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How to Pick PFDs For The Whole Family: Part 2

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.600_15774919 copyright

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.

19_17A*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.

This article contains affiliate links. Which means that I may receive a commission from any products purchased via said links. We only share product information that we feel will benefit our readers.

12 comments on “How to Pick PFDs For The Whole Family: Part 2

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      I’m glad your friend had their yard fenced. While I’m sure it’s lovely living out on a lake water safety is very important!

  1. Talent Hounds

    Excellent tips and article- Kilo the Pug would definitely need a life jacket if we take him up north or near any water. Unfortunately, he hates wearing any clothes or jackets and his body shape is difficult to fit. For now, he is always on leash and he will have to stay home this weekend (my husband and I are going to a cottage on a lake but it would just be too dangerous and stressful for Kilo- he will be well looked after at home).

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      Thank you for mentioning that! I didn’t mention that if your dog doesn’t like water, not to take them, because I presumed that would be understood. No one wants to cause stress to their pups! Glad Kilo will have nice Staycation!

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      They do, and in our opinion, should be mandatory for open water trips or fast currents. Kevin actually has had experience with a dog that got into a bit of a predicament that he was able to rescue because of that snatch handle!

  2. Ann Staub

    I had a life jacket for my dog at one point. She really is a good swimmer though, so it didn’t get much use. She will even dive underwater to pick up rocks and stuff. My mom once told me a story of how her Sheltie went off the boat dock, and instead of swimming she sank to the bottom and she had to go fetch her. She was fine but not much of a swimmer I guess!
    Ann Staub recently posted…Pawsome Pet of the Week – Chloe KardoggianMy Profile

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      Glad you had a life jacket for just in case! I’m also glad your mom’s Sheltie was okay, that must have been a nerve-wracking experience! So far the only experience I’ve had with a dog going under was when Chloe was still learning how to swim and decided to use Hank as a floatie… Needless to say Hank was not amused! He was under for a few seconds before I pulled Chloe off of him and brought him back up, in case you were wondering.

  3. Jen Gabbard

    Only one of my dogs was a sub par swimmer – his name was Carter and he was some sort of Aussie mix that had a docked tail. I always wondered if that was part of his issue or what – he always just looked like he was having a much harder time keeping afloat & steering than my other dogs. This was a long time ago, way before I knew about life jackets, but I know that would have been awesome for him to have.
    Jen Gabbard recently posted…Roundup 21 – Favorite Dog Articles, Deals, & Videos of the WeekMy Profile

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      It never occurred to me that a docked tail might impede their swimming ability, I’ve never really noticed it. We have a friend that has a MinPin with a docked tail, the lack of a tail doesn’t seem to bother him, although I’m sure it depends on the individual dog.

  4. Fur Everywhere

    These are fantastic recommendations. I love that you suggest cutting up bad CFDs so nobody else tries to use them. I also think it’s great that you train your dogs to endurance swim and practice tipping the boat over so they aren’t panicked if it ever happens.

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      Thank you! I didn’t want to seem too hypocritical by recommending something we don’t use ourselves, so I felt I needed to clarify why. Something else I didn’t mention, was that when Kevin started canoeing with dogs it was before there were any type of CFDs actually made, so he would go the extra mile to make sure his dogs were well experienced in the art of canoeing, and we’ve just continued doing that ever since.

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