Training Your Dog for Water Travel – The Best PFDs for Dogs

Training Your Dog for Kayaking

Kayaking is an activity that you can share with not only other people but with trained pets as well. Kayaking with a dog requires training, so don’t make Fido risk the open water without preparing first. We’re also going to recommend some of the best PFDs for dogs because taking proper safety precautions is necessary even with the best swimmers among pets.

Woman and dog on kayak

Training Your Dog to Accompany You

Kayaking with a dog can be a valuable experience, as it provides a new pastime both for regular water goers and for your pet. Not every dog is a natural swimmer, so arranging for lessons to teach your pet the basics is a step you can’t afford to skip.

Genius Dog 336 x 280 - Animated

Even dogs who are used to swimming need some adjustment before you can safely take them kayaking because the change between still water and rapids can be sudden and your pet must be willing to listen to your orders immediately.

A dog who doesn’t enjoy swimming can still enjoy kayaking, in the same way many people enjoy the water from the safety of a boat more than they enjoy taking a dip. But you should expect a kayak to tip at some point, no matter how many precautions you take.

Dog swimming

That’s why getting a dog who doesn’t like swimming to learn some basic dog paddling is a bare minimum requirement for a kayaking adventure. You also need to train them to sit safely inside the kayak without rocking the boat or losing their cool, which makes the trip safer for both you and your pet.

The saying “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” aptly describes any trip on the water. Taking care of yourself and your dog when an unexpected situation arises is made easier when your pet listens. If you ever went camping with dogs near a lake or river, you know that most of them love the water, so taking them out with you can seem like a no-brainer, but the truth is a prerequisite to letting your dogs adventure with you into fast-moving or deeper waters are their ability to listen to orders and follow them to the letter.

That’s why dog training is a must. Teaching a dog to relieve themselves on command can be done in the same way you teach them to sit or shake, and it’s necessary on long trips because an easy place to pull ashore won’t always exist. They should also be taught to only get in or out of your vessel on command. Your dog won’t recognize rapids ahead or sinks in the water, so it’s up to you to give them clear commands and for them to follow them to the letter.

You should always leave room for human error or unforeseeable acts of nature though. That’s where PFDs, or pet flotation devices, come in. Life vests are an essential part of kayaking safety for humans and pets, but your dog will need training with these as well. That’s because your dog will likely be unfamiliar with it and try to wrestle the unfamiliar sensation from its body.

Dog on a boat

Remember, It’s an Adjustment

Dogs aren’t used to wearing clothing, so the first step of training will simply be to have it walk around or swim while wearing the life preserver to get used to the feeling of the material. Make sure to warn them if they try to wriggle it off because they’ll look to you for a sign of whether the vest is okay or not, and may simply continue trying to ditch it until you tell them otherwise.

The feeling of swimming with a vest is different and can disorient pets use to swimming on their own. It can also affect their sense of balance, and some pets will roll on one side at first, so make sure they get time to test it in the water and adjust their doggy paddling. Swimming with a PFD is usually slower but easier, so your pet will find the sensation strange at first. It also gives you a chance to practice test the PFD and find any faults before you take your dog kayaking for real.

Lifeguard dog

Another vital reason for training is to practice handling your dog on the water. Keeping a kayak balanced when your dog is coming or going can be difficult, so you’ll need to learn to adjust your weight. Additionally, some kayaks sit too high above the water line for a dog to climb in themselves, so you have to get used to lifting them in and out. Luckily, most PFDs come with lifting grips to make this easier, but you should practice to avoid choking or straining your dog.

Additional Techniques And Tips

While you’re buying equipment, you should consider buying a vessel that’s more accessible to your pet. Kayaks with padded insides are good because they give dogs a material to dig their paws into. If your dog can’t sit down then it will be standing in your boat for a while, and having a softer material in the bottom of your boat can help prevent fatigue or soreness.

You’ll have to train your pet to sit still reliably if there is room inside of your waterborne vessel. Many dogs like to bark or react to wildlife around them, and if you’re kayaking on a lake or river you may see deer or animals on the edge of the water.

Waterfowl are also a common encounter, and your dog may leap out to swim after them before it ever realizes how impossible that is. Many people train dogs for duck hunting, so your dog might have instincts for this you didn’t even know about, and will need to train them to ignore.

Duck on the water

Use the Right Kayak

A kayak with taller sides may help to ward your pet from leaping out of your boat, and in doing so prevent them from chasing the wildlife you see. The tradeoff is your dog’s ability to climb into your kayak since it will be harder for them the higher the boat sits on the surface of the water.

