When temperatures start to climb, nothing sounds better than a refreshing trip to your favorite watering hole. And that can be anywhere. You might enjoy boating on the lake. Or maybe a family trip to the beach is more your style. And, of course, plenty of people have swimming pools in their yard. But what vacation would be complete without your dog? They want to join in on the fun. You want your pup to come with you, but they need to stay as safe as everyone else. Good thing dog life jackets exist! We’ll explain everything you need to know about these doggie flotation devices.
Dogs and Water
While not every dog comes with a waterproof coat, they usually enjoy splashing to cool off. During summer, water offers them a chance to avoid the blistering heat. And while you may need to teach your pup to swim, that’s part of the fun of hitting the pool.
But even the strongest swimmers need some assistance. And that’s where dog life jackets come in. Certain pups, in particular, should ALWAYS wear a flotation device to keep them safe when you plan a trip involving water sports:
- Skinny-Minny: Dogs without body fat (like Greyhounds) need help staying at the surface.
- Smushed Face: Brachycephalic breeds (such as Pugs) already have some challenges breathing and holding their heads above water.
- Senior Citizens: Older pups tire faster than youngsters, requiring buoyancy assistance.
- Extra Challenges: Dogs that may have additional mobility problems could use the help of a dog life jacket.
However, it’s important to remember that dog life jackets serve a purpose for EVERY canine hitting the beach. Just like people, safety comes first.
No matter how powerful a swimmer your dog may be, they can’t stay out in the waves forever. Like us, dogs get tired. If your pup can’t find their way back to shore or figure out how to exit the pool, they’ll become exhausted. Without a dog life jacket to keep them afloat, they could drown.
When you head out in a boat, go kayaking, paddle boarding, or windsurfing, what do you wear? A life jacket. It keeps you safe in case an accident happens. The same goes for your dog when they join you in those activities. You want them to remain visible at all times.
And if your canine’s starting as a new swimmer? A dog life jacket is the BEST way to help them learn water’s fun. It provides the flotation they need to figure out that doggie paddle.
Choosing a Dog Life Jacket
Once temperatures swing away from winter, you start seeing dog life jackets in pet stores. And some of them are adorable. However, while shark fins and mermaid tails LOOK appealing, they may not work well for flotation. It’s important to check for the following key features when shopping for a dog life jacket:
- Size: Your dog needs to feel comfortable in their flotation device. They should be able to stand, sit, and lie down without a problem. (And, of course, attend to the call of nature)
- Design: Do you want a genuine life-protecting device or a cute dog life jacket? True deep-water products feature high-quality materials (and cost more), but you won’t get embellishments.
- Color: You want a dog life jacket people can spot easily. Reflective piping or patches aren’t a bad idea, either.
- Handles: You may need to lift your dog out of the water. Strong handles (especially more than one) will help you. This goes double if you have an older pup or a dog with mobility challenges.
- Flotation Pads: The best dog life jackets have pads on the sides AND in the front to keep your dog’s head above water. This is especially important if you have a brachycephalic breed.
- D-Ring: While you should NEVER rely on the D-ring as a substitute connection for the leash (dog life jacket connections aren’t strong enough), it’s nice to have one while you’re walking down to the shore.
Measuring Your Dog for a Dog Life Jacket
Every dog life jacket manufacturer offers its own chart for measurements. However, they usually want you to get three numbers to decide on the size you need. You may see a weight included, but you should skip that. It’s a guideline, but if you rely on the weight alone, you’ll probably end up with a life jacket that doesn’t fit. Stick to these measurements instead:
- Chest: Loop a tape measure around the WIDEST part of your dog’s rib cage.
- Neck: Measure the widest part of your dog’s neck – where the neck meets the shoulders.
- Back: Start where the neck meets the shoulders, and then stop a couple of inches before the tail.
If you’re ever between sizes? Order the larger. You can cinch it down, but trying to squeeze your pup into a tiny dog life jacket? You’ll make them uncomfortable. You’re aiming for a snug fit where you can slide two fingers between the padding and your dog.
