Most dogs are decent swimmers, but even skilled water dogs can get tired or swept up in a current. Choosing the best dog life jacket can be a matter of life and death, so make sure that you know what to look for to keep your dog safe.
They may seem silly, but dog life jackets are an essential accessory for dogs that love to swim. Whether they are in your pool or at the lake, keeping your dog safe should be your top priority. To help you find the best dog life jacket, we asked some of our favourite water dogs to test out some dog life jackets and let us know their thoughts!
Before we get to the reviews, let's talk about water safety.
Can All Dogs Swim?
We often just assume that if you chuck your dog in the lake, he's gonna float, but that might not always be the case. Most dogs can instinctually swim, but that doesn't mean that every dog will be able to safely navigate open water.
In reality, it's possible for all dogs to learn to swim, but not all of them instinctually good at it. Knowing which dogs are built for swimming, and those that are really not will help you decide how or if you should take your dog swimming.
How to Teach a Dog to Swim in 6 Steps
Before you take your dog to the lake for their first swim, you should be prepared for the fact that they might need some training or gear to keep them stay safe in the water. Here are some easy steps to teach your dog to swim safely.
1. Make sure they are comfortable getting wet
Some dogs love the water. They'll run through the sprinkler or roll in any puddle they pass. But some dogs are less comfortable getting soaked. Help your dog get comfortable by starting with a kiddie pool and some floating toys, a quick run through the sprinkler, or even taking a quick soak in the tub.
2. Coax them into the water with you
The first time you take them in a larger body of water, whether it's a pool or a lake, it's important that you go in with them. This will show them that it's safe to get in the water, and you can make the experience a fun game.
If they are hesitant to follow you, then grab a toy or some tasty treats to further coax them into the water. Your dog may take some practice steps before getting all the way in.
3. Start with short swimming sessions
Swimming is an excellent workout but can be tiring for dogs that are not used to this activity. Keep your sessions short and give them breaks out of the water to relax. Like any workout, short reps are recommended to help improve stamina.
4. Stick to controlled environments
If your pup is overconfident, they may swim further out into deeper water but may be too exhausted to make it back on their own. Stick to areas of water that you can control, or be prepared to swim faster than your dog.
5. Safe Escape Route
How to safely get in the water is just as important as getting out. Beaches are pretty straightforward, but if your boating with your dog, jumping off of raised docks, or even taking a dip in your own pool, teaching your dog the safe way to use ramps, stairs, or ladders will ensure they can get out of the water when they need to.
6. Practice good recall
Teaching your dog good recall will help prevent them from swimming out too far and putting themselves in danger. Keeping them close enough to you that you can swim out to them quickly to provide assistance if necessary is important, so make sure your dog knows to come back when he's called.
If you've always wanted a swimming companion, but you're not sure which breeds are the strongest swimmers, then this next section will introduce you to some of the best and worst doggy swimmers.
10 Best Water Dogs
Some dogs were literally bred for swimming. If you are looking for a pal to join you at the lake, then here are 10 of the best dog swimmers that would love to join you on your next dip.
1. Labrador Retrievers
Probably the most well-known breed on our list, and one of the most popular dog breeds in Canada, the Labrador Retriever is a natural-born swimmer. Originally bred to work alongside fishermen, this large breed is is no stranger to the water.
Labs have both the stamina and energy to keep up with you, and probably swim circles around you. Floating toys are a great way to get the most out of your do's swimming adventures.
Though many poodles are known for being show dogs, don't let their fancy haircuts fool you. Poodles are very comfortable in the water thanks to their heritage of helping hunters retrieve waterfowl.
Their long legs and slender physique make them excellent swimmers, and they are a high-energy breed, so swimming is the perfect activity to burn some extra energy.
3. Irish Water Spaniels
With water right there in the name, it's a no-brainer that these dogs would be strong swimmers. You can't keep Irish Water Spaniels out of the water even if you tried.
This large breed may look like a giant teddy bear, but they are full of energy and stamina, making them great adventure companions. Whether you are hiking, camping, or just going to your local beach or lake, the Irish Water Spaniel will be happy to tag along.
4. Portuguese Water Dogs
A close relative of the poodle, the Portuguese Water Dog is another of our favourite half dog half fish. This water dog was used to help herd fish into nets for fishermen, so they know how to thrive in open water.
They make great boat dogs, and would actually prefer to spend their summers at the lake where they can swim to their heart's content. This high-energy breed won't be easily tuckered out either, so plan for lots of time in the water.
You might be surprised to see this burly breed on the list, but Newfies are actually excellent swimmers. Despite their large size and dense coat, Newfoundlands love the water and were originally bred as work dogs for fisherman.
