Why do Newfoundland dogs wear life jackets while water training?

IMG_7246Why do Newfoundlands wear life jackets while water training? This is a valid question! Newfoundlands are known as water rescue dogs.

This story was published in the New York Times in 1919 and is one of the oft-repeated Newfoundland Dog legends:


Swims from the Ethie, Aground Off Newfoundland, After Shot Fell Short.




Fishermen Ashore Pull Wreck Victims Over the Surf —Baby Rides in Mail Bag.

The Ethie, which had been engaged in the coastal service between Curling and Labrador ports, went ashore last Wednesday during a gale while bound south. The wreck was not reported here until the shipwrecked passengers and crew arrived from Bonne Bay, all wires having gone down in the storm.

The New York Times
Published: December 17, 1919
Copyright The New York Times

After reading this, it does seem silly to put a life jacket on a rescue dog, but those training for Newfoundland Dog water rescue tests do wear them for several reasons.

  • Control. Canine life jackets have a handle on top which is an easy way to grab a dog while training.  They will also slow down an over-exuberant or anxious dog, allowing them to swim more calmly and focus on their handler while learning new skills in the water.
  • Wearing a canine life jacket helps to build strength and endurance.  A canine life jacket creates resistance in the water when they are swimming.  Swimming with resistance builds stamina, allowing them to swim faster and longer once it is removed.  The extra buoyancy also helps fight fatigue so that as they train, they can swim for longer periods of time, keep good focus and build strength.
  • A canine life jacket keeps them buoyant when they have slowed down. While training, we may slow down to repeat exercises or reward with treats and the life jacket keeps them floating so they can focus on their handler during these times.IMG_3547
  • A canine life jacket reinforces an efficient swimming position in the water.  Most dogs swim with their backs in line with the water but some dogs swim with their back ends in a lower position.  A canine life jacket keeps their bodies in a horizontal position and also helps create awareness of their back legs making them more efficient swimmers as they use all four legs to propel themselves through the water.IMG_3746
  • It helps build confidence. Not all dogs are naturally good swimmers, even some Newfoundlands, and wearing a canine life jacket will help a nervous dog enjoy his time in the water while learning to swim in a proper position as well as building strength and stamina.
  • It helps them recover quickly when jumping into the water. One of the skills on the test is jumping from a boat.  When they jump in, their head will likely submerge which can be startling for a dog learning this skill.  The life jacket helps keep their head higher in the water and they pop up more quickly.  It doesn’t usually take long for a Newfie to get comfortable with the sensation of going under the water and coming back up, but the first few attempts forms their opinion and if they decide they don’t like it, they may never do it again.IMG_3859

Since Newfoundlands are in the XL category, there are fewer canine life jackets to choose from.  I purchased two different models to use and compare after reading many reviews and talking to other Newfoundland owners.

The first one is by NRS (Northwest River Supplies).  I liked that it has wide bands that go under the belly rather than flaps with velcro that their long hair can get stuck in.  It buckles at the top of their back and is adjustable on both ends. It also has a handy, zipper pocket to store a leash or ball if desired.  I purchased it at L.L. Bean but they aren’t carrying it anymore. Amazon and Chewy have both stocked it recently and it is also available at the NRS website.IMG_2927The second one is by Ruffwear and is the most popular with Newfoundland owners because it fits their bodies well and is very durable.  We have used this brand at the swimming pool they train at. My only complaint is that the buckles are very low on their side and I have to straddle them and reach under their belly to get it secured. I purchased it from Amazon.

IMG_6633I planned to use both during our training season to see which one I liked better but I ended up reaching for the NRS jacket almost every time. I find it much easier to put on and it is lighter weight. It provides Winn with plenty of buoyancy without being cumbersome. The Ruffwear is a great jacket but it is more expensive and doesn’t fit her as well as the other one.

Another jacket that is almost identical to the NRS is Ezydog. I noticed a lot of European dogs using this one for training and when I was shopping I chose the NRS because it looked similar. I did compare them side by side when I saw one being used and other than the zippered pocket and color, they appeared the same. The straps are nice and long and went around a very large boy Newfie with no problem. Ezydog is slightly more expensive than the NRS but comes in a couple of different colors.

After using the NRS all season, it did start to fade to a perfect Nantucket Red . I like it because it reminds me of all of my childhood summers on the water in New England. For me, sun bleached means fun times, but if fading will bother you, I’d recommend the Ezydog in yellow.

Update 2021:

After using the NRS with Winn for 3 water seasons, I’m still really happy with it. It has faded, faded, faded, but otherwise still in great shape. The straps and buckles still work perfectly and the jacket itself doesn’t have any rips or tears.

It does tend to shift around on her back when she’s on land, but once in the water, it stays in the proper position. Winn’s back stays aligned with the water and she is able to swim efficiently. It’s the perfect training jacket for her needs.

Winn on the left in NRS, Maisie on the right in Ezydog

Winn weights about 105 lbs and the XL jacket is for dogs 80 lbs and up. I’m not sure that it would be the best choice for dogs in the 130-150 range.

I purchased and Ezydog life jacket for Maisie this summer. 3 years ago I compared Winn’s NRS with and Ezydog that someone else had. They were the exact same size and appeared to be made in a similar way. The XL I received this year is much bigger than Winn’s. The straps are longer and would certainly fit a much larger dog than Winn. I think this would be great choice for dogs bigger than Maisie and Winn.

It is very easy to put on and take off since it buckles at the top. The straps have light padding for the belly area and Maisie is very comfortable when wearing it. I’m really pleased with this one as well.

Ruffwear has changed the design a little bit this year, but it still buckles underneath which is the main reason that I’m not very fond of this jacket. It still is the life jacket of choice for lots of Newfie owners who don’t seem to be bothered by the buckle placement.

I also purchased a pink life jacket, because it was pink. When I received it, it had flaps that fit under the belly that close with velcro underneath the straps. I returned it immediately because their long hair gets stuck in the velcro and eventually the velcro fails. I’ve had friends that have had jackets like this design and we ended up cutting the flaps off because the velcro was such a nuisance.

18 thoughts on “Why do Newfoundland dogs wear life jackets while water training?”

    1. I actually haven’t because I ended up loving the NRS so much I didn’t give the ruffwear a fair trial. I’ll be taking the girls swimming this winter and will make an effort to use both vests equally as well as side by side and then will write a review before the season starts next spring. Thanks for asking!


  1. I’ve always thought it was a good idea to have life jackets on dogs when in the water, just in case something happens. Or they get tired, as they are want to do when they’ve been playing. Glad you are playing it safe!


  2. Great article! I wasn’t aware of all these benefits for our canine friends when wearing life jackets.

    My GSD had hydrotherapy for several years and although she was a graceful swimmer, her hydrotherapist always had her wear a life jacket. This is where I learned that this handy piece of apparel was an ideal way to help my dog be aware of and use her hindquarters efficiently in the water.


      1. I now have my younger ones fitted with jackets even when we’re chilling by the pool. They love swimming and are strong at it. But like you said, safety first, even for water-adoring dogs.


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