Can Pugs Swim?

There is a common misconception that all dogs can swim purely out of natural instinct, without being taught. While this can be true in some or even most dogs, this is not always the case. A dog’s ability to swim may be based on a number of factors, such as breed, size, weight, experience and swimming ability.

Can pugs swim? No, they can’t. Generally speaking, a pug will not be able to swim, at least, not very well.

This is especially true if it lacks proper training or equipment, which we’ll explain later. Pugs are not natural born swimmers.

Firstly, let’s take a look at why pugs aren’t biologically designed to swim. Pugs are a brachycephalic breed, meaning they have a relatively broad, short skull. Although this is what gives them their signature adorable squashed face, this is the main reason why most pugs will just sink when trying to swim. Because of their short muzzle, pugs will instinctively tilt their head up excessively in order to keep their nose above the water surface. However in doing so, the rear end of their body points down and their body will be in an almost vertical position, inevitably causing them to sink.

Their brachycephalic nature can also cause breathing problems including shortness of breath during physically demanding exercise such as swimming. In addition to this, pugs are known to be prone to obesity and therefore generally speaking are much heavier compared to other dogs their size, which can contribute to them having a hard time staying afloat.

How to tell if your pug enjoys swimming

As pug owners, I’m sure we’ve all been there. You decide it’s time to take your buddy for some swimming lessons for the first time, so you take your pug to a dog friendly beach. Upon arrival, you see plenty of dogs with their owners jumping into the waves to fetch their ball, playing tag with other dogs and even swimming laps, clearly enjoying themselves. This is going to be easier than I thought!

Meanwhile, you notice your buddy going around wagging its tail at the sunbathers and other dog owners while also sniffing out their bags for any delicious treats. You try to get your pug to follow you into the water, but it refuses to get its paws wet.

Just like people, every dog is different in that they each have their own unique personality. Just because some dogs love getting in the water for a paddle, this doesn’t mean all dogs will. The best way to see if your dog enjoys swimming is to test it out slowly.

My recommendation would be to slowly introduce your pug to water. Don’t just pick up your pug and throw him into the deep end (trust me, I’ve seen this happen before) and expect them to like it. The poor pug may manage to paddle back safety, but most likely this will be purely out of natural instinct and a surge in adrenaline levels in fear for their life, and in doing so may cause them to panic, and may potentially also lead to a variety of other problems.

Getting your pug comfortable in the water may take some patience. As with most other aspects of dog training, it may be easier to get them comfortable in water when they’re still young pups.

Water temperature may also play a big part in easing the nerves during a first swimming lesson. If you can, let your pug practice its paddle in a controlled environment such as a heated pool, or even a large bath tub.

Some pugs love swimming but most don’t

How to teach your pug to swim

Sure, pugs are at a disadvantage, they’re just not designed to be good at staying afloat. This doesn’t mean they can’t ever swim and enjoy the sensation for once of feeling partially weightless for once.

When you introduce your pug to water, slowly lower them, holding them by the rear end. They will instinctively start paddling, even before they touch the water. This will teach them how to use their legs to stay afloat. Take your time and repeat this process over and over, and they will eventually get an idea of their own swimming capability.

Teaching your pug how to get out of your pool is just as important as teaching them to swim, although this aspect is often overlooked. If you’re practicing in a pool, show them how to get out of the pool using the stairs, or even install a pet-friendly ramp. It may help to place something visually eye-catching, for example a potted plant near the steps so that they can easily locate and remember where the exit is.

Alternatively, you may also choose to hire a professional. There may be local dog trainers who can teach your pug how to swim, and could be worth the investment if you have a pool at home or are planning to take your pug on regular boating or beach trips.

Pool safety

Here are some tips on how to pug-proofing your pool at home to prevent any tragic accidents such as drowning:

  1. Firstly, a dog-proof fence is highly recommended. Just because a pool has a fence around it does not necessarily mean that it is dog-proof. Make sure that your pug will not be able to fit through any gaps in the fence. It may help to cover the bottom section of the fence with plastic or other material. Also check that your pug hasn’t gone El Chapo and dug a tunnel under the fence, as this isn’t an uncommon behaviour.
  2. Pool covers are also highly recommended. Whenever you are not using your pool, minimize the risk of drowning by covering up. In particular, hard covers are recommended over soft covers. Unfortunately, soft pool covers can be quite dangerous, pose a danger of your pug walking onto it, getting wrapped or trapped underneath and drowning, while giving the owner a false sense of safety.
  3. Pool chemicals, pump cables, and other cleaning equipment can be a hazard. Make sure to keep these stored in a safe place where your pug cannot get to.
  4. Apart from drowning, the chemicals that are often used to keep pool water clean also pose a hazard to your pug. Pugs tend to have sensitive skin and may react to the chlorine. Check for signs of skin irritation, red eyes, swallowed water. If symptoms persist, ask your veterinarian. Make sure you rinse your pug off with clean water after a pool session.
  5. Amongst all of the above, human supervision is strongly advised at all times if you know your pug is going to be using the pool.

Ear infection

Like other dogs, pugs are vulnerable to infection, developing what people call “swimmer’s ear” (Otitis externa). This leads to inflammation of the ear canal, causing pain, redness, itchiness, and if not treated properly, may lead to other more serious issues. If you do notice any issues with your pug’s ears, ask your veterinarian. To minimize the risk of infection, it is important to dry your pug’s ears after a swimming session.

Life Jackets

Life jackets can be very effective in terms of keeping your pug safe in or around water. Yes, life jackets for dogs do exist. Even a well trained pug with swimming experience can drown due to fatigue. Many pug owners consider life jackets essential when taking your pug boating or kayaking. The peace of mind alone in knowing that your pug will be safe is worth the investment.

Related Questions

Why do pugs paddle their paws above the water?

If you’ve ever been to the beach with your pug, or even when you’re giving them a bath, you may have noticed a somewhat funny sight; your pug will start paddling their paws, even when you are holding them above the water. Why do they do this? 

  • Reflex – Like many other behaviour traits of animals, paddling is instinctive and out of pure instinct. Therefore when a pug senses that it is above water, it may start to paddle as a reflex. 
  • Panic – This is not a natural position for your pug to be in, and therefore this may be a sign of panic and/or uncomfortableness which they are trying to escape. 
  • Learned behaviour – If you’re like me and find this behaviour adorable, you probably have laughed and shown affection to your pug. They may take this positive feedback and associate this with their paddling when in such a position, which encourages the act further. 


Hi! I'm Kim and this is my pug Kuma. I've been fortunate enough to be his parent for the past 8 years and counting. I'm passionate about pugs and love sharing everything I learn about them.

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