Introducing Your Dog to a Dog Life Jacket
Even if your pup LOVES the water, you can’t just toss a dog life jacket on them and head to the pool. It’s something new, and they may resist having the flotation device attached. It takes time, training, and patience to introduce the life jacket to them. So you’re best bet is to order it a few weeks before your trip to allow you to work through the process.
- Let your dog sniff the dog life jacket. Provide reassurance and treats.
- When they’re comfortable, loosely place the jacket on them (don’t connect any buckles) for around 10 seconds. Again, give praise and treats.
- Slowly increase the time until they look comfortable. Then connect the buckles.
- Repeat the process of increasing time while offering reassurance and treats.
- When they don’t show any reaction, let them run around with the dog life jacket on.
- Congratulations! You’re ready to hit the water!
Safety Concerns With Dog Life Jackets
Even though your dog has their new dog life jacket, they must NEVER swim without supervision. You wouldn’t let a child in the water without someone watching, right? Well, that’s your furry child. Even in a pool, something can go wrong. ALWAYS keep an eye on your pup when they’re in the water.
Before they go into the water, make sure the straps are connected and cinched properly. Loose straps can cause a “barrel roll” and result in an upside-down canine. You DON’T want this! Tight straps, on the other hand, can interfere with movement. Again, you want two fingers between the flotation panels and your dog’s body.
If you use a leash or tether while your dog’s swimming, consider attaching a float to keep it from tangling around your dog’s legs. Pool noodles work fantastic for this. You can slide the leash through the center and keep it on the water’s surface.
The Best Dog Life Jackets
Your dog wants to do everything you do. And that includes water sports. They may have the doggie paddle down pat, but even athletic dogs get tired. It’s important to provide a dog life jacket to keep them safe. You’ll still get to enjoy that kayak trip across the lake, but you won’t need to panic if you tip over. And the flotation will reassure your dog when they start paddling around. Besides, canines look extra sharp and sporty when they wear dog life jackets!
EzyDog uses an extra layer of neoprene to provide 50% more flotation to their dog life jacket. This helps your dog stay afloat even in deep water conditions. You get adjustable straps around the chest and neck, allowing for a comfortable fit. And the bright colors come with reflective trim, so your pup stays visible at all times. The single handle makes it easy to help senior dogs from the water, but it keeps a low profile on the jacket. And with the extended profile of the jacket, your dog will stay warmer in colder waters.
Downsides? People struggle with getting the sizing correct. And it’s a bulky life jacket that takes some time to “break in.” The back of the vest also doesn’t taper, so your dog’s entire body remains in a horizontal swimming position, which is a little unnatural.
If you want a dog life jacket with a little personality, HAOCOO offers several options with tails and fins. The nylon shell’s filled with pearl cotton foam to provide plenty of flotation, and the belly and chest buckles are easy to adjust and release. In addition to bright colors and patterns, they add in reflective strips to make sure your dog’s easy to spot out on the water. You also get a handle and a sturdy D-ring mounted on the back.
The downsides? While fine for pools and still water, this isn’t the best life vest for deep water excursions. People also found sizing ran small; you’ll want to buy larger than you think you need. And while you may be a fan of camouflage, this coloring WON’T stand out.
Outward Hound makes a couple of appearances on this list – and for a good reason; they’re trustworthy when it comes to outdoor adventures. Their Dawson Dog Life Jacket is the perfect choice for dogs starting in the water. They use thick foam panels on the sides to boost buoyancy, and the insulation also keeps them warm in the water. The design’s low-profile to allow your dog as much free movement while swimming as possible. And instead of one handle, you get TWO to aid in lifting. They offer four vibrant colors, all with reflective accents.
So what are the downsides? While the double handles are helpful, if you use them too often, the seams give out. The straps also don’t stay secure, so you’ll want to double-check them before you turn your dog loose.
