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Can Pitbulls Swim? – Here’s What Owners Need to Know

A pitbull terrier swimming in a pool
Written by Richard Jeng

During a hot summer day, it’s easy for a Pitbull to overheat. What better way to beat the heat than to go for a nice swim in the nearby lake, right? But before you throw your Pitbull into the water, there are things that all owners should be aware of.

So, can Pitbulls swim? Pitbulls can swim perfectly with the proper training and precautions. Still, not all Pitbulls are be suited to be excellent swimmers. Unlike the Labrador Retriever, they aren’t natural swimmers and may have a slight disadvantage in the water due to their dense muscular frame, large heads and relatively short legs.

Nonetheless, plenty of Pitbulls enjoy this wet hobby every year. The most important part in getting a Pitbull to swim is by building their confidence while young. Otherwise, it may be difficult to get them used to being in water later on.

RECOMMENDED: 4 Types of Pit Bull Breeds

Why It’s Hard For Pitbulls to Swim

Make to mistake, Pitbulls weren’t developed to be in water. Given their physical traits and qualities, it is easy to see why. As such, these dogs will have attributes that make it more difficult to stay afloat in water. Though, this doesn’t mean they can’t overcome them.

Here are the main reasons why Pitbulls may not be as graceful in water as the Poodle. Note: when we say Pitbull, were referring to several Pitbull-type breeds, including the: American Pitbull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog and American Staffordshire

Bred to run on land, not swim in water

In the past, all dog breeds were bred for a specific purpose, role or job in society. Most dogs were meant to be aids to humans, though some were companions and others provided entertainment. In the Pitbulls’ case, they had multiple roles.

Pitbulls were bred to participate in the bloodsport, that is, bull-baiting. In this now-illegal sport, these dogs were put into a “pit” with bulls (and sometimes rats). Pitbulls would then try to slowly take down these bulls by taunting and biting them.

On the other hand, you have water retrievers, such as the Poodle or Labrador Retriever. These dogs, on the contrary, were bred to retrieve shot game (often waterfowl) from lakes, ponds and other bodies of waters. As such, they were bred to be good swimmers.

That being said, Pitbull-type dogs did not need the physical qualities to be good swimmers. While a Poodle was bred with a waterproof coat, webbed feet and long legs, the Pitbulls were not. Instead, a muscular body and large head was bred into them.

Float or sink?: Pitbull’s muscular body

Pitbull dogs are built with lean muscle because it was essential for their bull-baiting jobs in the past. However, their muscular frames are still present today. But how does this present as a disadvantage for these dogs when in water?

Muscle is much more dense than fat, according to Scientific American. In other words, a dog with a mostly muscular body will have a much harder time staying afloat than a dog with primarily fat. This may sound a little contradictory, but it’s true!

Pitbulls are muscular, without question. Just check out the size and weight for each of the four major types of Pitbull breeds:

Pitbull BreedHeightWeight
American Pit Bull17-21 in.30-60 lbs
American Staffordshire17-29 in.50-80 lbs
American Bulldog20-28 in.60-120 lbs
Staffordshire Bull Terrier14-16 in.25-40 lbs

And according to Top Dog Tips, all the major Pitbull type dog breeds rank among the top for the most muscular dog breeds. It doesn’t take a list to tell you how muscular these dogs actually are. Just take one good look at them and you’ll know.

So while a dog with more fat may struggle to swim due to a lack of muscle, a muscular dog will have a harder time just staying afloat in water. However, the muscle can be put to good use and help these dogs propel faster in water.

The Pitbulls’ large heads in water

If you haven’t noticed already, the Pitbull has a large head. In fact, this is what makes these dogs so adorable and endearing. But when it comes to swimming in the water, this can be a huge pitfall, as a larger head means a heavier one too.

Pitbulls are famously known for larger heads. It’s why these type of dogs tend to need a C-section in the process of giving birth. According to Pet Central, when dog breeds have big heads and a narrow pelvic, this procedure is common.

