What Dog Breeds Don’T Know How Do You Swim?


Swimming is considered an innate skill for many dogs, but some breeds lack natural buoyancy and struggle to stay afloat. There are several factors that determine whether certain dogs cannot swim well or at all. This includes body structure, level of exposure to water, training, age, health issues, and fear. Smaller dogs with disproportionate bodies and short legs like bulldogs, pugs, and dachshunds often sink. There are also retrievers and hunting breeds that surprise owners by avoiding water. With proper precautions, supervision, life vests, and training, non-swimmer dog breeds can still enjoy the water.

Certain Breeds Lack Natural Swimming Ability

Some dog breeds are naturally poor swimmers due to their physical traits and musculoskeletal structure. Dogs with very short legs, like Bassets, Dachshunds, and Corgis, tend to have more difficulty swimming than dogs with longer legs [1]. Their short limbs make it harder for them to paddle and propel themselves through the water.

Similarly, dogs with dense, heavy bodies and short muzzles like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers struggle to stay afloat and to breathe while swimming [2]. Their facial structure and compact torsos cause them to tire easily and sink. They also run a higher risk of inhaling water while swimming due to their flat noses.

In contrast, dogs with longer snouts, leaner bodies, and longer legs like Labrador Retrievers tend to be naturally strong swimmers. Their physical build helps them swim with ease for longer durations.

Lack of Exposure and Training

Many dogs are not properly exposed to water or given swimming lessons during their puppyhood, which can make it more difficult for them to learn how to swim later in life. According to TopDog Health, dogs that are introduced to water-based activities at an early age tend to gain comfort and confidence around water more easily. However, a lack of exposure does not mean a dog can’t learn – with proper training and technique, dogs can learn to swim at any age. The key is to start lessons slowly, in shallow water first, and use positive reinforcement techniques with lots of praise and treats. With time and patience, most dogs without health issues can learn basic swimming skills, even if they were not exposed as puppies. Proper training helps create enjoyable, safe experiences around water for dogs of all ages.

Fear of Water

Some dogs are afraid of water due to previous negative experiences, such as nearly drowning or being forced into water against their will. This can lead to a pronounced fear of water that may be challenging to overcome (Source).

If your dog is afraid of water, it’s important to introduce water very slowly and positively. Start with treats and praise near a water source like a kiddie pool or bathtub without forcing your dog into the water. Gradually decrease the distance as your dog becomes comfortable. Never throw your dog into water or overwhelm them (Source).

With time, patience, and positive reinforcement, most dogs can overcome their fear of water. But progress may be slow for severely water-phobic dogs. Work at your dog’s pace and seek professional help from a trainer or behaviorist if needed.

Age and Health Factors

Certain age groups and dogs with health conditions may have more difficulty swimming safely compared to healthy adult dogs. Puppies, in particular, have poor coordination and muscle strength that make swimming challenging. Their lungs are also not fully developed, which can lead to fatigue and drowning while swimming (Source).

On the other end of the spectrum, senior dogs often suffer from arthritis and other age-related health issues that make swimming difficult. The cold water can aggravate their joint pain and limited mobility. Senior dogs also tend to tire more quickly in the water (Source).

Dogs with health conditions like heart or lung disease have less stamina for swimming. The exertion required can exacerbate their medical issues. Obese dogs may also struggle with buoyancy and endurance. Owners should consult their vet before allowing dogs with health problems to swim.

Dangerous Dog Breeds for Swimming

Certain dog breeds are known to be poor swimmers due to their physical characteristics and temperament. Bulldogs, pugs, French bulldogs, and other brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds often struggle in the water due to their pushed-in faces and short muzzles which make breathing difficult. Their heavy, front-loaded bodies also make it challenging for them to stay afloat.

According to iHeartDogs, other dangerous breeds for swimming include basset hounds, dachshunds, Pekingese, boxers, and chow chows. Their short legs, dense muscle mass, and top-heavy bodies cause them to tire easily in the water. Additionally, their coats tend to absorb water, making swimming exhausting.

