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Before we know it, the weather will be warm, your pit bull will be panting, and you’ll want to head for the ocean, lake, or river to cool off, relax, and be comfortable. But, should your best friend go with you?
Can pit bulls swim and enjoy the water? This is an important question to answer before you undertake any aquatic outing with your pit bull in order to ensure their safety.
While some pit bulls may enjoy the water, they’re generally not naturally good swimmers. The muscular build of their chest and their heavy head and short nose make their balance in the water not ideal for swimming, and they can actually have a hard time staying afloat.
What Makes Dogs Good Swimmers?
Even though it’s called the doggy paddle, it may surprise you that not all dogs are natural swimmers. Some dog breeds are actually equipped with some special features that help make them more comfortable in the water and more adept at swimming. Other breeds may struggle, making swimming dangerous, and some breeds flat out don’t like the water at all.
If you look at breeds like Labrador Retrievers or Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, you’ll see that these dogs were made for life in the water. And with good reason, these dogs were bred to retrieve down birds from the water.
To make this task easier they have water resistant coats, allowing them to shed water rather than soak it up and become waterlogged. They also have webbed feet to better propel them in the water.
Their bodies are slender with a more even distribution of weight between the chest and hindquarters, and they have long noses that make it easier to breathe and keep their head above the surface.
Another feature of dogs that are good swimmers is that they like the water. You’ll usually find that it isn’t hard to convince a Lab to take a bath, and you may have to steer clear of the pond or river on your hike if you want them to stay dry. These breeds of dogs love to play in the water, as well as swim in it, and they’re built to do both of these with ease.
Why Aren’t Pit Bulls Great Swimmers?
Now that we know what makes a dog a great swimmer, let’s compare these attributes to our loving pit bulls. First of all, a pit bull’s deep, thick chest and relatively small hind quarters make their center of gravity more towards the front than in the center of their body.
This means that when they’re in the water, their front will be draw down while their hind end will float up. Most of us can see the problem with this-the hind end isn’t where breathing occurs!
This makes a pit bull have to work even harder to keep their head above water and can cause them to tire very quickly when they actually have to swim.
Along with a heavy chest, pit bulls tend to have a heavy head. That broad face is capable of providing wider that usual smiles, but it also weighs a dog down when they’re in the water. This weight becomes even more apparent after a dog has been swimming for a bit and gets tired. This means the longer your pit bull is swimming, the more likely they are to get their head underwater.
Pit bulls also don’t have webbed feet like a Labrador or Golden. While webbed feet aren’t a must for swimming, they greatly increase the efficiency, just ask a duck. Without webbed feet, dogs will have to take more strokes in order to move any distance and to stay afloat in the water.
Another downfall to a pit bull’s swimming ability is that they have a relatively short nose. While they’re not technically brachycephalic like a pug or bull dog, compared to the width of their head, their nose can be quite short. Since a long nose can act as sort of a snorkel if a dog’s head goes underwater, a shorter nose means they’re more likely to suck in water instead of air if they’re head gets too low.
Finally, pit bulls don’t have a water repellent hair coat. Instead, their hair is short, and in some cases pretty thin, possibly causing them to get cold faster than water breeds, making hypothermia another concern in some water conditions. All of these features make one loving pet, but don’t help a pit bull’s chances in the water.
Do Pit Bulls Like the Water?
Just because a dog can’t swim doesn’t mean they don’t like the water. Preference for water is up to each individual dog. Some are going to be drawn to it like it’s canned dog food, while other pit bulls will daintily step around any given puddle. It all depends on their personality. A pit bull’s preference for water can also be due to how it’s presented.
Some pups may enjoy a shallow kiddie pool in the backyard but not go for sticking their toes in the crashing waves on the shore of the lake. Some pit bulls may prefer the gentle movement of running water to the stillness of a pond. Again, it all depends on your dog’s personality and previous experiences with water.
Dogs that have had scares involving water, such as near drowning or aspirating water are going to be less likely to partake in aquatic activities. These dogs may need a little extra time, patience, and encouragement in order to get their sea legs back under them, and some may choose to never enjoy water again.
Water Safety for PitBulls
If you happen to have a pit bull that craves water play or one that simply tolerates it, the first thing you need to pay attention to is their safety.
All dogs should be under constant supervision when near the water, even dogs specifically bred for swimming.
Since pit bulls aren’t the cream of the swimming crop, they’re going to require even more attention.
Pit bulls have some special life jacket considerations that you should be sure to look into
- Size and fit: Pit bulls have deep, muscular chests, so be sure that the life jacket you choose can fit snuggly over that chest and neck without slipping off. Consider life jackets with lots of adjustable straps to ensure a customized fit.
- Buoyancy: This is the jacket’s ability to float in water and it mostly deals with the materials the jacket is made of. Pit bulls are heavy, compact critters, so the more buoyant a jacket is, the better chance it will have in keeping them afloat. You may also look for a jacket with increased buoyancy around the neck, specifically under the chin to help keep their head above water.
- Handles: If you ever have to rescue your dog from the water, having them in a life jacket with handles on the back will greatly help you out. Imagine hoisting your stout pit bull out of the water without anything to grab onto, it will be back-breaking if not impossible. Sturdy emergency handles on the back of the life jacket are a must for pit bulls.
- Visibility: Since pit bulls most commonly come in shades of brown, white, black, and grey, seeing them out in the water isn’t going to be easy. Having a high visibility life jacket, such as red, orange, or yellow in color, will help you spot your pit bull if they get too far from shore. Reflective tape can help in low daylight situations as well.
A life jacket is not a substitute for supervision.
Even if your dog is armed to the gills with the best life jacket on the market, don’t allow them in water conditions that they can’t handle or let them overexert themselves so that they’re too tired to swim if they need to. If your pit bull seems nervous or anxious about riding a boat, kayak, or paddleboard, let them practice some on shore to avoid jumping overboard out of fear.
It’s a common misconception that all dogs can swim. Even though there is a stroke named after them, some dog breeds are better suited for land than water.
Pit bulls are capable of swimming and liking water, but their build and facial structure make it harder for them than other breeds.
If you have a water-loving pitbull, you don’t have to keep them dry, instead find them safer alternatives for aquatic play, such as a kiddie pool, shallow stream, or gently sloping beach.
Always have your pitbull wear a life jacket when around or on larger bodies of water and keep them under constant supervision so that water activities stay fun, refreshing, and enjoyable.
Dr. Chyrle Bonk has been a veterinarian since 2010. When she’s not practicing medicine or writing, she’s spending time with her family in the great outdoors of Idaho or tending to her menagerie of animals.