Many dogs love to frolic in the water, whether it’s at the beach or the lake down the road, and many breeds are naturally good swimmers. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to take precautions when going out on the water.
A dog life vest is essential if you’re going to take your dog out on a boat or to play in the surf. These jackets will help keep them afloat if they get tired while swimming, and they make your dog easier to spot — both for you and other boaters.
However, not every vest is good at the job it was created for, and some will cause your dog to struggle more than they’ll help her. In the reviews below, we’ll show which models can save your dog’s life and which ones are better left back onshore.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
The 10 Best Dog Life Vests – Reviews 2020
1. Paws Aboard Dog Life Vest – Best Overall
The Paws Aboard belly straps are easy to adjust, allowing you to customize the fit. This makes it less likely to come off at an inopportune moment, like while your dog is thrashing about in the water.
There’s a handle on the back that is very useful, as it gives you more control over your pup in an emergency. This could prove especially useful if you need to pluck her out of the water.
We also like the reflective piping down the sides of the thing. Not only does this make your pooch more visible to other people after the sun goes down, but it also helps you find her in the dark if you get separated.
Beyond being safe and useful, it’s also quite fashionable, as it comes in a wide array of colors and patterns. The neon yellow is probably the safest, but they all look good.
Our biggest issue with the Paws Aboard is the fact it runs a little big, so order a size down from what you think you’ll need. Regardless, you should be able to adjust it to fit your pup perfectly.
All this combines to make the Paws Aboard the clear top choice in this category, and a safe (and attractive) accessory for any sea-going pup.
2. Outward Hound Granby Splash Dog Life Vest – Best Value
The Outward Hound Granby offers most of the same advantages as the Paws Aboard, but at a significant discount, making it our choice for the best dog life vest for the money.
So why is it only #2? Simply put, it’s not as rugged and durable as the Paws Aboard. The handles on top aren’t attached very well, so they should only be used in an emergency instead of as your go-to grabbing place.
It only comes in two colors, but both are bright and vibrant, making your dog stand out no matter where she is. There’s plenty of foam paneling for buoyancy as well, so it’s a good choice for pups that aren’t the strongest of swimmers.
Also, it’s easy to adjust, but it also comes in four sizes, so you shouldn’t need to tinker with it much if you buy the correct size.
The Granby is a great vest for the dog that only occasionally goes out into the water, but it’s not ideal for one that heads out to the lake every weekend.
Sleek and stylish, the RUFFWEAR Float Coat hews very closely to the shape of your dog’s body, giving her plenty of range of motion while still keeping her safe in the water.
The telescoping neck closure is an especially nice touch, as it lets you secure it snugly to your pup’s neck, regardless of how long it is. This way, the jacket will stay on without constantly irritating her as she moves.
It can fit dogs of all sizes, too, as it’s available in XXS to XL.
The foam paneling is placed in such a way as to encourage your dog to stay upright, so you won’t have to watch her list in the water. Not only does this make her less likely to drown, but it also keeps her from exhausting herself while swimming.
Of course, all of these features don’t come cheap, and the Float Coat is one of the pricier models out there. Also, because it’s so snug when she’s wearing it, putting it on might be a pain, and skittish dogs might freak out as it goes over their heads.
We still love the Float Coat, but just not enough to place it over our top two picks, given its price.
4. EzyDog Flotation Device Dog Life Vest
Like the RUFFWEAR Float Coat above, the EzyDog Flotation Device is an expensive jacket that hugs your dog’s body closely. The paneling isn’t attached in quite as user-friendly a way, though, which is why this one was penalized a bit.
The problem isn’t that there’s not enough foam paneling, as the jacket is absolutely filled with the stuff. The problem is that there’s more at the rear of the vest than the front, so your dog’s butt will be lifted higher in the water than her face. This causes her to work harder to stay afloat.
It shouldn’t be a safety issue, provided you don’t leave your dog in the water too long, but it’s still annoying. The neck strap is also pretty snug and may chafe animals with large necks.
The good news is, there’s a grab handle on the top and reflective piping on the sides, so most of the important safety issues have been covered. It’s also available in three colors, including a green camo that makes it a great choice for hunting waterfowl.
Overall, the EzyDog Flotation Device is an excellent choice, and one you’ll likely be happy with. It’s just not quite up to the same level as the jackets ranked above it, though.
5. Vivaglory Ripstop Dog Life Vest
The Vivaglory Ripstop isn’t designed to keep a poor swimmer upright indefinitely, as it doesn’t have nearly as much foam padding as some of the other options on this list. However, if you’re looking for an inexpensive jacket that’s only to be used in case of emergencies, it’s a strong option.