But if you have a proper PFD for your dog, you’ll be the one lifting them back into the boat, so consider how high you can lift your pet from a sitting position without rocking your kayak in the process.

rottweiler on the beach

Finally, remember that size matters. A dog can be well trained regardless of their size, but their weight still affects your trip. Larger dogs tend to cause your kayak to rock more and disturb your balance, but they also tend to be better at swimming and controlling themselves in water. Smaller dogs will cause you fewer problems in the boat, but are more prone to be tossed over from the rocking, tend to be worse at dog paddling, and will be swept away faster due to their size.

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Best PFDs for Dogs Reviewed

Armed with the information from above, let’s check out the 5 best PFDs for dogs.

1) Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket Kyjen – Granby Splash

This jacket comes highly recommended for its overall utility. The material is thick and allows your dog to float above the water with more stability than other jackets, which is why it may serve the “life preserver” function of PFDs better than others.

The rigid back and sides limit your pet’s flexibility, but this vest still provides room for their legs and head, so they can maintain a regular swimming motion. The function is similar to boats, which are meant to sit partially submerged while keeping the important parts (like your dog’s head and neck in this case) above water.

The main color for the Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket is the standard orange used by lifeguards and emergency personnel used to dealing with aquatic environments. That means this jacket fits the standard bill for emergency equipment, and if someone else spots your pet getting too far away from you it should start triggering alarm bells right away. Plus, the orange is simply a stand out color that makes keeping track of your pet in the water easy even when visibility is limited.

The jacket is also produced in dozens of sizes that make it easy to find one fitting for your dog. The uniform nature of this jacket makes it useful for emergency services and rescue dogs, so it’s even possible to buy or trade one to emergency service personnel and have the same standard of safety for your pet. It also comes with two straps across the dog’s back for easy grip to pull your dog to safety while evenly distributing the weight across the dog’s entire body.

  • Comes in the color known as the standard for water safety.
  • Same design used by emergency service dogs.
  • Thick material ensures your pet floats higher on the water surface than other jackets.
  • Extra float under the neck helps your dog keep its head above water in an emergency.
  • Comes in a wide variety of sizes for different dog breeds and shapes.
  • Limits the dog’s personal swimming ability in favor of extra flotation material.
  • Handles are made of a lighter material that’s easier to tear than some jackets.
  • Has more velcro and buckles than most, making it easier to miss one while securing your pet.

Our rating: 4.7 Star Rating 4.7 / 5

2) Vivaglory Dog Life Jacket Adjustable Dog Lifesaver

Vivaglory askews the standardized emergency colors of other PFDs for a variety of choices. Instead of using orange, red or yellow, which are colors used for their ability to reflect light at long distances for maximum visibility, you can choose from green, pink, or other colors that mix in a bit of fashion friendliness while remaining on the brighter end of the color spectrum, so you can still easily spot your pet from afar.

There is a strap that wraps around the front of the chest, but other than that the chest is left open so that your dog will have additional mobility in their front end. That makes turning and paddling easier in the water, which can help if you’re not in calm water. All in all, it makes very few alterations on the same formula used by rescue dog vests, but the addition of colors and room beneath the grip for a leash make it more focused towards the average kayak goer.

  • Comes in beach or camp-ready colors.
  • Allows extra freedom for a dog’s front legs.
  • Focuses on keeping your pet’s full body up in the water, at a flat angle.
  • Is similar to lifeguard and rescue dog designs.
  • The handle running parallel to the dog’s body is better for smaller dogs.
  • Less material under the chest and neck may mean their head dips lower than other vests.
  • Using non-emergency colors makes your pet more difficult to spot when separated.
  • Only one handle means tearing it can be devastating, and also means all your dog’s weight is focused in one place.

Our rating: 4.6 Star Rating 4.6 / 5

3) Paws Aboard Neoprene Red Dog Life Jacket

The Traveling K9 Neoprene Life Jacket takes several queues from the life preservers used by the Coast Guard. The red coloration helps to make your pet more visible above and below the water, which allows it to stand out even in turbulent waters.

Since red is a rare color and stands out against the blueish tint of water, you won’t mistake your pet for any other animals that may be swimming near your kayak.

The handle on the back allows you to take a firm grip when you need to pull your dog out of the water. With a handle that won’t tear or break, you can lift your pet from the safety of your boat or kayak and return it to the dry interior of your boat while minimizing the chance of tipping or rocking your own flotation device. It also allows you to use a leash or hook to give your pet room to swim while keeping them within reach.

The neoprene material allows this flotation jacket to ride higher on the water, meaning your pet’s head will stay higher above the water. It puts more emphasis on the doggy-paddling motion of your dog’s swimming, so your dog will have more control while treading water. This slows the rate at which your dog becomes fatigued, although it may mean they swim slower overall.

