Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Life Jacket Reviews: How to Choose the Best

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Dog Life Vests

A dog life jacket is a product that must work properly. Too many either make swimming difficult for your dog or make getting your dog out of the water awkward for both of you. Really poor ones can make things painful and scary for your dog.

Here are some simple tests that help you pick the right life jacket for your dog.

Freedom of Movement

TOP priority in a dog life vest design is that your dog is able to swim in it. Well, yeah, you might think. Of course. Sadly, not “of course”. Good design isn’t as common as you would hope and expect.

A large/wide band of fabric/floatation that straps across the center of your dog’s chest is the most common poor-design problem. Having that band there is like wearing a swimsuit that binds your arms to your sides. Just try to swim.

To determine proper design/fit – feel your dog’s sides near the front of his body, you’ll find a “point” on each side where the shoulder blade meets the upper arm.  All fabric/floatation must be above this point for your dog to swim freely in that life jacket.

Simple test: Put the dog life vest on your dog. If he cannot walk comfortably in it, he cannot swim comfortably in it. If he tips forward, refuses to walk or walks in an abnormal way, chances are it is binding his front legs. Not good.

Handle/Strap Placement

The handle, on the top of the vest, is used to get your dog out of the water if or when that is called for. You want the handle to be forward, up between the shoulder blades, so when you lift, your lifting from the chest – not his soft.

To make this work, the first strap needs to be snug around the chest just behind the front legs.

This arrangement guarantees that when you lift your dog, his head comes out first and all his wet weight is borne by the well-protected and sturdy ribcage. 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 straps are down around the tender belly with the handle in the visual center of the dog’s back. Wrong! Dogs carry most of their weight up front so if you lift in the center you will actually tip the dog frighteningly forward 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.

Best Dog Life Jackets

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 allow for natural swimming and unrestricted movement (as you can see in the Kurgo pix below).

Dog life vests are a “once in a lifetime” purchase to help keep your dog safe. Buy high quality. Armed with this info, go find a life jacket that does what it should do – keep your dog safe!

Ruffwear Float Coat Dog Life Jacket

See how far forward the handle is on both these excellent dog life vests compared to other “dunker” designs?

Top Dog Life Jacket

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