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Can Boxers Swim? – Things to Know Before Swimming with Boxers

The real reasons why Boxers aren't good swimmers and ways to train them to swim.
Written by Richard Jeng

It’s a hot summer afternoon with few options to cool down. Surely, there has to be a way for you and your Boxer to get some exercise in without melting away. Swimming might seem like a good idea, but there are things owners should be aware of first.

So, can Boxers swim? Although some Boxers can and do enjoy swimming, they are at risk while swimming in bodies of water. Due to the structure of the Boxer’s shortened snout, these dogs will have a more difficult time breathing while in the water. For this reason, safety precautions are necessary.

Just because Boxers don’t have the same advantages in water as say, the Poodle, doesn’t mean they should avoid water. We’ll discuss what factors really put these dogs at risk when swimming.

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Why Boxers Aren’t Good Swimmers

Here's why Boxers rank low for canine intelligence.

Unfortunately, not all dog breeds are gifted with the ability to flawlessly maneuver in water. Some dog breeds, such as the Golden Retriever or Chesapeake Retriever, were actually bred to swim.

This is not the case with Boxers. And while plenty of Boxers regularly swim, they have clear disadvantages in the water that all owners need to know about before putting them in the pool. Here’s why Boxers aren’t great swimmers.

Short Snout, Flat Face

I think it’s safe to say that Boxers have a unique look. Characterized by a wide skull, short snout and “smushed flat face,” you can spot a Boxer fairly easily.

No, I’m not making fun of these dogs. In fact, I think the adorable faces are the best part of the Boxer. But because of the structure of their heads, it’s difficult for Boxers to swim. Specifically, it makes it more difficult for Boxers to breath while swimming in water.

Dog breeds with these facial characteristics are called Brachycephalic dogs, where the word “brachycephalic” means “short-headed.” And unfortunately, this is not specific to the Boxer.

Other notable brachycephalic breeds include the Pug, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and more. All of which, should be carefully monitored when put into large bodies of water.

According to Rowena Packer DVM of The Kennel Club, the facial structure slightly restricts the Boxer’s nasal airflow. However, when these dogs have to tilt their heads upwards while in water, the restriction can be much greater.

The unnatural position while dog paddling puts your Boxer at a huge disadvantage while swimming. So, the best way to help them in the water is to provide a life jacket to give them a more natural posture in the water.

If you check YouTube, you’ll see plenty of Boxers swimming without life jackets. Although it’s possible for them to effectively swim without it, it’s unlikely for them to sustain that for long periods.

Compact & Muscular Frame

Boxers aren’t the biggest of dog breeds. Rather, they’re categorized as medium-sized dog breeds. Weighing around 60 pounds and standing roughly 22 inches tall, Boxers are a fairly typical medium dog.

However, it’s the frame of the Boxers that make it slightly more difficult for them to swim. Not only are they muscular, but they’re a heavily-built breed with a compact frame. While this makes them sturdy and athletic, it’s not the most ideal for swimming.

That being said, they’re more likely to sink without a life jacket on. Now the frame of the Boxer doesn’t guarantee that they’ll sink like a rock, but it does make it more difficult to stay afloat.

Combine that with the difficulty of breathing and you could potentially have a real problem on your hands. Once again, the best way to counter this problem is to provide them with a life jacket.

Boxers Weren’t Bred to Swim

Many dog breeds were bred to retrieve aquatic birds from lakes and ponds. As you may have guessed, Boxers are not one of them. In fact, they were not purposely bred to be anywhere near water.

On the contrary, Boxers were specifically bred for bull-baiting (now, an illegal blood sport) and later on, as multi-purpose farm dogs. The most successful working Boxers most likely never even played in water!

In the past, the Boxers’ job was to essentially annoy a bull until they became too tired to do anything about it. Additionally, they pulled carriages for butchers to the slaughterhouses, among many other farm jobs.

So while some dog breeds (like the Poodle, Labrador Retriever, Irish Setter, etc.) are “natural swimmers,” Boxers will require more time to get adjusted to water.

They’re not natural swimmers and it really isn’t their fault. It’s like if you were to blame the Golden Retriever for being terrible bull-baiting dogs. They’re too friendly but they were bred that way for a reason.

Can Your Boxer Swim?

Whether a Boxer is good at swimming depends on the individual dog. Even whether a Boxer will enjoy a swim will greatly vary.

With that said, we surveyed real Boxer owners to ask the question: can your Boxer swim? Responses are collected from various dog forums, including the popular Boxer Subreddit. Here’s what these Boxer owners had to say.

Real Owner Answers

1. Lastboxerday says Yes:Charlie was a natural swimmer from day one. She knew she loved water the moment we first visited a lake. It was love at first sight for her.

2. Missheadstash says No:My boxer would timidly swim to where he couldn’t touch the floor and then freak out. He’s really not much of a swimmer unfortunately.

3. Coloradojohnq says No:It’s incredible that some boxers can swim well. My girl will only go as far as getting her toes wet, but will avoid getting her chest wet. That’s about it.

4. Ypunterexpress says Yes:It’s a bit funny that some people are saying they’ve never even seen a boxer swimming. I really can’t keep my dog out of the water!

5. Feinebarbeque says No:I’m glad that your Boxer swims. My dog will sink and walk along the bottom. I’ll have to “Baywatch them” by diving in to save them.

6. Earthertheory says No:Cool to hear that some boxers swim. Meanwhile, mine won’t even dare walk on a wet sidewalk let along go for a swim!