It’s available in ten bright colors, allowing you to quickly locate your pooch if she falls into the water. It also has a grab handle and a metal D-ring for attaching a leash.
Your pup’s legs should be mostly unobstructed, so she can swim as much as she’s able to. Again, though, the jacket is just to provide a little extra assistance, not to keep her afloat on its own.
While you’re on land, though, you may find it difficult to keep it on your dog, as a determined mutt can easily wriggle out the back of it. Also, it attaches to her belly using Velcro, so it’s not going to be completely secure.
The Vivaglory Ripstop does a good job of performing the function it was built for, but it’s not a formidable enough option to warrant ranking above the middle of the pack on this list.
6. Queenmore Dog Life Vest
If you want to add a little hilarity to your next beach trip, consider the Queenmore Life Vest. It has a shark-like dorsal fin at the end of it, so your pup can feel like Jaws while she’s swimming around (you’ll probably be held responsible for any panics or evacuations she causes, though).
While a lot of thought was clearly given to the cuteness factor, less was given to safety. There’s not a lot of flotation paneling on this jacket, and we were willing to excuse that with the Vivaglory Ripstop above because it’s designed for emergency use only — the Queenmore is clearly intended for swimming.
The jacket only extends halfway down the torso, so there’s virtually no support for the hind legs.
It does make it easy to control your dog on the way to the shore, though, thanks to the strong rubber handle and D-ring leash attachment.
Before we can justify ranking the Queenmore higher than this, though, we’d need to see a lot more thought given to its performance in the water.
7. Wellver Dog Life Vest
The Wellver Life Vest certainly provides a lot of protection — in terms of the amount of dog it covers, anyway. This thing completely envelops your dog’s torso, with the bottom flaps folding over your pup’s stomach.
This keeps it in place as your dog moves, but it may restrict her range of motion somewhat. It also gives your dog’s spine more support if you find you need to lift her out of the water using the top handles.
All that coverage provides more opportunities for it to rub your dog the wrong way, though, and it can chafe larger pooches. Also, all that extra material just gives water more places to collect, and both your dog and the jacket will be sopping wet long after they get out of the water.
There’s not a lot of buoyancy to the thing, either, which is concerning given how much water it takes on. This isn’t something you should let your dog swim in, but it should give you a few minutes to pull her out of the drink if she falls in accidentally.
The manufacturers of the Wellver certainly can’t be accused of cutting any corners when it comes to fabric, so it’s surprising that the vest would be so lacking in other departments.
8. Kurgo Dog Water Life Vest
The Kurgo Water Vest is primarily a raincoat, but it can double as a life preserver in a pinch. As you might expect, though, the fact that being a life preserver is its secondary function means it’s not as suited for the job as a more dedicated model.
The inflatable vest can be removed when not in use, and since it’s not an integral part of the jacket as a whole, it doesn’t provide reliable flotation. Your dog will likely list from side to side while in the water.
It’s incredibly bulky when fully inflated, and your pet will have to waddle with it on. You can solve this problem by deflating it a bit, but that pretty much defeats the purpose of wearing it.
The fabric is flimsy as well, and while it has two grab handles on the back, we wouldn’t trust them in an emergency. But hey, it does have a built-in bottle opener, so there’s that.
Overall, the Kurgo is a good raincoat that might work as a life preserver in a pinch, but we wouldn’t trust it as our primary option.
9. Hollypet Dog Life Vest
The Hollypet Vest is held in place with just three thin straps — which is to say, it’s not held in place very well at all. It slips and slides all over the place while your dog is wearing it, so she likely won’t enjoy even support while in the water.
That may not be as big of a problem as it seems, though, but that’s only because there’s not much floatation paneling in it in the first place. There may be enough for smaller breeds, but larger pets likely won’t notice much help.
The ill fit somewhat negates the grab handle on top, too. If you pull on your dog, it’s likely the whole jacket will slide and you’ll end up dragging her from her side rather than lifting her from her back.
The Velcro neck closure is easy to use, and you can likely get it pretty snug. However, if the whole jacket is spinning around, there’s a good chance the Velcro will chafe your dog’s neck.
The Hollypet seems like the unfortunate product of trying to make a simple, one-size-fits-all jacket rather than giving pet parents multiple opportunities to customize the fit.
10. ThinkPet Dog Life Vest
Wearing the ThinkPet Vest will certainly make your dog look like an action star, but it’s unclear if it will actually help her survive until the end credits.
The thing just doesn’t have much buoyancy to it, and what floatation paneling it does have is largely concentrated around your dog’s middle, which may make it difficult for her to swim with it on.