Brachycephalic and dense-coated breeds like bulldogs and French bulldogs can easily drown if they end up in deep water and are unable to get out. Even in shallow water, they may panic or ingest water, leading to choking or breathing issues. Owners of these breeds need to take extra precautions around pools, beaches, and other bodies of water.

Swimming Risks

Swimming can pose several risks to dogs that owners should be aware of. The most serious risk is drowning, which can occur if a dog becomes exhausted or disoriented in the water. According to Brentfordvets.co.uk, drowning is one of the biggest concerns when taking a dog swimming. Dogs should never be left unattended in water, as they can drown in just a few inches if they are unable to keep their head above water.

Exhaustion is another significant risk while swimming. If a dog stays in cold water for too long, they are at risk of hypothermia as their body temperature drops dangerously low (Preventivevet). In warmer waters, dogs can suffer heat stroke. Owners should monitor their dog closely while swimming and allow regular breaks out of the water to prevent overexertion.

Ear and eye infections are also potential hazards of swimming. Water can get trapped in a dog’s ears and cause painful infections. Chemicals and bacteria in some bodies of water may also irritate a dog’s eyes. Owners should avoid areas with blue-green algae blooms, which can be toxic (Brentfordvets). After swimming, gently drying a dog’s ears and rinsing their eyes with clean water can help prevent issues.

Safety Tips

When allowing dogs to swim, it is important to take safety precautions to prevent accidents and injuries. Some tips include:

Use a dog life jacket. Life jackets give dogs extra buoyancy and help them stay afloat. Choose a properly fitted vest according to your dog’s size and body type (Dutch, 2023).

Provide supervision. Never leave a dog unsupervised around water. Stay within reach of your dog when swimming in case they need assistance (Humane Society, n.d.).

Train your dog. Teach basic obedience commands like “stay” and “come” so you can maintain control around water. Dogs can also be trained to swim on command or retrieve objects from the water.

Choose safe areas. Avoid waters with strong currents, motorized boats, dangerous wildlife, or toxic algae. Swim in calm areas you can stand in and your dog can easily exit (Pet Health Network, n.d.).

Alternative Water Activities

Even if your dog can’t or doesn’t like to swim, there are plenty of alternative water games and activities you can do to keep them engaged and having fun. Focus on more shallow water play like wading or splashing. Get toys and objects that float, so your dog can interact with them without having to swim. Some ideas for water play include:

  • Wading or walking through shallow water – Let your dog splash and walk around in safe, shallow areas. This is great for hot days!
  • Playing fetch with floating toys – Toss balls and other floating toys into shallow water so your dog can run, splash and retrieve them.
  • Water sprinklers and hoses – Run around in the sprinklers or chase the water from a hose. A great way to cool down!
  • Kiddie pools and splash pads – Let your dog walk in and play with toys in a plastic kiddie pool filled with shallow water.
  • Water mazes – Place floating toys in patterns for your dog to jump between and retrieve from shallow water.

The key is making sure the water is shallow enough your dog can stand and play comfortably. With the right toys and setup, you can have a blast with water play, even for dogs that don’t naturally take to swimming. It’s about working within their abilities so they can participate in the fun!


In conclusion, it’s important for dog owners to be aware of their dog’s swimming ability and comfort in the water. As we’ve discussed, certain breeds like bulldogs and pugs have physical limitations that make swimming difficult for them. Lack of exposure and training can also lead to fear of water in dogs. Older dogs or dogs with health conditions should take extra precautions around water.

While swimming can be great exercise and enjoyment for dogs, owners need to be mindful of risks like drowning, especially for breeds with low stamina or those that panic in water. With proper precautions and training, swimming can be safe and fun for most dogs. Knowing your dog’s limits and supervising them around water is key.

The main takeaway is that dog owners should be aware of their breed’s typical swimming capabilities and their individual dog’s skills. Test your dog’s comfort and ability before allowing swimming. With vigilance and training, swimmers of all breeds can safely enjoy the water. But be cautious with dogs unable to swim well, as tragedy can strike in just moments if a dog panics in water over their head.

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