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Can Pugs Swim? – An Owner’s Guide to Swimming with Pugs

A Pug swimming in the pool. Can they swim?
Written by Tiffany Jeng

Pugs are small charming and affectionate dogs with a pinch of mischief. They can be quirky, but their playful personalities are hard to resist. But with short and stocky bodies, owners may wonder if they’re capable of maneuvering in water.

So, can Pugs swim? Pugs can swim and will instinctively dog paddle when put in water. However, this doesn’t mean they’re good swimmers. Due to their short snouts, Pugs may have a more difficult time breathing while swimming. For this reason, they should always use a life vest in water.

There are plenty of videos of quick-swimming Pugs on the internet. However, most Pugs do not enjoy being in water. Let’s explore what makes it so difficult for these dogs to swim.

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Why Pugs Aren’t Good Swimmers

Some dog breeds are fantastic swimmers, such as the Spanish Waterdog and Poodle. These dogs were literally bred to swim by retrieving game from water.

On the other hand, you have bulldog-type breeds, such as the Pug, who have a much more difficult time in water. Why is it that Pugs struggle with swimming, while other dogs excel?

A Pug’s Short Snout

Pugs are somewhat unique in appearance. If you see one, you know it’s a Pug. These dogs are known for their “smushed” faces, wide skulls and of course, short snouts.

Though they may look cute, the physical structure of the dog’s face makes it less than ideal for swimming. Dogs with this physical characteristic are called Brachycephalic dogs, and they include French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs and more.

Dog breeds with brachycephaly can potentially experience many health concerns thanks to the short nasal passage.

According to Rowena Packer DVM, the Pug’s facial structure restricts airflow and makes it much more difficult to breath. In fact, breathing can become even harder in certain, unnatural positions.

So the short answer is, Pugs aren’t good swimmers because they have Brachycephaly. The genetic odds are stacked against them.

With this physical characteristic, Pugs will need to tilt their heads upward while in the swimming motion. And as you can guess, swimming with a tilted head can make it more difficult to stay afloat.

While they may be able to swim and breath for short periods, don’t expect your Pug to sustain this for very long. For this reason, we highly suggest close supervision and/or a life vest.

The Lap Dog Mentality

According to Rover, Pugs are one of the top 15 best lap dogs. And, we tend to agree with them! After all, they were originally bred to be lap dogs for the Chinese elite.

As a result, Pugs aren’t nearly as active as other dog breeds. And according to Pet Helpful, they like to spend much of their day sleeping. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a Pug to sleep 14 hours a day!

With that said, most Pugs just don’t have the desire to exert so much energy for a swim. They require relatively little physical activity compared to other dogs.

Sloan would rather hang out on the couch than go for a swim always! The last time we took her out for a swim, she wasn’t happy. Slow and short walks around the neighborhood work best.

– Jason J. (Pug owner)

Let’s be honest, swimming can be difficult and require a lot of work. Can you imagine dog paddling for 30 minutes? It’s definitely more than what they need.

Pug Health UK recommends just one daily walk for a Pug. However, splitting it up into two short walks work best with these dogs.

Of course, some Pugs will be more active than others. And if you do bring your Pug for a swim, make sure to give the dog many breaks in between sessions.

Short Legs, Long Body

The body shape of the Pug is not ideal for swimming either. They have relatively short legs and a barrel-shaped (elongated) body. Both of which, can hinder swimming.

It’s worth noting that just because a dog breed has short legs doesn’t automatically make them bad swimmers. For instance, Corgis have even shorter legs and a longer body.

However, the difference is that Corgis have powerful legs that are needed to herd cattle and other livestock. There’s a lot of power used to propel their bodies in water.

The same thing can’t be said for most Pugs. Again, these dogs weren’t bred for a working job, such as herding, retrieving or hunting. They simply didn’t need the agile quickness along with the powerful core.

So unfortunately, without the power, the unusual body shape becomes a disadvantage for your Pug.

Owners: Can Your Pug Swim?

Not all Pugs have a difficult time swimming. So to really gauge how well these dogs do in water, we decided to survey real Pug owners.

We asked this question in the Pug Subreddit and other online dog forums and gathered some answers. Here’s what the owners had to say about this question:

1. Oxentailzen says: “We took our pug to the lake a few weekends ago and the moment he got in the water, he started to sink. It was a scary sight and we never brought her again.”

2. Fat_rancher says: “My pug swam on the surface for a few seconds. Then he sank like a rock. 🙁 He’s fine though. Heh, I was there to save him in time.”

3. Dmartin07 says: “The first time we took him swimming, he sank. But he has somewhat learned to swim for short distances only. When were outside, he likes to jump in the pool when he gets hot.”

4. Secondguesspug says: “Our pug loves being in water! If there’s a puddle in the yard, you can find him in it. When it comes to swimming, he’s decent but gets tired pretty quick.”

