Can Pitbulls Swim? Detailed Guide on Safety Tips & How to Train a Pitbull to Swim

🦴 Updated on July 20th, 2023


Kiddie pools are one way to get your dog to cool down during hot summer afternoons, but considering how massive Pitbulls are, a swimming pool is an ideal alternative. But can your Pitbull swim?

Pitbulls have a muscular body that works against their ability to match the swimming prowess of other dog breeds like the Golden Retriever, Standard Poodle, Labrador Retriever, or Irish Setter. But all is not lost. Can Pitbulls swim? Here’s a closer look.

What Makes Dogs Good Swimmers?

Compared to humans, most dogs can swim better. It all narrows down to physical anatomy, instinct, and age.

What makes a dog a good swimmer?

  • Dogs instinctively know how to keep their heads up above the water
  • They have a set of four legs they can use to paddle their way to safety if the water is too deep
  • Dogs have a low center of gravity
  • They have larger lungs, hence can hold their breath for longer underwater
  • Some dog breeds have webbed feet, which works in their favor when swimming
  • Dogs have a fight-or-flight instinct that kicks in fast when they feel unsafe in the water. Therefore, pitbull’s swimming to safety is instinctual

However, some dogs are better swimmers than others. Unfortunately, your Pitbull is not on the list of pro dog swimmers.

Do Pitbulls Like Swimming? How Pitbulls Feel About Water

If a Pitbull plays in a pool of water where its feet comfortably touch the ground, they have tons of fun wading, splashing, and rolling around.

But when the water is too much, and the dog’s feet can barely touch the surface beneath, your dog can panic. Do Pitbulls like to swim? Generally, Pitbulls love the water.

Can American Bullies Swim? Why Pitbulls Like Water

Pitbulls are always up for a good time. They may be terrible swimmers but enjoy playtime in shallow water. Some reasons why Pitbulls like water include:

They Want to Have Fun

Most dogs enjoy playtime in the dog park or your backyard, playing fetch and digging up bones. Most dog owners like to change things up by taking their dogs to the beach or jumping in the swimming pool. Either way, your dog will follow you, wanting your company, and have a good time.  

They Heat Up Fast

Due to their hyperactive nature, Pitbulls get hot super quickly. Also, they have short snouts that make it harder to cool themselves after running nonstop for hours.

Getting in the water is a welcome opportunity for your bully to cool off fast without panting too hard and suffering dehydration or, worse, a heatstroke.

History Plays a Part

The Pitbull is one of the favorite dog breeds across America, particularly in Southern America. The dogs were originally farm dogs helping to herd and protect livestock and cart supplies.

Pitbulls also played a significant role in the farm by hunting wild hogs, notorious for damaging crops. The hunting mostly took place in the marshy wetlands dotting the southern lands where the hogs would seek refuge.

Today, Pitbulls are comfortable in water because their genetic memory reminds them of an era when being in the water wasn’t foreign.

Are Pitbulls Good Swimmers? Why Swimming Can Be Hard for Pitbulls

The physique of a Pitbull plays against the dog being in the water. You can train your dog to beat the odds and learn to swim, but they’ll have a harder time staying afloat than, say, a Poodle, a natural swimmer. Can Pit bulls swim? Yes, but below are some reasons why it’s hard for Pitbulls to swim.

Bred to Dominate on Dry Land

Pitbulls are specifically bred to run on land as man’s aid on the farm. Therefore, expecting them to swim in water is entirely out of their scope of expertise.

On the other hand, a Labrador Retriever can retrieve items on land and in ponds, lakes, and other large water bodies. It explains why the dogs swim well in water and maneuver equally well on land.

Short Necks and Heavy Build

Ever wonder how Pitbulls can grip hard at something and not let go even while they’re flung around in the air? It’s because they have short, powerful necks. It is a trait that works in their favor on land but not in the water.

A dog needs to keep its head above water when swimming. Their short necks mean that the Pitbull will struggle to breathe through the waves or splashes.

Additionally, the Pitbull is heavyset with huge muscles and a dense bone structure. Therefore, it sinks fast into the water. 

With some training, your dog can learn to use their weight to their advantage, especially when diving to retrieve toys underwater. Pitbulls must strive to move faster and harder in water to swim like other dogs.

Short Single Coat

Being in water means your Pitbull, which boasts a single short coat, loses body heat rapidly. Your Pitbull will, therefore, have no problem jumping in the water on hot summer afternoons but will hesitate during cold seasons.

Dogs with long curly double coats will play in the rain and take a plunge in the swimming pool whether the weather is hot or cold.

Their Paw Structure is Different

Some good dog swimmers have webbed paws, which help them paddle through the water. A Pitbull’s feet can grip items but don’t help much during swimming. 

A Labrador Retriever, for example, has large webbed paws that help it move effortlessly through the water, while a Pitbull has strong, defined toes with no webbing. 

They are Brachycephalic Dogs

Brachycephalic dog breeds have shorter skulls and snouts, making it challenging to breathe when the dog is facing upwards. Other dogs in this category include Pugs, French bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Shih Tzus. 

Such dogs get super tired when swimming because they have to lift their heads higher for long durations.

Cropping and Docking

Most Pitbull owners consider it cool to crop their Pitbull’s ears and dock their tails, making swimming hard for the dogs.

Your dog becomes triggered fast when they’re splashing through water. Note also docking makes your dog vulnerable to ear infections.


Alternatively, a normal Pitbull tail won’t do much to steer it in water, but it makes a slight difference compared to a dog with a docked tail.