It’s also prone to taking on a lot of water, so your pup will have to work extra hard to paddle along.
It has two thick buckle closures, but they’re so close together we can’t imagine that one wouldn’t have done the trick. Having the second one more evenly spaced-out would have done a better job keeping the jacket securely in place.
The good news is that it functions well as a harness, thanks to the durable stitching and strong D-ring. This list isn’t focused on harnesses, though, and we’re not sure we’d trust the ThinkPet out on the water.
You already know that every member of your family needs a life vest before heading out onto the water, but you may have forgotten about four-legged family members. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider before buying your pup his own life jacket.
Does My Dog Really Need a Life Jacket?
Yes. Dogs are naturally fairly good swimmers, but that doesn’t mean they can survive in any conditions. That’s especially true if they fall out of the boat far from shore and can’t make it back.
Also, if you take your dog to the beach, having a life vest can save his life if he gets caught in an undertow or other currents.
Plus, most vests are brightly-colored, which makes your dog easy to spot even if she doesn’t end up needing any help swimming. This can help you fetch her when it’s time to go home, while also making it easier for other swimmers and boaters to avoid accidentally running into her.
How Do They Work?
Much the same as human life jackets work. They have foam paneling sewn into the fabric which adds buoyancy, helping to keep them afloat in the water.
Many also double as harnesses, which helps you maintain control over your pet while walking to and from the shore.
What Do I Need to Look for in a Dog Life Vest?
First and foremost, you want to make sure it fits — and that doesn’t just mean that it will slip over her head.
It needs to add buoyancy to her chest and upper torso, so if the foam paneling is largely relegated to her hindquarters, the vest will likely do more harm than good. Check to see that it doesn’t interfere with her ability to paddle in the water or walk around on land, either.
Also, make sure that the paneling is evenly distributed and that the vest doesn’t slide around while she moves. If it gets off-kilter, that can cause her to roll or list in the water, which means she’ll have to work harder to stay afloat, and that can defeat the entire purpose of wearing it.
When Should My Dog Wear a Life Vest?
The general rule is that if the water’s too deep for her to stand in, she needs to wear a life vest.
How Do I Convince My Dog to Wear a Life Vest?
We recommend assembling a PowerPoint presentation that somberly demonstrates the dangers of going into the water without one.
If that doesn’t work, it’s simply a matter of exposure therapy. Many life jackets double as harnesses, so you may even be able to use it on walks to get her accustomed to it. This should also help her associate it with the joy of going for a walk, which makes her more likely to wear it.
Regardless of how you get her to wear it, make sure she isn’t able to get it off on her own.
The Paws Aboard is our favorite dog life vest because it’s so easy to adjust, allowing you to get the perfect fit on your mutt. It also has reflective piping, which makes her easy to spot after the sun goes down.
Coming in a close second was the Outward Hound Granby. Despite its low price point, it has plenty of foam paneling in it, so it should be able to keep your dog’s head above water for quite some time.
Finding a good dog life vest can be a pain, and oftentimes you won’t know if you’ve bought a lemon until it fails at the worst possible time. Hopefully, these reviews will spare you from any close calls, so you and your dog can enjoy a worry-free day on the water.
Just remember that, even if everything goes smoothly, your dog is still going to try to give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Featured Image: Float Coat Dog Life Jacket/RUFFWEAR, Amazon
Emily started this blog out of pure passion. She LOVES her 3 dogs; Chew Barka, Cooper & Nelson, and spends countless hours every day playing with them.
When she’s not nerding out on dogs, you’ll find her on a snowboard or in the kitchen baking chocolate brownies.
She’s been featured in PetAware, Dogtime, and ModernDog.
- A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
- The 10 Best Dog Life Vests – Reviews 2020
- 1. Paws Aboard Dog Life Vest – Best Overall
- 2. Outward Hound Granby Splash Dog Life Vest – Best Value
- 3. RUFFWEAR Float Coat Dog Life Vest – Premium Choice
- 4. EzyDog Flotation Device Dog Life Vest
- 5. Vivaglory Ripstop Dog Life Vest
- 6. Queenmore Dog Life Vest
- 7. Wellver Dog Life Vest
- 8. Kurgo Dog Water Life Vest
- 9. Hollypet Dog Life Vest
- 10. ThinkPet Dog Life Vest
- Buyer’s Guide
- Does My Dog Really Need a Life Jacket?
- How Do They Work?
- What Do I Need to Look for in a Dog Life Vest?
- When Should My Dog Wear a Life Vest?
- How Do I Convince My Dog to Wear a Life Vest?