Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Life Jacket Reviews: How to Choose the Best

| 60 Comments

Dog Life VestsA 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

 

 

Like my blogs, you’ll love my books: How to Train Your Dog to ComeMy Smart PuppyChildproofing Your Dog.

Thank you and give your dog a pat from me.

60 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

    • Hi Giuliana – Here are a few choices in small, function and, yes, cute, dog life vests: Jobe Progress Buoyancy Pet Jacket (new to me but look great – XS and S), Paws Aboard Small Designer Doggy Life Jacket, Pink Polka Dot (looks like this one may go too far back for male dogs comfort and easy use), and Outward Hound Life Jacket, Small, Pink (lots of sizes, tons of reviews, good design as Kyjen products tend to have). Hope this helps (and please report back when you find a dog life jacket you like for your JRT. Best – Sarah

  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: https://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: https://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. (https://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

  13. Hi Sarah…not sure if your still monitoring this website. Anyway, I have an English bulldog 54 lbs and was looking for the k9. No one carries it around here that I can find. Her girth is 29. So I’m leaning towards medium. I bought one at pet smart that sizes by weight. It’s made by top paws called life jacket. Do you know about this one? Would you recommend the k9 for an English bulldog? Thanks so much…Ina

    • Hi Ina – Absolutely monitoring this website. :) I’d go ahead and contact the company directly since your dog has a distinct build (both the weight of the chest up front and the shortness of the nose). They will know what will fit best. Hope that is helpful. – Sarah

  14. I have 12 year old female black lab who loves to swim in the lake but is now having trouble getting up 4 steps to get out of the lake. Her probprm is in her hips and rear legs.

    she can get down the steps into the lake but cannot get back up them on her own.

    the right flotation device with lifting straps would allow me to help her get up the steps. She is small for a lab and weighs about 75 lbs.

    which vest would you recomnend i get for her? Thanks, Phil Gandy

    • Hi Phil – This PetSafe vest has two handles for easier lifting. http://amzn.to/1rFkQCk Hopefully that will allow her to continue to do what she loves and for you to help her when she needs it. Swimming is great exercise to build muscle in that weak rear so do it as often as you can with her and as long as you can, with vet okay, of course.

      Hope this helps – Sarah

  15. Great article. I need help though. My Boston terrier has started swimming as she has a ccl injury and she is a little overweight. She’s 30 pounds but was wondering what life vest would be good for breeds that are big in the chest. The one at swim class looks OK on her but her nose looks like it’s right water level. Almost looks like it pushes her front end down as opposed to up. My husband and I plan on getting a pool and continue the weight loss / rehab journey so I am looking at buying a life jacket/vest but know these breeds are harder to fit sometimes…

    • Hi Nicole –

      Good for you for getting your dog swimming! I’d talk to the pool pro about your concerns and your options. I bet they will have some suggestions that will work for your BT.

      Best –

      Sarah

  16. My 20 lb Parson Russell Terrier goes NUTS when people are in the pool. Runs around, barking constantly – as if he thinks everyone is drowning. If I am in the pool by myself, he is fine. But when more than one person is in the pool, moving at ALL, he freaks. I am exhausted. I have taken him in the pool and held him, to get him used to the water. I have let him swim to the safe place for him to get out of the pool, so he knows how to get out.. he still freaks. Someone suggested I get a life jacket for him, and put him in the pool with the kids, til we can quell this behavior.

    A) Do you think this is a good idea?
    B) Which lifejacket would you recommend? His body is a little longer, and his legs are a little shorter. (I think a beagle snuck it’s way into this bloodline a while back. :) )

    Thank you so much for reading this, I appreciate any advice you can give.

    Rhonda

    • Hi Rhonda –

      Some dogs do get stressed by swimmers and a Parson’s running around barking excitedly is a pretty entertained Parson. I’d teach him a solid down and then work him on leash when people are in the pool. Reward him heavily for calm or… crate him inside when you swim. I’m not sure having him in the pool will help him or any of the swimmers but, if you try it, report back. I’m curious.

      All that said, any of the jackets here should work fine. As long as his chest is supported, the length of his back or legs doesn’t really matter.

      Good luck!

  17. I have a 25kg greyhound (very deep chest and no belly, narrow neck small head) what sort of buoyancy aid would you recommend for this type of dog.

  18. Hi, I have a two year old standard poodle.He is small though at 48 lbs. How do I know what size to get him ? You stated you use the Ruffwear K9 Float Coat Dog Life Jacket . You also recommend the Kurgo Surf n’ Turf Dog Lifejacket and Coat but you don’t use one .You also haven’t tried the EZY DOGGY FLOATATION VEST which is the best rated one on the net and it only cost $42.00 .It was compared to the ones you suggest and beat them !So, my question is how can you recommend things you haven’t tried and not recommend things you haven’t tried either ? I wanted to buy my dog the EZY vest but no store carry them and I am not sure what size to get . The ones that are carried at stores here in Austin TX are over priced and seem cheap ! Hope to hear from you thanks! How do you measure the dog and where to determine the size of the vest.I know the weight! Thanks again for your input!!

  19. I have a 155 pound English Mastiff who has weak back legs. I am concerned about getting a life jacket that will be buoyant enough for his weight and that will not cause him to work hard at keeping his head up. I have not seen any that specify for extra-large sized dog breeds. Could you recommend one?

