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Can Bulldogs Swim? – Here’s Why Bulldogs May Sink in Water

The reasons why Bulldogs aren't great swimmers.
Written by Richard Jeng

It’s a hot summer day, while you and your Bulldog are burning in the heat. Seems like a great day for a swim with your Bulldog, right? Not so fast. There are things to know before you send your Bulldog into the pool.

So, can Bulldogs swim? Most Bulldogs can swim, but not well. As such, they should not swim without a life jacket. Features of their facial structure, such as their short nasal passage, require Bulldogs to tilt their heads upward while in water. As a result, swimming is much more difficult for them than other breeds.

The short nasal passage isn’t the only reason why Bulldogs aren’t adept swimmers. We dive into all the physical qualities that make these dogs much more capable on land than in water. Read on to learn more.

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Reasons Why Bulldogs Can’t Swim

Unlike the Spanish Water Dog or Poodle, Bulldogs weren’t bred to retrieve in water. Forget the retrieving – they have a difficult time simply swimming! Instead, Bulldogs were bred for an illegal bloodsport, that is, bull-baiting.

Even though there are plenty of non-water dog breeds that are excellent swimmers, the Bulldog is not one of them. So why is it that Bulldogs are less capable of this popular physical activity when compared to other dog breeds?

Short Snouts & Nasal Passage

When we say Bulldogs can’t swim, we’re not just referring to the classic English Bulldogs. As a matter of fact, all bulldog-type dogs aren’t great swimmers. They all seem to have a much more difficult time staying afloat.

These bulldog types include the French Bulldog, Pug, Olde English Bulldogge and pretty much any dog breed with a short snout, wide skull and “smushed” face. In the dog world, we call these type of canines, brachycephalic dogs.

These breeds with brachycephaly have many ailments and potential health concerns primarily due to their short nasal passages. For example, Dr. Rowena Packer (DVM) claims that this facial structure restricts airflow and can make it difficult to breath.

That being said, the main reason why Bulldogs shouldn’t swim is because of Brachycephaly. In order for these Bulldogs to get sufficient oxygen during swims, they’ll need to tilt their heads upwards while in the water.

And as you can imagine, it’s certainly more difficult to stay afloat while doing this. With such a disadvantage in the water, Bulldogs can easily drown without proper supervision of equipment. There’s just so many things that can go wrong so quickly.

Compact, Muscular Dogs

If you’ve seen a Bulldog, you know they aren’t the most nimble of dog breeds. Rather they’re often seen as stocky and muscular dogs with short legs – and that’s exactly what they are. In other words, Bulldogs weren’t built to be good swimmers.

According to Cuteness, they’re naturally muscular dogs. And because muscle is much denser than fat, they’re more prone to sinking than floating. Fat is made up of saturated oils, which are likely to float on water. Plus, it’s less dense than water.

Now I don’t mean your Bulldog will immediately sink to the bottom of the pool. However, it’ll be much more difficult for them to stay afloat with their muscular frames.

When our Bulldog was a puppy, we took him to a lake where he was swimming. Now he’s a big, beefy dog. Excited to see the lake, he ran down the pier and sank like a rock.

– Grasshopper_jo (Reddit)

Weighing nearly 50 pounds packed into a 14-inch tall frame means that Bulldogs are likely compact with muscles. Of course, this may not be the case for all Bulldogs. After all, these dogs are very prone to obesity and developing fat.

Imagine this: you have a rock and a piece of wood that weighed the same. Throw them both into the water. Which is more likely to sink, and sink quicker. Most likely the compact rock. A Bulldog may sink in a similar fashion if not careful.

Bulldog’s Short Legs

I want to note that not all dogs with short legs are bad swimmers. For example, some Corgis (famously known for their short stubby legs) are decent swimmers. They have a lot of power in their thighs, which help them propel in water.

However, when you combine this dwarfism trait with all the physical difficulties that the Bulldog has, it makes it that much more difficult to swim.

