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When the temperature rises, my two dogs love nothing more than dashing into the nearest available water source. Lakes, streams, and kiddie pools are all fair game. If it’s wet, they want to splash in it—which is why I finally invested in a couple of dog life jackets for my pups.
Where I live, we’re surrounded by water. Popular activities are visiting lakeside beaches, heading out in a kayak, or taking a boat out into open water. And while we aren’t the sportiest family, our summer adventures often include camping trips and long hikes along rivers and around mountain lakes.
Of course, our dogs often come with us, which started me wondering: on what occasions should my dogs be wearing flotation devices? Here we’ve collected a handy guide of important criteria to help you determine when it’s time for a good doggy life jacket—and also a list of the very best dog life jackets currently on the market.
Why Should I Use a Dog Life Jacket?
The simplest answer to why you should use a dog life jacket is because it’s your job as a dog owner to keep your dog safe. Every parent knows that the only way to keep their children protected when boating or swimming in open water is to stick a life jacket on, no matter how well they swim and no matter how much they dislike it. As dog owners, we have that same responsibility to keep our dogs safe—even if we sympathize with their desire to ride the waves unencumbered.
Furthermore, even if your dog is a great swimmer, wearing a life jacket can help make your dog more readily visible in case you’re separated on the water. In cold water or water with strong currents, even a few seconds can make a big difference in guaranteeing your dog’s safety.
There are also some dogs who just aren’t built to be swimmers. Dogs who have naturally low body fat, for example, like a Whippet or Greyhound, can have a lot of difficulty staying buoyant and keeping warm in cooler water. Older dogs or out-of-shape pooches might lack the stamina they need to keep doggy paddling for too long. Or short-legged dogs might use up all of their energy because they need to paddle more to keep themselves afloat.
When Do I Need a Dog Life Jacket?
Some dogs might only need a life jacket when they’re on a boat, while for others it might be a good idea to wear one when they’re even just walking along the shore of a lake. Others might need to wear one to swim in a pool.
A good rule of thumb is to assess the swimming skills of your dog and size up what the worst-case scenario might be in any situation. If it’s something you could handle easily on your own, perhaps your dog would be alright without safety gear.
However, if there’s a chance that you’d be unable to respond to an emergency quickly and effectively, you might want to err on the side of caution and keep your dog safe with a life jacket.
If you’re boating, it’s a good idea for all dogs (and humans, for that matter!) to wear a life jacket at all times. 80% of human boating fatalities are caused by drowning, and in 83% of those cases, the victim wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Some of the dangerous factors associated with boating accidents extend to dogs here, including hypothermia, fatigue, injuries from being struck with boat detritus, or strong currents.
Conversely, if you’re swimming in a shallow pool and could without a doubt save your dog if they suddenly found themselves in trouble, you can probably forgo the dog life vest.
Even if My Dog Is a Strong Swimmer?
First, a quick reminder that, despite conventional wisdom, not all dogs naturally know how to swim. But even with dogs who were bred to love water, like Labrador Retrievers or Portuguese Water Dogs, accidents happen. They can all benefit from the extra protection wearing a dog life vest provides.
If a dog falls overboard or a canoe suddenly capsizes, the panic of the moment, as well as undertows, currents, waves, or frigid temperatures, can quickly overwhelm even the strongest swimmers. If the dog was injured in the fall or there are large waves to contend with, it’s easy to see why a dog’s own strong swimming skills might not be enough.
Additionally, even the best swimmers can suffer from fatigue in open water. A buoyant life jacket will help keep a dog’s head above the water in emergencies, but it will also allow a dog to use up less energy while playing and swimming, extending the amount of time you can both have fun in the sun.
How Should a Dog Life Vest or Jacket Fit?
A dog life jacket that doesn’t fit well might not do much good in an emergency. In order to ensure that your dog’s life vest fits correctly, you’ll need to start with accurate measurements.
First, weigh your dog to make sure that they are within the weight range of a given size and brand of life jacket. Next, measure your dog’s length from the neck all the way to the base of the tail. Finally, measure your dog’s girth around the widest part of the neck and the widest part of the chest.
When ordering your dog’s life jacket, make certain that your dog’s measurements stay comfortably within the manufacturer’s recommendations.
When your life jacket arrives, follow these steps to get started.
- Unclip and loosen all buckles and straps.
- Put the life jacket on your dog.
- Connect the neck clip.
- Tighten it until it’s snug but still allows your dog some room to move around.
Connect, adjust, and tighten the chest straps until snug. The chest straps do most of the work holding the life jacket in place, so a tight fit is good—as long as your dog is comfortable and can breathe easily.
