Does your dog love boating? Or does he often hang out around water? If so, a life jacket is an essential purchase. Here are five of the best options, along with tips for choosing the right vest for your pet.
Our #1 Pick
Tough, highly visible and available for a great price
My top pick for a dog life jacket is the Outward Hound Granby. It's an affordable life vest with three adjustable straps and reflective strips. The Granby also has a neck float to keep your pup's head above water.
Many dogs love swimming or boating. But water safety is just as important for canines as it is for humans.
While most (but not all) dogs are excellent swimmers, they aren't capable of spending long periods in water should a disaster strike. And some breeds struggle to stay above water at all - let alone swim to shore if they go overboard.
That's why dog life jackets are an essential safety purchase for walking near lakes, boating or other water sports. These vests are designed to provide extra buoyancy, so your pet's head stays above water. Many also have a handle for pulling your pup out of the water.
To help you make the right choice for your pet, this article lists five of the best dog life jackets (in my opinion). I've also included a short section on what to look for in a canine flotation device.
Note: Life jackets have a variety of different names. Life preservers, personal flotation devices (pfd), life vests, swim safety vests...the list goes on. These terms all mean roughly the same thing, so I'll use them interchangeably in this article.
Who Should Buy a Canine Flotation Vest?
The short answer: anyone who takes their dog near or on water. And not just at sea!
Most dogs are natural swimmers. But that doesn't mean they can swim for long periods without exhaustion. It also doesn't mean they'll cope in choppy conditions, freezing waters, or if they get stuck in a swimming pool (a pool ramp can help prevent this.)
If there's an accident - particularly at sea, fast flowing rivers or on a large lake - a dog life jacket gives your pet a much better chance of survival.
Many dogs also don't realize they are running out of energy until they are suddenly exhausted, which can be dangerous if swimming without a life vest. That's why every pup in water should wear a dog life jacket - even if it's just the pool in your back yard.
So, whether you're boating at sea, kayaking a local river or letting your pet swim in a lake, your dog should have a life vest. Even dogs that hang out around a swimming pool would be safer with a basic life vest.
What Makes a Great Life Vest For Dogs?
There are many life vests for dogs, so it's not always easy to know which to choose. Here are some of the most important factors when deciding:
- Color and Visibility. Bright colors and reflective materials make it much easier to find a dog in water. This isn't so important for lounging around a swimming pool, but can be the difference between life and death on large bodies of water.
- Durability. The best dog life vests are made with highly durable and rip-resistant material. Common options include neoprene and nylon.
- Buoyancy. The most important feature of a canine life jacket is buoyancy. While all vests provide some level of support, pricier models include extra flotation on the sides, back and even neck area. This helps keep the dog's head above water. As a general rule, the heavier a dog is, the more lift is required. Also, be aware that novelty life vests, such as pink sharks or dolphins, are often not as buoyant or strong.
- Adjustable Straps. Getting the correct size vest is essential (more on that in a moment). But adjustable straps make it easier to get a tight fit without restricting your dog's swimming. An adjustable design can also absorb small changes to your dog's size or weight over time.
- Handles. A handle (or two) makes it much easier to lift your dog back into the boat. Even if your dog is too heavy to lift, you can use them to guide him in the water. Some vests come with two handles for even more control. Remember, your dog may be scared if he's fallen into the water, so a handle could be essential for lifting him without getting scratched.
- Comfort. If your pet is restricted when wearing a dog life jacket, he'll need to struggle more to stay afloat. This could cause him to get tired. An uncomfortable vest can also make it difficult for your pet to relax and enjoy the trip. Avoid harsh materials that can cause skin irritation.
- Internal Straps and Buckles. Buckles inside the vest are safer, as they are less likely to get caught on the side of boats, rocks or branches. This feature is less important if you need a life vest for a pool though.
Choosing the Correct Size
Choosing the right size dog life jacket is essential if you want your pup to be safe and comfortable. Your dog should be able to relieve himself, lay down and swim with minimal restriction - but there should also be no chance of the vest slipping off.
The good news is that most manufacturers provide sizing charts for dog owners. You'll often just need to measure your dog's girth, but some vests also require measurements for neck girth and back length. Make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully to ensure the right fit.
Girth (Chest Circumference)
Girth is measured around the widest part of the rib cage. This is the most commonly used measurement for sizing a life jacket.
Neck girth should be measured around the larger part of the neck. You don't want the jacket to be too tight, however, as this can restrict breathing.
Some life jackets provide guidelines for back length. This should be measured from the base of the tail to the neck scruff.
Most life jackets also have weight guidelines. Your dog needs to be within a certain weight limit, otherwise the vest might not provide enough lift.
You should never rely on weight alone for sizing a life jacket though. Dog breeds vary in body shape, so two dogs that weigh the same could need very different vests.
