Is it true that English bulldogs can’t swim?
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Is it true that English bulldogs can’t swim?

Dogs
Breed Facts

The English bulldog is one of the UK’s most popular dog breed, and despite the high average sale price that dogs of the breed tend to command, one that is reliably to be found in the top ten popularity list, and one that is in consistent demand with puppy buyers.

However, it is more than just the high prices that the average English bulldog commands that should give you pause if you’re thinking of buying a dog of the breed, because this is a complex and actually highly controversial dog breed all told, and for a variety of different reasons.

The English bulldog’s health is complex, and they’re not the longest lived of breeds as a result of this; there is a long list of hereditary health defects and conformation problems that can be found in a significant proportion of dogs of the breed, and which makes the current modern preferred look for the average English bulldog rather contentious.

Additionally, the English bulldog’s appearance is vastly different to its historical norm, and dogs of the breed from 50 years ago or more would be more or less unrecognisable to the average English bulldog fan today. The breed used to be taller, far leaner, less wide of the head and neck, narrower in the chest and vitally, far longer in the muzzle.

It is in fact the conformation of the modern English bulldog that results in the breed’s complex health and many of the health problems associated with dogs of the breed, and this has implications for both their health and care, as well as longevity. It also had a number of knock-on or peripheral impacts too, which may not be obvious or the type of thing that prospective buyers of the breed would think to find out more about prior to making a purchase, even if they did plenty of research first.

This ties us back into the title of this article itself – is it true that English bulldogs can’t swim? Put simply yes, English bulldogs can’t swim as a result of their conformation.

However, there is more to it than this and a number of variables and factors that need to be taken into account to fully understand the English bulldog and why it cannot swim; and the potential exceptions to this rule too. Read on to learn more.

Can English bulldogs swim?

No, English bulldogs cannot swim. They’re not the only dog breed that cannot swim by a long chalk, but they are the breed that could fairly be considered to be the one at greatest risk if they suddenly found themselves out of their depth in water, and the one at greatest risk of drowning, and very quickly.

There are very few exceptions to the rule that English bulldogs cannot swim; and something interesting about this is that you can actually tell by looking at a dog of the breed with a reasonable degree of certainty if they might be one such exception – although you should never base a life or death decision about your dog around water on such an assumption!

It is the English bulldog’s conformation that makes them unable to swim, and we’ll explain next why this is.

Why can’t English bulldogs swim?

So, why can’t English bulldogs swim? It comes down to a variety of different factors pertaining to their conformation, which combined, all spell disaster in the water.

For a dog to be able to swim, it needs to be able to maintain buoyancy or stay up in the water; it needs to be able to maintain forwards motion in order to avoid going under the surface; and of course, it needs to be able to breathe!

Some dogs can manage one or two of these things but not all three, but the English bulldog fails on all counts, making them the worst swimmer of all in the canine world of all, or put another way, the dog breed at highest risk of drowning. Here’s why.

  • The English bulldog is flat faced, or brachycephalic. This means that to keep their nostrils out of the water to breathe, they cannot just poke their nose up a little bit like most dogs; they need to bring their whole head up at an acute angle.
  • This tilts the dog’s body off the horizontal position it needs to be in to achieve propulsion, taking it towards the vertical; resulting in them sinking downwards.
  • The dog cannot achieve or maintain forward motion in the water without being horizontal in the water.
  • The English bulldog’s neck is very thick and muscular, limiting its range of movement and increasing its weight. Bulldog heads are also very heavy in relation to their bodies, making them tip forwards in the water and contributing to their problems keeping their heads up and noses out of the water.
  • Bulldogs are as a whole very stocky and heavy, with an almost square appearance; they are heavy enough to struggle with buoyancy based on their weight alone, and their legs are short and unable to achieve enough motion to keep them afloat, even if you took away the other issues mentioned above.
  • All of these factors combined mean that an English bulldog would likely sink immediately in water, potentially so fast that unless you happened to see them go into the water in the first place, you might have no idea what happened.

Can any English bulldogs swim?

We’ve outlined above how the various conformation traits of the English bulldog stops them from swimming; but there is a growing movement within the UK seeking to breed English bulldogs back to their historical norms, which controversially but objectively is far more fit for life and generally healthy.

This means that English bulldogs that have longer muzzles, longer legs, less thick necks, proportionally lighter heads, a less heavy build and more open nostrils might be able to swim for a short period of time, albeit likely not very well or for very long.

If you own a bulldog of this more moderate type, test this out in a safe environment like a supervised hydrotherapy session, and do not just assume it to be the case!

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