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Can French Bulldogs Swim? If Not, Why? Can They Learn?

A brown and black french bulldog with an orange life vest on.

Dogs, unlike cats, have a reputation for loving water as much as we humans. Many dog owners adore the idea of bringing their furry friends to a swimming pool and letting them splash around. I’ve been around a lot of dogs and dog owners throughout my life, and one concerning trend is that people assume that all dogs are naturally gifted swimmers. But this is simply not true.

French bulldogs, as well as several other dog breeds, cannot swim due to their physique — Frenchies have short legs, barrel-shaped bodies, and flat faces. This combination of traits makes it difficult to breathe and keep afloat. To go swimming, they need a life vest and proper training.

If you own a French bulldog and are curious about why your pet cannot swim and whether or not you can teach them to, keep reading!

Can French Bulldogs Swim or Not?

Many French bulldogs have an apparent love for the water, which can fool pet owners into thinking that they’ll love swimming. They also tend to overheat easily, so when the summer hits and you’re making a trip to the pool to cool down, it’s only natural to bring along your Frenchie.

French bulldogs absolutely can’t swim. Never leave them alone near deep bodies of water (e.g. swimming pools, the beach, lakes, etc.), as there’s a very real chance they could drown.

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NOTE: A French bulldog can attempt to swim a little bit, but their bodies will quickly become exhausted. Once they start going under the surface, they’re unable to swim to the surface and have to rely on someone else to rescue them.

Frenchies can’t even float — their body shape and muscle density (i.e. they have more muscle than fat) typically make them top-heavy. They’re physically unable to float in water, so keep that in mind next time you want to go swimming. Your typical Frenchie will sink like a rock when put in water. 

Why Can’t French Bulldogs Swim Naturally?

French bulldogs can’t swim naturally as other dogs can due to three main factors: 

  • Short legs
  • Compact, barrel-shaped bodies 
  • Flat faces

Their short legs make it difficult to paddle and keep themselves afloat. The extra effort they have to exert with short legs will also tire them out faster, making it more likely that they’ll be unable to keep swimming and sink shortly after.

A brown and black french bulldog running in shallow water.
Take precautions when your French bulldog is in or near water

In addition, their thick muscles and heavy bones add up to a body that’s bulky yet compact and unsuited for floating for long periods. 

Lastly, their flat, smushed faces require more effort to keep out of the water. Frenchies are traditionally bred to have brachycephaly, which is a condition that creates a short, wide skull, and their trademark flat faces that leads to several health problems — mainly respiratory issues like:

  • snorting
  • snoring
  • short nasal passages
  • partial airway obstruction

Aside from respiratory issues, their flat faces make it more difficult to keep breathing with their head above water. Because of the lack of snout, they have to compensate by tilting their heads back further and keeping their faces higher than other dogs need to when treading water. 

Add these three factors together and you get a dog that’s simply ill-suited for the water — even if they have a bit of swimming instinct, they’re unable to keep swimming for long periods.  

Other dogs that are unable to swim share similar characteristics, such as:

  • English bulldogs
  • pugs
  • bull terriers
  • basset hounds
  • boxers
  • corgis
  • dachshunds
  • Shih Tzus

On the other hand, the dogs that are good swimmers have traits in their ancestry designed for swimming, such as:

  • powerful legs
  • coats that protect them from harsh weather and water conditions
  • pointed snouts
  • incredible stamina

Is It Safe for French Bulldogs To Go Near Water? 

It’s only safe for French bulldogs to go near water if they’re under constant supervision — if you take your eyes off them for a moment and they slip on the edge of the water, your beloved pet will end up sinking like a rock. 

A beige french bulldog on a lawn chair next to an outdoor pool, looking grumpy.
French bulldogs need constant supervision when near water

If they inhale too much water before you get to them, they can drown and die immediately. Keep in mind, however, that even if you rescue them from the water before they fully drown, they can still suffer from near drowning or submersion syndrome.

Symptoms can develop as late as 24 hours later and severe cases of near drowning can still be fatal. Schedule a visit to your vet immediately if you notice these symptoms: 

  • Respiratory distress 
  • Apnea (slowed or stopped breathing) 
  • Coughing (with or without foamy red saliva)
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Blue gums (indicates a lack of oxygen)
  • Loss of consciousness

Can French Bulldogs Safely Enjoy Water in Other Ways?

As serious as the consequences of letting your Frenchie near water are, that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the water at all. Here are some tips for enjoying the water without putting your furry friend in danger:

  • Invest in a quality doggie life jacket: You’ll need a jacket rated for your pet’s size and weight (tight enough that they won’t slip out of it but loose enough to be comfortable), made of sturdy, waterproof material, like this one from Amazon. Some jackets have handles on the top designed to help you pull up your pet easily. Allow them to get comfortable with wearing it for the first time and offer up rewards for cooperative behavior. Ensure that you put the jacket on your Frenchie whenever they’re near any body of water. 
  • Stick to the shallows: When you’re visiting beaches and lakes, don’t wander too far out. If you’re making a trip to the pool, stick to a kiddie pool or wading pool. Let them play and splash around in the shallow water but keep a close eye on them and don’t let them get swept away. If they don’t want to get in the water at all, don’t force them to
  • Protect your pool: If your home features a swimming pool, consider putting a fence up to prevent your dog from falling in accidentally. To make it extra safe, consider adding an escape ramp to the pool that will allow your pet to easily climb out if they do end up falling in. If you want to include your Frenchie in the fun of cooling off during summer, you can get them a small plastic kiddie pool like this one from Amazon that’s shallow enough to not cause danger. 
  • Teach your dog to swim safely: French bulldogs aren’t built for swimming, that’s true. However, they can still be taught to navigate the water better. Take precautions and keep their life jacket on at all times. 

NOTE: Regardless of what activities you want to try out, always remember to supervise your dog closely whenever they’re near water. 

Can French Bulldogs Learn To Swim? 

French bulldogs can learn how to swim in the sense that you can teach them to be comfortable in the water and how to paddle around. However, you can’t expect them to become masters at swimming long distances or for long periods of time.

NOTE: It’s very rare for a Frenchie to become a strong swimmer, even with training. Generally, you can expect a few minutes of playtime in the water before you’re at risk of tiring them out. 

A black and white french bulldog swimming in a pool with an orange life jacket and an orange deflated ball in its mouth.
French bulldogs need a life vest to learn how to swim
  1. If you want to teach your dog how to swim, the first thing you need is a life jacket. This will make it infinitely easier for them to keep afloat and safer to bring them into the water.
  2. When you start your swimming lessons, stick to a pool with lukewarm water. Frenchies get cold easily and their coats aren’t designed to protect against water —  water can strip their skin of its natural oils and diminish their ability to keep warm
  3. Let your Frenchie slowly get used to being in the water by allowing them to sniff and explore, and gradually submerging their body. It helps to have someone they trust to get in the water with them. You can try bringing their favorite treats and snacks to encourage them to paddle around
  4. Another good method is by allowing another dog to teach your dog. Whether it’s another pet you own or someone else’s dog, invite them for supervised playtime in the water. Ensure your Frenchie is wearing its life vest and allow it to learn by watching the other dog. 

REMEMBER: French bulldogs aren’t natural swimmers (and shouldn’t be alone near water) because of their flat faces, short legs, and dense bodies — a combination that makes it difficult to keep afloat and tread water.

Not all dogs are good swimmers, but if your Frenchie still loves the water, you can take precautions that will allow them to enjoy it. Invest in a doggie life jacket that fits them well and always keep an eye on them if you bring them near water.

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