Note: If you're looking for puppy life jackets, be prepared to buy larger sizes as your dog grows. It's a good idea to buy one of the cheaper jackets on this list, then upgrade (if necessary) when your pet is full size.
5 Best Dog Life Jackets (Including Mini Reviews)
Listed below are five of the best life jackets for dogs. While I believe each provides great value for money, you should read the mini reviews carefully to find the right option for your pet.
|#1||Outward Hound Granby||Affordable, durable and fully adjustable. My top pick for most dogs.||$|
|#2||Ruffwear Float Coat||Ultra durable and perfect for tough conditions. Expensive, but worth it if you need maximum durability.||$$$|
|#3||EzyDog Premium Doggy Flotation Device||Highly visible vest that provides more buoyancy than most alternatives.||$$|
|#4||Paws Aboard Neoprene Doggy Life Jacket||Great price and available in six sizes. Solid alternative to the Outward Hound if it's a better fit for your dog.||$|
|#5||Kurgo Surf n' Turf Dog Life Vest||Durable design with ripstop material. Relatively expensive and best suited to calm conditions though.||$$|
Scroll down for more information and mini-reviews of each of our top picks.
1. Outward Hound Granby
With a low price, neck float and reflective pipes, the Granby is my top pick for a life jacket. It's a high quality vest that's comfortable for your dog to wear, and is available in five sizes.
The first thing that stands out about the Granby is the highly visible and bright orange color scheme. Reflective strips are included for greater visibility in low light conditions, which is an essential feature for swimming in large bodies of water. There's also a "fun fish" option, which retains the bright colors, but with cute eyes and fishy stripes.
As you can see from the photo, there are two handles for hauling your pet into a boat. These are tough and durable - like the rest of the vest - although the lack of a metal D-Ring leash attachment will be a disappointment to some.
Adjustability is one of the key factors when choosing a dog life jacket - and the Granby is great in this regard. There are two adjustable chest/belly straps, along with an adjustable strap for the neck. This allows you to get a snug custom fit. The Granby is also made with a combination of tough cordura and neoprene materials for extra durability and warmth.
There are several flotation panels to keep your pet afloat. These include foam side panels and a front neck float to keep the head up. While this doesn't guarantee your dog's head won't dip underwater, particularly if they are a smaller dog, it certainly helps. The buoyancy floats also don't make the vest too bulky, which is important for ensuring your pet is comfortable.
A potential drawback is the handle placement. It's great to have two handles, but if your pet is "front heavy" then a single handle placed in the center of the back may be more convenient. The sizing chart also isn't always accurate, so if your dog is a borderline size it's probably worth rounding up to the larger option.
Note: The same company also produces the Dawson and Standley life jackets. The Granby is the best option for all-round use, and the only one with ripstop construction.
Why We Recommend It: With its affordable price, strong construction, dual handles and great buoyancy, the Granby is highly recommended for boating, kayaking or swimming with your pet. Sizing isn't always easy, but there are few other drawbacks to this product.
- Handles: Dual
- Sizes Available: X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Price Range: $
- Dual handles and highly visible
- Adjustable straps for neck and belly
- Tough and long lasting
- Affordable price
- Sizing guide isn't always accurate
2. Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat
If the Granby is the affordable life vest of choice, the K-9 Float Coat is at the other end of the price spectrum. It justifies the higher price with a durable and abrasion-resistant exterior, built-in grab handle and sheltered straps, however, making it perfect for boating or swimming.
Ruffwear has a reputation for producing high-quality and long-lasting dog products - and the Float Coat is a great example. It features abrasion-resistant webbing and sheltered straps, so it's a good choice if you go boating or kayaking regularly.
There are four color options: orange, yellow, blue and red. I don't recommend the blue option unless you only need the vest for swimming in pools, as it's less visible in water. All versions come with reflective trim for greater visibility though.
Buoyancy is provided by several foam panels. These are placed to allow your dog to swim as naturally as possible, which is important if your pet is going to be in the water. The flotation foam also provides enough support to let your dog ride relatively high in the water.
There are several adjustable straps for getting a snug fit, including a telescoping neck closure.
So, why isn't this my #1 pick?
The simple reason is that the Outward Bound is good enough for most people, and is available for a much lower price. If you want the most durable jacket for your dog, however, then the Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat is one of the best on the market.
Note: Ruffwear also sells a Beacon Light that attaches to a loop on the Float Coat. This is great for longer trips, but you'll need to purchase the light separately.
Why We Recommend It: The Float Coat isn't cheap, but provides excellent durability and a highly visible exterior. It's also easy to adjust, has sheltered buckles and includes a built-in handle. If your dog is a regular on boats or lakes, the Float Coat is worth the extra money.
