Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Top Dog Life Jacket

Dog Life Jacket Reviews: How to Choose the Best

| 27 Comments

A dog life jacket is a product that must work properly. Too many are poorly designed making swimming difficult and getting your dog out of the water awkward, possibly painful and even dangerous.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things which I share with you here, including very simple tests you can do that will tell you if the dog life jacket you are considering is a good one for your dog.

Freedom of Movement
The first priority in a dog life vest is that your dog be able to swim in it. This isn’t as common as you would hope and expect.

The most frequent design flaw that causes problems is a large/wide band of fabric/floatation that straps across the center of your dog’s chest. Feel your dog’s sides near the front of his body, you’ll find a “point” where the shoulder blade meets the upper arm.  To be able to swim freely, the fabric/floatation must be above this point.

Simple test: Put it on your dog. If he cannot walk comfortably in it, he cannot swim comfortably in it. If he tips forward or walks in an abnormal way, chances are it is binding his front legs. Asking him to swim in that is like asking you to swim with your upper arms belted to your sides.

Handle/Strap Placement
These two aspects go together. You want a handle so you can easily fish your dog out of the water should he need help. To do that safely, the handle needs to be forward on the body, up between the shoulder blades, and the first strap needs to be snug around the body just behind the front legs.

This arrangement guarantees that when you lift your dog, the weight is borne by the well-protected and sturdy ribcage and that his head comes out of the water first. Imagine yourself in the water. Would you prefer to be lifted out by a belt around your waist or by one up around your chest/under your arms? Well, so would your dog.

Frequently companies put straps down around the tender belly and then place the handle in the visual center of the dog’s back. The problem? Dogs carry most of their weight up front so if you lift in the center you will actually tip the dog forward dunking the head into the water while, at the same moment, pulling hard on his tender belly. Ugh and ouch!

Simple test: Put the life jacket on your dog. Using the handle, start to lift him off the ground. His front feet should lift off first. Perfect. If his rear end tips up off the ground, you’ll dunk your dog’s head underwater as you’re trying to help him.

Sarah’s Pick Dog Life Jackets

Both of the Ruffwear K9 Float Coat Dog Life Jacket and the Kurgo Surf n’ Turf Dog Lifejacket and Coat are well-designed. The handles are way up front so your dog’s head comes out of the water first. The straps and the floatation are well forward, keeping the front end buoyant and making lifting safer and more comfortable for your dog. Both have large cut outs for the front legs making swimming natural and unrestricted (as you can see in the Kurgo pix below).

Dog life vests are a “once in a lifetime” purchase to help keep my dog safe. Buying design and quality is important to me here. Armed with this info, go find a life jacket that does what it should do – keep your dog safe!

Ruffwear K9 Float Coat Dog Life Jacket

 

Top Dog Life Jacket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS: This blog is supported by Amazon Shopping! We’re an affiliate site and get paid a small amount when you buy through our links. If you like my work, click here or any product link you see. There are no added fees to you. You can help and help for free. That’s why I love this system! Thank you and give your dog a pat from me.

27 Comments

  1. Thank you! I am about to purchase a life jacket for my Doxie X Maltese ,BooBoo, and I will make a MUCH wiser choice now.

    • You and BooBoo are so welcome, Lynn! Let me know what you end up getting and how it works for BooBoo if you can. Love getting feedback (and BooBoo is going to look too cute all decked out).

  2. Wondering if you’ve tried out the two jackets you recommend and which one keeps the dog’s front end lifted best while actually swimming? I am debating between the two. I had originally been looking at three, purchased the Ezydog vest, and it just didn’t work very well on my dog, despite it’s very good reviews. Now I’m stuck between these two and the problem with doggy life jackets is that you really need to test them out before knowing which one to buy. I haven’t seen any video reviews of the Kurgo, and the only video reviews of the Ruff Wear show the dog at a distance instead of right up close where you can see just how well it keeps the dog’s head above water. So have you tried them each, and if so, what size dog and what did you think of each one in action?

    • Hi Chauna – Great question. Tell me about your dog? As you seem to know well, there is so much diversity in dogs that products that are great for some, even most, may not quite do the job for a few. Is your dog a large/heavy chested breed? Is this for swim support or do you boat with your dog?

