Which Dog Breeds Can’t Swim?

When you and your dog plan to spend time near water, it is important to know which dog breeds can’t swim and how to prevent unwanted accidents.

When you and your dog plan to spend time near water, it is important to know which dog breeds can’t swim and how to prevent unwanted accidents.

As a teenager,  I remember swimming with my cousin one Sunday afternoon. My mom, my aunt, and her St. Bernard, Tiny, were sitting on the beach watching us in the water.   My cousin was splashing around when suddenly, Tiny came barreling into the water and headed straight toward us.  With all the activity she thought my cousin was drowning and came out to rescue her.

The water was fairly shallow and my cousin was able to stand up to show Tiny that she was ok.  As soon as she did, Tiny turned and swam back to shore.  It wasn’t long before she was struggling to swim. She was barely keeping her head above the water. Her size and the weight of her coat were pulling her down and we were worried about her drowning. We each walked alongside her and helped her to shore. 

Until that day, I thought all dogs could swim. It turns out there are many dogs that either can’t swim at all or shouldn’t be in deep water for any length of time due to their body shape, size, or amount of fur. The following is a list of some of the dogs that should avoid the water and some reasons why it might be unsafe for them.

I am neither a veterinarian nor a medical professional. The information in this article has been researched and sourced at the end of the post if required. All safety and medical issues or questions regarding your pet’s health or symptoms should always be brought to the attention of your veterinarian for clarification, assessment, advice and treatment.

Some Dog Breeds Who Struggle to Swim or Play in Water

Any dog who has a flat face, also known as brachycephalic, will have a high risk of drowning as water will easily enter their mouths and nose.  Most dogs with flat faces contend with a variety of breathing issues at the best of times.  These issues would be exacerbated  if water should be inhaled and they would struggle to stay afloat. These breeds include:

English bulldogs

French bulldogs

Boxers

Pugs

Pekingese

Body structure comes into play when trying to swim. Some dogs with short legs and long or round bodies will find it difficult to swim. Their short legs make it difficult to wade through the water, resulting in the dog becoming tired and unable to continue to stay afloat. The following dogs fall into this category:

Dark brown French Bulldog panting with his ears up.
Photo by: M. Shea

English Bulldogs

French Bulldogs

Corgis

Daschund

Basset Hound

Scottish Terriers

Bull Terrier 

You will notice that the English and French Bulldog fall into both of the categories listed above, making it clear that they should not be around water without strict supervision and safety gear in place.

Any large dog with a heavy coat will likely be in danger when the coat becomes saturated.  Similar to the situation I witnessed with Tiny, they will quickly find that the weight of the coat when full of water makes it difficult to stay afloat. Here are a couple of breeds who would find swimming to be a challenge:

Cane Corso

Chow Chow

Saint Bernard

Note: small dogs with heavy coats can have the same issues as the weight of their coat is heavy relative to their size.

Some dogs who have multiple issues, including body structure,  flat face, and are fragile when it comes to temperature.  Any cold water or cold air when they come out could result in illness. It’s best for these breeds to hang out on the beach with a bowl of fresh water,  under an umbrella:

Maltese

Shitzu

When swimming in cold water, a dog’s body temperature needs to adjust to the change in temperature.  For some breeds with shorter or thinner fur, or who are very thin, this does not happen as easily, leaving them unable to stay afloat. Some breeds who have difficulties with regulating body temperature are:

Greyhounds

Whippets

Dobermans

Boxers

Additional Circumstances that can Affect a Dog’s Ability to Swim.

Another thing to remember is grooming and the length of fur. Many dogs have fur that, when wet, will cover their eyes. This makes it difficult to see and maneuver their way to safety.

A dog’s age can affect their physical condition and change their ability to function on land as well as in the water.  You should never assume that because your dog was fine swimming in the lake at the cottage last year, that the same will apply this year.

Sunset along a treelined a lake.
Photo by: M Shea

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Do Dogs Instinctively Swim?

No,  Not all dogs can be thrown into the water only to have their natural instincts kick in allowing them to swim back to safety.

If your dog is not familiar with water, there may be a learning curve.  While some are natural swimmers, others need to practice getting in and out, swimming, and generally feeling at ease when playing in or near the water.

This is not a complete list of dogs that have trouble swimming or playing in the water.

There are so many breeds and so many mixed breeds that it would be almost impossible to list every one who would be at risk in the water.

Even if your dog is not on the list, it is always advisable to check with your vet before taking your dog for a swim, boating, or to the beach or pool.  Your dog may also have specific medical issues that would make it better for them to stay dry. Dogs who are prone to skin issues or ear infections might also want to opt out of the pool party.

Best Practices for Keeping Dogs Safe From Water Accidents

It is always the best practice when your dog is near water, be it on the beach, poolside, or in a boat, to have them wearing a floatation device. There are life jackets that are designed to fit your dog’s specific breed, keeping them safe around water.  Lifejackets for dogs are not one-size-fits-all. It is important to find the right fit for your dog’s shape and size.

Even dogs who are avid swimmers should not be left around water unattended. It is important to keep dogs safely in sight while around lakes, oceans, rivers, or streams. Pools should be safely fenced off from where your dog plays in the yard. When boating, every dog should be wearing a life jacket. Even the strongest swimmers can suffer some form of injury in a boating accident or a fall from the boat that will prevent them from swimming to safety, even when docked.

Should your dog fall into the water, be sure to pull them out quickly and dry them thoroughly to avoid other medical issues. If you are concerned that they may have swallowed salt water,  been injured in the fall, or from the water itself, you should have them checked immediately by a vet to be sure all is well.

Summary and Further Reading

Knowing which dog breeds can’t swim is important, but there are many things to consider when you take your dog to the beach.  This article will give you some ideas about how to enjoy a day at the beach with your dog.

https://www.wikihow.com/Choose-the-Right-Life-Jacket-for-Your-Dog#:~:text=You%20want%20the%20vest%20to,body%20at%20the%20neck%20opening.

Play safe.

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