BoatUS Foundation For Boating Safety & Clean Water


Life Jackets for Dogs

Foundation Findings #52

By Chris Edmonston
Published: June/July 2012

The last thing we want is for Fido to fall overboard, creating panic onboard, and a potential safety nightmare. Fitting him for a life jacket is easy — really! — if you follow a few simple tips.

Photo of Stella wearing Kurgo's Surf N' Turf life jacket Stella models the Kurgo Surf N' Turf life jacket

"Some of the most important safety items on any boat are the life jackets — for you, your passengers, and of course your "best friend." Since our last report on this topic 12 years ago, the canine life jacket market has taken off by leaps and hounds. Back in 2000, we came up with four viable canine life jacket models. This time, we were easily able to double the number of jackets tested. West Marine has many in regular stock, and so do some of the big-box stores.

While it might seem as if all dogs have an innate ability to swim, many dogs simply don't take well to water. Dogs with low body fat, such as Greyhounds, or dogs with age or health issues may have trouble. Jackets are a good idea even for dogs that love the water. A long day in the water can get tiring, even for the best swimmers — a fact that was proven on our day of testing.

Most of our test jackets came in a variety of sizes, so we were able to try them out on a variety of dogs — from a 12-pound rat terrier, to a 130-pound Newfoundland, and six other dogs in between. There are also different types of foam and construction materials in use today, as well as an inflatable model. With prices ranging from about $20 to more than $100, there's a vibrant dog-PFD market, and a jacket for every budget.

Some Things To Consider Before Purchasing

Is the dog likely to jump in the water? Is the dog heavy? Will the dog want to lie down, or will it be active? If you can, take your dog to the store to try on the jacket, or at least make sure you can take it back. See how the jacket fits, and how hard it is to adjust for a good fit. Check where the straps hit — you don't want the straps or buckles rubbing sensitive parts. Also, you'll want to check the way the foam padding rides on the dog — too much foam in the wrong place will make it uncomfortable, if not impossible, for the dog to sit or lie comfortably.

One feature that testers found universally important: a lifting strap/handle. If you've ever tried to pick up a swimming dog, you'll agree that having a lifting handle makes getting the dog back into the boat much easier. If your pet needs to be on a leash, having a ring on the collar is another important feature. Safety features to consider include having reflective tape and a jacket made of bright colors to make it easier to spot the dog in the water in adverse conditions. And keep in mind, if the jacket has Velcro-style closures, your dog's shedding might clog it up, and necessitate frequent cleaning.

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