Can Bull Terriers Swim? A Mini Deep Dive Into Swimming

bull terrier playing in water

The Bull Terrier is known for their high energy and athleticism. Bull Terriers are also known for their zest for life and playful behavior. Nothing will keep a Bull Terrier from having a good time and this is what makes them amazing dogs. When it comes to activities nothing seems off limits, except perhaps one.

Can Bull Terriers swim? As a whole Bull Terriers are not good swimmers. The bulky frame, and short legs of the Bull Terrier make swimming challenging. Keeping their body afloat and head above water requires a great deal of effort and can be an unsafe activity for this breed.

This is not to say that Bull Terriers CAN’T swim. It is entirely possible for some Bull Terriers to learn and love swimming. These dogs seem to be the exception and not the rule. If you are determined however to teach your Bull Terrier how to swim I have some helpful tips to keep things fun and safe. Let’s dive in.

Do Bull Terriers Like To Swim?

As a general rule Bull Terriers do not like to swim, some in fact don’t even like being near the water. Other Bull Terriers can however be quite comfortable and take to swimming fairly easily. Introducing your Bull Terrier to swimming from an early age can determine their affinity to water activities.

I conducted a poll in a large Bull Terrier group on Facebook to try and get a better idea of the swimming abilities of Bull Terriers. In this poll I asked the simple question “Does your Bull Terrier swim?” with the following multiple choice answers.

  • A. My Bull Terrier is a great swimmer
  • B. My Bull Terrier can swim with a life jacket only
  • C. My Bull Terrier likes the water but can’t swim
  • D. Bull Terrier hates the water and can’t swim.


The poll had 45 Bull Terrier owners respond. 71% of people claim that their Bull Terrier hates the water and can’t swim. While 22% of people claim their Bull Terriers are great swimmers.

can bull terriers swim poll

From these results we can see that the majority of Bull Terriers can’t swim, and are not a fan of water in general. Though I was surprised by the number of responses that claim their Bull Terriers are good swimmers.

I followed up privately with a few respondents to dig a little deeper. My main question was when they first exposed their Bull Terrier to water and swimming, and if it took a lot of training. The common answer was very young and with a fair amount of training. A couple outliers claim it came naturally.

If you are a Bull Terrier owner, or thinking of becoming one you should think about teaching your dog to tolerate being around water at a minimum. For those eager to get your Bull Terrier to the beach it is important that safety is always top of mind.

In the next sections I will go over some tips on how to train your Bull Terrier to swim and some must know safety tips.

Teaching Your Bull Terrier How To Swim

3 bull terriers swimming

Introducing your Bull Terrier to the water and swimming should be done with the utmost care for their well being. Gradual progression and safety are the two most important aspects of teaching your Bull Terrier to swim.

These are a few steps you can follow to get your Bull Terrier ready to be in the water and hopefully swimming confidently.

Get Your Dog Used To Wearing A Life Jacket

Before heading off to the beach with your Bull Terrier it is important to get accustomed to wearing a life jacket. Just like wearing a collar or harness, dogs need to get used to new equipment.

Get yourself a good life jacket for your Bull Terrier and begin by having them wear it around the house. A few minutes several times throughout the day will be enough to get them comfortable wearing one.

Engage with them in play and activities while they wear a life jacket. Have them wear one while feeding them breakfast and dinner. Make the life jacket a positive experience so when it is time to head to the water it’s no different than leashing them up for a walk.

Introduce Them To Water

bull terrier walking in water

Introduction to water should be done from a very early age. Puppies that are socialized to be around water will be better equipped to swim or play along the shore. Start with a shallow kids pool where there is no risk of going too deep. Playing in sprinklers with the kids is also a great way to get them used to the idea of getting wet.

In the kids pool or sprinklers engage with your puppy (or Adult that is learning) in a fun and positive manner. Play games, give praise, reward them with their favorite treats. The goal is to associate water and water activities with fun and rewards.

Play Games In Shallow Water

Once you have your puppy introduced to water and the idea of being wet it’s time to get them into shallow water. Find an area that has water somewhere between your Bull Terriers knees and shoulders. We want them to be able to have their head above water while standing, but not just get their feet wet also.

Similar to the sprinklers and pool scenario we want to create a fun and engaging environment. Play games, give rewards, and praise your Bull Terrier for being in the water. Toss a ball far enough that they have to be fully in the water but are able to stand upright.

Take this slow and play it safe. Avoid water areas with strong currents or sudden drop offs to deep water. Creeks, lake shorelines, or dog friendly park pools are great options to begin this step. Life jackets are still recommended, even if it’s just for getting them accustomed to wearing one still.

Introduce The Doggie Paddle

bull terrier swimming in shallow water

Now that your dog has become used to being immersed in water it’s time for them to learn the doggie paddle. Be sure your Bull Terrier is wearing their life jacket before starting this exercise. This is what we have been training for up to this point.

