Can English Bulldogs Swim? How to Keep Bulldogs Safe Around Water


There are many dogs that adore the water. Some breeds were born to swim – quite literally because of their breeding as retrievers and hunting dogs. Others just love the opportunity to play in the water, whether that means a few laps in a swimming pool, a muddy river, or the waves at the seaside. In many cases, our pet dogs just want to be part of the fun when we go swimming.

The problem is that some breeds, like the English bulldog, are not well-suited for the water. But does that mean that English bulldogs cannot swim at all?

English bulldogs cannot swim on their own due to their Brachycephaly and heavy set and dense bodies. Although English bulldogs are not natural born swimmers, it is possible to train them to learn how to swim with the assistance of a life vest.

bulldog playing with water bowl
Our bulldog “practice swimming” by paddling his paw in the water bowl.

It is easy to see why so many dog lovers are confused by this subject. On one hand, we have bloggers and breeders telling us that bulldog breeds can’t swim. On the other, there are plenty of online videos of bulldogs swimming in pools.

Many dog owners will tell you that bulldogs can’t swim. This isn’t completely true. Many have the instinct and know-how to swim and given the opportunity, will attempt a fairly comical doggy paddle. However, they really aren’t built to swim without assistance. In this guide, I will explain the reasons why English bulldogs have such a hard time swimming and how to keep them safe around water.

The anatomy of an English Bulldog is not that of a swimmer

Take another look at those videos of bulldogs swimming. Is that a dog that should be in the water? Are they having fun or are they struggling? There will be some English bulldogs that can swim with relative ease for short periods. Some may even enjoy doing so. Yet, this doesn’t mean that this will be the case for all bulldogs. Think about the anatomy and abilities of a good swimmer – either human or canine. They have a lean, strong build with long limbs to propel them through the water. The best human swimmers know how to control their breath too. None of this relates to the shape or features of the bulldog.

The main reasons why English bulldogs cannot swim naturally are

  • Bulldogs are heavy dogs and many may also be overweight
  • Bulldogs have short legs that will struggle in the water
  • Bulldogs can’t breathe very well out of water, let alone while they swim

English bulldogs are far too heavy to stay afloat in the water. They will need to work hard to keep themselves above the surface. The problem is that their little legs and relative shortness of breath don’t help. Bulldogs have trouble keeping their head above water to take in air. They can tire easily and this leads to the risk of them taking in water or just sinking to the bottom of the pool.

English bulldogs and other brachycephalic dogs

The term brachycephalic refers to any dog with a deformity to their airways. Many people think that English bulldogs, French bulldogs and pugs are cute because of their squashed little faces. They don’t have the muzzle of most dogs, which also means that they have shortened airways and struggle to breathe. Anyone that has bulldogs and pugs will know how noisy their breathing can be. They can snort and wheeze as they struggle to keep up on walks. This means that they don’t have the right breathing abilities to be strong swimmers.

What can you do to keep your English bulldog safe around water?

Don’t get too disheartened by this. This simply means that you can’t treat your bulldog like other more active dogs when it comes to water. You may not be able to let them play in the sea but you don’t have to ban them from the pool. On the bright side, there are things that you can do to reduce any risk and keep your pup happy. If you are patient and careful, you can enjoy time swimming with your English bulldogs.

Teaching an English bulldog to swim

I know what you are thinking: If the water is so dangerous for them, why should we teach English bulldogs to swim? Well one, it is better to be safe than sorry. If your dog accidentally falls into a pool or runs into a deep river, they need the skills to get themselves back to a safe place. And two, you may find that they enjoy swimming in a safe environment.

According to viral videos out there, there are two things that we want to teach to our bulldogs: how to swim and how to ride a skateboard. The latter may be easier, but the former is a more important skill. So how can we teach bulldogs to swim?

Here are some steps to teach your English bulldog how to swim:

  • Fit your dog with a life jacket and a leash for protection
  • Start off gently in the shallow end. Never throw them in to the deep end to shock them into swimming
  • Remove distractions, such as other people and animals
  • Let them swim a short distance to someone they trust in the water
  • Repeat this at increasing lengths and depths until they are confident

Bulldogs should have the instinct of how to move their legs and propel themselves in the water. The action may come easier to some dogs than others. Be patient. Don’t force them to do something they are uncomfortable with. It also helps to have plenty of clean water around. Your dog may not understand the difference between chemically-treated pool water and drinking water. You don’t want them trying to drink the water they are in if they get thirsty.

Also, remember to offer them lots of positive reinforcement and praise. This is just like any other training exercise. Dogs respond best when they are encouraged and receive a treat or a fuss. Tell them how clever they were to swim all that way. Give them a big cuddle when you dry them off.

Give your English bulldog some form of a buoyancy aid or life vest

As I mentioned above, a life jacket can be an essential piece of kit. Don’t limit its use to swimming lessons and training sessions. Your canine companion needs to have this on all the time if they are near water. This provides extra protection in case they get into trouble. Therefore you need to find the perfect product.

There are some great products out there that are perfectly designed to keep English bulldogs afloat in the water. Consider the following factors when choosing a bulldog life jacket for your pet.

  • Make sure that it’s a good fit with enough room for them to move their legs with ease
  • Make sure that it is padded for extra comfort
  • Choose one with a chin strap for extra support in the water
  • Pick a bright color that is clearly visible when your dog in is the water
  • It also needs to have secure straps and clasps so it will stay in place
  • Reflective stripes provide extra security in the dark
  • Choose a product with carry handles on the top to help you lift the dog in and out the water

Ollie the English bulldog x
Ollie the English bulldog
Make sure your English bulldog is supervised when around water

Even if you have fitted them with a great life vest, you need to keep an eye on your bulldog at all times if they go in the water. There is still a chance that their head might dip below the surface and they take in water. The sad reality is that it doesn’t take long for dogs to drown and canine CPR is difficult to master. Go into the water with them and keep an eye on the time. Don’t let them get tired, even if they seem to be having fun.

Fence off pools when you are not at home

There will be times when you have to leave your dog alone at home. If you do so, make sure that there is no way for them to get near the pool in your absence. One minute they could be playing in the yard, the next they have decided to cool off or have slipped in the water. Fence off the pool so that they can only access it when you are around. This is a better idea than keeping your dogs contained to a smaller area of the home.

The best advice is to treat your fur-child the same as you would a human child.

English bulldog stretching

Here are some simple tips to keep your English bulldog safe around water:

  • Supervise them at all times
  • Teach them to swim
  • Keep them away from the water, especially if they are not supervised
  • Provide suitable safety equipment
  • Don’t forget to have fun with them

Many dogs are drawn to the water and love to play in it. This is also true for bulldogs, even if they don’t realize it isn’t the best idea. There is no reason to ban them from the water entirely as long as you are careful.

Enjoy your time with your bulldog in the water in a safe and responsible way. Enjoy giving them swimming lessons with all the right precautions. Find them the best doggy life jacket and let them join the family in the pool for short periods. Finally, understand their strengths and limitations. They won’t be able to swim laps around everyone, but they will make poolside experiences more fun and comical.

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