By Dale E. Smith
Once upon a time, our Border Collie/Shetland Sheepdog mix, Keegan and I went on a camping trip to Roaring River State Park in Southern Missouri. We were going to do a product review on some dog gear for camping. While I was there I thought it would be a good chance for me to get in some relaxation by going fly fishing – Roaring River is stocked with trout. The river is fed by a large natural spring with a water temperature around 55 degrees. It was a great experience, fly fishing with my pooch, right up until the point Keegan was broadsided by the current while crossing a rock bar. He was swept down stream with me running after him. He made it to the bank after about a 15 to 20 yard swim; something he doesn’t do very well. Keegan hates swimming and just my luck I wasn’t reviewing a life jacket for dogs at the time. That scare put me on the hunt for dog flotation devices. That was October 2008 and Keegan has stayed clear of water ever since.
Enter D-fa Dogs which we contacted in early 2011. They were kind enough to send us their Float Doggy, a canine flotation device (among other products), to review. D-fa is headquartered in New Zealand and even though the first part of the year is warm there, it was below zero here so we had to wait until the weather got warm in the northern hemisphere to review the Float Doggy.
Well, summer in the U.S. came… boy, did it come. Every time we thought we could find a good weekend to spend some time by the water we were facing campgrounds flooded by the local river or temperatures so high it made being outside down right dangerous. Would we really have to wait until next spring to get a dog in the water? Seriously?
Ahhhhhhh… we caught a break. There was a city pool closing at the end of August and we were sponsoring the event. The city of Overland Park, Kansas allows people to bring their dogs on one particular day just after the pool is closed for the season. They open the pool for just the pooches. It is a doggy free for all! We took our Border Collie mix, Keegan, not because he likes the water but he goes and plays catch with the tennis balls and flying discs on the pool deck. We also took Clyde, our St. Bernard mix. He had never been in the water but we thought we would put him in the D-fa Dogs Float Doggy and try to coax him into the pool.
Before I tell you how Clyde did I want to share with you what D-fa Dogs says about their Float Doggy flotation device.
Dog Flotation Vest
INSPIRED BY: A kayaker who lost his dog on a New Zealand river
Most dogs like to swim, and certain breeds are beautifully designed for the water. However, this instinct doesn’t make them invincible and providing flotation vests or ‘life jackets’ for your dog is as important as providing them for yourself or your children.
Dog flotation vests are often called dog life jackets or dog flotation devices. Technically speaking in the human world a ‘life jacket’ has to be able to support you when you are unconscious. That generally means that it will need lots and lots of foam and not be that easy to move or swim in.
However, a flotation vest or flotation device will be more like a kayaking PFD or water-ski/wakeboard vest that allows you to move more comfortably, be more active and still give you good support in the water if you are tired or injured. Given dogs need to move around in the water our dog flotation vest gives a balance of support and flexibility to allow for lots of doggy paddling action.
Here are four good reasons why your dog needs a dog flotation vest, even if he’s a great swimmer:
- Dogs are sprinters, not “stayers” in the water
They go in and out of the water, fetching or chasing, with short rest periods where they put their paws down and rest. If they have to swim even a modest distance they will exhaust quickly and once that happens, they sink.
- Moving or cold water is extra tiring
Swimming even modest distances in cold, moving or deep water is challenging for even the most capable doggy paddler. Exhaustion and hypothermia both limit your dog’s natural swimming ability.
- We Are Changing The Behaviour Of Our Dog To Suit Our Adventures
The on-water environment has some new challenges for your dog. Balancing on a SUP or kayak, different smells and sounds, the changing energy of the people around them as adrenalin rises and falls all affect your dog. Fitting a comfortable, well-designed and well-fitted dog flotation vest will help him swim more comfortably for longer, and give you a secure harness in which to lift him if he struggles.
- Dog Overboard Rescues Are Easier
Rescuing a struggling dog from the water can be difficult. Having some kind of secure, well-fitted lifting harness around your dog in the water makes it easier to hold and lift your dog. It reduces the risk of them swamping you, and makes the whole experience more comfortable for them.
Our dog flotation vest (life jacket) uses a unique enclosed design. Think of it as being more like your fitted, ergonomic whitewater PFD or water-ski/wakeboard vest rather than one of the bulky, one size fits most jackets you are issued on airplanes – you know, the ones that are bulky and square, you can’t swim in and that ride up around your ears.
- Harness construction cradles your dog in the jacket and removes pressure points.
- Hinged foam segments allow free movement and a better fit.
- Variable density foam complements natural buoyancy.
- Chest panel keeps the head above water without pressuring the throat.
- Tapered panels give a better fit on a range of doggy shapes.
- Double strapping secures the jacket evenly and firmly.
- Full length lifting handle and leash attachment for doggy overboard situations.
- Harness construction for secure lifting, minimizes throat and elbow pressure.
- Durable construction using Cordura® Nylon and waterproof reflective tapes.
- No Velcro or awkward fastenings!
Get The Fit Right
Fitting a Float Doggy is mostly about the weight of your dog. Our Sizing Chart outlines each size, the weight range it covers and the breeds of dogs that indicate the best fit for that size.
Because the jacket is adjustable beneath the chest and at the waist, don’t worry too much about deep chests or narrow waists. Opt with the weight and recommendation for breed.
