Pitbulls are an athletic breed that are hard to contain. They can climb tall fences or dig underneath and make good their escape even from the most secure yards. They are a bundle of energy and giving them ample exercise is a great idea to channelize it. And a good swim is right up their alley.
A Little about Pitbulls
Pitbulls are wrongly accused of being aggressive. Really, their aggression is no more or less than the other breeds and depends on how they have been trained and nurtured. They love and need a lot of outdoor activities and letting them play can help them burn their excessive energy. Interacting, playing and communicating with humans and other dogs is a great way to make them socially more adept and friendly.
An adequate exercise that includes walks and playtime suited to your pooch’s age and energy level indoors and outdoors at least twice daily is very important to keep your pitbull healthy and happy. If there is a pool or a water body, then swimming can be one of the best exercises for your pitbull.
Related: Are Pitbulls Smart?
Their Body Type
Many think that pitbulls cannot swim because of their body type. But, really, when we say pitbull, we don’t mean any one type of breed. But the term refers to four breeds and belong to the Terrier group of dog breeds. These include:
- American Pit Bull Terrier: The tallest and the most athletic
- American Staffordshire Terrier: Shorter and stockier
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier: Smallest of the four
- American Bully: Stout and similar to the classic Bulldog breed
Pitbull-type dogs are a crossbreed between a Bulldog and a terrier. In the early 19th century, the English bred them to work on farms for herding, protecting and managing livestock. In the 20th century, they were adopted warmly by Americans in their homes. Their popularity increased so much that they became the national mascot, were called “America’s dog” and World Wars I and II recruitment posters carried their pictures.
To Swim or Not to Swim
Pitbulls continue to be popular as family pets and are also popular as service dogs, therapy dogs and K9 police dogs. They constitute an estimated 20% of the total dog population in the U.S. Their agility, strength and high energy levels make them sporting dogs who need a routine to keep them happy.
You can safely include swimming in their routine as pitbulls can and do swim. They can even dive to the bottom of a swimming pool to retrieve a ball or anything you throw in. However, some may show great reluctance to enter water. Best is to introduce them to water early so that they do not develop any hesitation as they grow older.
Teach Your Pitbull to Swim
Give your pooch time to get used to the water. Let him feel it by dipping his paw. Be with him when you introduce water to him and speak reassuringly.
Take him for a walk in shallow water. Don’t force if he is reluctant and definitely do not shout or get angry. Give a break, let him relax and then try again. Treat him to a reward and encourage him with patience to help him overcome any hesitation.
Once he is comfortable walking on water, take him next to deeper water. You can tie extra support under the dog’s belly that will make him kick with his hind feet. Otherwise, he may use only his forepaws for swimming which will tire him faster. In the initial few attempts, you can place your arm underneath as that will also be reassuring for him.
Make sure you also teach him how to come out of water as it will build his confidence and not feel overwhelmed when he needs to get out of the water.
End each session with treats and praises so that he forms positive associations with water.
Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind when you are training your pit bulls to swim and overcome his fear of water:
- Put a life jacket on him when you are teaching him to swim
- Get him used to the life jacket by putting it on him at home
- You can do that during mealtimes and also give treats so that there is a positive association with the life jacket
- Put a leash on even when walking in shallow water
- Enter the water with him
- Wade in ahead and entice him into following you by offering tasty treats
He is a retriever and may enjoy fetching things. Toss his ball or toy at a little distance so that he goes an extra bit every time to reach the ball.
Start his training when he is young, start in a baby pool. Let him play with you in the empty pool and then you can gradually add water, making a game of it. Be sure you are with him and make this a joyful experience. Treats will go a long way in adding to his confidence.
If the pool steps make him hesitate, take him to a pond or a lake where you start off on the shallow side and take him in deeper gradually.
Let him learn to love the water at his own pace.
- Don’t try to teach him swimming in one day
- Do not overwhelm or tire him out by leaving him in water for too long
- Do not shout at him for his reluctance or if he is slow to take to water
- Do not punish him at all
- Do not let your dog swim unattended
- Do not force him at any point
Never ever throw your pooch in the water. He is bound to panic and be even more scared of the water. What matters most are your trust, support and guidance in alleviating whatever anxiety he has about being in the water.
Let the water not be too cold. A warm, sunny day may be ideal to start teaching him to swim.
Benefits of Swimming
Your pitbull can greatly benefit from swimming not just because it channelizes his energy but can:
- Keep him in shape
- Prevent or delay the onset of arthritis
- Alleviate arthritic pain in old age
- Keep him healthy and fit
- Help him recover faster in case of surgeries
When swimming, the water characteristics of buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure are good for your canine’s joints. Some of the other benefits include:
- Improved blood circulation
- Better skin and fur
- Draining of the lymph, thereby preventing wastes and strengthening the immune system
- Promotes digestion
- Enhances balance and coordination
- Preventing obesity
But everything good can also have a flip side if overdone. You will have to watch out to make sure that he does not suffer from recurrent ear infections due to excess water in the ears. It could also lead to aggravation of some skin conditions.
Monitor him when in the pool to make sure he is not exhausted as fatigue due to excessive exercise may lead to drowning. In any case, never leave your canine alone in the pool.
Pools contain chlorine, which is okay. But if there is excessive chlorine due to it not being diluted properly, it can cause burning of eyes and agitation of skin conditions.
In case your pit bull suffers from any health condition, consult a doctor before letting him in for a swim. It is best avoided if your pooch is suffering from urinary tract infections, skin and ear infections or open wounds.
Coughing or choking are signs of trouble. Pull your pet out of water immediately and get him checked up for pneumonia or intoxication from water. During the time you are training the pit bull, watch out also for stress-induced hypertension or increased heart rate.
After your swimming sessions, give your pitbull a good rinse to clean the skin and fur of chlorine or salt deposits from the pool or the sea, depending on where you went swimming. You can spray him with some hair moisturizing and skin spray to moisturize your loyal friends’ skin. Some sprays can also have a calming effect on your canine and help him rest well.
Do keep in mind one thing. Just like humans, animals too have feelings, fears and anxieties. Sometimes your best intentions can cause greater damage than you can ever imagine. So go slow if your pitbull is highly reluctant to try out water. Give breaks in between and let him see how fun it is rather than something he has to do to please his parents. In the long term, that is going to do more harm than good.
Swimming for Fitness
Your pitbull is more a terrier than a bulldog and so can swim. But whether he wants to is a different question. Any traumatic incident with water when he was a pup can make him terrified of water. Sometimes, even without any such incidents he may not take to water at all. That doesn’t mean he cannot be taught to love it. He can be trained but it should be a slow and patient process where you let him get comfortable to being in the water first.
This bundle of energy can definitely benefit from swimming in the long run in maintaining an overall good health. So yes, pitbulls can swim and they should swim with all the necessary precautions.