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Do Dogs Need Life Jackets? Exploring Necessity vs Fancy Gadget

Written by: Greg Iacono

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

Yound dog in life jacket standing in a boat while sailing to the sea

Do Dogs Need Life Jackets? Exploring Necessity vs Fancy Gadget

Many dog owners and pet parents like to take their dogs everywhere they go, allowing them to join in on the fun things they do. If you plan to involve your dog in water-based adventures and activities, there’s one question you need to answer before you go; do dogs need life jackets or are they just fancy gadgets? For some dogs, a life jacket can be a genuine blessing, allowing them to swim safely and enjoy the water when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Also, a life jacket could save your dog’s life in a boating emergency, especially if there’s no land in sight or the water is choppy. Lastly, many dogs will get a lot of help and support from wearing a life jacket, which can help them enjoy the water more thoroughly and safely.

However, some dogs don’t require life jackets. If your dog is an experienced swimmer and you’re playing near the shore in calm water, a life jacket would get in the way of their fun. In short, life jackets have their place and can even be life-saving in many situations, but some dogs and circumstances don’t create a true need to use these life-saving devices.


Do Dogs Need to Wear Life Jackets on Power Boats?

According to BoatUS Foundation, dogs aren’t required to wear a life jacket in most US locations.1 There’s nothing that prevents you from taking your dog out on a boat without a life jacket. Unlike human passengers, there are few laws that regulate the use of life jackets for pets.

However, power boating is an inherently dangerous pastime that involves the risk of injury and drowning, albeit slightly, to both humans and dogs. The risk is even greater if you’re riding on choppy water or a storm suddenly blows in, which can happen quickly.

Like humans, dogs have been known to fall overboard. Even in calm water, if you’re far from shore, a dog can quickly run out of energy. Without a life jacket, most would surely drown, especially if they fall overboard and nobody notices.

In other words, while a dog isn’t legally required to wear a life jacket on a power boat, at least in most US locations, using a life jacket could, in some situations, save your dog’s life (and yours, too). For that reason, most boating organizations, including the BoatUS Foundation, recommend using life jackets on your dog when you’re out on a power boat.

Dog sat in boat with lifejacket on
Image Credit: Andy Chappell, Shutterstock

What Are the Benefits of Your Dog Wearing a Life Jacket?

Besides the obvious benefit of possibly saving your dog’s life, a life jacket can provide several others.

Life Jackets Prevent Pet Fatigue

No matter how much energy your dog might have, it will eventually run low after enough swimming. Some smaller breeds run out of energy much faster, especially if they have short legs or flat, brachycephalic faces. For a dog like that, a life jacket will empower it to swim without using all of its energy. Even big dogs will benefit from using a life jacket if they swim for hours at a time, and the right life jacket will allow them to relax in the water without using up all their energy.

Removing a Dog from the Water Is Easier With a Life Jacket

Depending on the water and situation, getting out of the water might be more difficult for some dogs, if not impossible. Tiny dogs often have problems exiting the water, and almost all dogs need help getting back onto a boat. When they do, a dog life jacket is perfect, as most have built-in handles that allow you to lift your pup out of the water safely.

Life Jackets Give a Dog Confidence

If your dog is scared or anxious but wants to join you when you’re having fun in the water, a life jacket can give them the confidence to get wet and enjoy themselves fully.

A Life Jacket Can Help Your Dog Become a Better Swimmer

Most dogs are born with the innate ability to swim if the need arises, but that doesn’t mean all dogs are excellent swimmers. Those that aren’t but like the water can benefit from a life jacket because they tend to use better swimming techniques when using it. That’s because the life jacket helps keep their back straight and their heads raised, which many dogs have problems with when swimming unaided.

A Life Jacket Allows Some Dogs to Swim

In some cases, using a life jacket is the only method some dogs can use to swim safely. As mentioned earlier, smaller dogs and dog breeds with brachycephalic snouts and faces often have trouble swimming or can’t do it at all. A life jacket is an excellent solution if your dog wants to swim but can’t for whatever reason. A life jacket’s buoyancy is the key, keeping your pup’s head and face above the water and allowing them to float with little effort.

Dog in a life jacket waiting for a boat
Image Credit: Kev, Pixabay


What Type of Dog Benefits Most from Wearing a Life Jacket?

There isn’t really a type or breed of dog that needs life jackets more than others, but a few factors make them more necessary and worthwhile. That includes:

  • Smaller dogs with short legs
  • Younger dogs learning to swim
  • Older dogs with hip problems
  • Brachycephalic dogs and dogs with breathing difficulties
  • Dogs with low body fat, like the Greyhound (Less fat = less natural flotation)
  • Dogs with girthy, top-heavy chests, like Bulldogs
  • Any dog that has a fear of the water
  • Any dog on a boat out on the open water
  • Dogs that like to spend hours in the water

Which Situations Call for Using a Life Jacket?

You should probably use a life jacket if your dog can’t stand in or escape from the water. For example, most dogs shouldn’t need a life jacket at a calm lake with a beach in shallow water. Even the smallest dog can easily stand in and, when they desire, leave the water. On a boat out in the ocean, however, every dog should be wearing a life jacket because the water is deep, and if they fall overboard, getting out might be incredibly difficult (or take a long time).

Knowing when to use a life jacket is critical as a pet parent because the laws don’t force you to. Like with any family member, your best choice is to err on the side of caution. If you would put a life jacket on a child in the same situation, putting one on your fur baby is a smart choice.

pug wearing life vest on paddle board
Image By: BLACK LEMON, Shutterstock



While life jackets might not be legally required for use on your dog, using them does offer many benefits and, in some situations, could save your canine’s life. Life jackets help some dogs swim better and enjoy the water with less stress. Also, they help some pet parents get their dogs out of the water when the fun’s all done.

We think you’ll agree that, in many situations, putting a life jacket on your dog is the smartest, safest, and most caring thing you can do, and it’s not a fancy gadget at all. Plus, in a boating emergency, your dog’s life jacket might do precisely what it’s meant to do; save its life (and save you and your family from heartache).

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Featured Image Credit: Nattanart P, Shutterstock

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