Even a dog that's a good swimmer can get into trouble if he falls from a boat or finds another way into swift or deep water. A small investment in a life jacket, plus learning how to use it, could be enough to save your buddy’s life.
A life jacket for your dog serves the same purpose as a life jacket for you does: It will keep your dog afloat if he’s unable to swim or if he gets too tired to swim. He needs a life jacket to boating with you and in certain other instances, such as on an ocean pier. It will help your pal to keep his head above water until he reaches safety. Typically a life jacket also makes him easier to find when he's in the water, since they are usually brightly colored. Some incorporate reflective markings.
Most canine life jackets give your dog buoyancy and allow the dog leg movement for paddling. But some are better-designed than others, especially when it comes to comfort. Make sure the life jacket you buy is cut out around the shoulders so it doesn’t interfere with your dog’s swimming. Compare straps to see how they're arranged, what they consist of and whether they adjust. It should fit your dog snugly so no chance exists that the dog will slip out or get tangled in the rigging. Your dog should appear comfortable in it.
Once you’ve picked a basic life preserver design, fit one to your dog. This is essential for your pup’s safety. The most important consideration is weight, so choose one that’s rated for your dog’s heft. If he’s marginal, choose the next size up to make sure it will keep him afloat. Measure around your dog’s chest behind the armpit and check that against the chest size of the life jacket. If you have an unusually shaped dog, try a variety of life jackets on him before you buy one.
Put the life jacket on your dog’s back with the handle, if it has one, on top. Slip his head through the neck hole or fasten the neck strap snugly, but not so tight that it might limit his air supply. Most doggy life jackets have chest and belly straps that pass under your dog to secure the jacket against him. Adjust the straps for a firm but comfortable fit. Since jacket designs vary, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure your buddy’s life jacket is on correctly.
- International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork / Association of Canine Water Therapy: Canine Flotation Devices
- Practical Sailor: Review of Life Jackets for Dogs
- ASPCA Complete Dog Care Manual; Dr. Bruce Fogel
- Safe Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out; Melanie Monteiro (pg 110, 111)
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images