Outward Hound’s Granby Dog Life Jacket is one step above the rest. You continue to get the same additional foam in a ripstop shell to provide the best flotation possible. Then they added an extra front float to make sure your dog’s head stays above the water. The double handles remain, but they shifted the position to make it more comfortable for you (and your dog) during the lifting process. And those bright colors and reflective touches remain for safety.
Downsides? Sizing runs to the small side. You’ll want to go up larger than you think you need. And, unhappily, those handle seams still give out if you use them too often. Also, the additional float around the neck proves too bulky for some dogs. You’ll need to judge whether your pup needs the extra assistance or not.
Paws Aboard created a dog life jacket that combines neoprene and mesh into the perfect safety device. Velcro closes around the belly and chest with buckles and straps to help you get the perfect fit. You also get a rescue handle in the back, with a D-ring attached for convenience. And every one of the eight color patterns includes reflective strips.
I admit, our dog doesn’t have a dog life jacket. Our pool only comes up to her chest, and while we DID take her to the ocean, she only splashed in the surf line. However, we DO have this – for the cats. (Yes, two of our cats swim) And it works beautifully. Because the fit adjusts, it works for both of them, even though they’re slightly different in size. And it keeps their head above water while they paddle around.
The downsides? Velcro and long hair DON’T mix. You’ll want to make sure you’re careful and go slow when you put it on. It’s also not designed for deep water usage, though it works fine in a pool setting. And while it DOES come in larger sizes, it doesn’t work great for the bigger dog set.
Sometimes, all you want is a cute dog life jacket for the pool. And Queenmore offers exactly that. With either a shark fin or fishtail, your dog will stay safe in polyethylene foam and look adorable at the same time. You still get a safety handle, D-ring, and reflective accents, so you’re not sacrificing anything by picking a little embellishment. And the buckles and Velcro help your dog stay comfortable.
So what are the downsides? This isn’t a dog life jacket you want to take out into deep waters or the ocean. And you want to watch the Velcro if your dog has long hair. Also, you don’t get a handy loop to secure the extra length of the straps. This makes it a possible tangle hazard. If it’s REALLY long, cut it.
Vivaglory is another dog life jacket to use Velcro and buckles, but they add in a twist. Their “extra sticky band” is designed only to hold the hook and eye closure of the Velcro and NOT your dog’s hair. It’s a difference you and your pup will appreciate. The durable stitching around the handle and D-ring keep everything in place. And the colors and reflective trim ensure everyone can see your dog – near and far.
Downsides? While affordable, this dog life jacket may not be as durable as some of the others. People found the Velcro came apart if they were too rough. And the more they used the straps, the less the buckles held. However, if your dog isn’t a frequent swimmer, it can do the trick.
For dogs that spend plenty of time on the water, Vivaglory created a Sport Dog Life Jacket. Slimmer in profile, it won’t get in the way of anything your dog wants to do – in OR out of the water. They upgraded the buckles without making your dog feel uncomfortable. And you’re still getting that safety handle, reflective strips, and D-ring. Not to mention no need to worry about fur sticking to the Velcro.
The downsides? Because of the shape of the life vest, you may not find a fit for every dog shape. Make sure you read through the measurement guide carefully. Also, the sizing for this option runs small.
For dogs of a specific size, Wellver works as a handy dog life jacket option. Offering two styles in two bright colors (both with the all-important reflective piping), you get a Velcro closure and secure buckles. You also get double handles to help you when you need to lift your dog out of the pool. But even better? The outer shell zips off to make it easy to wash!
So what are the downsides? Unfortunately, Wellver only offers two sizes – and that’s M and XL. So that leaves out – well, a lot of dogs. Also, it’s a lot of Velcro for you to maneuver hair around. However, in a pinch? It works nicely.
No one wants to leave their dog cooped up in the house while they go to the beach. And while your pup may know how to swim, it’s still important to keep them safe in the water. Dog life jackets allow them to join in on the fun while supporting them at the same time. You can continue to supervise them while making sure they don’t slip under the water when they tire out.
Besides, they’ll want to look as spiffy in their life vest as you do in yours!