, and there isn’t much to track, so I’m not overly concerned about the scent and tracking dogs within this group.

But let’s take a moment to look at the Basenji who for some reason falls into the hound group, according to the AKC4. If it were up to me though, the Basenji would be in the sporting group. They are great sniffers, sure, but they are more readily known for their jumping and sighting of prey, as well as pursuing and hunting small prey. In the wilds of the African grasslands, these dogs had to bounce up and down into the air in order to see over the tall grasses of the Savannah. And they are known as the jumping dog. However, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the name basenji likely is a “modification of Lingala mbwa na basenji”. This translates to “dogs of the bushland people”5.

Due to the Basenji’s highly intelligent and inquisitive nature, combined with their hunting ability, I would advise against keeping them with other pets. That is unless you train them alongside other pets from a puppy, but even then I’d advise extreme caution.

The Hound Group And Pond Fish

Basenji is an avid and opportunistic hunter. I would keep them away from ponds and pond fish. The other hounds would not be so much of a problem. However, all hounds are inherited hunters so keep that in mind. Some hounds might just jump in after a big fish like a koi or something if they see one close by. Koi are particularly vulnerable as they tend to recognize their feeding humans and will come right up and bite at the surface of the water to get the attention of the people (hoping to get a treat of course). This is the time when I would be concerned if I had fish like koi and a hound in any sort of proximity. Caution should be exercised again.

The Hound Group And Fishing

Similar to the sporting group, the hounds are also hunting dogs. One would think this would go hand in hand with fishing. However, one has to be aware of fish hooks and lures that can snag an inquisitive dog. Just like with any dog, fishing has its dangers and only a well trained dog should be taken along for the adventure. I strongly recommend keeping them leashed as well, in order to avoid any potential problems. Or in the case of where I live, having a dog off leash will get you a ticket with a fine, so fishing and dogs is okay, just use a leash and exercise extreme caution due to hooks, lures, and so on.

Terriers and Fish

A Terrier leaps into the water in this file photo.
Yippee!

What Terriers Are Like

Those of you who have kept a terrier like I have know that they are often also called terrors. And heaven forbid a squirrel cross their path. Most terriers come from a ratting or other sort of hunting of either pests or small game kind of background. For hundreds of years many of the terrier breeds were bred for specific hunting or pest control purposes so much that it engrained instincts they carry to this day.  

Take the Jack Russell Terrier for example. This is a sweet and yet feisty little dog. But it will try to dig through a wall or door to get at a squirrel if it thinks it has the chance. And they can become quite territorial about their food as well. A lot of terriers are spunky and full of energy with an instinct to hunt. Not necessarily a great mix when it comes to your fish.

Luckily, most terriers are also not ingenious hunters. Most are more of a charge and attack kind of dog. Not the stealthy and intelligent hunter who might learn to climb up somewhere to reach access to an aquarium. But we’ll get into the particular fishy situations in a moment.

Some Terrier Breeds

  • Australian Terrier
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Norfolk Terrier
  • Rat Terrier
  • West Highland White Terrier

Terriers And Aquarium Fish

I have kept both aquarium fish and terriers for the better part of my entire life. That being said, I have never once had a problem with one being an issue for the other. I’ve had aquarium fish that would splash water at dogs outside of the tank. And I’ve had dogs that would watch the fish. I’ve never had any situation arise where my terrier tried to get the fish in my fish tank.

Terriers are hunters. Some of the more intelligent and inquisitive breeds might make an attempt to get a fish out of a tank, but only if they had access to the top of the tank. With that being said, simply having a cover on the tank, or keeping the aquarium at an elevation that the dog cannot access will stop the majority of potential issues from ever happening in the first place.

Terriers And Pond Fish

I would not put it past a terrier to launch off shore or dock to get a fish in the water. I know my Jack Russell I used to have (may he rest in peace) would have launched into shark infested waters to get a shark if he saw one. There was no stopping that dog when he saw a squirrel or small rodent. We kept koi in a pond and would have to keep the dog on leash anywhere in the yard. Not only due to the fact that there were numerous squirrels, chipmunks, birds, and other small creatures in the yard, but also the koi pond seemed particularly tempting for my little furry hunting friend. Keep your terrier on a leash and you shouldn’t have any concerns.

Terriers And Fishing

Terriers are far too interested in things to take fishing, in my opinion. I love these dogs to death, but they are little balls of energetic hunting energy. Most terriers will go after a flopping fish in a heartbeat. And most are far too stubborn to stop when you say no. Just flip a toy around in front of them for a second. Count how many seconds before the dog opens its mouth to chomp on the flapping toy. Don’t you think a flopping fish on the end of your line with that sharp, barbed hook or lure in it’s mouth looks a lot like a great toy to grab and chomp on?  

Non-Sporting Dogs and Fish

A French Bulldog of the Non-Sporting group stands in shallow water looking for fish in this file photo.
Where are those fishies?

What Non-Sporting Dogs Are Like

Non-sporting dogs are again a big group of a bunch of different dog breeds. They range from the Finnish Spitz to the Dalmation. I feel like this group is one of those groups where no one knew where else to put the dog breeds, so they made the ‘not-the-other-group’ group of dogs. How these dogs react to fish is really going to depend on the particular dog breed and even more so, the particular individual dogs personality.

Some Non-Sporting Dog Breeds

  • American Eskimo
  • Bulldog
  • Chow Chow
  • Finnish Spitz
  • Dalmation

Non-Sporting Dogs And Aquarium Fish

As mentioned, these dogs need to be looked at breed by breed to determine their ability to co-exist with other pets. Some dogs in this group, like the Bulldog, are extremely tolerant of other pets. Yet others, like the American Eskimo might only be okay with other dogs, cats, and larger pets but could be a problem when it comes to smaller pets. These dogs are intelligent and inquisitive and I wouldn’t put it past one to snag a fish out of a tank given the opportunity.

Keep the tank covered and out of reach and there should be no issues.

Non-Sporting Dogs And Pond Fish

Similar to the aquarium fish, there are some situations where I wouldn’t put it past a breed like the American Eskimo to go after a fish, given the right opportunity. When I kept koi, we had a little dock that went over the edge of the water where we would go and feed the koi. They would come right up and eat right from my hand. I had to keep my dog on a leash or he would try to go after the fish. Mind you he was a terrier, but I think an American Eskimo might also try to get a fish. But I don’t see a Bulldog making the attempt. Use common sense, keep the dog on a leash and avoid the situation in the first place. 

Non-Sporting And Fishing

Like any dog, fish hooks don’t do well in a dog’s mouth. Use extreme caution and keep the dog clear of any hooks or lures. If your dog is inquisitive, keep it on a leash and be especially vigilant when you’re reeling in a fish on the line. Most dogs, even Bulldogs, become very interested when they see a fish flopping around on the end of a line.

Recommended Fish Tank Kit

20 Gallon Aquarium Kit from Amazon

Bibliography

  1. Coile, D. Caroline, Ph.D., Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds, Barron’s Educational Series, Hauppauge, New York, United States of America, 2015.
  2. Baensch, Hans A., Rudiger, Riehl, Dr., Aquarium Atlas Volume 2, Mergus(registered trademark) -Verlag GmgH, 49302 Melle, Germany, 1997.
  3. Merwin, John, The New North American Trout Fishing, Castle Books, Book Sales Inc., Edison NJ, United States of America, 2001.
  4. Basenji Dog Breed, American Kennel Association, https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/basenji/, Accessed April 23, 2020.
  5. Basenji, Definition, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/basenji, Accessed April 23, 2020.

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