But why does a big head matter, other than it being too heavy? When dogs swim, they need to keep their heads above water at all times because they are doggy paddling. They’re much more limited in movement when compared to humans in water.

Lifting and maintaining a larger head above water takes more energy and muscles to sustain over a longer period of time. It’s similar to how brachycephalic dogs need to work harder to keep their heads above water, thanks to their short snouts.

Brachycephalic dogs and swimming

Brachycephalic dogs refer to breeds that are born with a shorter skull and snout, which will often hinder oxygen flow when a dog is lifting its head. And despite popular belief, not all Pitbull-type dog breeds are Brachycephalic dogs.

For example, the American Pit Bull Terrier is not brachycephalic despite being being mislabeled as such by many major airlines. However the American Bulldog, which also falls under this category, is one. As such, they may experience difficulty in trying to stay afloat.

When you combine the denseness of the Pitbulls, along with this quality, swimming will be much more difficult compared to other dogs. Having a shorter snout means that these dogs will need to lift their heads higher than usual, which can be tiring.

Keep in mind, Pitbull-types like the American Bulldog are not the only dogs that suffer from this. Other breeds such as Frenchies, Pugs, Shih Tzus and Boston Terriers are all in this category. And as you can guess, they aren’t always the best swimmers either.

Shorter legs make it harder to paddle

As we mentioned, the term “Pit Bull” doesn’t refer to a single dog breed. Rather, it refers to a group of dogs with similar characteristics. However, one of the most defining physical attributes of the breeds in this category is their short legs – or relatively short.

According to Cuteness, the most obvious sign of a Pitbull-type is their wide chest and short legs. In some cases, their legs are also thin compared to the rest of the body. Though, this really depends on the specific breed and the individual dog.

Shorter legs does not always mean that the dog will be terrible at swimming. However, shorter legs do mean that they are at a disadvantage. And when you look at all the best swimmers in the canine kingdom, all of them have long legs. Coincidence? Probably not.

According to the Animal Planet, sturdy breeds such as the American Bulldogs with shorter legs just don’t have the thrust to keep them afloat for a long period of time. In other words, they’ll require much more energy and can easily become fatigued.

Do Pitbull Like to Swim?

Not all Pitbulls have a difficult time swimming. On the other hand, some are very afraid of being in water and others may sink like a rock. This all depends on the individual dog. So to see how many Pitbulls can and cannot swim, we asked real owners.

We surveyed the Pitbull Subreddit, along with other dog forums, to ask real Pitbull owners this one question. Here’s what they had to say:

Real Owner Answers

1. Sweetperks 24 says Yes:Cassie LOVES going down the river and swimming every summer here. We’re still working on getting her to leap into the water, but it’s hard to get her out once she’s in there sometimes….She loves swimming.”

2. Goingpostal says Mixed:Two of my pitbulls like to swim, both stay afloat but one is far more graceful than the other and my 3rd dog won’t go in the water.”

3. Roxiepup says No:My pitbull doesn’t like water one bit. She will go up to the edge sniff it and then run away. Every dog is different. Give it a go and see how they react.

4. Saintluispitbull says No:All of my Pitbulls have tried swimming and they all sank like a rock in the lake. They don’t ever dare to go back into the water now...”

5. Lexingtonsweetness says Yes:Lexi took a while to warm up to swimming but she loves it now. She can’t keep herself out of water now…when she sees the pool she sprints at full speed and jumps in without a care in the world.”

6. Evilfriends says Yes: As everyone else said, it depends on the dog. My mutt, for one, LOVES to swim. When he was a puppy he wasn’t really a fan of it, barely would get his feet wet..but one day it just “clicked” for him and now it’s difficult to keep him OUT of the water! “

7. Jenniekopup says No:Can’t seem to get my pit into the water no matter how patient we are. It has been years and we just kind of gave up. When other dogs come over, he just watches the others play in water from afar.”