Please bear in mind that the fit will be snug, which is how it should be. Your dog will become accustomed to it being placed over his head and a close fit around the neck is best.
What to Look for
Like any buoyancy vest the most important things to look for in one for your dog are:
- An ergonomic fit – with sufficient flotation between the front legs to keep the head above water, and at the sides for balance.
- Belly panels should cradle the dog with slightly less flotation than at the sides, but still enough to give support from below and avoid hanging the dog inside the jacket.
- Look for jackets with tapered panels and good adjustment around the body to accommodate deep chests and narrow waists or other doggy proportions.
- Ensure that the jacket does not impede the shoulders from moving through the paddle stroke or sag down under the belly where it may catch on the front legs of shorter legged breeds.
- Finally, you will lift your dog in the jacket so ensure that lifting is safe and comfortable. Look for jackets that spread the lifting weight away from the throat and that fit closely to minimize the risk of slipping out.
Here was our experience with the Float Doggy:
We had to get Clyde our St. Bernard mix to wear it. In a matter of seconds we had it on him, adjusted and buckled up. The first thing you notice is how easy it is to put on your pooch. The second thing is how non-bulky it is. Clyde had plenty of room for movement and move he did, just not in the water. No matter how hard we tried we could not get Clyde to swim. He finally walked in the water but he would not go deeper than where he could touch. Much like kids when they are learning to swim, he was afraid of the deep end. Rather than torturing poor Clyde anymore, he was growing tired of our coaxing, we took the Float Doggy off him and threw it over our shoulder. Now for plan B… we didn’t have a plan B.
We walked around the pool looking for Keegan. While we were concentrating on Clyde, Keegan had found a pet owner that couldn’t get his own dogs to go in the pool either. This pet owner had been throwing tennis balls in the pool to get his dogs to jump in. Keegan, like this person’s dogs wasn’t buying it. Keegan was following along watching the tennis balls hit the water. I could see Keegan REALLY wanted those balls but he just wasn’t taking the bait. Then all of a sudden, much to our surprise, Keegan jumped in after a ball. The pool depth was about 5 feet and the moment Keegan hit the water you could see the panic register on his face. He immediately turned away from the ball and started swimming frantically for the pool side. The gentleman who was throwing the balls ran over to Keegan and helped him out of the pool. We were in SHOCK!
Seeing however that Keegan went in the water, no matter how pathetic it looked, I grabbed the Float Doggy and put it on him. With tennis balls in hand I started tossing tennis balls in the pool from the shallow end which was sort of a beach… a regular pool deck, but instead of stairs it gradually sloped into the water.
Keegan really wanted to go in but he didn’t know that we had just put a life jacket on him. So down to the shallow end we went. I started throwing the ball just so Keegan had to get his feet wet to fetch them. I slowly increased the distance as time went on. Finally Keegan went for a ball that was in the water at a depth too deep to walk. He was finally swimming.
The Float Doggy kept his head above water and kept his body balanced left to right (some dog flotation devices will actually tip a dog on their side due to too much buoyancy on the dog’s stomach or chest area). Keegan was now fetching balls in deep water with the best of them. He had plenty of freedom of movement. It allowed him to get his stroke down. At first his dog paddle looked like a fish out of water. We didn’t lift Keegan to test the flotation jacket for comfort. If he would have had it on when he originally jumped in without it on I have no doubt it would have been more comfortable than getting pulled out of the pool by his collar.
Before the event was over we ran into some friends of ours and they were there with their non swimming Bernese Mountain dog, Nelson. We just couldn’t pass up the chance to see if Nelson would join in on the fun. We took the Float Doggy off of Keegan and made the adjustments and put it on Nelson. After a minute of dancing around he got used to the Float Doggy being on and ventured into the water. He didn’t swim this time but we are going to try him in it again in a few weeks when the City of Overland Park closes another pool and lets the dogs swim there.
The Float Doggy is a fantastic dog flotation device. In this case it fit our Border Collie mix who weighs in at 60 pounds, it fit our St. Bernard mix that weighs 105 pounds and even fit Nelson, Our friend’s Bernese Mountain dog. Granted Nelson is on the smaller side for a Berner but the large size Float Doggy was very versatile. Any adventures we go on that will involve being around water we will never leave home without it. None of our pooches are water dogs so when we’re all in or near water they will all be donning their Float Doggy life vests. If you couldn’t swim or swim very well would you get in a boat or in the water without a life jacket, neither should your dogs?
The Float Doggy isn’t just for dogs that are poor swimmers; water dogs that are very proficient swimmers should wear one also. Water doesn’t have to be cold to cause hypothermia. Canine’s body temperature is around 101 degrees, unless the water temperature is above 101 it will lower a dog or human’s body temperature if you are in it long enough. The colder the water, the harder it is on the dog’s core temp and their muscles. Moving water wears on dogs’ muscles just like it would yours. Dogs also get tired swimming, just like us, when those things happen they aren’t able to tell you they just stop paddling. When they stop paddling… They sink!
I would recommend everyone to look into the D-fa Dogs Float Doggy flotation device. It helped give our non swimming Border Collie, Keegan, the confidence he needed to go in the deep end. To purchase a Float – Doggy now vist 3 Dogs and a Tent, “adventure gear for you and your pet”