  • The red, Coast Guard-esque coloring makes it easy to see.
  • The handle makes returning your pet to your kayak easier.
  • Neoprene material makes them float higher on the water’s surface, keeping their head up.
  • The D-shaped handle allows you to connect a leash.
  • The shape is designed to enhance doggy-paddling, to help train your pet to better tread water.
  • Slightly restricts pet swimming speeds.
  • The size is very exact, so it can fit improperly if it is even a bit too big or too small.
  • The familiar emergency red means your pet won’t look very fashionable.

Our rating: 4.5 Star Rating 4.5 / 5

4) Astral BirdDog K9 PFD Dog Life Jacket

Astral’s PFDs are designed specifically for taking your dog kayaking, teaching them to hunt and retrieve waterfowl, or having them participate in other water-based sports. The BirdDog K9 PFD is designed to be useful from the beginning when you’re training your puppy or untrained dog to swim, all the way to the end when you’re grown, and trained dog is kayaking and hunting with you.

Astral also boasts of the material their vests are made out of since they contain no PVC (vinyl, a form of plastic that some consider toxic or harmful). If you’re worried about finding toxic substances in your pet’s life jacket, then this particular PFD should put your mind at ease as it is made of 500 Denier Cordura instead of neoprene or other potentially harmful plastics.

This PFD, in particular, comes with a grab handle so you can more easily help your pet in and out of the water, as well as a D-ring that allows you to attach a leash or strap to keep them close to the boat. The only drawback may be where the vest wraps around the chest because it sticks out for broad-chested dogs who are more physically suited to swimming and athletics.  If your pet has a flatter chest this can be loose, which may mean it doesn’t fit your pet properly.

  • Designed for dogs who will be regularly involved in water sports.
  • Suitable for young dogs learning to swim who will grow into doing it regularly.
  • Shaped for dog breeds who are naturally good at swimming, to support athletic dog types.
  • No vinyl or toxic plastic material.
  • Has a ring for leashes, as well as a handle near the back of the shoulder to lift the dog in a way that distributes their weight better.
  • The lighter material means your pet won’t ride quite as high in the water.
  • Not suitable for squarer, less athletic dog breeds due to the shape.
  • The latch is on the underside, making it harder to take off in a hurry.

Our rating: 4.4 Star Rating 4.4 / 5

5) MTI Adventurewear UnderDOG Dog PFD

The MTI Adventurewear UnderDOG PFD sets itself apart from other flotation devices by leaving more room near the front legs. This allows pets more mobility in their forward legs so that they can swim at a more upright angle and keep their heads even further above water if that’s a problem you’ve had with other PFDs. The change in design means they won’t quite float as high on the water’s surface and may require more work on the part of the dog to stay afloat, however.

The material is nylon and Cordura fabric, a combination that differs from the neoprene and materials found in other pet flotation devices. It also leaves an open space near the neck and upper body, which cuts down on the amount of material surrounding your pet’s body, but again provides more freedom of mobility for the pet’s front shoulders and neck to move around.

The UnderDOG PFD also uses bright, reflective trimming that maximizes the visibility of your pet. The yellow, reflective surfaces are around the neck and along the back; areas that stick out the highest above the water in ordinary circumstances. They’re made from the same reflective material used in road worker vests or bike reflectors to try and maximize visibility.

  • Reflective material makes it easy to see under any light.
  • Yellow is the easiest color to spot, making your pet hard to miss.
  • The material is lighter than neoprene or other flotation devices.
  • Allows your dog extra mobility around their neck and upper legs.
  • Good for dogs who are already used to swimming, but need help for an endurance trip.
  • Their body as a whole may dip a bitter lower into the water.
  • The sun reflecting yellow may leave you squinting a bit.
  • Hind legs, which are not supported, may tire more quickly.

Our rating: 4.1 Star Rating 4.1 / 5

In Conclusion

Our recommendation is the Granby Splash vest, because its uniformity makes it useful for a large number of dog breeds. Should the worst happen, and you and your dog are separated, strangers will immediately associate the color with water safety and know where to look for you. Among the best PFDs for dogs, it probably provides the most consistent protection for small or medium sized dogs.

With a PFD chosen, remember that the next step is to train with your dog and get them used to the vest that they will be wearing. You should start by taking your dog to shallow water, so it can practice swimming, and learn for yourself whether your pet prefers staying in the boat or has some skill at doggy paddling. Consider whether your dog is right for it, because some dogs don’t want to touch the water at all, and if you’re kayaking you should expect to flip at some point.

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And make sure that your dog is willing to follow commands. An untrained dog may immediately run into the woods when it touches the shore and get lost if he doesn’t listen intently. They might also jump out of the boat to chase nearby animals or waterfowl or rock the boat trying to climb in. When kayaking with a dog training your dog to obey orders is a must for safety reasons. If you want to take them out on the water, remember that their safety is in your hands.