“It’s ok, my dog can swim.“While it is true that most dogs can swim well, drowning is a very real risk for canines when enjoying a day out on the water. Bring out the life jacket for the dog. Yes, you heard right, a life jacket. No – not the old bulky, moldy one from summer camp years ago – comfortable, effective and even stylish jackets for dogs are now readily available.
It is unknown how many dogs drown annually, but the statistics for humans can be sobering. The United States Coast Guard keeps tabs on boating accidents and nearly 77 percent of all deaths are from drowning and of the 77 percent, 80 percent of the victims knew how to swim. Frequently, these victims found themselves in the water unexpectedly, and without a life jacket. Of those in drowning accidents, well over 80 percent were without a life jacket.
Boats rock and roll and dogs will be dogs. It is easy to see how a dog can fall off a boat or a dock – either being knocked off by waves or a strong passing wake or from simply jumping in after a duck or other bird. Even if your dog knows how to swim, drowning is possible from exhaustion, hypothermia and other medical conditions. And don’t think that drowning is limited to boating – most drownings are not boating-related, but occur in pools, lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.
Before we discuss what to look for in a life jacket, remember that not all dogs are suited for swimming and the great outdoors. Pugs, bulldogs and other dogs with short snouts and decreased stamina should be handled with extreme caution around bodies of water. They have barrel chests, short legs and congested airways. These breeds are prone to heat exhaustion and also may not be able to keep their heads above water. Dogs with heart or lung disease, seizure disorders or any illness that impairs mobility or stamina should probably not be out on the open water. You can always ask us if swimming is safe for your dog.
Here are a few things to look for in a dog life jacket:
- The Fit: You want the jacket to be snug, but comfortable, allowing for easy movement, but not able to slip off the dog or be too tight that it causes chafing.
- Bright Coloration: Water is dark and you want the dog to be readily visible to you, other swimmers and boaters and watercraft users.
- Reflective Strips: Like your bicycle, reflective strips help make the dog more visible, especially in low-light situations.
- Handle on the Top: Test the strength of the handle – you should be able to pull the dog up into a boat or onto a dock with the handle.
- Front Floatation Padding: For older dogs or those with movement problems, this padding will help keep their heads above water and is especially helpful if the dog is in distress.
- Leash Attachment: This may come in handy with dogs that cannot be trusted to readily return or in situations where there is a strong current or where you are unable to lift the dog yourself but do not want him / her to drift away.
Have fun this summer in and on the water. Have fun dock-diving. Have fun down at the beach. Keep it safe and have a life jacket for the pup and yourself!