A dog life jacket keeps pups of all sizes safe in the water.

How to Properly Fit Your Dog’s Life Jacket

Do you hate leaving your dog behind when you take the boat out on an aquatic adventure? Are you worried your dog could fall overboard or maybe even drown in your swimming pool? Getting a well-fitted life jacket is one step you can take to calm your nerves and keep your pup safe. Here’s how to get the most secure fit and features to look out for when buying a dog flotation device (DFD).

Why Do Dogs Need Life Jackets?

Did you know that not all dog breeds can swim? Breeds traditionally used for water work tend to be more comfortable taking a dip and practicing their doggy paddle. Yet, even liquid-loving breeds like Labradors and Portuguese Water Dogs will exhaust themselves if they are fighting a current, battling surf from other boats, injured, or trying to stay afloat for long periods of time.

Here are just four of the many reasons your dog needs a life jacket:

Looking for more ways to make sure your pet is safe in and around water? Check out these ten safe swimming tips for dogs.

Four Ways to Get the Best Fit

Life jackets are not sized or fitted the same way as dog jackets or sweaters. The best way to get a good fit is to take your dog with you to the store to try on several different options. The next best method is to order more than one type online for an at-home fitting session. Make sure to read return policies carefully.

Regardless, you can make the fitting go more smoothly if you get these four measurements ahead of time:

  1. Your dog’s weight
  2. A neck measurement (like you would for a collar)
  3. Girth measurement – the width around your dog’s rib cage, right behind his or her front legs.
  4. Back measurement – the distance from the base of the head to the tip of the tail.

How Do You Put a Life Jacket on a Dog?

Your furry friend might argue that step one should be giving them a treat to put them at ease before buckling them up in a strange jacket. After their tail is wagging, you should:

  1. Unbuckle all straps.
  2. Place the life jacket over their back (be sure your dog is in the standing position).
  3. Center the life jacket on your dog’s back, ensuring that it sits close to the back of their neck.
  4. Position and fasten the chin strap (if applicable).
  5. Buckle the under-belly side flaps and buckles.
  6. Adjust the straps for a snug fit. For a secure fit, you should be able to slide no more than two fingers between your dog and the life vest.
  7. Ensure that the life jacket does not come all the way down your dog’s back. Instead, there should be 1 – 3 inches between the end of the life jacket and their tail, so that they can easily wag their tail to help keep themselves afloat.
  8. Let your dog run around for a bit in the life jacket (if possible). Make sure it is not too loose or too tight. Arms, legs, neck, and tail all need to have full range of motion.

Besides a Good Fit, What Else Do the Best Dog Life Jackets Offer?

While you may be drawn to a fun camo print or cute accessory (like a shark fin), you should always make sure your dog’s life jacket has the following:

  1. Handles on top for lifting your dog up and out of harm’s way more easily
  2. Dual grab handles, especially if you have a large-breed dog
  3. Reflective trim
  4. Adjustable chest straps and belly buckles for a secure fit
  5. Bright color for visibility
  6. A D-ring, so that you can attach a leash. A leash helps reduce the chances of your pet falling overboard accidentally.

What If My Dog Hates Wearing Their Life Jacket?

Let’s be honest. Does anyone (animal or human) really enjoy being squished like a hotdog in a life jacket? In spite of the discomfort, once we start having fun out on the water, we tend to forget we are even wearing one. Dogs are the same way, so be sure to provide your furry friend with some fun distractions while they get used to wearing a life jacket.

Typically, short trials will help your dog adjust to their new gear. Watch them the first few times they are wearing it in the water to make sure they can move and swim freely. Remember, the vest will be heavier when it is wet. Also, keep in mind that wearing a life jacket increases the risk of overheating in warmer temperatures. Hopefully, the fun adventures your dog shares with you in and around the water will outweigh the temporary annoyance of a life jacket.

This post is dedicated to the beloved pets who lost their lives at sea or in the water.