Before using the life vest in the water, have your dog run around a bit while you watch to make sure the life jacket stays in place and that your dog seems comfortable and happy.
Must-Have Dog Life Jacket Features
Most dog life jackets look pretty similar, so choosing one can feel a bit overwhelming. Here are a few features that you’ll want to look for when you’re browsing for the best dog life vest options.
- The first thing you’ll notice when looking for dog life jackets is that they come in a plethora of colors and patterns. Choose one in a bright color that will help keep your dog as visible as possible.
- A durable top handle will help you to grab onto and lift your dog, whether you’re hauling them out of the water or helping them make the journey from dock to boat.
- Look for a D-ring or leash attachment; this will allow you more flexibility when using the vest out of the water and can help give you another place to connect to if your dog does get into trouble.
- Reflective strips can also increase the visibility factor for your dog, especially if you’re swimming at dawn, dusk, or nighttime.
- Especially if your dog isn’t a strong swimmer, is a brachycephalic breed (i.e., short snout), or tires easily, you’ll want to look for a life vest with an attachable front flotation pad that can help keep your dog’s head out of the water, even if they’re otherwise incapacitated.
- Finally, look for dog life jackets that have extra flotation material around the sides and middle to ensure as much extra buoyancy as possible.
Our Top Dog Life Jacket Picks (With Reviews)
It’s not always easy choosing a dog life jacket online. How will you know it’ll perform the way you need? Never fear—The Dog People have selected some options and tested them to see which are the best.
Find on Amazon
Find on Amazon
Interested in trying these jackets for yourself? See below. (Note: The CWB Board Co. jacket is no longer available.)
Best Dog Life Jackets
We checked out lots of brands of dog life vests for both the must-have features and for actual user experiences and reviews. Here are the best of the best.
With plenty of thick padding and extra buoyancy materials around the belly and chest, the Hurtta Life Savior jacket is made for sporty use and durability. We also like the bright color options—yellow, orange, and purple—as well as the super thick top handle and extra stitching around the straps. With the higher price point, this is a good option for anyone hoping to get a lot of use and longevity out of their dog life jacket.Find on Amazon
For a more economical option, our choice is the Outward Hound Granby Dog Life Jacket. It features two handles on top that can make hauling a heavier—or extraordinarily feisty—dog a fair amount easier. There’s extra fabric for comfort around the belly, and it comes in four bright colors—including one with a really cute fish design. The one thing it’s missing is a D-ring, but for this price, it could be a good choice for anyone who will get only occasional use out of a life jacket.Shop on Chewy
The first thing that drew our attention to this EzyDog life vest was the style—this jacket just looks good. But it also has the elements we’re looking for in a solidly made jacket.
Featuring a D-ring for clipping a leash and 50% more flotation materials than other jackets, as well as plenty of reflective stripping to really increase a pup’s visibility in the water, this is an all-around solid choice for a life jacket. We just wish it came in a few more colors!Find on Amazon
This life jacket option is a bit lighter and has less bulk, but it still retains some of our favorite features like a D-ring for leash attachment, a durable lift handle, and a comfortable fit for your dog. Many reviewers swear that this jacket offers superb durability. We love the fun colors it comes in and the multiple sizing options that will work for everyone from your mini pup to a Great Dane.Find on Amazon
The two things we love best about this life jacket are the funky fabric options—although we’d still recommend a bright color for visibility—and the versatile fit. It features extra fabric below the belly straps for comfort, a leash clip, and extra padding in the front to support the head. Though it has a top handle, it’s a bit thin, so it might not be a strong choice for the heaviest dogs.Find on Amazon
Let me start by saying the shark fin styling on this dog life jacket is CUTE! So cute. Plus, it’s available in four sizes, so it fits sharks (ahem—dogs) of all shapes. The Land Shark also has most of the features we’re looking for: heavy-duty zipper, nylon handle, front buckle, and durable straps. We only wish this jacket also offered a front flotation pad for little swimmers.Shop on Dick's Sporting Goods
This styling life jacket by Outward Hound is a great choice if your dog is just learning to swim or just doesn’t get into the water very often. With extra insulation to keep your dog warm, a dual-grab top handle, and extra-thick foam panels on the sides to increase buoyancy, this is a good choice for novice swimmers. We wish they’d add a D-ring and offer more colors, but this is a good overall value.Find on Amazon
This spiffy vest combines maximum buoyancy with minimal movement restriction, making it an ideal fit for pooches who don’t like to be encumbered. Adjustable side buckles and an additional flotation pad at the front provide extra comfort and keep your dog’s head well above the water. The lightweight straps are great for guiding small and medium dogs but won’t help you to haul heftier breeds, so consider your dog’s weight—and then add a few pounds for all that wet fur.
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