By Lindsay Lowe
Many people assume that all dogs are born swimmers and love the water, but that is definitely not the case. Some breeds, whether due to physical build, temperament, or health issues, may not be too eager to dive into a pool or lake. (And, for that matter, even some Retrievers and other famously water-friendly dogs are not fans of swimming).
Here are some dog breeds that often don’t love swimming, along with some water safety tips for all pup parents.
Thanks to their flattened snouts, Pugs often have breathing problems, which stem from narrowed nasal passages, a long soft palate, an unusually narrow trachea (windpipe), or other anatomic abnormalities. While some Pugs may enjoy the water, many panic when faced with a strenuous physical activity like swimming.
“They have to work hard just to breathe in air because of their little snouts,” says Dr. Tari Kern of Pawsitive Steps Rehabilitation & Therapy for Pets in Rochester Hills, Michigan. “Once you start adding a little bit of exertion, they can sometimes get stressed.”
Like Pugs, French Bulldogs are brachycephalic, or short-snouted, so they are typically not big fans of swimming. “French Bulldogs just don’t seem really comfortable when they’re in the water,” says Dr. Christina Fuoco of Philadelphia’s WAG: Whole Animal Gym, which often uses water therapy to rehabilitate canine patients.
In general, Fuoco says, none of the brachycephalic breeds, including Frenchies, Pugs, and Boston Terriers, are eager to jump in the pool. “We certainly have Pug patients and Boston patients that we’re able to use our underwater treadmill with,” she says. “But if the water is getting a lot higher, we definitely put a life jacket on them to support them, to make sure their face isn’t dipping below the water.”
With their long bodies and short legs, Dachshunds have to work harder to swim and stay afloat than many other breeds. That’s not to say they can’t learn to swim, but they might not initially feel comfortable in pools or lakes where their feet don’t touch the bottom.
“They can sometimes love the water, but it’s how you introduce them,” Kern says. “You’ve got to raise the water slowly. So if you take them swimming at a lake and it’s got a quick drop-off, they’re not going to like it.”
Some Greyhounds may thrive in the water, but as a breed, swimming is generally not their strong point. “They’re phenomenal on land. They run like the wind,” Kern says. “Water kind of puts them off balance a little bit. They’ve got those long, skinny, lanky legs…They don’t have a lot of opportunity to be introduced to [water].”
Sighthounds in general (Afghan Hounds, Whippets, Salukis, etc.) tend not to be huge fans of swimming, Kern adds.
With little or no hair to insulate their bodies, these pups are very sensitive to cold temperatures, meaning they can chill easily in the water. “They’re going to get cold faster,” Kern says, and “the longer you’re in the water, the colder you get.”
Even for dogs with hair, water temperature is an important consideration. Dogs have a higher normal body temperature than humans—about 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit on average, according to the American Kennel Club—so water that feels warm to us may feel cool to a dog.
“Some people might keep pools at 80 degrees,” Kern says, “but that’s still 20 degrees less than [a dog’s] natural body temperature.”
A Shih Tzu’s long, flowing fur might be adorable tied back in bow clip, but the look doesn’t translate well to the water. “Some of the ones who go in for a lot of grooming, they don’t like getting their ears wet,” Kern says. “Once the tips of the ears are wet, they start smacking them in the face and they don’t like it.”
That’s not to say Shih Tzus can’t enjoy the pool—in fact, Kern’s rehabilitation center does a lot of water therapy with the breed—but they might be more comfortable taking a dip with a shorter coat.
With their long, stocky bodies and short legs, Basset Hounds aren’t streamlined for swimming. Because of their proportions, their back end tends to sink down, and their front end tends to float up, giving them an inefficient, vertical position in the water.
“It makes it really hard for them to swim if they’re not able to keep their hips up in that more horizontal position,” Fuoco says. “If the back end gets too low, just trying to move through the water can be really difficult.”
These toy dogs often suffer from weakened tracheas as they age, making it more difficult for them to breathe. “The trachea is more likely to collapse when an animal is breathing heavily,” Fuoco says, “and since swimming can be a pretty strenuous exercise, that can be a difficult activity for an older patient.”
Pomeranians and Yorkies are also susceptible to weakened or collapsing tracheas, she says, which means swimming could be a risky exercise for these breeds.
These dogs are swift and powerful on land, but their muscular bodies and deep chests can actually work against them in the water.
“With the deeper-chested animals, the back end might sink a little bit more, and the front end will be a little bit elevated, so it’s hard for them to get that horizontal body position to get them in a good swimming position,” Fuoco says. Many deep-chested guarding breeds share this problem, she says.
No matter your dog’s breed, it’s important to introduce him to swimming in a gentle, gradual way. “If you throw them in, they’re going to hate water,” Kern says. “You can try going in the water first yourself and then bringing them in, and having a favorite treat or a favorite toy.”
Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, never let him go in the water unsupervised. In addition, any dog with a medical condition, including a back injury, or pulmonary or cardiac problems, should be cleared by a veterinarian before he dives in.
Finally, even if your dog’s breed is known for loving water, every pup is different, so never force your dog to swim if he seems anxious or stressed around the waves. “Defer to the pet,” Fuoco says. “If the animal is not into water, it might not be their thing.”