Even though retrievers such as the lab, golden and Chesapeake swim like fish and Newfoundlands are almost as much at home in the water as on land, a life jacket benefits Fido on a boat. Or, for that matter, in any water situation.
"Life jackets are important even for man's best friend," advises the Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS), which recently tested several makes of doggie life jackets.
It may seem overly cautious to strap a life jacket on a dog, particularly if it is a breed bred for the water. Even strong water dogs, however, can tire if they are in the water too long. In case of a violent accident, injury or going overboard in rough seas, a life jacket can give a dog the edge it needs to survive. This goes double if the dog is aged or infirm.
Some breeds, moreover, are ill-adapted to the water, notes the June/July issue of BoatUS Magazine. Breeds such as the greyhound, with a short coat and lean in body fat, are poorly insulated against cold. Small dogs may struggle in water that is cold or rough because they lack sufficient strength and stamina.
"No matter water dog or lap dog," says BoatUS, "the life jacket has to be right sized."
A good fit was one of the key requirements for life jackets tested by the boating group on eight dogs, ranging in size from a 12-pound rat terrier to a 130-pound Newfoundland. Another was straps and buckles that are comfortable and designed not to chafe a dog's body. Testers also found that, whatever the size or shape of the jacket and the dog, foam floatation in the jacket must be situated on the dog's body so the animal can swim easily in the water and comfortably lie down on deck or on the dock.
The type of jacket chosen also depends on its intended use. Is the jacket's primary role an emergency safety device in case the dog falls overboard? Or is it to be worn by a dog that will be playing in the water or swimming for exercise? "Think minimal and comfortable," say the testers, if the jacket is to be worn all day aboard a vessel. A larger jacket does well as an aid in swimming.
Boaters are apparently opting for canine life jackets with increasing frequency, says BoatUS, because the selection found in stores is increasing. The group suggests West Marine and big box stores as a source for the jackets.