Why Your Dog Needs a Life Jacket
I have two labs. To say they love the water is to say Cookie Monster is just fond of cookies. If we drive or walk by a beach they dance around and cry, not able to focus on anything except getting in. Both are strong swimmers – at 13 Huron has trouble navigating stairs but can doggy paddle with the best of them, albeit a little slower than in the past.
It’s easy to think dogs like these don’t need life jackets – dog PFD’s are for young dogs or dogs that can’t swim. However, that’s a narrow view that doesn’t take all the potential situations into account.
While it’s probably true that a healthy adult dog who is a strong swimmer doesn’t need a life jacket while fetching at the beach but consider these scenarios:
- Rip Current or Rip Tides – Rip tides happen when an exiting tide or currents are funneled through a narrow area like between two sand bars. The water force can sweep a swimmer or a dog out into open water, potentially leaving them very tired and unable to swim any further from fighting against it. Rips don’t just occur in the ocean – we deal with them here along Lake Michigan.
- Canoeing or boating on open water – If your big dog fell or jumped from a canoe in open or fast moving water, could you hoist them back in with nothing to grab onto? My dogs are 70 and 80 lbs, trying to hoist them back in with nothing to grab could mean flipping a canoe.
- Panic – Any scenario where your dog ends up in the water unexpectedly could lead them to panic and forget that they are a strong swimmer. You don’t want to be knocked off your paddle board when your dog tries to claw back on in a panic.
- Not all dogs know how to swim – Even breeds known to be good swimmers don’t just know inherently how to do it. They have to learn. Some might learn very very quickly, but they have to learn nevertheless.
You get the idea. If you’re an outdoor adventurer who’s dog is always along for the ride, you most likely encounter situations similar to these where a dog life jacket could be a lifesaver.
What to Look for In a Dog Life Jacket
When picking out a dog PFD look for one that fits like a jacket, wrapping under the chest and belly, as well as in front of the chest/under the neck. Pay attention to fasteners at those points as well. The better vests might use Velcro to aesthetically hold things in place but back those with side release (or similar) buckles to secure the jacket. A dog PFD that slips off is not very useful.
Consider the flotation. While it may seem counterintuitive, look for a vest that has the bulk of its flotation across the dog’s back. Too much flotation under the belly or neck can push your dog up out of the water, altering their center of gravity and leaving them prone to flipping over. Flotation along the back will keep them in a nice, horizontal swimming position where they can hold their head up and doggy paddle comfortably.
Pay attention to the length of the life jacket. To keep the dog in that horizontal position, you want the vest to be long enough, ending just ahead of the butt give or take. However, you don’t want it so long in the back or belly that it interferes with your dog’s back legs.
Look for a strong handle on the top of the jacket that will help you pull a dog back into a boat or even give them a boost into a canoe.
Dog PFD’s that We Like
Hurtta Life Savior – All the images above are of the new Hurtta Life Savior. We tested this doggy life jacket on a 3-day canoeing trip down the lower Wisconsin River in August. We really dig it; it hits all the points above with flotation and fit, looks great, and seems to wear very well. Cheyenne wore it comfortably all three days. No hotspots, no biting at the vest; just lots of swimming and napping in the canoe.
Ruffwear Float Coat – The Float Coat has been a standard in dog life jackets for years. It also hits the points above and wears very well. We like the buckle at the neck that keeps things safe and tidy.
EzyDog DFD – The DFD is super easy to fit. We dig the buckles across the top of the jacket instead of underneath. It’s brain dead simple to put on.
D-fa Float-Doggy – The Float-Doggy is also very easy to fit as it slips over the head and buckles high on each side across the back. (Read our Float-Doggy review.)