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Do You Really Need to Buy a Dog Life Jacket for Your Pup?

Posted on July 15 2021

Dog in life jacket

The short answer is, yes.

But you're probably here for the longer answer. The one that addresses the images you have in your mind that show dogs perfectly doggie paddling to and fro through the water without life jackets or other gear. Surely all the straps, foam panels, and release buckles are going to cause trouble for a waterborne pooch, right?

Haven't we all seen images of dogs happily and easily paddling with their necks above water? They don’t call it "doggy paddle" for nothing. 

Dogs don’t need fancy, adjustable reflective life jackets, these happy images of dogs swimming seem to proclaim. But there is much more to it than just what appears on the surface.

The truth about dog life jackets

Popular imagery of a steadily paddling pooch, flotation device free, may conflict with the idea of a dog life jacket. It's hardly consistent with all the facts and all the different variables that come into play when a dog goes swimming.

How long the dog needs between breaks, how clean the water is, how well suited his or her particular breed is to swimming naturally, and their girth are all factors that need to be accounted for. 

Only when you can answer all of these questions can you answer the fundamental question of whether or not a dog life jacket purchase is appropriate for your four-legged friend.

Yes, before reading this life was much simpler! Movies and television would have us think that dogs are perfect swimmers due to some innate, perfectly formed ability to just figure it out. The truth is that the ability to thrive in water is different among different dog breeds and, even if your dog is an able swimmer, a jacket can protect them from other, perhaps unseen dangers. For example, a rough ground beneath the water or the potential health risks of chilly lake water.

Living your best dog life

TL;DR — dogs are all different and, while some are great swimmers, even the strongest ones would benefit from the support that a dog life jacket provides. What's more, it's peace of mind for you as a dog owner that you're being safe and careful while letting your hound live their best life.

What to think about when you're thinking of a life jacket

Dog in a life jacket

While we can't provide a definitive answer for every dog or your pooch in particular, we can offer some general guidelines.

Consider the breed

The image you have in your head of a dog paddling happily through water? Well, there's a difference between paddling and swimming, as Wag! helpfully points out in their blog:

Many people operate under the assumption that all dogs can naturally swim. Though it is true that all dogs carry some instinctive ability to paddle, this doesn't always translate to the ability to move easily in water.

Breed plays a huge role in how successful a dog is at not just paddling, but becoming a full fledged swimmer.

This is a bit of a technical point, but dog owners will appreciate an in depth explanation: breed has an effect on almost every part of the dog's physiology, but when considering swimming, the shape of the dog face can play a huge factor in whether they can stay afloat and perform in water.

Flat, short muzzles and heavy heads, like ones you'd find on a pug (not to mention its sometimes abundant girth), are difficult for the neck to keep above water while swimming. The smallest versions of man's best friend are liable to get tired quickly, so a dog life jacket is the perfect way to keep your dog safe.

Other breeds affected by what we'll call "not optimal face design" are:

  • Bulldog
  • Pug
  • Dachshund
  • Pekingese
  • Basset Hound
  • Boxer

If your dogs are on this list and you're thinking of a trip to the beach with said creature, a dog life jacket is a must if you're planning on letting them splash around in the waves.

Consider the surroundings

Unless you're taking your dog to a pool, it's hard to know exactly what they might encounter out there in the water. If it's in nature, given that nature is composed of the world, and the world can sometimes be an unpredictable place, there can be unforeseen risks.

Dog life jackets are an important part of safety in swimming for your pet if they're going to be venturing into lakes or streams with potentially rough surfaces under foot or a lot of foliage, in which they could become tangled. Having a life jacket on hand is the best thing for your hound as they survey the high seas (or maybe just the shallowest part of the beach).

Choosing the right float coat

Okay, so you're convinced that you should at least consider the idea of purchasing a life jacket for your dog.

But where to start?

Look for these features in a flotation device

Life jackets come in a variety of styles and designs, and vary in price, but here are some key features to look for:

  • Handles: if you have a small breed, take a look at some of the dog life vests that have handles on them like this one for easy carrying and exit from the water. A grab handle is perfect for secure, watery egress. Look for neoprene material.
  • Adjustable straps: This seems like a no brainer, but shop for something with sturdy, strong straps. Some have a neck closure just above the front float device, so make sure you study the sizing chart and note the weight when you measure your pooch to make sure you're getting a good fit.
  • Color: This isn't just an aesthetic consideration (although, getting your dog something they would potentially look cute in is an important factor), but a reminder that life jackets on dogs — especially those with bright colors — can help identify them if they swim far away. A stylish life jacket with a shark fin is cute, but consider one with clearly visible coloring on it like the Outward Hound Granby or this one.
  • Leash attachment: getting a vest with a place to connect a leash (often referred to as a "D-ring" for its shape) are great for owners that want to keep a pup close by in an exciting, high stimulation environment like a lake or river. Look for one with a quick release for extra freedom.

Will my pooch like a dog life vest?

A dog should adjust nicely into their float coat if it fits properly.

Something they'll also undoubtedly like is the added support while they're out swimming--It’s probably not something they get to do everyday and something they may need help building confidence toward. Dog life jackets are an important way to keep your dog's head held high in this new, exciting activity.

Outward hound: getting ready to take the dive

Life Vest Yellow and Blue
At this stage you've searched for dog life jackets and low and behold, you've found one that you like and it fits great. Now what?

It's a good idea to do a test drive in a pool to see if the vest is a secure fit and that the whole operation can remain afloat in a controlled setting. If you're out on the lake, the first time your dog goes swimming you may want to be close by to settle any nerves and make sure everything is cool before letting your dog be more independent in the water. And, if all goes smoothly, treats are certainly deserved!

Keep it safe, keep it fun

You came here for a simple answer to a seemingly straightforward question: is a life jacket for dogs absolutely necessary to pack for my next trip.

This question only seems simple but as we've learned above, there's a lot to consider including:

  • the breed of the dog
  • where you're headed
  • said doggo's existing swimming ability and comfort in the water
  • what environmental concerns are at play
  • the weight and shape of your doggo's face (see "not optimal face design" above)

A better question might be to ask if you're sure your dog doesn't need a life vest. If you can swim to your dog, if they need you to grab them quickly, maybe they're okay without a floating jacket. If it's a kiddie pool in your backyard with a water level that maxes out at six inches — heck, we'll give you credit for reading this far but you probably didn't have to.

But, in all seriousness, this is a decision where it's better to err on the side of caution. It's good practice to have one and better to use it when possible. Our advice is to get your dog's safety taken care of to help keep you focused on the more exciting, fun part of you and your dog's adventure.

Paws aboard!

Ready to find a life jacket for your dog? Shop Bitch New York for a huge selection of life vests in a range of styles, sizes and materials.

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