Dog lifejackets provide peace of mind for dogs and owners, as well as a quick and easy handhold to get your dog back onboard. Lindsey Hibberd and her dog Tilly try out the Red Original Dog Buoyancy Aid on the River Itchen
Dog lifejackets are designed to allow dogs to swim comfortably, and are made of foam to support key areas of their body so they can conserve energy in the water.
It all sounded great, but my spaniel Tilly looked a bit annoyed when I first put the Red Original Dog Buoyancy Aid over her head. I had decided to test it out in our kitchen so that I could see how it adjusted and get her used to it before we got on the water.
She looked at me with scorn and refused to move! I don’t blame her. Tilly is a five-year-old cocker spaniel, who loves the water. She’s an incredibly strong swimmer and a seasoned paddleboarder. I’m not surprised she was put out at the suggestion that she needed a buoyancy aid!
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Several treats and a lot of praise later, Tilly unfroze and wandered cautiously over to watch me blow-up my Red 10’6 Ride paddleboard. I gave the buoyancy aid a closer look and readjusted it to fit her snuggly. It was very straightforward.
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The buoyancy aids come in five sizes, from extra small to extra large, and so it was practically made to measure. The small size fitted Tilly well, there were a number of straps that you can tighten and loosen to fit and it’s not overly bulky, so she could move freely.
Made of Cordura fabric, the buoyancy aid is hard-wearing, tear-resistant and has a wide front leg opening for free, unimpaired movement. It also comes with a dog lead attachment as well as reflective detailing so you can spot your dog in the water during low light.
Testing the Red Original Dog Buoyancy Aid
I live an hour from the sea and so with the lockdown restrictions, I plumped for a stretch of our local waterway, the River Itchen, that I’d always wanted to paddle. I waited for a sunny day in early March and got out my 5mm O’Neill wetsuit. The average minimum river temperature in March is 2 degrees and paddleboarding with a dog means that you can’t guarantee staying dry!
Tilly doesn’t like to stay on the board. She jumps off to swim between mine and my husband’s board and sometimes fancies her chances against a passing seagull. After a winter off the board, I didn’t back myself to keep my balance!
We pulled into a busy car park and, as the weak March sun battled the clouds overhead, got the paddleboard out of the van. I slipped the buoyancy aid back over Tilly’s head and attached an elasticated running lead to the clip on the back. Depending on the type of trip, I sometimes keep Tilly attached by a long lead to the board. She likes to say hello to swans, which neither I or the swans appreciate, so it’s an easy way of keeping her under control.
The buoyancy aid made it easy to attach her to the board, whilst still allowing her to jump off and swim. I’d only planned a short trip, as although Tilly wouldn’t show that she had noticed the water temperature, I didn’t want her in for very long.
Into the water
I lowered the board into the water and Tilly hopped down. I clipped her on and pushed off on my knees. She ran up and down the board, now unfazed by the buoyancy aid and strained her neck down towards the water, testing it with her paw. We set off down the river, attracting points and gasps from walkers along the riverbank.
Before long, Tilly decided it was time to test the water. Shunting the paddleboard backwards as she leapt forward, she was in! The buoyancy aid allowed her to swim unhindered and made her clearly visible in the water. On a slow-flowing river like the Itchen, visibility isn’t really a problem, but in the sea or a waterway with a lot more traffic, the bright red buoyancy aid would be very helpful for alerting her presence. In choppy water, I’ve sometimes struggled to see her little brown head if she goes too far.
Then came to the real test. Getting Tilly back onto the board can be tricky. The most attractive aspect of the buoyancy aid is the grab handle on the back that makes it easy to help her out of the water. This was as useful as it looked. Instead of using her collar, I lifted the large handle between her shoulder blades to help her get back onto the board.
A useful safety device
And so, despite the dog’s initial outrage, there are definitely some real benefits to the buoyancy aid. Even though your dog might be a proficient swimmer, if you are boating or paddleboarding further offshore or on a busy waterway then it’s a useful safety device, allowing your dog to be clearly visible to other water users.
The only limiting aspect is that it didn’t allow Tilly to shake, to help dry herself off or warm herself up. I therefore had to take it off her when she was running around on the riverbank. At £65, it’s a reasonable investment, but if you frequently enjoy paddleboarding or other watersports with your dog, I think it’s a worthy investment. Although we’ll be waiting until it’s a little warmer to venture out again!
Sailing with dogs
With our regular Seadog of the Month column, Practical Boat Owner is a great resource for those wishing to combine dog ownership with sailing. Whether it’s your very first voyage with your puppy or you’re a long-distance sailor such as Michelle Segrest, who sails with her beagles Captain Jack and Scout, having a dog onboard can really enhance the experience.
We love to hear your seadog stories. Email a photo of your dog on your boat and 300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Channel 4 TV series The Dog House is looking for prospective owners to star in the next series, where stray dogs are found a new home.
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