7. Hysilvania says No:My boxer hates swimming so much. She will claw at me when I attempt to teach her how to swim. But eventually, I got her to the point where she’ll wade through water up to her chest.”

8. Withahammer says Yes:My dog can somewhat swim but it’s the least graceful thing I’ve ever seen. He also won’t go in water belly-deep. Still a big improvement from before.”

9. Lansingcycleguy says Yes:Mine swims like crazy and she absolutely loves being in the water. I’m not exactly sure why, she just took to it naturally from the beginning…

10. Fraiji says No:My boxer is AWFUL at swimming. I spent a couple hours in the water with him trying to help him keep his front paws under water while paddling. In water, he goes nearly vertical even with a life vest on.

How to Teach a Boxer to Swim

Because swimming doesn’t usually come naturally to these dogs, training your Boxer to swim requires a lot of patience and consistency. Most often, it’s not going to happen on the first day. There’s a lot of preparation involved.

Before you start, remember that you should never force your Boxer into the water. That’s the quickest way to cause anxiety and panic, which can lead to trouble while swimming. They’re ready when (and if) they are.

After all, Boxers are brachycephalic dog breeds. Anxiety, fear and panic, combined with their unique facial structures will make it even harder to breath while swimming.

Now that we’re clear on this issue, let’s begin. Here are the steps to getting your Boxer to swim with you in no time!

Boxers Need a Life Vest

Even before you start training your Boxer, it’s important you have all the proper equipment. And by equipment, I really only mean a life vest. And It’s not just me. Even the AKC recommends the use of life vests.

Not only will a life vest give your Boxer a nice boost of confidence but it also gives you, the owner, some peace of mind. Unless your dog is already super experienced, I never recommend going without a life vest.

A big reason why we recommend a life vest is because novice dog swimmers will only paddle their front feet as the bottom feet looks for the ground. This creates a “front wheel drive” effect for your dog.

Life vests will help the dog’s back level out and prevent them from “sinking.” In other words, it makes it much easier to learn to swim without the initial struggles to stay afloat.

For our dogs, we’ve only used one brand for our dog life vests. Personally tested and tried, we can confidently recommend the Outward Hound Granby Dog Life Jacket.

There’s a lot we love about this life jacket. For instance, it comes with a “rescue handle” just in case you need to lift your Boxer out quickly. It’s perfect for first-timers or novice dog swimmers.

The foam panels add extra buoyancy and it’s made with a high quality material you can tell from just touching it. It looks very comfortable for the dog, which is crucial in the beginning stages.

Plus, the bright colors makes your dog highly visible. So if you plan to take your Boxer to the lake to swim, rest assured you’ll be able to spot them as the sun starts to set.

Introducing Boxers to Water

This may seem like a silly step, but it’s arguably the most crucial step. In this part of the process, you’re teaching your Boxer that “water is okay.” That in fact, water can be fun!

There’s a lot of ways to do this. But for Boxers, I’d start from the very first step of introducing them to the concept of water. If they haven’t already, let them play with the water from the hose.

Next, you can fill a portable kid pool or bathroom tub with water and let them literally get their feet wet. Make sure they’re having a good time. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to bribe them in with some of their favorite treats.

Keep in mind, the second step should take a while. Spend multiple days playing in a tub of water prior to the day planned for swimming.

You’ll want to follow this up by taking your Boxer to the exact spot that he or she will be learning how to swim. Whether a pool or lake, let your dog sniff the water and get used to the sight of the body of water.

Start Shallow

This seems obvious, but apparently not to every dog owner. Always start with the shallow end first. The quickest way to freak out your Boxer is by throwing the dog into the deep end for the first time.

Before getting into the shallow end, make sure the life vest is on at this point. Again, you don’t want to force your Boxer in. Instead, try bribing them with some delicious treats (make sure to only bring the best).

As they get closer into the water, or deeper in, make sure to give positive praises along the way. Boxers thrive on positive reinforcement. So, it really helps their confidence by doing so.

If your dog has a favorite toy, make sure to bring that with you too. Try throwing their toy into the water. Sometimes, without thinking, they’ll jump right in based off purely instincts.

Once your Boxer gets into the water, slowly bribe them to go deeper and deeper. They may freak out a little once they realize they can’t reach the floor, but it’s fine to go back until they’re comfortable with moving forward.

More Boxer Swimming Tips

If you’re nervous about this big day for your Boxer, don’t be. Here are some extra tips from the professionals.

PetMD suggests that you always start with a dog leash (in addition to the life vest) on your Boxer. Not only will it keep your dog from swimming too far out, but it will give both you and your dog an extra sense of security.

The best way to get your dog into the water is by getting into the water with them. Dogs learn a lot from their owners. If they see you having fun in the water, they’ll be much more confident going in.

And if your Boxer has a dog-friend that already knows and loves to swim, bring that friend too! Dogs are also great at learning from each other. If they see other dogs enjoying themselves, they’re much more likely to as well.


Tell us in the comments section below, does your Boxer swim? Is your dog good or bad at swimming? We’d love to hear from you!

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

1 Comment

  • We always had Boxers as m/f pairs. The guys would swim because they wanted to be with us. The girls would sit on the dock or up to chest deep and worry. Best boxer trick ever? Tossing a tennis ball out on the water and the neighbors Lab ridiculously out swimming our male who would be still swimming out when the lab would be returning with the ball. He’d then steal the ball out of the Labs mouth and swim the rest of the way back in triumph. Every time.

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