They are a working breed, so even though they aren't high-energy dogs, they have tons of stamina, making them well-suited to longer swimming sessions. Plus a cool dip in the summer is just what this long-haired breed ordered.
6. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers
One guess as to what this breed was bred for. If you guessed for rabbit hunting season, then you're Elmer Fudd. Duck Tolling Retrievers were hunting companions for duck and fowl hunters. They would go for a swim and retrieve ducks for hunters.
They love the water and can deal with cooler temperatures, so don't be surprised if your dog heads for the river in early spring and fall. Their slick coats make them aerodynamic in the water and keep them from getting water-logged.
7. Golden Retrievers
Another skilled retriever, the golden retriever is a much more common breed in Canada. They are a jovial and playful breed and they love to do whatever their humans do, so if you are going for a swim, they'd gladly join you.
Their flat coat allows them to repel water, keeping them from getting weighed down, and their long muscular legs make them great swimmers. They have lots of stamina and love high-energy activities with their friends, both doggy and human.
8. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
Tired of retrievers yet? Us neither! The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is one of the more unique-looking retriever breeds. They look a bit like a lab, but with a unique;y textured and dense coat that keeps them warm in colder water.
They are another hunting companion, accustomed to retrieving prey from the water, so they are natural swimmers. Chessies, as they are colloquially known, are always up for a good time, especially if it involves swimming.
9. English Setters
This gorgeous lanky breed is a good all-around outdoor dog, but they don't shy away from water. Though they were originally bred for landing hunting, their build makes them dynamic and capable swimmers.
As one of the highest energy breeds on our list of good swimmers, English Setters can play till they drop, and are ideal hiking companions because they can easily participate in a variety of activities in a day.
10. Spanish Water Dog
As one of the most effective herding breeds, Spanish Water Dogs are built for stamina They love any outdoor activities that keep them active, especially if their family is involved. They can be nervous around strangers, so make sure they are well-socialized before taking them to a crowded beach.
They have a denser curly coat that helps protect them from heat, humidity, and cold, so they are comfortable in most mild to hot climates. They have tons of energy, so make sure you have a floating dog toy to help tucker them out, otherwise, you'll never get them back on land.
Even the best doggy swimmers can have trouble in the water. Safety gear like dog life vests should always be used to keep your dog safe.
10 Dogs Breeds That Probably Can't Swim
Not all dogs that love the water can swim. Some breeds just aren't aquatically inclined. This doesn't mean they can't swim at all, but they won't always be strong swimmers and are better sticking to the shallow end of the pool. Here are the top 10 breeds that may not be great swimmers:
Dogs with short snouts are not well-designed for swimming. Their congested nasal passage makes them susceptible to shortness of breath. The short length of the snout also makes it more difficult to keep their airways above water. Here are three brachycephalic breeds that are notoriously bad swimmers:
Pugs are even more disadvantaged at swimming than most brachycephalic breeds. Their thick bodies ad short legs also hinder their ability to tread water gracefully. Though some pugs may love water play, they will definitely be safest wearing a floatation device to keep them from sinking like a rock.
Though their long legs might give the impression that swimming is a breeze, many boxers share the same struggles that lots of short-snouted dogs do. In addition, their deep, barrel chests make them very top-heavy, which means they need to kick even harder to keep their heads above the waterline. While boxers are better swimmers than other brachycephalic breeds, they still may struggle, especially in moving bodies of water, like lakes.
Much like the pug, bulldogs had short noses and stubby legs. Furthermore, they have keg-shaped bodies that allow limited movement of their limbs, making swimming a challenge. Such a dense-bodied breed is better off running along the shoreline or splashing around in a kiddie pool.
4. Shih Tzus
The smallest brachycephalic breed on our list, Shih Tzu's are not only short-nosed but their long, dense coat can easily waterlog their small bodies. Their small stature and slender frame also make them more likely to catch a chill in cooler water, or if they aren't dried off properly after a swim.
5. Chow Chows
This giant ball of fluff may look like he'd appreciate a cool dip on a hot day, but be cautious of letting them swim without strict supervision. Their short snouts and dense bodies put them at a high risk of struggling in deep water. Their extremely dense coat will be easily weighed down in the water, making it difficult for them to stay afloat safely.
Dogs will comically short legs are also not great swimmers. Those little paddles are fine for shallow waters but aren't going to be much help if they swim too far out or are treading moving water. They often lack the dexterity and physical stamina to swim well.
This stocky breed is at a significant disadvantage in the water due to their odd shape and ridiculously tiny legs. While they may have the energy and drive for swimming, you'd be wise to keep them close to you and use the right safety gear. They can tire easily and may need assistance to keep their heads above water.
