We talked about why we needed PFDs, what to look for, how to fit one, and how to care for PFDs for people this past Monday, now in this post we’ll do the same for our pups!
Contrary to popular belief not all dogs can swim, or swim well. While it is possible to teach your dog to swim, there are many times when you will need a Canine Floatation Device (CFD).
If you are going out on open water, rough water, for the first time on a boat, never visited that particular location, and deep water just to name a few, it would be a good idea to invest in a quality CFD.
Questions to Answer Before We Talk About the CFDs (Canine Floatation Devices)
- How long do you plan on being out on the water?
- What is the weather like?
- What is the temperature of the water?
- How long will it take to stop or turn the boat around?
- How easy will it be to spot your pup?
- How well does your pup swim?
How Well Does Your Dog Swim?
This is the big one. Most dogs are very good swimmers instinctually, but some need time to learn, and others are just not built for it.
Putt-Putt is our experienced simmer, Willow is our strongest swimmer, Hank is our smart/efficient swimmer, and Chloe took some time to learn how to properly swim (the nice thing about having multiples is they teach each other some of the things that should be instinctual when for whatever reason it isn’t).
Then you have the special breeds, that either don’t have the right build for floating (Bulldogs, Boxers, Frenchies, Bostons etc), or don’t have enough body fat to generate buoyancy (greyhounds), or have a longer back vs legs (doxies) and tire faster, that would all need help when in the water.
How Long Will You Be Out?
Will you be out for a couple of hours or all day?
This is important to keep in mind since you’ll have bring the appropriate clothing and gear.
If you plan on being out all day the water may be nice and warm while the sun is out, which can cause a dog wearing a CFD to overheat easily. On the other hand that water gets cold once the sun goes down or you move into the shade, dogs can get hypothermia as well as people and the temperature of the water does affect you and your pups endurance and ability to swim.
You should also be aware of the time it takes for your gear and pup to dry out, you don’t want to wait to long to come in off the water and be stuck cold and wet after the sun goes down while you load up to go home.
What is the Weather Forecast for the Day?
So you’ve checked the weather the night before as well as the morning of and its supposed to be sunny, but is that all day? Is the area you are planing to float on prone to pop-up showers or storms? Keep in mind temps drop once you are out on that water and that sun disappears.
This is also something to keep in mind if you need to cut your day short in case of weather anxiety in your pups.
In the Event of An Accident…
Is your pup going to be easy to spot with or without a CFD? What is the size of your boat, how easy is it to stop? How long will it take for you to turn the boat around?
These are important to keep in mind when planning your trip and picking a CFD color since it may take a while for you to get back to your pup to retrieve them.
Things to Keep In Mind When Shopping For CFDs
According to the Canine Water Sports Safety Regulations:
A CANINE LIFE JACKET (CFD) shall be any commercially produced, full body flotation devise, that includes flotation around the dog’s throat, back, and rib cage, with a handle on top capable of supporting the dogs weight during a full body lift and balanced so that the dog’s head remains up when the dog is lifted by the handle. The jacket must also have a “D” ring for attaching lines/ leads. The ring must be strong enough to support a person being water towed by a line attached to the “D” ring.
It is important to note that the Unites States Coast Guard, which is in charge of certifying human PFDs and setting boating safety guidelines, does NOT certify CFDs or have any mandatory rules when boating with dogs.
The next thing you should keep in mind, is the mechanics of how a dog swims.
When a dog has a good swimming posture, their neck will be comfortably stretched out, their backs either level with the water surface or angled so their hips will be slightly below the surface. Typically a dog that is breaking the water’s surface with their front paws when swimming unaided does NOT have a good swim posture; which can be fixed with experience and confidence, so long as they are not a ‘top-heavy’ breed or mix.
A good CFD will easily mimic the natural swim posture of a dog without adding excessive buoyancy to the rear. A CFD that adds too much buoyancy to the rear of the dog may cause them to struggle to keep their head at or above the water, which will needlessly tire your dog and may lead to panic.
If you would like to see what a dog wearing a properly fitted CFD looks like; Boat Owners Association of the United States has some great shots.
Fitting Your Dog
- CFDs should be sized either by weight or by girth measurements, make sure you follow that particular CFDs size chart.
- CFDs should not impede a dog’s ability to walk, sit, lay down, or swim comfortably.
- The CFD snatch handle should be sturdy enough to hold your dog when lifted.
- The CFD snatch handle should be placed along the ‘spine’ and balanced so the dog’s head does not tip forward when lifted.
- CFDs should have a ‘D’ ring built-in, preferably of a highly durable material.
- CFD straps and buckles should be wide for comfort.
- CFDs should fit snuggly when fastened to keep your pup from slipping out.
Caring for Your Dogs CFD is Exactly Like Caring for Your PFD:
- Do not alter your CFD.
- Don’t put heavy objects on your CFD or use it for a kneeling pad or boat fender. CFDs lose buoyancy when crushed.
- Let your CFD drip dry in a well ventilated room (preferably after you hose it off of river/lake/salt water) so it doesn’t mildew.
- Don’t leave your CFD on board for long periods when the boat is not in use.
- Never use heat to dry.
- Make sure any velcro is clean, and still works effectively.
Checking for Damage
- Check your CFD before and after each use for rips, tears, and holes. All seams, fabric straps and hardware are in tact.
- There should be no signs of waterlogging, mildew odor, or shrinkage of the buoyant materials.
- Don’t forget to test each CFD at the start of each season.
- CFDs that are not in good shape should be cut up and thrown away (that way no one is at risk of salvaging unsafe CFD).
If you want a CFD with extra chin support for brachiocephalic dogs Amazon has some.
*Note We personally don’t use CFDs, but we never take our pups out in any rough water, or on any rivers over a Class II. We spend time training our dogs for endurance swimming, to swim to shore in case we do tip, and we practice tipping so it’s not such a surprise if it does happen as well as to teach our dogs where the tipping point on the canoe is.
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