5. Pugluvingmama says: “My boys (all pugs) hate the water. We have to drag them out for a walk if it’s raining. So I’m very sure mine can’t swim and would sink like a rock.”

6. Happygal222 says: “My pug likes to swim but she gets tired and sometimes she just seems to go under for some reason, so the vest works great. You should definitely consider getting a life vest.”

7. Zimbaslion says: “We have a pug that we can’t keep away from water. He loves being in water so much but he’s not that great of a swimmer, at least for long periods of time. We let him swim for a few minutes at a time.”

8. Del_iish says: “I was so impressed that my pug got the hang of it the first time! But my pug just can’t figure out how to keep her butt from sinking without her vest on.”

9. Simpsonsthefam says: “So we took our pug a friends for a dog swim play date. He’s definitely not a fan of the water, but It helped that her dog-friend was a great swimmer (golden retriever).”

10. Burnthatdown says: “My pug is front heavy and even with the life jacket it’s kind of a balancing act to keep her from having her head under water and her back end straight up in the air.”

How to Teach a Pug to Swim

Just because Pugs aren’t built to swim, doesn’t mean that they can’t. In fact, there are plenty of capable pugs that love being in water.

The key is to properly introduce them to water and swimming. If you want to swim with your Pug, it requires a lot of consistency and patience. Remember, you never want to force them to swim if they don’t want to.

Here are the best tips for getting your Pug to go for a swim (and have fun!).

Pugs Need Life Vests

It’s possible for your Pug to swim without a life vest…eventually. However, when you’re starting out, I highly recommend you get them a life vest. If anything, for peace of mind.

Life vests can give your Pug an extra boost of confidence when they’re not used to being in water. Plus, it allows you to give them a little more freedom to roam around by themselves.

The life vest we use with our dogs is the Outward Hound Dog Life Vest.

There’s a lot we love about this life vest. For example, the bright color options make it easy to spot your Pug, especially if it’s starting to get dark while you’re still swimming.

Also, the jacket comes with a “rescue handle” that makes it super convenient for you to “save” your Pug should anything happen in the water.

Overall, it’s built with decent quality and the straps make it highly adjustable for better comfort. We suggest getting a small or medium for your Pug. However, make sure to check the sizing chart before purchasing.

Introducing Pugs to Water

Perhaps the most crucial step is the introduction. If your Pug is scared of water, good luck trying to get them to go in it. And according to the AKC, the earlier you start this process, the better.

You’ll want to start with baby steps. First, you’ll want to try to get your Pug comfortable in a tub of water. You can do this by bribing them with treats and giving positive praises when they get inside.

The second step is taking your dog to the exact spot he or she will be swimming at. Whether a lake or your pool, they need to “inspect” the body of water.

From there, let your Pug sniff the water. If possible, you can try to get them to touch the water with their feet. It’s still too early to go swimming at this point. You’ll want to do this multiple times prior to the swim session.

If you’re at the lake and your Pug is already comfortable walking around the shallow end, then the dog is ready to move on.

In the Shallows

Now it’s time to venture out a little further – but only in the shallow end first. If possible, find a sweet spot where the Pug can still stand up if needed.

But because Pugs are relatively short dogs with short legs, it may be hard to do this in a pool. In this case, you may want to go to the shore of a nearby lake.

By now, the life vest should be on your Pug. And if you’re having a difficult time getting your Pug to go in deeper, you can always bribe them with their favorite treats. Along the way, make sure to give high praises.

Also, if your Pug has a favorite toy or enjoys playing fetch with a ball, make sure to bring it. Throw the ball out and in some cases, the Pug will go after it based on instinct and old habits.

Just make sure you don’t throw the ball out too far. In this step, you just want them to get comfortable playing in the shallow end.

Swimming with Pugs

After your Pug is comfortable in the shallow end, it’s time to get the dog to a deeper area. You’ll need to be very attentive and the life vest is extremely important.

The best way to get your dog into the deep end is to swim with your Pug. If your dog sees that its owner is enjoying the deep end, the dog will be more likely to join.

It lets them know that it’s okay to be swimming in that area! Again, you’ll likely want to bribe your Pug with some treats.

However, if they’re not interested in venturing out to the deep end, then don’t force it. You may need to get them more comfortable in the shallow end with a few more sessions.

But if your Pug does join you in the deep end, make sure to give them high praise as encouragement. The more you do, the more confidence they’ll have.

With these simple tips, your Pug will be swimming in no time. It may be difficult in the beginning, but persistence is key to successfully training your dog to swim.

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About the author

Tiffany Jeng

Tiffany is a product of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine (class of 2022). Combined with over 5 years of veterinary technician experience, she's dedicated her life and career to dogs. When she's not studying or working, she's taking care of her Mini Australian Shepherd - Olympus!

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