      • My dog is a mutt – likely rott/sheppard mix (though maybe rott/shep/dobe if her pea-sized head is anything to go by lol) and that’s where the problem lies. The EzyDog that I bought her DID hold her up but it seemed like her back end was higher than her front so her head (and especially her snout) was right at water level, almost as if it was causing her to be held in an over-corrected swim posture. She has a huge chest at 32″ but it’s deep, not wide, and her neck and head are very small for her size. She’s just under 100# and wears only a medium collar – loosely! She’s a good swimmer/loves to swim, but I will be taking a camping/tubing trip next month and as the dog can’t stay at the campground alone she will be coming along. I already have her own dog-proof raft to tie up to our tubes, but it’s extremely likely she’ll jump out several times on the river and I want to make sure she doesn’t get fatigued if it takes a minute for us to find a spot to dock and pull her back in.

        The EzyDog fit her length and her chest perfectly, but then I had to tighten the heck out of it at the belly and pulled it as tight as the straps would allow at the neck but still could have used about 1-2 more inches of strap there because of her skinny neck. The floatation that should have been around her neck holding her head up slipped down to chest-ish level each time she’d swim (we played fetch in ~2-3 feet of water to test the vest) while her back end was riding high on top of the water. Not good.

        I have stores in the area that carry both brands of vest you listed so fit will be easy, but as I found with the EzyDog, you can’t really know how it’ll work out until you use it. She will only be using the vest on lazy rivers for kayaking and occasional trips like this tubing trip coming up. I won’t vest her for regular water play as she is a regular and strong swimmer and I don’t take her anywhere where the current is so strong or water so deep that she can’t basically just stand up if she wants to. :)

  3. I was forwarded your article just at the time we decided to look for a vest for our two lab retrievers. One is “English style” with the barrel chest and short legs and the other is “American style” with slim body and long legs, but still a rather large rib cage. Thank you so much for the information and posts.

  4. Interesting post, I have been looking to purchase a lifejacket for my working type springer for some time – I love the ruff wear but its really out of my price range for the frequency of use. Have you ever seen the Up Buoy 4U ones in action? Or can you recommend a middle of the road priced option? thanks :)

  5. Hi there!
    Thank you for a fab article. Before I set out online shopping with the option to return the item if it doesn’t fit properly (no pet shops near here), any suggestions on good jackets for Jack Russells? I have three and want super-safety and am not fuzzed with aestetichs. Safety preceeds that. So a good and safe jacket that doesn’t cost masses of extra because it comes in pink, if you see what I mean:)
    Warm regards and wags from us all
    Giuliana, Matilda, Lola and Oscar

  6. Hi
    What do you think would be the best option for a toy poodle? She is approximately 4 kg and has recently had surgery. She must do hydrotherapy as part of her rehabilitation. Any help would be greatly appreciated :)

    • Hi Emma – I’m assuming that your poodle had ortho surgery of some sort? I’d check first with her rehab pro – see what he or she suggests – but, I’d be looking for something with a good top handle so you can support and direct your dog as she paddles and has good front flotation so she is stable and level in the water. The EzyDog Micro Doggy Flotation Device (DFD) that is first on the list here is my winner: http://sarahwilsondogexpert.com/small-dog-life-vest-reviews/

      Hope your pup feels 100% soon. – Sarah

      • Yes, she is having surgery on her hip, excisional arthroplasty. Thanks so much for your help, have just ordered the flotation device you recommended so will be able to start her hydrotherapy very soon

  7. Hi,

    We avid boaters and love to take our 4 mini doxies with us. I am in the process of purchasing life jackets for them. As you know they are very long dogs. Is there a rule of thumb as to the length of the jacket required to keep them safe? It seems that the sizes available to fit their neck and girth would be too short. Thanks.

    • Great question, Lisa.

      The good news is that we want the “lift” to be up front – with the chest and the head above water. A dog can be basically vertical in the water and we 100% safe. Maybe not happy but safe. Lift behind can tip them forward and that’s the thing to avoid. So, the EZy dog here should work well for your cuties: http://sarahwilsondogexpert.com/small-dog-life-vest-reviews/

      Doxies are a breed that often really benefits from life jackets as they aren’t built for easy swimming and can panic.