- Handle: Single
- Sizes Available: XX-Small, X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Price Range: $$$
- Easy-to-adjust the straps
- Highly durable and heavy duty
- Telescoping neck closure
3. EzyDog Premium Doggy Flotation Device (DFD)
The EzyDog Premium Doggy Flotation Device is another excellent vest that sits between the Float Coat and Granby in price. It features an integrated handle, reflective trim and a heavy-duty design, along with two adjustable straps and excellent buoyancy.
Every dog life jacket is designed to keep your pet afloat, but the amount of buoyancy varies depending on the make and model. The EzyDog Premium has been designed to be extra buoyant, with up to 50% more flotation material than competing models. Despite this extra foam, it still allows a natural swimming style.
There are five sizes and three colors available. I recommend either the orange or yellow for maximum visibility, although all colors come with a reflective trim.
One of the great things about the DFD is its durability. It's made with a combination of heavy-duty polyester and neoprene, so it should last. There are also two adjustable neoprene belly straps - although there's no option to adjust the neck size - and a strong D-ring leash attachment.
There are some drawbacks to this dog life jacket though. The grab handle is smaller and less pronounced than alternative vests, which can make it difficult to grab in an emergency. It's also a relatively bulky vest.
The EzyDog Premium has a slightly different design to the Ruffwear and Outward Hound. Instead of a neoprene belly fabric, there are just two padded straps. While this isn't a major downside, it might make being lifted less comfortable for your pet.
A more important difference is that there is only a minimal taper at the back of the vest. This keeps a dog flatter in water than most other vests, which is something to keep in mind if your pet struggles to keep his head above water.
Despite these issues, the EzyDog DFD is an excellent life vest that provides great value. If your dog falls into one of the sizing categories, it's an option to consider.
Why We Recommend It: The EzyDog Doggy Flotation Device provides extra buoyancy to keep your pet safe and above water. It's not the easiest vest to size, but is highly visible, strong and easy to use.
- Handle: Single
- Sizes Available: Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large
- Price Range: $$
- Extra flotation for greater safety
- Reflective trim
- Two adjustable belly straps
- May be less comfortable to lift your dog than other options
- Lack of tapering at the back can force your dog's rear end to rise
- Not cheap
4. Paws Aboard Neoprene Doggy Life Jacket
If you're looking for an affordable life jacket that's available in a range of sizes, the Paws Aboard is a decent alternative to the Outward Hound Granby. It comes with adjustable nylon straps, reflective strip and a built-in handle.
The Paws Aboard Doggy Life Jacket has adjustable nylon straps. These attach via the quick-release buckles, and there's also Velcro fastening around the neck and belly. This makes it easy to get a snug fit - particularly if your dog is a breed with a large chest (such as American Bulldogs).
When it comes to visibility, the Paws Aboard has yellow sides and two reflective strips. There's also a built-in grab handle and it's available in six sizes.
The biggest downside is that it's not as durable as some of the more expensive life jackets on this list. If you're going to be using the jacket regularly, the Ruffwear may be a better option. The handle is also relatively flimsy in comparison to others.
Why We Recommend It: The Paws Aboard Neoprene Doggy Life Jacket is a relatively lightweight vest that's available for a great price. It's not quite as durable as some of the other options on this list, but for the occasional trip it could be a good choice - especially for breeds with large chests.
- Handles: Single
- Sizes Available: XX-Small, X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Price Range: $
- Adjustable straps and Velcro underbelly
- Six sizes
- Great price
- Possibly not as durable as other options
5. Kurgo Surf n' Turf Dog Life Vest
The Kurgo Surf N' Turf is a premium life jacket that's designed to be strong, convenient and highly visible. It's available in five colors and comes with Kurgo's "Lifetime Warranty" against manufacturer defects.
One of the most impressive features of the Kurgo is its durable design. The vest is made with rip-stop material, so it's perfect for rough use. There are also two belly straps and a neck strap, making it one of the most adjustable vests on the market.
Like the Outward Hound, the Kurgo has two handles. One of the handles is parallel to the spine, however, which I think makes it easier to lift the dog.
A nice feature of the Kurgo is that the flotation can be removed, allowing you to use it as a raincoat. This makes it useful throughout the year, rather than just boating season (unless you're an all-weather kind of person!)
One complaint I have about this vest is that the belly flaps are secured by buckles only - not Velcro. This could be a good thing if your dog has long hair that gets easily caught in Velcro, but generally a combination gives the most comfortable fit. The good news is that the neck strap does have a combination of strap and Velcro.
It's also probably not the best choice for rough waters. It's brilliant for swimming pools or tranquil lakes, but for harsh conditions there are others that provide greater support and buoyancy.
More interested in a raincoat rather than a two-in-one life vest? Check out my post of the best dog raincoats here.