This extra long scent hound has the gift of an exceptional sense of smell and loves adventure, but he definitely rolled a one on dexterity, making him a notoriously poor swimmer. They have thick, stocky, and short legs that limit their ability to paddle in the water. Keep them in very shallow water or saddle him with a life jacket to keep him afloat.
This small pooch with a silly nickname is one breed that needs a life jacket if you want to take him for a swim. Dachshunds are 90% torso and about 2% legs, so the doggy paddle is more of a doggy wiggle, which is not an effective way to tread water.
9. Shar Pei
This giant ball of wrinkles has the disadvantage of having a stocky body and short legs, making them terrible swimmers. Additionally, Shar Pei's are prone to skin issues, like yeast and dandruff, so swimming in bacteria-ridden open waters could worsen their itchy skin issues.
This one might be surprising. You'd think a dog with lower body fat than Michael Phelps would be a great swimmer, but that dense, heavy muscle can be a hindrance. Not all muscular dogs struggle with swimming, but we know of one very swol breed that might not thrive in the water.
10. Staffordshire Bull Terriers
Staffies are like little tanks. They can vary in size, but they are all typically stocky and insanely muscular. They have a medium-length snout, and medium-length legs, but their dense core makes it difficult for them to stay afloat for too long. They aren't the worst swimmers on our list, but they are far from natural water dogs.
All Dogs Can Swim
Of course, any of the dogs on our aquatically challenged list can learn to swim, but lots of practice, appropriate supervision, and the correct safety gear should be considered to keep your dog above water. Here are a few tips to consider before letting your dog take the plunge, no matter how experienced a swimmer they may be:
10 Water Safety Tips for Dogs
Before you take your dog for a dip, you should always keep their safety in mind. Here are a few things you should do to prepare your dog for a fun and safe swim:
1. Check the Temp
Even if the weather feels warm, that doesn't mean the water is. Check the water temp before letting your dog dive in. Not all dogs are built for cold water activities, and if they stay in too long could end up with a nasty case of hypothermia.
Whenever your dog has access to open water, it's vital that you consider currents and undertows. Even slow-moving water can have its dangers. Keep your dog close to you, and avoid bodies of water that have unpredictable currents.
The depth of the water can be a factor too. Having a shallower section of water where your dog can touch the ground when he's feeling tired is always a safe bet. Encourage your dog to stay within a certain distance of the shallower water.
Dogs will naturally be curious about wildlife, so fish, birds, and other creatures that dwell in or near open water could catch your dog's attention.
5. Water Quality
Dogs don't particularly mind a romp in some muddy water, but dirt isn't the only consideration. Stagnant water, like ponds, can harbour some dangerous bacteria. Be cautious of the quality of the water you allow your dog to swim or play in. Stream and lakes can have toxins in them too, so try to stick to cleaner waters that are safe for people to swim in too.
Swimming pools seem like a safer option due to the limited space, temperature, and depth, but chlorine and other chemicals used in swimming pools aren't great for your dog's skin, nor are they meant to be ingested.
6. Water Toxicity
Unlike humans who avoid getting lake water in our mouths at all costs, your dog is not as picky. He will likely end up swallow several gulps of water during his swim. In some cases, dogs consume too much water, leading to water toxicity. This is common in dogs that don't swim all that well and struggle to keep their mouth out of the water while swimming. Check out this article to learn more about water toxicity.
Lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water can have dangerous debris floating in them. This could be something a common as seaweed or logs, to trash. To your dog, this debris might look like food or a toy that could tempt your dog to chase it further out than it's safe for them to swim. Alternatively, they could ingest this debris, which could be a choking hazard or toxic.
8. Sun Exposure
Most doggy swimming activities happen in the summer when the water is warm enough for you to participate. This means your dog could be spending prolonged periods under the hot sun. Limiting sun exposure will prevent sunburns and overheating.
9. Floating Dog Toys
A good game of fetch in the water is an excellent and high aerobic activity for dogs. To keep this activity safe, stick to toys that float. While some dogs can handle short dives for sinking toys, it's safest to encourage your dog to stay above water. Toys that don't absorb water will also reduce the amount of water your dog ingests while swimming.
Check out some of our favourite floating toys in 50 Best Dog Toys.
10. Life Jackets
Even strong swimmers should have safety gear. A life jacket is always better to have and not need than the other way around. A high-quality life jacket could be the difference between life and death in a dangerous situation.
Best Dog Life Jackets
Whether your dog is just dipping his toes in the water or if they are ready to take on the high dive, it's always safest to put on a floatation device. Even the best swimmers get tired or can get caught in a current.
To help you find the best dog life jacket, we asked some adventure dogs to review some of our favourites and let us know how they helped up against their dog's adventures.
1. Ruffwear Float Coat
Jasper – Mini Australian Shepherd. 28 lbs. – Wears the Ruffwear Float Coat size Small.
Jasper loves the water! She spends the hot Okanagan summers at the beach and in the water! She loves playing fetch at the dog beach and going out on the paddleboard. She is a much more confident swimmer with her float coat (life jacket) on. Whenever I grab the lifejacket out of the closet Jasper knows she’s going for a swim.
Photo Credit: Jasper (@heyjasper_)
The Float Coat is available in three bright colours, making it easy to see in the water (and to match your paddleboard!). This will help you keep your pet close by and follow him as he explores the water.
The comfortable hourglass-shaped handle on the back of the life jacket makes it easy to lift your dog out of the water. Additionally, the chest and neck material is very supportive making lifting comfortable for the dog too.
Handle close to head making it easy to reach when she swims up to me. The ring is hidden beneath the handle for clipping on your leash or tags etc. The loop on the back of the Float Coat is designed to attach Ruffwear Beacon for additional visibility in low light.
Life jackets are bulky by nature, but this one is very lightweight with appropriate thickness making it more comfortable for dogs of all sizes.
The woven fabric on the exterior is strong and has held up well to Jasper rolling in the sand and rubbing up on rocks (she’s strange). It also has a handle stitched on from the front to the back of this jacket; very strong yet minimalistic in looks.
Hauling around your own gear is already a hassle, so choosing gear for your dog that is compactable and light will make your adventures much easier. The Float Coat folds up easily for storage and transportation, making it the ideal coat if you are planning a variety of outdoor activities.
The most expensive of all the life jackets (if I’m not mistaken) at just over $120, but it is built tough and won’t need to be replaced for years to come. Amazing quality and craftsmanship. Super comfortable.
Jasper has so much confidence in the water with this life jacket. With it on she will swim after a ball thrown far into the lake and will jump off the paddleboard to swim to a friend or chase some ducks without hesitation.
The handle placement and structure make it easy to grab and lift her out of the water onto the board even while moving. It's built to endure summer after summer of fun in the water.
2. Hurtta Life Saviour
Meet Khali! Like many bully breeds, Khali the Miniature Bull Terrier, just can’t swim. She is often around rivers, lakes, ponds, even more, when hiking, kayaking or enjoying the cottage on the weekends. It is very important that Khali is safe around the water. When Kahli was just 10 weeks old she tried out a generic life jacket that didn’t even keep her afloat, so we asked her to review the Hurtta Life Saviour.
Photo Credit: Khali (@bulliesgonewild)
Of all the life jackets we have owned for Kahli, the Hurtta Life Saviour is by far my favourite. You have a few excellent colour choices to choose from, the sizes are super adjustable, and I was overall impressed with the function and quality of this life jacket.
The chest piece on this life jacket kept Kahli’s head comfortably above the water. Overall, she seemed most confident swimming in this life jacket. Kahli was also very comfortable with us lifting her in this jacket.
We were able to lift her out of the water and onto the boat, back into the water, and even just carry her around without any discomfort. The belly band is very supportive, which is very important if you Kayak or do any water sports that involve lifting.
The Hurtta Life Savior is a bit bulky, but by far the most buoyant out of the jackets we tried for Homes Alive Pets. Everything on this jacket feels like it was made to last your dog’s entire life.
There is even an identification tag on the side so you can label the jacket with your pup’s name. The handle feels thick and strong, so I was comfortable relying on that to hoist Kahli into my kayak. While this jacket was thick, it was also super lightweight. Kahli was able to run and play on land without having her movement restricted.
The Hurtta Life Saviour will run you $79.99 - $90.99 depending on the size you require for your pup. I truly believe you are getting every nickel worth out of this one – the quality is superb. Everything about this life jacket feels durable! Plus, Hurtta backs their products 100%.
Khali's top choice is the Hurtta Life Saviour to purchase, personally. There is nothing about this life jacket that even slightly disappoints me and I trust that it will keep Kahli safe for years to come. Kahli and I felt most confident when she was wearing the Hurtta Life Jacket out of the others we tried. I also like the colour options, of course. Bright colours are not only fun - but definitely help with visibility as well.
Can we add the bottle opener to this one?! That would definitely seal the deal.
Do Dogs Need Life Jackets?
We want our pets to have fun and find new activities, but safety should always be a priority. Whether your dog is diving into open water or just splashing around in your pool, life jackets save lives. It's called a life preserver for a reason, after all.
Even if your dog is a natural-born swimmer, undertows, currents and waves can quickly turn a fun swimming session into a dangerous activity. Never leave your dog unattended in the water, and always put on their life jacket. Safety and fun are not mutually exclusive, so don't take any chances with your dog's life.
Is your dog a good swimmer, or does he sink like a rock? Let us know in the comments how you keep your doggo safe in the water!