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.
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!