Editor's note: This post was originally published in July 2015.
In the warmer months, people and dogs alike are spending more time outdoors. Humans and their furry companions spend a lot of that outdoor time in or around the water. It's a great way to cool off on a steamy day, and water play is excellent for low impact exercise. With that in mind, let's talk water safety for pooches! Most people think of dogs as natural swimmers. Yes, it's generally true, most of them have a natural instinct and ability to paddle those paws to get from point A to point B. However, there is a minority that are not equipped with that natural reflex, and even those that do swim well could benefit from the added security of a life jacket.
Photo credits: @eastcoastherders
It's obvious that poor swimmers need to wear a life jacket. Dogs with low body fat, such as Greyhounds, aren't very buoyant. Senior pooches and those with medical conditions may not be as adept at the doggy paddle. Clearly these groups would be more safe on the water with flotation.
What about those dogs that are regular water athletes? Should those dogs be fit with a flotation device too? The answer to those questions is a resounding “YES”! Swim addicts will be able to play more safely without fear of exhaustion. Good flotation minimizes fatigue, extending play sessions safely. Good swimmers that accompany their two legged friends on sail boats, fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards should absolutely have a life jacket on.
This makes sense if you consider the reason that humans who can swim wear life jackets. If an accident causes a dog to fall in the water, they may also have impaired swimming ability. Fido could get hit on the head, knocked into rocks, or even be injured by the boat itself. The life jacket will keep him afloat and give his companions time to come to the rescue and get him out of the water! Bright colors on the jacket will maximize his visibility to boaters, jetskiers, and those being towed behind watercraft. In the case of a serious accident or capsize, saving the people is always first priority. A life jacket will give a Rover his best chance at staying afloat until he can be rescued, surviving a maritime mishap.
Now that we've established the benefits of a dog life jacket, let's look at the features of an ideal flotation device:
- Look for a product that is easy to put on – Bowser may already be wet and wiggly with excitement, so it should go on easily and adjust quickly for a secure fit.
- Once the device is on, he should be able to move freely and comfortably when running, swimming, or lying down.
- Check where the straps hit, and avoid any jacket that has straps or buckles rubbing directly on skin or in sensitive areas.
- As mentioned earlier, visibility is also key when submerged. Look for bright colors, reflective fabrics or reflective strips to make sure other boaters can see him in the water.
- Handles on the top of the jacket are critically important to enable you to safely lift him back into your boat or out of the water. If Lassie is already heavy on land, imagine lifting her once she is soaking wet! It may be helpful to find jackets with multiple handles if your pup is large or giant breed.
- Leash rings are convenient for transitioning on and off shore
- The best flotation will also keep his hind end somewhat afloat, maintaining a less fatiguing swimming position.