      Hope this helps -

      Sarah

  8. Though it’s Winter, we are looking forward to the warm months and taking our new cocker spaniel on the boat (he’s an 18 month rescue who had very little socialization and is now skittish, and fearful of all kinds of noises-he’s getting better with training, but nonetheless…).

    Perusing sites for life jackets, we came upon your blog-Thank-You!!! Any recommendations you may have for the right jacket would be appreciated, I’ve no doubt that this guy will potentially jump off the boat if startled or intrigued. Of course he would be on leash, but he’s super quick and I would want to release the leash and be able to retrieve him from the jacket, if that makes sense.

    • Hi Diane – You are wise to be planning ahead for your new rescue cocker. Sounds like we need a jacket that fits and has a sturdy, well-placed handle so you can restrain him easily and fish him out of the water safely if he is startled. I’d look at the Kurgo Surf n’ Turf Dog Lifejacket for its double handles and snug fit.

      There is a lot we can do know to limit his skittishness. Shy/sensitive dogs are some of my favorites to work with. I’m teaching in upstate NY in the spring and am available via skype anywhere/anytime. (http://sarahwilsondogexpert.com/cyber-dog-training-with-sarah/) Loving, reliable, predictable, gently enforceable structure is the place to start.

  9. Thanks for the wonderfully written article! I’ve been looking for buy a life jacket for my golden retriever (rather large-chested for a golden)… I tried to introduce her to water last summer and her back end sunk every time, which caused her to slightly panic. I was able to borrow a life jacket for her to see if it’d help her confidence… it was a completely 180. She absolutely loved swimming with it on, which convinced me to get her one for this summer.

    With that said, I was debating between the two life jackets you had mentioned in your article (Kurgo vs Ruffwear). Between the two, I was wondering if you had a preferrence for one over the other, and which one would you suggest/recommend I get for my girl? I do plan on going boating with her in the future, but its main purpose is to assist her with keeping her back end afloat.

    • Hi Jennifer – Many dogs (most dogs) do a version of vertical swimming at first. They end up straight up and down in the water, splashing like mad and in a bit of a panic but then, with a bit of practice, they engage that rear and off they go. Do you think that could have been happening with your girl?

      If yes – then either vest would work but she might not even need a vest at this point for regular swimming. One is always a good idea for boating. :)

      • That certainly sounds like my girl, but the few times I took her swimming she refused to go into the deep end without a life vest so I was thinking a life vest might engage her in using her rear more and turn it into an automatic behaviour in water.

        Thanks for the quick response!

  10. I have 2 standard poodles, both excellent swimmers, 65 lbs. one of them gets water in his ears every time we swim. From that moment on, he shakes his head constantly while swimming. He swims with a stick in his mouth to help with head balance. But I’m considering a swim vest for him to keep him from stressing. I’d like him to be able to swim 45 min. Relatively stress free. Do you think one of your suggested vests would work for him ?
    I appreciate your info.

    • Hi Mary – Definitely focus on one that lifts up the front of your dog such as either in this blog. That should help him keep his ears dry. You also might try a floating toy which also might help keep him high and dry. Here’s one: Chuckit! Medium Amphibious Bumper http://amzn.to/1dVhRSV

      Hope this helps – Sarah

  11. Could you recommend a PFD for a 75-pound intact male pit bull?
    I purchased a store brand one for $40 but am returning it because when I tried it on my dog the wide padded velcro-and-buckle belly band fit OVER his manhood (for lack of a more genteel term).
    My dog loves to go kayaking with me but his experience, so far, has been limited to inland lakes. We will be hitting the river (and rapids) soon so he needs a life jacket that will hold his HEAVY pit bull head and chest above water in the event our kayak overturns.
    Thank you for your help!

  12. Hello,

    I’m glad I found your post. I have a 70 pound pit that adores swimming. We have tried numerous life jackets, and the handles seem to rip off within the first few uses of lifting him back into the boat. Which is more durable the Kurgo or Ruffwear? I’ve heard positive things on Ruffwear, and nothing on Kurgo.

    Thanks in advance!!

    • Hi Melissa -

      That’s hard duty, for sure. I’ve used and liked Ruffwear products through the years and am confident that they will make things right if their jacket falls apart. Kurgo may as well but, like you, I don’t have direct experience with them.

      Let me know what ends up working for you best -

      Sarah

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