Because Bulldogs are one of the most popular breeds of dogs in the world, it is important to know the do’s and don’ts of this fun-loving breed before getting one.  In particular, it is vital to understand the physical limitations of bulldogs, especially around water.

Can you take an English Bulldog to the beach?  Yes!  When the temperature goes up, English Bulldogs enjoy being around the water as much as any breed.  However, extra precautions must be taken with all breeds of bulldogs.  Their distinctive body structures make them very poor swimmers and can cause them to sink rapidly when the water gets above their heads.

In fact, taking your English bulldog to the beach is a great way to bond with each other! If you’d like to see 20 more ways you can bond with your bulldog, check out this list.

On rare occasions, you may see a video of bulldog swimming in a lake or pool.  It’s important to understand that these cases are the exception rather than the rule.  In fact, the dogs you see in those videos are likely not pure English Bulldogs at all.

Can an English Bulldog swim?

In short, no!  This is a dangerous myth.  The vast majority of bulldogs cannot keep themselves afloat due to their heavy heads, short legs, and dense bone structure and musculature.  In addition, their trademark short snouts mean they must lift their heads higher in the water in order to breathe properly.

They have an especially hard time breathing in turbulent water.  Inhaling water then becomes a real risk.

All of these traits mean they are terribly designed for swimming.  Michael Phelps has little to fret about from English Bulldogs!

So, when it comes to bulldogs and swimming, you must always assume the answer is a big NO. 

A quick internet search reveals story after story about family pets nearly plummeting to the bottom of swimming pools within moments after hitting the surface.

In fact, not all dogs instinctively know how to swim at all. This myth can give people the false impression that bulldogs-like most breeds-are natural swimmers.

While many breeds were designed specifically to retrieve in water, bulldogs are NOT one of them.

Breeds such as the Newfoundland, poodles, most setters and retrievers, as well as specialty breeds like the Portuguese Water Dogs, are ideally designed for the water.

English Bulldogs are not.

Because they were bred as fighting dogs, they are short and muscular.  This makes them extremely dense compared to other dogs of the same height.

English bulldogs actually fall into the category of a true dwarf breed, much like the Corgi.  Even though other bulldogs are much bigger, they still bear the characteristics of dwarf breeds with their legs typically being disproportionately short when compared to the rest of their bodies.

Imagine a bowling ball with legs…and just as dense!

Introducing your English Bulldog to the water

The inability to swim does not mean your English Bulldog must avoid the water entirely. It is possible to slowly introduce your dog to the water…as long as the dog is never left unsupervised.

Playing in kiddie pools, shallow streams, and sprinklers presents little danger. But if you intend to bring your dog into water over it’s head, putting a swim vest on your dog is the safest thing to do.

Another approach may be to use treats to train your dog understand limits and dangers. 

Simply being nearby may not always be enough.

All bulldogs sink immediately when placed in water over their heads.  Once this happens, they can die extremely quickly…sometimes within seconds.

It should also be noted that CPR is seldom effective with most bulldog breeds, due to their unique facial and nasal structure.

The same bone structure and density that makes it difficult for them to swim will make it challenging for anyone to keep a struggling bulldog above water.  Therefore, leaving a smaller child to supervise a bulldog near the water is also unsafe.

The safest approach is to treat your bulldog as if it were a young child who has never been taught to swim.  All the usual precautions apply; fences, secure leashes, separate low water-level areas and constant supervision are some examples.

While we may think we’re helping the pet by bringing him in or near the water, especially on hot days, you must be vigilant at all time, to avoid a tragic accident.

Other water dangers for English Bulldogs

There are other concerns for Bulldogs around water.

Fatigue

Bulldogs, in general, are NOT designed for long stretches of exercise; especially swimming. Even with a life vest and supervision, English Bulldogs may tire extremely quickly.  Be aware of this even if your bulldog has been taught to swim.

Maneuverability

Another odd consideration is that some bulldogs can swim, but not turn well.  This can also lead to fatigue…as well as the in ability to get back to shore, if they are in a swimming- vest or not.

Fear

Some bulldogs have a straightforward fear of the water.  You should NEVER force your bulldog to swim.  This may change over time, but if they aren’t ready to go into the water, they aren’t ready.

Going Vertical

English Bulldogs, and most other breeds of bulldog, can “go vertical” quite easily with their legs dangling helplessly in the water underneath them.  Once they do, they can have a very difficult time correcting themselves.

Teaching your English Bulldog to swim

It is certainly possible to teach an English Bulldog to swim.  Like anything else, you’ll have the most success when exposing them to the water at a very young age.

Logically, you should start with tub or sink and progress forward from there.  A shallow kiddie pool or the shallow end of the lake is next.  Take your time and allow your dog to become comfortable with the entire scene; the smells, surrounding area, the shoreline, etc.

You should plan on going into the water with your dog the first time they attempt to swim.  If they are struggling, you need to be right there to help.

NOTE:  It is assumed you are using a swim vest for this process!  Having the vest on will provide an added layer of confidence.  There are many brands of vests for your dog on the market for our larger-chested friends!  We recommend getting a brand that has an easy-to-reach handle on the top of the vest.

Keep in mind that if you are nervous and on edge about the process, your dog will sense that and act accordingly.

When it comes time to move into the deeper water, good old-fashioned treats should do the trick. 

The English Bulldog Rules

  1. Never leave an English Bulldog alone and unsupervised near pools or large bodies of water
  2. Never let a small child be the only supervision they have near deep water
  3. Never try to teach a bulldog to swim without a swim vest—preferably one with an easy-to-reach top handle
  4. Avoid rough water to avoid breathing and infection issues
  5. Never force an English bulldog—or any bulldog for that matter—to go into the water if they show fear
  6. Treat your English Bulldog as if it were a small child who is completely unfamiliar with the dangers of deep water.

In the end, it appears most bulldogs have a Love-Hate relationship with the water.  Like all dogs, they can be drawn to the water and love to play in it, but nature has decided they will never be lifeguards!

Learn More

If you want to learn more about English Bulldogs or other types of Bulldogs, then consider checking out this Bulldog Handbook on Amazon.