Can All Dogs Swim?

Can all dogs swim? No, not all dogs can swim. While some dog breeds were born to be natural swimmers, not all of them can be Michael Phelps.

You might notice in videos on social media that many dogs (particularly small dogs) instinctually start that ‘doggy paddle’ movement when lowered into the water. It’s true that their bodies seem to know what to do automatically, but this doesn’t mean they’re ready to freestyle.

Let’s take a look at which breeds aren’t meant for the water as well as how you can help them enjoy it safely.

Short Legs & Short Snouts: Dog Breeds That Can’t Swim

french bulldog life jacket

Brachycephalic breeds are not biologically built to swim. These breeds are top-heavy, barrel-chested dogs with squished or flat faces that limit their ability to breathe properly.

Examples of brachycephalic dog breeds that cannot swim include:

  • English bulldogs
  • French bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Boxers
  • Chow chows

The short muzzles of the above breeds restrict the airway, causing the pooch to exert a lot of effort just to inhale. In addition, the uneven weight distribution they are built with — like large heads or chests — does not make for good flotation.

In addition to flat-faced dogs, dogs with very short legs are not strong swimmers.

Short-legged dogs that cannot swim include:

  • Corgis
  • Dachshunds
  • Basset hounds
  • Bull terrier

Dog Breeds That Excel at Swimming

dog swimming

As mentioned, some dog breeds have natural instincts that make them good swimmers. They include:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • Portuguese water dogs
  • Golden retriever
  • Irish water spaniel
  • Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever
  • American water spaniel
  • Poodles
  • Irish setters

Many of the above breeds include “water” in the title. Dead giveaway, right? Many of those breeds are down to swim in any body of water when they get the chance.

Safety Tips for Swimming with Flat-Faced or Short-Legged Dog Breeds

dog swim vest worn by a french bulldog

There’s good news for pet parents who have a dog breed that cannot or does not know how to swim!

Yes, it is true that the aforementioned breeds can’t swim, but they CAN enjoy the water as long as they are wearing a life vest.

Dogs with physical limitations prevent them from keeping themselves above water cannot go into a swimming pool or lake without one. It’s important to never let them near water without one, even shallow water.

A Dog Life Jacket Is Essential

dog on beach wearing pink life jacket

Dog training and having a life vest available before going to the beach or pool for the first time should come first, according to the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dog owners can take their pup to swimming lessons as well. A Google search for dog swimming lessons in your area should come up with a handful of results.

The instructor will have them wear a flotation device, teach them the dog paddle, and get them used to the water.

When shopping for a dog life jacket for your non-swimming breed, make sure you get one that has the following key safety features:

  • Adjustable straps
  • Grab handle
  • D-ring to clip a leash onto
  • Reflective accents
  • Bright colors for visibility
  • Belly band for chest support

Another safety device you can have your pup wear in addition to the left vest is a neck donut. These will keep your dog’s head above water and give them extra support. (It makes your dog look silly but so adorable.)

Just keep swimming …

dog swimming

Not all dogs like the water whether or not they were bred to, and that’s ok!

If you do end up taking your dog to the pool or beach, just remember to never leave them unattended.

Even if they don’t go in the water, t’s also a good idea to have them wear a life jacket in these environments anyway — especially on a boat. You never know what could happen!

Dog Life Jackets for Your Next Aquatic Adventure