Learning the doggie paddle is going to require you being in the water with your dog. Your Bull Terrier needs to feel safe and secure knowing you are there if they get into trouble or panic. 

Start by wading out deep enough into the water that your Bull Terrier can’t place their feet down. Hold them up as you do this and wait for their instinct to doggie paddle kicks in. As they begin to peddle their feet slowly release them to begin paddling on their own.

Take a couple steps back and encourage them to come to you. Just like the other steps, make this fun, positive and encouraging for your dog. Shower them in praise and reward as they make progress.

If your Bull Terrier begins to panic or shows signs of distress immediately go to their aid. Reassure them and then try again either right away or some time later. Gauge your dog’s reaction and try to end things calmly.

Practice this for a few sessions until your dog becomes a little more comfortable paddling. As they get used to the idea of moving on their own you can eventually go to the next step.

Keep It Short And Simple

Now that your Bull Terrier has the doggie paddle down pat it’s time to give them short and simple exercises to practice. With their life jacket on you can either join them in the water or engage them in games like fetch. The goal here is to have your dog enter the water on their own and begin swimming unassisted.

Tossing a ball into the water just far enough for your dog to lift their feet off the ground and paddle on their own is a short and simple exercise. Likewise with you wading into the water and calling them from the shore. Build their confidence in short and simple challenges.

Increase The Challenge

bull terrier in water

Gradually increasing the challenge of swimming with your Bull Terrier should always have safety in mind first. Swimming longer distances should become a gradual progression to understand your dog’s ability better.

Slowly have your dog swim out to you further, or throw the ball the retrieve a little further. Have this progression stretch across several sessions over the course of a few weeks. There is no need to push things too far.

As your dog’s abilities improve slowly take the challenge up a notch. Always be there if your dog begins to struggle. Swimming can be a very tiring exercise, even for energetic Bull Terriers. You must be close enough to come to their rescue without delay.

Water Safety For Your Bull Terrier Swimmers

bull terrier splashing in water

There are a few safety tips to always keep in mind when taking your Bull Terrier near water. Swimming can be a very dangerous exercise when you are not careful. These are just a few tips to always keep in mind.

Avoid Cold Water

Cold water can be a shock to you Bull Terrier and can lead to hypothermia fast. Avoid taking your dog swimming when the water is too cold. Just like humans the cold water can create a hazardous situation if our bodies respond negatively. This can lead to disaster.

Always Be Nearby

Regardless of your dog’s swimming ability you should never let them swim too far from you. Always be nearby for potential problems. It can only take a few seconds for your dogs to panic, or find themselves in trouble and you need to be able to step in and help within seconds.

Progress Slowly

There is no need to rush your Bull Terriers’ progress with swimming. Take things slow and allow them to interact in the water to their own comfort level. Pushing your dog too far too soon can have disastrous results. Let them progress slowly and in their own time.

Keep Swimming Sessions Short

Strong swimmers will tire quickly as well. Swimming is a very difficult exercise, especially for the Bull Terrier. Because of the build of their body it does require a great deal of effort to stay afloat and propel themselves through the water.

Keep the sessions short so your dog does not become exhausted before reaching the shore. It can happen very quickly and your Bull Terrier may begin to struggle. Keep swimming sessions short and safe.

Discourage Your Dog From Drinking The Water

Exercise is going to make your dog thirsty. To them the swimming water is just as good as any other source, but you and I know this can be bad. Lakes, creeks and even pools can contain harmful bacteria and chemicals that is not good for your dog to ingest.

Discourage your dog from drinking the swimming water and provide them with a fresh clean water source. Showing your Bull Terrier you have their bowl with cool, fresh, clean water will help them avoid drinking the lake.

Always Wear A Life Jacket

I am of the opinion that Bully breeds such as Bull Terriers should always wear life jackets around water. Many people have confidence in their dog’s ability, but for me I’d rather be safe than sorry. I recommend always wearing a life jacket.

There are plenty of great options for Bull Terriers when it comes to life jackets. These are some of the best quality, safest, and top rated life jackets on the market.

Outward Hound PupSaver

Outward Hound Granby RipStop Dog Life Jacket

EzyDog Doggy Flotation Device Life Jacket

Outward Hound Dawson Dog Life Jacket

Queenmore Dog Life Jacket

Final Thoughts

The Bull Terrier is not a natural swimmer. Designed to be more of a land dog than a swimmer with their bulky frame and short legs. Swimming can be a challenge even for those who are eager to be in the water.

Learning the proper way to introduce and safely teach your Bull Terrier to swim will take time and patience. Remember to take things very slow and with extreme precautions. The Bull Terrier may be a strong and athletic dog, but even a seemingly easy activity like swimming can cause problems.

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