Dog Breeds That Can't Swim & Why

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While you may have assumed that all dogs are natural swimmers, this isn't necessarily true. Yes, some dog breeds do well when they're in water, but other dog breeds may be more likely to struggle in the water no matter how much they dog paddle. Take a look at the list below of dog breeds that can't swim.

Which Dog Breeds Can't Swim?

Cream-colored pug in harness walking on a beach at sunset.As a rule, dog breeds that can't swim tend to have some common characteristics, says American Kennel Club (AKC). For example, brachycephalic breeds — those with flat faces or extremely short snouts — are generally unsuited for swimming because it's too easy to get water up their noses, making them a drowning risk. Dogs with large, barrel-shaped bodies struggle to stay afloat, as do dogs with long bodies and short legs. Dogs with long coats or thick double coats can also struggle with swimming. Finally, some breeds simply cannot withstand the shock to their system brought on by a plunge into cold water.

Wondering which dog breeds can't swim? Here are some of the more commonly known dog breeds that might prefer staying on land. If you have one of the following dog breeds listed below, it might be worth reconsidering those regular beach trips.

1. Bulldogs

Both English bulldogs and French bulldogs possess the triple threat of flat faces, barrel-shaped bodies and short legs. In other words, bulldogs simply aren't made for swimming. Only one of these traits would make swimming a challenge for these dogs, imagine having all three! So, in the land of dog breeds that can't swim, bulldogs are king.

2. Pugs

While pugs might enjoy wading and splashing in shallow water, their flat faces make breathing a challenge during the best of times. Add in the exertion of trying to keep their head above water, and it's hard to get pugs to stay above water. For many brachycephalic breeds, including pugs, keeping their faces above water means tilting their heads back so far that their back ends dip too low, says PetGuide.

3. Bull Terriers

Despite belonging to the active terrier group, the bull terrier's combination of short legs and a deep chest makes it struggle to stay afloat. Even the breed's close cousin, the Staffordshire bull terrier, who is a much larger dog, wouldn't necessarily make a better swimmer as the dense, heavy muscle and oversized head on this breed also presents a challenge for these dogs in the water.

4. Basset Hounds

Besides the fact that the body of a basset hound isn't designed for swimming (with their large heads and short legs that make it difficult to stay afloat), the large, floppy ears that are the trademark of this breed are prone to infections when water gets in the ear canal.

5. Boxers

This is another large, athletic breed you might think would be a natural-born swimmer. But the flat face on the boxer makes swimming just as dangerous for these dogs as it is for the more diminutive pug. The struggle to breathe and keep their noses above water means boxers may tire quickly and run the risk of drowning if in the water too long.

6. Corgis

Despite having an affinity for water, neither the Cardigan Welsh corgi nor the Pembroke Welsh corgi are strong swimmers. This is due to the combination of a long body, barrel-shaped chest and disproportionately short legs. So, it's best to let them enjoy splashing in shallow water.

7. Dachshunds

As with corgis, the elongated body and short legs of dachshunds make them poor swimmers. Even swimming in shallow water can tire the dachshund's little legs out to the point of danger. Keep a close eye on them when they're around any amount of water.

8. Shih Tzus

Like many of the smaller breeds, shih tzus have a number of disadvantages when it comes to swimming. Not only can the shortened muzzle and small legs make it difficult to keep their nose and mouth out of the water, but their long, full coat can weigh this breed down and also cover the face, making breathing even more of a challenge. These little dogs can also catch a chill from spending too much time in the water.

Water Safety for Dog Breeds that Can't Swim

Corgi swimming in a pool.If you're already the pet parent of one of these breeds, or you have a dog with similar physical characteristics, it's important to take steps to keep your pup safe around water (whether it's a pool or on a boat). Here are some helpful tips for things you can do:

  • Invest in a good doggie life jacket and put it on your pooch whenever they're near a body of water, including your swimming pool. Look for one made with waterproof materials that's rated for the size and weight of your dog, preferably with a handle on top that would allow you to quickly haul them to safety. The fit should be loose enough to be comfortable but tight enough that they won't slide out of it.

  • Stick to the shallows when taking your dog to the lake or beach. Encourage them to wade or splash in the water if they enjoy it, but don't force them to get in the water if they don't. Either way, keep them from wading in over their heads.

  • If you have a swimming pool, put a fence around it to keep your dog out.

  • The best fences aren't enough to keep some dogs out, so consider installing a ramp that would allow your dog to easily climb to safety if they fall in the pool.

  • It's also a good idea to teach your dog how to swim safely. The best method, says AKC, is to allow another dog to show your dog the ropes. Look for a friend's or neighbor's dog who is a good swimmer and who plays well with your pooch, and invite them over for a supervised play date in the pool. Your dog will learn what to do from watching the other dog. Just be sure your pup is wearing their life vest during their swimming lesson.

  • Supervise your dog closely at all times whenever they're around water, including shallow water.

  • If you still want to provide your poor swimming dog a way to cool off in the heat of summer, consider investing in a small plastic kiddie pool. They're shallow enough to allow your dog to stand in the water, while still allowing them the fun of splashing in the pool.

Not all dogs are good swimmers, and this isn't an exhaustive list. Sometimes, even dogs who were bred for swimming and water activities don't enjoy swimming. Bath time aside, you should never force any dog who's averse to water to swim or play water sports. Dogs may have a built-in instinct for knowing how to dog paddle, but that doesn't always mean that they can tread water as easily.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet lover, freelance writer and novelist. She currently lives with her husband and their gaggle of four-footed dependents in the Ozarks, where she enjoys watching a wide array of wild animals in her backyard while drinking her morning coffee.

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