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How to Choose the Best Dog Life Jacket [PartsVu Xchange]

August 5, 2022 10:57 am

While most dogs are natural-born swimmers, the open water can be a dangerous place for your pup–especially when boating. Too much sun, exhaustion, lack of buoyancy, and rough waters are just the start of possible issues when bringing a dog along on the water. Life jackets protect your furry friends from these and many other problems that may arise along the way.

This article was featured in PartsVu Xchange.

“Does my dog need a life jacket?”

This may be the first thing you ask yourself when you decide to take your dog on your boat for the first time. Or, maybe you’re taking your dog swimming for the first time. Whatever your plans are, the short answer is: yes! Finding an appropriate dog life jacket for your furry friend is essential for their safety. 

Why Does My Dog Need a Life Jacket?

There are certainly some dogs better suited to swimming than others. From Water Dogs and Poodles to Spaniels and Retrievers, plenty of breeds were created to work in the waves. Even for these breeds, however, the water can be full of hazards. 

Any breed can suffer from exhaustion, and in certain environments, rip currents are a potential danger not to be taken lightly. Some breeds may struggle with buoyancy altogether and rely completely on a life jacket to stay afloat. In addition, dogs with low body fat— such as greyhounds, whippets, and dobermans— have trouble maintaining their core body temperatures in water. Life jackets are an easy way to help them stay comfortable.

Fortunately, finding the right fit and style is straightforward. There are countless dog life jackets and vests on the market. Picking the right one is easy to do when you know what to look for. 

Golden Retriever with a life jacket  - dog life jacket

First Things First: What Kind of Swimmer is Your Dog?

In your search for the right personal flotation device, or PFD, you may notice that life jackets and life vests are not exactly the same thing. Life vests tend to be smaller, while dog life jackets cover more of the body and are a bit more heavy-duty. 

If your dog is experienced in the water, you may find that a life vest is a practical and sufficient safety precaution. Less experienced dogs (and our more buoyancy-challenged friends, such as bulldogs) may be better off with a life jacket for maximum safety. The overall best choice will depend on your dog’s water experience, body type, fitness, and where you plan to take them swimming. 

Some dog life jackets are specifically designed with novice swimmers or experienced water dogs in mind. It’s worth scouring the reviews and product descriptions for this information.

How to Measure Your Dog for a Life Jacket

Using a measuring tape, you’ll need three measurements to ensure a proper fit: length of the body, neck circumference, and chest circumference.

Length of Body: This measurement is taken from the base of the neck to the base of the tail

Neck Circumference: This measurement is taken around the base of the neck, around where the collar sits

Chest Circumference: Measure this around the widest part of your dog’s chest

In addition, you’ll also need to know your dog’s weight.

Maximum Buoyant Weight

When shopping for your dog’s life vest or jacket, take a look at the maximum buoyant weight listed. The maximum buoyant weight is the upper weight limit for a dog wearing that particular model. 

It’s always a good idea to add a few extra pounds to your dog’s current weight as an added safety precaution. So, if your dog weighs 42 lbs, be sure to look for a properly fitting PFD with a maximum buoyant weight of 45 lbs or more. Ensuring that the life jacket you’ve selected can handle your dog’s weight is of utmost importance. 

What Size Life Jacket is My Dog?

The exact size will vary widely depending on the particular brand and style of life jacket or vest that you’re considering. Once you’ve taken your dog’s measurements, reviewed the size chart,  and selected the life jacket, you’ll need to do a test fit. 

How to Tell if Your Dog’s Life Jacket Fits

Performing a test fit in advance is always a good idea. While all life jackets will be partly adjustable, not every style is appropriate for your dog’s body type. Determining if the life jacket is too big, too small, or otherwise ill-fitting is quick and easy.

First, do a mobility test. Give your dog a chance to walk, sit, and even run in the PFD. This will give them a chance to get used to its feel. It also gives you a chance to see if there are any uncomfortable straps or gaps. 

A too-small dog life jacket will be restrictive and uncomfortable. You should be able to fit two to three fingers between your dog’s neck and the opening of the jacket. If you are unable to do this, the vest is too tight. 

A too-large dog life jacket will slide around and possibly have visible gaps. The jacket should be secure and stay in place when your dog runs, sits, and lays down. An oversized life jacket risks the dog slipping down or out of the jacket altogether, rendering it essentially useless in an emergency. 

Useful Features to Look For


Many dog life jackets and vests will come equipped with one or more handles on the top or sides of the body. This is an incredibly useful (and potentially life-saving) feature that allows you to quickly and easily pull your dog from the water in an emergency, or if your dog just needs an extra boost getting out of the water. Larger-sized life jackets are usually equipped with 2 handles to account for the extra weight.


D-Rings on the top or front of the life jacket allow the PFD to double as a harness. This allows you to quickly go from land to water with minimal hassle.

Bright Colors & Reflective Accents

Like human life jackets, dog life jackets are safest when they’re easily visible in all weather and light conditions. Look for a life jacket that comes in bright colors with reflective strips.  


This can get a bit tricky— a flexible life jacket will keep your dog comfortable and allow them to swim more easily. However, some flexible life jackets don’t offer as much foam support or buoyancy. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide what the best balance is for your dog. 

Front Flotation Pad or Chin Rest

Not all dog life vests and jackets come equipped with a chin rest or flotation pad, but they can be an important feature to look for. Their primary function is to keep your dog’s face above water in the event of total exhaustion or another emergency. This is recommended for all dogs but is especially important for large-headed breeds like mastiffs and rottweilers. 

A final thought: Even with a properly fitted life jacket and skilled swimmer, always keep an eye on your dog. You never know when they may need your assistance! 

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