Shorter Legs

Short legs match perfectly well with your Pitbull’s muscular build. However, those same physical attributes put them at a disadvantage while swimming. Short legs make it harder to paddle. They have limited underwater thrusting abilities, unlike most master dog swimmers with long legs.

How to Help Your Pitbull Enjoy the Water

The odds aren’t quite in your dog’s favor if you’re thinking about bringing your Pitbull with you into the swimming pool. But with your help, your dog will soon learn to swim and enjoy being in the water. Here’s what you can do to help your pitbull enjoy its water time. 

Start Small

Slowly introduce your dog to water without triggering discomfort or panic. Let your Pitbull swim in shallow water only. Use water features like water hoses and sprinklers to make him comfortable around water.

Use a Life Jacket

A Pitbull in a lifejacket isn’t the most flattering look, but it plays an integral role in counteracting your dog’s weight in the water. A life jacket promotes buoyancy and allows your dog to focus on other functions like breathing, paddling, and steering in the water.

Swim in Favorable Conditions

Your Pitbull may scamper away at the sight of crashing waves out of sheer shock and fear of drowning. Therefore, it is better to introduce your dog to a swimming pool first, where the water is calmer and not as massive as an ocean.

Start Training Early

The phrase, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,’ becomes crystal clear when you have to train an old dog to swim. It will take much longer and more effort or prove futile altogether.

Therefore, start training your dog to swim when they’re much younger because they have the physical strength and mental stamina to learn.

How to Teach a Pitbull to Swim

Your Pitbull will sink if you let them enter a pool alone and untrained. Before starting the swimming session, your dog must wear a life jacket. When safety is assured, your dog can focus on the lessons. Here’s how you can teach your dog how to swim.

Create the Right Atmosphere

Choose a swimming pool, river, or lake with no distractions. This cancels out public pools where many other people or pets are around. Noise and other external activities will keep your dog from listening to you and following your instructions.

Do Not Push

You want your dog to build a positive relationship with water. If you suddenly push your Pitbull into the water, it’ll get frightened and want nothing to do with swimming again.

Let the dog slowly build confidence and inch towards the water at their own pace instead of throwing or pushing him into the water. Instead, use encouraging words to prompt him to move a step at a time.

Bring Fresh Drinking Water

Remember, Pitbulls have bigger heads and short snouts that make it difficult to stay above water. These features make them gasp for air and pant hard when in water. As a result, they get thirsty or dehydrate fast. 

Swimming pool or lake water isn’t the best for drinking because it can lead to intestinal parasites and abdominal distress. Bring fresh drinking water for your dog to sip in between breaks.

Start Simple

Start teaching your dog simple swimming tactics like correctly positioning its head above water. Practice this in the shallow area of the pool where the dog can still stand securely with the water high up to its neck.

After that, teach your dog how to paddle and steer in the water while supporting him. Soon enough, you’ll let go and let your dog swim alone.

Keep Your Dog on a Leash and Watch Your Pitbull Closely

It sounds absurd to let your dog swim while still leashed. But a leash ensures your pup stays near you and keeps him from venturing too deep into the water alone. Moreover, the dog also feels safer when they know you’re not too far.

Even when it looks like your dog is learning fast, never leave your dog unattended in the water.

Draft a Post-Swimming Routine

A good post-swimming routine teaches your dog the proper steps to exit the pool. This routine may also include rinsing your dog to eliminate residual chemicals or debris on your dog’s coat.

You could include treats and positive verbal and physical affirmations to reward your dog for a successful swimming lesson.

Do Pitbulls Like Water? Water Safety Tips for Pitbulls

One wrong move and a water accident can occur in a snap! To avoid injuring or drowning your dog during a swimming session, below are some water safety tips for Pitbulls.

  • Keep a constant eye on your dog
  • Understand your dog’s physical limitations that make it difficult to swim
  • Swim only in the shallow ends
  • Put a life jacket on your dog
  • Take many breaks
  • Bring enough water for drinking

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the commonly asked questions on if Pitbulls can swim.

Why is my Pitbull scared of the water?

The water feels different on your Pitbull’s fur and paws. The unfamiliar feeling is a new experience that may trigger fear instead of excitement. Your dog may also get scared if they have a past traumatic experience with water.

Which dog breeds can’t swim?

Pitbulls rank pretty high on the list of dogs that can’t swim. However, other dog breeds with difficulty swimming include Basset Hounds, Pugs, Boxers, Shih Tzus, and Corgis.

How do you know if your dog can swim?

You know your dog can swim if they enjoy being in the water and stay calm yet alert. If they immediately splash and try to paddle frantically, trying to leave the pool, they can’t swim.

Is swimming stressful for dogs?

Quite the contrary, swimming is not stressful for dogs. The idea of your dog drowning is what can stress your dog. But as soon as it can swim, the dog will enjoy playing and exercising in water.

Can dogs be traumatized by water?

Loud splashing of the water, the sudden impact of cold water, and difficulty breathing and staying afloat can trigger incredible anxiety in dogs. Negative past experiences with water may create trauma for dogs too.


With consistent training, some Pitbulls can swim just as well as other dog breeds labeled natural swimmers. Above is all you need to know about whether or not your Pitbull can swim and what you can do to help him learn.

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Picture of Jennifer Grucci | Dog Breeds Expert
Jennifer Grucci | Dog Breeds Expert
Our talented copy editor Jennifer ensures all doggie info published on our site is accurate, clear, and perfectly suited for pet parents of all experience levels. When not reading and writing about dogs, Jennifer enjoys playing with her own pets at home.