Despite popular belief, the Bulldog is actually a true dwarf breed, according to I Heart Dogs – like with the Welsh Corgi or Dachshund. Though they’re relatively large dogs, they still have the characteristics of a dwarf dog (short stature).

A dwarf dog breed is characterized as a breed with abnormally short legs compared to the rest of the body (or to standard dogs). It’s a little bit harder to tell with a Bulldog-type, but if you meet one in person, you’ll definitely notice it.

All dogs will naturally start “dog paddling” when put into water. It’s a swim style where dogs are essentially “trotting” in water by alternating their legs back and forth. So as you can imagine, having a short legs make it a lot more difficult for dwarf dogs to paddle.

Is Your Bulldog a Good Swimmer?

Just because your dog is a Bulldog doesn’t automatically mean that he’s terrible at swimming. In fact, there are plenty of videos of skilled Bulldogs swimming on YouTube. Though, plenty of them have practiced and use safety precautions.

So, we thought it’d be great to survey real Bulldog owners to ask them this question. Here are 10 owner responses from the popular Bulldogs Subreddit and other forums. Here’s what the owners had to say:

Real Owner Answers

1. Mellystart says Okay:My bulldog can swim without a life vest, but he can’t turn. We take him to the beach with a minimum of 3 people so we can catch him in the water and turn him back to shore.”

2. Hunterxzip says No:Wally, my bulldog, freaks out when he gets into the water…even on the shallow end. I can’t imagine letting him swim without a vest.

3. Fanster6 says No:My bulldog loves the water and will swim any chance he gets. He’s not a good swimmer by any stretch, but he loved it. He’s just so graceful in the water.”

4. Rectizekiel says Okay:Bishop loves to swim, but only with a life jacket of course. Without it, he’d probably sink to the bottom in a heart beat.”

5. Sinapse187 says Yes:It’s incredible how everything thinks these dogs will sink like they’re rocks. My Bully is a great swimmer, but it really tires him out fast.”

6. Aviatorshades says Yes:We got a life jacket for our bulldog and he loves it! I think he’s actually too confident in the water now. He’ll stay in the water all day if we let him.

7. Internetdogmom says No:Every time we let our Bulldog swim (supervised of course), he looks like he’s always having a difficult time. We don’t let him anymore.

8. Grasshopper_jo says No:Our bulldog grew up and was disappointed he could no longer swim, though we did let him wade around near the shore.

9. Foreverawino says No: I make sure Bowzer always has his harness on when we go to the river. I’ve literally had to keep him from drowning because no one told him he couldn’t swim.”

10. Llamalimadingdong says Okay: Our bully Harley loves the water, but she forgets that she can’t swim! We had to buy her a life jacket to wear when we’re around the water.”

Teach a Bulldog to Swim

Just because Bulldogs aren’t good swimmers doesn’t mean that they can’t swim. With the right preparations and equipment, all Bulldogs can enjoy this wonderful activity too! In addition, they will need to have supervision at all times.

Just remember that you should never force your Bulldog into the water. If they like it, great! If not, you can try again some other time. When it comes to teaching your Bulldog how to swim, patience and consistency are key.

Life Jacket for Bulldogs

Before anything else, I strongly suggest you get your Bulldog a life jacket prior to swimming and training sessions. If you’ve read the article, you already know that the odds are genetically stacked against them.

Not only will a life jack give your Bulldog more confidence, but it can give you better peace of mind knowing your Bulldog won’t sink if you look away for a split second. It’s helpful even if you plan to stay near the dog at all times.

With that said, the best life jacket that we currently use with our dogs is the Kygen Outward Hound Life Jacket. It’s what both our Corgi and Australian Shepherd uses. Plus, we’ve had no complaints or problems thus far.

It’s highly adjustable to fit your Bulldog and comes with “rescue handle” just in case they get carried away and something goes wrong in the pool. If your dog likes to wander far, the bright color options make them visible even when it gets dark.