Why We Recommend It: The Kurgo Surf n' Turf is an excellent life jacket for dogs. It's also versatile, as removing the flotation layer turns it into a raincoat. I think it's best as an everyday life jacket for light use, rather than for harsh conditions though.
- Handle: Dual
- Sizes Available: X-Small, Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Price Range: $$
- Durable design with rip-stop material
- Stylish appearance
- Flotation layer can be removed to turn it into a raincoat
- Relatively expensive (although cheaper than the Ruffwear)
- Perhaps better suited to calm conditions than rough water
Frequently Asked Questions
How else can I keep my pet safe when boating?
Boating with your canine companion can be fun - but it's important to be prepared. Aside from buying a life jacket for dogs, here are some tips for keeping your pup happy:
- Avoid Rough Conditions. It's never a good idea to take a dog boating in rough weather or waters. These conditions can be terrifying for your pet - and going overboard is a serious risk. Always put your dog's safety first.
- Get Non-Slip Pads for Your Boat. A wet floor can be difficult for a dog to grip. Nonslip pads can help him feel more secure. If your dog likes to swim, a dog boat ramp can also be helpful.
- Bring Plenty of Water. Always bring lots of water and a bowl for your dog to drink from. If it's a hot day, be aware that a life preserver could cause your dog to overheat. Make sure you provide plenty of shade too.
- Prepare for Your Dog Going Overboard. Panicking is the worst response to a dangerous situation, so make sure your passengers know what to do if your dog goes overboard. The last thing you want is everyone to excitedly shout, as this could cause the dog to panic. Instead, explain to everyone exactly what you intend to do if he accidentally ends up in the water.
- Check Your Dog's Life Jacket is Properly Secured. A loose life jacket is uncomfortable to swim in - and may even slip off when you need it most. Over-tightening causes other problems, such as chafing and restricting your dog's movement. As with most types of dog clothing, aim to tighten the straps so that you can just about fit two fingers between the strap and body.
My dog hates his jacket - what can I do?
Some dogs instantly enjoy wearing a life jacket, but most will need positive reinforcement training to feel comfortable.
The worst scenario is that your pup sees the dog life jacket for the first time on the day of your trip. At this point, you'll probably feel you need to force him to wear it, which can create negative associations that are difficult to undo.
Instead, start getting your dog used to the new vest while at home. This is an environment your pup already feels comfortable and relaxed, so it's the best place to perform "desensitisation" training (as dog trainers call it).
Here's a quick summary of the steps to take. Make sure your dog is happy and not showing any signs of stress/anxiety before moving to the next stage.
- Place the vest on the floor in the same room as your dog. Completely ignore the vest to start with, but give praise and a treat when he goes to investigate. The idea is to build positive feelings towards the vest - so be happy and fun!
- Once your dog is happy to be near the vest, practice touching him gently on the chest with a bit of the fabric. Reward whenever you do this, and stop if he starts to get fearful or stressed.
- The next step is to put the life jacket on your dog for a short time. Take it off if your dog starts to get stressed, and remember to give treats and play with toys while he's wearing it.
- Gradually increase the time your pet is wearing the vest. When your dog seems comfortable wearing it, take him outside and let him run around the garden while playing games and giving treats.
- At some point, your dog will have so many positive memories of the life jacket that he'll actually get excited to see it. He's now ready to wear it on the water.
This process can take days or even weeks. If your pup already wears harnesses and sweaters (such as these), he'll probably feel more comfortable with a dog life vest. If he's only ever worn a collar, it might be a slower process.
The key is to never move to the next stage before your dog is ready, and only attempt wearing the vest in water once he's happy to wear the life jacket at home.
Which is the best life jacket for small dogs?
All dog life jackets are available in multiple sizes, with most having an extra small option.
With that said, some are better suited to small pups than others. Look for a jacket that isn't too bulky, as this can make it difficult for a dog to swim - even if he's a good swimmer. The Paws Aboard Neoprene is a good place to start - especially as there's an XX-Small version.
Can dogs wear human life jackets?
No! Even if you think a child's life jacket will fit your dog, it will restrict your dog's movement and possibly force him into a dangerous position. Only use vests specifically made for dogs.
A high-quality life jacket is an essential safety purchase if your dog spends a lot of time near water. Many dogs are excellent swimmers (although some breeds struggle more than others), but that doesn't mean they can spend extended periods in water without getting tired.
My top pick for an all-round dog life jacket is the affordable and durable Outward Bound Granby. It provides plenty of buoyancy, is highly visible and has two built-in handles. If you need extra durability, the Ruffwear Float Coat is a brilliant (yet expensive) alternative.
I hope this article has helped you choose the best dog life jacket for your pet. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section below.
About the Author: Richard Cross
Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports.