Thinking about swimming with your dog?


[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]S[/su_dropcap]urely, we don’t need a life jacket! All dogs can swim… right?! Famous last words spoken in a pet shop, and then we left with a swim vest after all.  I wasn’t really convinced we needed one, but here is why it turned out to be a very good purchase (and yes, we did buy the vest with our own money, this is not a sponsored post)

Well, yes dogs can swim. However, even those who swim can have a fit of panic and start to ‘panic paddle’ instead of swimming. Here some reasons that might lead you to consider a life vest for your four-legged friend:

  • Your dog doesn’t swim regularly. Dogs who don’t swim regularly can tire out quickly (like us, when we’re not in shape), especially if they perceive the shore to be far away or slide of a paddling boat.
  • Some dogs have problems swimming (even though they are water enthusiasts) or simply need support: dogs with long spines (e.g. basset hound, dachshund), or flat-nosed dogs (or brachicephalic, if you want the technical term, like pugs or French bulldogs), which makes breathing difficult.  And dogs with large chests (e.g. some bulldogs), where the imbalance with more weight on the front than the hind legs makes them work really hard to stay afloat.
  • You are planning some water activities like paddle boarding, where both you and your dog can fall into the water….
  • Your dog doesn’t take to the water, but you still want to introduce them to swimming, because you like to go swimming and want to take them along.

Over the past three years we have seen a lot of dogs experience panic attacks on the beach when their owners were out swimming. Others were being carried into the sea – because it’s hot and they need to cool down – with their tails between their legs.

Micro has always liked the water (except for the rain…). Don’t even remind me of how many hours I spent outside with him when he was a puppy and needed to be house trained. It was a particularly wet winter, as I recall!

By late spring this year, I saw all these active dogs in swim vests popping up on my instafeed and started to think about summer activities. I know that they offer paddle boarding near our holiday beach in Spain, and it would be nice, for once, to see the coast from the sea side (G hasn’t even been on the glass-bottom boat, yet!). Most definitely, Micro would need a vest for that – all humans on the boat have to wear one, too. I extended my search to see what makes a good dog life vest (… all the things you do to procrastinate writing up your own research…).

A good dog life vest needs to fulfill the following criteria:

  • Adequate floating (seems logical)
  • A sturdy handle, preferably one that’s easy to grab
  • Proper belly support – for support when swimming, and also when being lifted out of the water. Generally the back panel is the one that keeps the dog afloat, but no point if that lifts up and lets your dogs sink down below due to lack of support
  • A reliable system to keep your dog in the life vest (standard seems to be a Velcro closure at the belly and two buckles)
  • Comfort – although less for safety reasons, but for the simple fact that your dog is not going to want to wear the vest if it inflicts pain or discomfort! You wouldn’t either. Especially if you want to use the vest regularly

Flexibility and style (and choice of colour) are also nice, but not essential.

We settled on the new Ruffwear Float Coat for

two reasons: (a) the online reviews were pretty good, and (b) because we could actually go and try it on in a shop without having to drive far. Call us old fashioned, but somehow I prefer to try things on in a shop.

It’s not the cheapest model, but the Hurtta lifevest (which was the other option) doesn’t have a retailer in reasonable driving distance from our flat.

On pictures it looks like both life vests are constructed the same way, though I have read in some reviews that the old Ruffwear float coat squeezed dogs in with floating panels in the back. It’s priced originally at £79 .95 (I have seen it online for 74.95€ as well).

Ruffwear Float Coat

Colours available (although technically only of – secondary – importance for the human): Blue Atoll, Sockeye Red and Wave Orange

Sizes: XXS-XL

Ruffwear size advice:

We were following our trusted German dog accessory shop’s advice for Ruffwear sizing: if between two sizes, always size down. This is not what the UK Ruffwear people will tell you on the phone (we had the shop here call for size advice). Sizing down definitely works for us/Micro, who is broader chested, but otherwise small.

Like with all Ruffwear products it’s a little tricky for dogs who are broader chested, but otherwise of a smaller and shorter build. But, as I said, sizing down usually works. Micro fits an XS comfortably. From his chest measurements, he would need an S. Size S doesn’t take into account that a larger chest does not necessarily come with a larger /longer dog, and that cuts off his private parts in a rather uncomfortable way. It seemed to fit well in the shop, and Micro ran around for quite a while, not showing any signs of wanting to get rid off the thing.

Time for the beach test


Micro quite quickly got the idea that the vest would help him swim with more ease, and he sprinted into the sea to retrieve his toy with much more ease and panache than the previous years. He was able to go in and out of the water all by himself! The beach doesn’t have a gradual access, and so, as a small dog, you’re already in over your head after the first wave. A lot of dogs don’t go in on their own at all because of that. Owners will carry them in to cool them down, but not all dogs really enjoy that. Dogs who loved this beach were generally larger breeds (lots of cross-breeds this year, adopting programmes seem to have improved over the years!).

The handle of the vest is quite sturdy and we were able to lift Micro without a problem. In terms of general fit, the life vest could be a little more snug around his waist – there was a gap when we carried him in like a hand bag (to the delight of half of the people on the dog beach). For Micro, the panels under his belly almost meet so he gets a lot of support. I’m not sure, if it’s intentionally designed like that or just happened to be the case for us. If the panels didn’t meet, there would be a lot less belly support (just on the straps) and that might be the reason why some dogs in the reviews didn’t quite take to this life vest.

The 3-point-fit system is similar to all Ruffwear products, plus velcro to shorter the straps. It means that you should do a first fitting with your dog at home. There is no way with all the sand (and probably a wiggly dog) that you’ll easily manage to adjust the straps on the beach.