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Does My Dog Need a Life Jacket?

June 01, 2019

The Best Dog Life Jackets and Swimming Vests

Above: Our little man Django (@djangothegent) sporting his doggy life jacket while vacationing with us in Capri, Italy

When our long-haired dachshund Django was 8 months old, Mike and I (Steph) took him hiking at Bear Mountain, a state park an hour's drive north of New York City. Before heading home, we went for a walk around Hessian Lake's 1.4-mile trail loop. Django was off leash and running 10 feet ahead of us the whole time.

We were halfway around Hessian Lake when Django, who had never swum before, calmly walked into Hessian Lake. Mike and I watched with awe and amusement as Django swam out 15 feet, grabbed a stick in his mouth, and swam back to shore.

Since that hike at Hessian Lake, Django has swum countless times in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He has jumped off of a boat into the Mediterranean Sea, fetched sticks out of freezing cold glacier mountain streams in Oregon, and skillfully handled the choppy waters of Italy's Lake Como. Despite his long dachshund body and short, stubby legs, Django is a natural at swimming.

Although Django has proven himself capable in the water many times over, Mike and I still have him wear a doggy life vest for most water activities.

IN THIS ARTICLE:

 

Does my dog need a life jacket? 

Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, you should absolutely consider using a dog life jacket for most water activities. You know your dog best, but here are several instances where you should definitely throw a life jacket on your dog:

  • Rough waves, strong currents, deep water, and large bodies of water. When Mike and I took Django to Italy, we went boating one afternoon around Capri Island. The sea is beautiful and inviting - clear, bright blue, and moderate in temperature - but the water is deep and very choppy. Django, who wore a life jacket the entire time we were out on the water, jumped off our boat with the same confidence as if he were jumping into a shallow swimming pool! He obviously had no concept of water safety. And when Mike decided to anchor our boat and swim 150 feet to shore, Django swam right along side of him. Unlike us, dogs cannot perceive when rough waters are unsafe nor communicate when their legs are tiring. Fearless dogs that love swimming will jump into any water without comprehending the risks.
  • Boating. All dogs should wear life jackets when boating. Dogs don't have sea legs and can easily fall into the water unexpectedly. In a "dog overboard" situation like this, a doggy life jacket will keep your pup afloat and allow you to quickly grab him or her via the jacket's back-side "safety handle". Even if your dog is a strong swimmer and jumps into the water confidently, he or she may not see the way back to the boat and start the long swim back to shore.
  • Swimming pools. Should your dog have to wear a life jacket every time he or she is swimming in a pool? Not necessarily. If your dog is a skilled swimmer AND you're in the water with your dog the whole time, a life jacket may be unnecessary. If there's any chance you won't be focused on your dog while swimming, however, definitely throw a life vest on your dog. Although dogs may confidently jump into a pool, they may not know how to get out of the water. Django had a ball playing in our friend's swimming pool but had no idea how to get out of the water... he's swim to the steep side of the pool rather than find the stairs. The situation could have been dangerous if Mike and I were not with him in the water the whole time.
  • Senior and/or injured dogs. Senior dogs can tire easily and have no way of telling us when their bodies are tiring. Similarly, injured dogs may not recognize their physical disadvantage.
  • Do all dogs know how to swim?

    No. Most dogs will start to "doggy paddle" when in water, but this does not mean they can swim or even stay afloat for more than a few seconds.

    What are the top swimming dog breeds?

    Many working dogs were bred to swim and retrieve game from the water. Generally speaking, skilled canine swimmers tend to be medium and large dogs with long, muscular legs and water-resistant coats. Some of the most popular 'water dogs' include the chesapeake bay retriever, english setter, golden retriever, irish setter, labrador retriever, newfoundland, portuguese water dog, and standard poodle. Fun fact? Poodles were originally bred in Germany as water retrievers, and the name poodle comes from the German word "pudel" meaning "to splash" in water.

    What dog breeds cannot swim?

    Although Django has proven to be quite the swimmer, dachshunds are one of the more well known breeds that often struggle in the water. Other dog breeds notorious for poor swimming skills are the basset hound, boxer, bulldog, frenchie, pekingese, pug, and boxer. Dogs that cannot swim often have one of these traits: (1) short, stubby legs (2) a large, heavy chest (3) a shortened or flat nose (a.k.a. brachycephalic breed).

    Brachycephalic breeds, like frenchies and pugs, are at an anatomical disadvantage in the water. Because of their broad, flat faces, these dogs have a much more difficult time keeping their nose and mouth above water. Combine this difficulty with a heavier body, like bulldogs, and you can understand why some breeds are simply better left on dry land.

    There are always exceptions to the rule, and you know your dog best. Play it safe, use a high quality dog life jacket if you have any doubt about your pup's swimming ability, and have fun in the water!

    Below: Living the dream! Our little guy Django takes in the sights while boating around Capri Island with Mike and I in Italy.

    "I'm on a boat!" Sausage dog Django rides around Capri Island in his doggy life jacket.

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