8. Andrea12065 says No:My pitbull is SO afraid of water..even the hose freaks her out..i live in a city and theres really no where to take her swimming anyway but I’m sure she wouldn’t be able to swim. She’s a big baby.”

9. Teampeanut says Yes:Yes my pitbull LOVES to swim. We can’t even say that word without getting him worked up. And we started with a life jacket and now he is a fish he no longer requires it. You may want to try a life jacket.”

10. Zagsthepit says Mixed:Our younger pit can’t get enough of being in water. He’ll just dive in whenever he gets the chance, but it’s not the same with our older 5 y/o. It’s probably because we did not really show him water early on.

Teaching Pitbulls to Swim

Yes, the odds may be stacked against the Pitbull in some cases. However, that does not mean you can’t teach a Pitbull to swim. Some will love swimming more than others, so make sure to be patient and introduce them to water slowly.

Pitbulls are known to be willful and stubborn. And when it comes to training, whether for obedience or for swimming, they can take longer than other dogs. So, always make sure to use positive training with these dogs, in addition to having extra patience.

Get a dog life vest

Life jackets are especially important for your Pitbull early on. Some owners admit that when their dog first started, they sank like a rock. To prevent this from happening, and potentially scaring your dog for life, you’ll need to get a quality life vest for them.

Life vests can provide two things during this swim-training process. First, it will give you (the owner), a little peace of mind knowing that your Pitbull won’t easily drown. Second, the flotation device will also give your dog extra confidence and a sense of security in water.

As for dog life vests, we have only used one and can only recommend one: Kygen Outward Hound Life Jacket. We use this with both our Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Aussie. So far, we’re impressed and have had no issues.

It’s extra buoyant, thanks to the high quality material. Plus, the mesh is soft and sturdy and won’t cause discomfort to your Pitbull. This vest comes with a “rescue handle” just in case you need to lift your dog out of the water. It has it all!

Introducing Pitbulls to water

The first, and probably most important, step is to introduce your Pitbull to water. Preferably, you will want to start this as early as possible. During their socializing phase, Pitbulls are less anxious and scared. They’re more willing to try new things out.

The best place to start is in the bath tub. However, a small kiddie pool can work too. In this small and safe space, you’re able to closely monitor the Pitbull and quickly get them used to being in and around water. Take your time with this phase.

After your Pitbull gets accustomed to being in water, it’s time to introduce them to the actual place that the dog will be swimming in. For example, if you plan to bring your dog to the neighbors pool, you may want to take him there weeks and days before.

Let your dog sniff around at the water. Pitbulls are naturally curious dogs and will likely go check and inspect the pool. You may even get his feet wet during this phase. The point is to get them more used to seeing a larger body of water.

If you can get your Pitbull into the shallow end, then you are making good progress. But like I said, a Pit can be stubborn and may not want to go in. Never force your dog into the water as these dogs can be anxious and stressed out in this situation.

Swimming with Pitbulls

Next, you’ll want to get your dog into the shallow end. The best way to do this is to go into the water with your Pitbull. These dogs are known to be courageous dogs, so there’s a good chance they’ll go in with little fear if you’re in the water. But again, don’t force your dog in.

While in the shallow end, call for your Pitbull to come to you. If they are making progress, you want to make sure to give plenty of positive reinforcement. Pitbulls respond best to this type of training. And if you want, you can bribe them with treats!

Pitbulls have surprisingly great adaptive intelligence and are able to read human emotions quite well. They will notice if you start freaking out, so try to remain calm and collected while the Pitbull is in the pool. If you’re having fun, they’ll be more likely to have fun too.

Once they’re in the shallow end with their life vest, you’ll want to slowly get them into deeper waters. In some cases, they’ll quickly make it out to you in the deep end. However, other Pitbulls will require a bit more patience. Don’t push them, and let them go at their own speed.

In no time, your Pitbull will be swimming like a champ! Just check these Pitbulls out:

Does your Pitbull like to swim? What worked for you? Let us know in the comments section below!

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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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