Five Dog Breeds That Can’t Swim Well, If At All

Whether you took pains to introduce your dog to swimming from an early age, if they decided to throw themselves into a pond while young and have loved the water ever since, or if your dog hates getting their feet wet and wouldn’t even deign to step in a puddle, most of us assume that if push came to shove, our dogs would swim if they had to.

Whilst adult humans need to be taught to swim and this can take a lot of time, courage and patience for people who never learnt as children, human babies and very young children are naturally able to keep themselves afloat and their heads above the water – largely because their instincts take over and they don’t panic and start flailing around.

The same is usually the case for dogs, and whilst some dog lovers talk about having taught their dogs to swim, dogs don’t actually need to be taught the motions to make in the water to move and stay afloat – once more, instinct takes over and takes care of this for them.

However, whilst virtually every dog will make the appropriate swimming movements if put into water, some dogs still cannot swim – which comes as a surprise to many dog owners.

When it comes to dogs that can’t swim, this is not because they don’t know how to, or because they panic when they get into the water, but because their physical conformation makes it impossible for them to both stay afloat and keep their head above the water in order to breathe.

Some such dogs would manage to stay afloat for up to a few minutes in an emergency before sinking, but for others, they are apt to become submerged and so, be at risk of drowning as soon as they get out of their depth.

Whatever type of dog you own, it is important to try them out in the water carefully and under supervision, to find out how they react and how well they could swim if they had to in an emergency, even if you never plan to take them swimming. 

However, there are several dog breeds for which swimming is virtually impossible for various physical reasons, and very few if any dogs of such breeds would manage to swim at all, and so such breeds are best kept well clear of the water in general.

If you’re wondering if your dog makes the list of dog breeds that can’t swim, read on to find out five of the dog breeds that are least likely to be able to swim well, if at all – and why.

The English bulldog

For a top-of-the-list example of a dog breed that is hugely likely to sink like a stone as soon as they hit the water, look no further than the English bulldog. More or less every trait of this breed’s conformation is the exact opposite of what makes a good swimmer, and this is a breed that should be kept well clear of water sources deeper than their bellies for this very reason.

Why can’t the English bulldog swim? Firstly, they’re heavily built and very muscular, which is not great for buoyancy. Their legs are short too, without a hugely wide spectrum of movement. However, it is the head and face of the English bulldog that seals the deal – the head is disproportionately large and heavy, causing the dog to tip forwards from their central balance point in the water, and then the dog’s flat face means in turn that they cannot keep their nose above the water in order to breathe.

The French bulldog

The French bulldog is another breed that is almost certainly likely to sink in short order when placed in water, although there are some exceptions for very moderate, healthy examples of the breed whose noses are longer than the current harmful trend for excessive flatness of the face.

Why can’t the French bulldog swim? Whilst they’re not as disproportionately short legged and stocky as the English bulldog, they do still have overly large heads and flat faces, which makes them apt to pitch forwards and be unable to keep their noses above the water. Also, dogs of the breed tend to have narrow hips, which doesn’t help to balance this out at all.


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The Basset hound

The Basset hound has a large, heavy and stocky body and head with disproportionately short legs, which is caused by a form of canine dwarfism. Whilst they have long noses and muzzles unlike the other two breeds we’ve covered so far, those short legs don’t provide enough propulsion for the size and length of the body as well as their weight, and mean that they are unlikely to be able to achieve the forward motion necessary to stay afloat and keep their heads up. 

The Dachshund 

Similarly, the Dachshund too exhibits a form of canine dwarfism, and whilst they are not as heavy in the body as the Basset hound, those short legs and long backs make dogs of the breed highly unlikely to be able to swim effectively for long, if at all.

The pug

The pug is another flat-faced dog breed that simply wasn’t made for swimming, with those short, flat and narrow noses being the main part of the issue. Pugs are also quite stocky and rounded dogs, whose legs are comparatively finely boned, and so they tend to pitch forwards and end up with their faces under the water when their legs begin to move in order to swim.

Whilst there are some exceptions among pugs that are lean and healthy with moderate muzzles, most pugs cannot swim well, if at all.


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