    • Hi Shannon – Swimming is the best exercise for your dog so good for you! Wading around is also wonderful. Any of the well-rated life jackets should do the trick. I’d look at Floatcoats, EzyDog Doggy Floatation Device or the Kyjen Outward Hound Life Jacket. All of which come in extra large.

      Swimming is a lot of work for a dog with a weak rear so rest often at first but you’re doing a wonderful thing for your dog!

  20. Hello! I have a seven year-old female greyhound approximately 62#. The first time I took her to a dog park, she ran into the pond before I could stop her (April in Minnesota – brrr!) We have a heated in- ground pool (so much cleaner than that murky pond, and we use an ionizer, not chlorine) but she has not shown much interest in that. I don’t want to force her into a possibly dangerous situation, but I would like her to try the pool, so I thought a PFD would be the way to go. With her deep chest and lack of body fat, what would be your recommendation? Thank you so much for your help with this!

    • Hi Martha – When she ran into the pond did she stay there? Often dogs who have never seen water will run out “onto” a pond only to sink with great surprise and, usually, shock. They come right about and avoid it in the future.

      If that is what happened, then she may never be interested in your pool. Some sighthounds are swimmers. Some cats are swimmers. It’s about the same likelihood. 😉

      Sarah

  21. Hi Sarah!
    I have a 95lb lab mix. Supposedly lab/boxer/bulldog. He’s a good swimmer, but was looking for a life vest when he goes boating and jumps off the back. He is definitely heavy on his chest and has a big head/neck. Which would you say is the best option? Thank you!

    • Hi Sophia – Any dog who jumps off the back of the boat adores the water and probably swims well! Any quality vest that is front-focused, will give him added support. Even a little will help a lot. I’d choose a slim one, like Kurgo, so it doesn’t get in his way at all as he’s enjoying himself splashing about. :)

  22. Which life vest is best for a 90lb. chocolate lab, a Ruffwear K9 or Kurgo Surfin Turf Floatation Life Device?

  23. I have a 7lb male chihuahua. The life jackets we’ve tried all chafed him under his neck & front shoulder blades. He also pulls his front paws up under the front cuff. Are there any life jackets out there that can go on like a regular jacket? He loves bobbing in the water and watching what’s around him!

  24. That is perfect! Exactly what I’m looking for! I found a couple of places that sell them. One place said they are going to be discontinued. -wonder why? My only thought is that will his back half of him just hang down straight… He totally can not swim. I found out when I tried slowly letting him go and the panic on his face…he didn’t kick his feet, just started sinking. He absolutely loves floating. This is definitely worth a shot! Thank you so much!

  25. Hello,

    We are planning on taking our Charlie, who is a 10 month old Lab-Pointer mix, on our annual Kayak trip. He likes the water but has only a little experience swimming. Because of this I’m looking at getting the Ruffwear life vest.
    We are in Maine and found that I can get it at LL Bean. Before I do, should I consider anything else. He is around 40 lbs now. The vet said that he shouldn’t go much higher than 50 lbs. His chest is around 24″.
    My hope is for it to be a one time purchase. Should I go with a small and hope he doesn’t get much bigger or get the medium which might be a bit big now. We are looking forward to the trip and want every member of the family to enjoy it.

    • Oh, such a good question. I’d go medium because with THAT mix, I would expect him to continue to muscle up for a year of more. Bet he is gorgeous!

  26. I have a mixed poodle… she has a small head and large chest (neck 12 inches, girth 18 1/2 inches), long legs and long body 15 lbs. She has luxating patellas (stage 1) on both back knees. I read one of the things to do to help was walking in water, and swimming for short times with a vest/leash to guide her could help to strengthen her legs. She also goes to the lake with me. So the vest will be for dual water activities. I read the previous post for an 8 lb poodle, but her girth is too large, and she is at the max lbs? (EzyDog) What vest would you suggest?

    • Hi Sharon – Those are interesting proportions. I’d walk her through water on a normal, Y-type, back clip harness. And, given her size and the fact that this is therapeutic, you could use that same harness to support her if you wade out with her. You can just hold her in place (probably even in a bathtub, at her size) and she will paddle well.

      She is lucky to have you! 😀

  27. First of all, thank you for your tremendously helpful advice! Do you know anything or have any thoughts on Salus’s skippy dog jacket? They are a Canadian company that also makes jackets for people. I have a 90lbs presa canario with a deep chest and bulky head& neck. She’s a very stocky girl. My biggest concern is support for her heavy front end. I like some of the design features of the skippy jacket but unsure of front part impeding on movement.

    Thanks! ! !

    • Hi Megan – Presa are stocky, they are also amazingly strong so I would not be too worried about needing an “extra” strong life vest for her. I checked out the Salus and it does look bulky and rather rigid. The leg openings do look borderline don’t they? Some dogs look like they have room to move in the pics and others, not so much. I’d probably look at a less bulky option as that will probably be more than enough for your powerhouse. Is this just for casual swimming or serious boating or…?

  28. Yes she is a powerhouse! The front of the Salus did look a little confining. Mostly we will be doing casual swimming in lakes and rivers/ streams. We will be doing boating here soon, but it will be her first time, so I am not sure what to expect from her as far as any jumping from the boat. Thanks so much! ! !

  29. Any suggestions as far as any of the other jackets go?

    Thank you!

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