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Question about dogs and boating: is there a rule of thumb as far as life vests for dogs? My dogs are decent swimmers, but I’m afraid if we take them out on the lake they could swim too far out and get tired. Should a life vest be standard, or are there any alternatives?
I think Marianne’s is a great question, and her perspective is one that I would guess many dog owners share.
Which got me wondering, “what do the experts say about dogs and lifejackets?”
Similar questions appear on the BoatUS website:
Life jackets are essential pieces of equipment for the boater, even required by law. But does a boater’s dog really need a life jacket?
Is it a help or a hindrance in a ‘dog overboard’ situation?
And how do you select the proper PFD for your pooch anyway?
My $.02 About Dogs & Life Vests
In general, I’ve always figured, “the smaller the dog, the more likely they are going to tire out faster when dog paddling in the water”. So naturally, it makes sense that small dogs should wear life jackets.
But everyone knows that a larger dog is just as likely to drown as a smaller dog.
That’s because a dog’s survival in the water depends on a lot of things — not just a dog’s size and personal endurance.
To name just a few…
…a dog’s own ability to keep himself afloat
…under dire conditions
…in an emergency situation
…possibly alone and without assistance from you or other humans
…and quite possibly while being hurt or even knocked unconscious.
Plus, as mentioned on the Discover Boating website, “any dog can get fatigued or disoriented. Older dogs, especially, can tire easily. Pets with low body fat can have trouble when exposed to water for long periods. Health issues, such as hip or joint problems can also make swimming difficult for some pets.
Keep in mind, a life vest also makes the act of rescuing a dog overboard easier by giving the rescuer something to actually grab onto.
What About Dogs & Life Jackets During Supervised Swimming?
When it comes to simply playing in shallow water, while being supervised by you or another person, I would say that life jackets are entirely optional — based your dog’s own personality and level of confidence in the water.
For example, one of our (large) dogs isn’t fond of water… at all. Each time we go out to play in the water, it takes him a long time to get his “sea legs” and begin to feel comfortable just playing in shallow water. The chances are quite good that this dog would likely panic if he got out into deeper waters and he perceived that we were too far away from him. A life vest — even in shallow water — would be a wise choice for this dog.
On the other hand, our other (large) dog loves the water and enjoys swimming and fetching for long periods of time — at the lake or in the pool. We don’t worry much about this dog’s ability to handle himself in deeper waters, and his swimming abilities seem quite good.
That said, on a boat I would probably put life vests on both dogs. Here’s why…
Why Life Jackets Are Important For Dogs On Boats
While not technically required, the best course of action is to put a life vest on dogs — of all shapes, sizes, and swimming abilities — when on board a boat.
Nobody says it better than the folks at BoatUS (a foundation for boating safety):
Life jackets should be considered valuable flotation aids, not essential life-saving devices. A pet life jacket will help your dog stay above water until rescued. Once you get the dog alongside, the handle will help you either retrieve the animal or lead it around to an area where it can reboard the boat on its own.
…It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Here are some great tips regarding dogs and lifejackets.
Find lifevests for dogs online.
A Life Vest Can Save Your Life… And Your Dog’s Life
My hunch is that most dog owners don’t suit up their dogs in life jackets when on board a boat.
Similar to the fact that few people put life vests on themselves when on board a boat — even though everyone knows that they should.
But why take the chance?
Yeah, we may know how to swim — and we may even swim very well. But what if we had to stay afloat for a very long period of time? Chances are, we would tire out and/or panic. Worse yet, we might be injured or unconscious.
There’s no doubt about it… A life vest could save your life. At the very least, it could make the act of rescuing you much easier — giving the rescuers something to grab onto when they’re retrieving you from the water.
Unfortunately, it is not until something goes wrong that we are likely to regret our decision to not wear a life vest. At the very least, I would encourage you not to take that chance with your dog.
Make sure all pets wear flotation devices on boats. — The ASPCA
Here are some excellent tips before you introduce your dog to water for the first time!
I like to help Dog Parents find unique ways to do things that will save time & money — so I write about "outside the box" Dog Tips and Dog Hacks that most wouldn't think of. I’m a lifelong dog owner — currently have 2 mixed breed Golden Aussies that we found abandoned on the side of the road as puppies. I've always trained my own dogs and help friends train theirs, as well. Professionally, I worked at a vet and have several friends who are veterinarians — whom I consult with regularly. (And just because I love animals so much, I also worked at a Zoo for awhile!) I've been sharing my best ideas with others by blogging full-time since 1998 (the same year that Google started… and before the days of Facebook and YouTube). My daily motivation is to help first-time dog owners be better prepared from the first day your new puppy enters your home. I like to help dog owners understand what's 'normal' and what you can expect in terms of living with and training your dog — how to get through the ups & downs of potty training, chewing, teaching commands, getting your dog to listen, and everything else that takes place during that hectic first year! When I'm not training, walking, grooming, or making homemade treats for my dogs, you will find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites). To date, I've written over 500 articles for dog owners on this site!