Bulldogs can come in all shapes and sizes. Though for an English Bulldog, you’ll most like want to get a size Large. However, make sure to check the size charts for better accuracy. You will need a tight and secured fit on your dog.

Bulldog’s Introduction to Water

The first step is to introduce your Bulldog to water. Like with socializing, it’s better to start early (puppy years). Dogs are more courageous and get less anxious during their puppy phase. But if you’re starting off later, it’s okay too.

You’ll want to start in the bath tub or some other small pool of water. You can also use a kiddie pool if you have one. Reward your dog for getting into the bath tub without water. After, he’s comfortable, get him into the bath tub with water in it.

Next, you’ll want to introduce your Bulldog to the body of water where he’ll actually swim. For example, if you have plans to swim at a lake, take your Bulldog for a walk around the lake. Or if it’s at a friend’s pool, bring your Bulldog over!

Have the dog sniff the water and maybe even get his feet wet. It’s probably still too early to bring them in yet. We suggest you do this for a week or so prior to going to the lake. You just want to get the dog comfortable to seeing the body of water.

If you can get your Bulldog to stand in the shallow end of the lake by the end of week, then that’s perfect – you and your dog are making good progress. At this point, the dog may be ready to move on to the next step.

Swimming in the Shallow End

Finally, it’s time to swim! But only in the shallow area. Ideally, you would want to venture out to the point where the Bulldog can still stand up. Yes, I know, they have short legs and stature. So, try not to venture out too far yet.

At this point, your Bulldog needs to have the life jacket on. What works well, especially if your Bulldog is food-driven, is to bribe the dog with treats. Bring some of the dog’s favorite treats and always reward the Bulldog with treats and positive praises as he ventures out.

Positive reinforcement is key for this step. And if your Bulldog has a favorite toy, such as a ball or frisbee, bring that to the swim session too! Try throwing the ball into the shallow end and see if your dog will retrieve it.

Keep the dog in the shallow end for a considerable amount of time. The longer they stay, the more confidence they’ll build. Plus, it’s not unusual for owners to spend the first session only in the shallow end! Though, you can feel out your dog.

Swimming with Bulldogs

According to ClickerTraining, the best way to get your dog to swim is by going into the water with the dog. After all, dogs are fantastic visual learners. This will be necessary as you try to get your Bulldog into deeper waters.

Dogs, including Bulldogs, look up to their owners and they’re extremely good at reading human emotions. By going into the water, you’re showing your Bulldog that it’s fun and great. Try not to become anxious or freak out! They’ll know.

Not only will this instill a lot of confidence in the Bulldog, but it just makes the swim session that much more enjoyable. Plus, you’ll be able to “save them” should anything happen. Always keep an eye out and stay close.

A good approach is to slowly go into the deep end and bring their favorite treats. Give them the “come” command and constantly give positive praises as they venture deeper. If the dog doesn’t know basic commands, we suggest training first.

More likely than not, your Bulldog will start heading towards you. In no time, they’ll likely be swimming with joy. Make sure to reward your Bulldog if he does come!

Bulldog Swimming Tips

If you have friends with dogs that already know and love to swim, then it’s probably a good idea to bring them along. Like with children, dogs will also learn from other dogs. If your dog sees other dogs having fun in the water, they’ll likely join.

And according to PetMD, you’ll want to bring clean water in a water dispenser if you plan to swim in natural bodies of water, such as a lake, beach or creek.

Chances are, there are a ton of parasites and bacteria in the water that can cause some harm to your Bulldog, such as intestinal problems. That being said, don’t get them used to drinking the lake water! Home tap water will work.

And finally, don’t try to rush the process. All dogs adjust to being in water at different paces. Some will instantly jump in with little fear, while others will be timid. This can be done over a course of a few days, or few weeks. It depends on your dog.

You just need to feel your Bulldog out and see if the dog’s ready to move onto the next step. If you’re patient enough, you’ll be swimming with your Bulldog in no time!

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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.

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