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:
DOG LANDS LIFELINE, SAVES 92 ON WRECK
Swims from the Ethie, Aground Off Newfoundland, After Shot Fell Short.
CREW FEARED TO VENTURE
Fishermen Ashore Pull Wreck Victims Over the Surf —Baby Rides in Mail Bag.
CURLING, N.F. Dec. 16. – The passengers and crew of the coastal steamer Ethie, numbering ninety-two persons, were brought ashore on a lifeline which was run out from the ship by a Newfoundland dog after their vessel grounded upon Martin’s Point.
Boats could not make the hazardous passage from the stranded steamer. An effort to shoot the line ashore failed when the line became caught. Men did not dare attempt the trip through the waters and so the dog was put overboard. Directed by officers of the Ethie the intelligent animal succeeded in releasing the rope and, holding it tightly in his teeth, fought his way through the breakers to the shore.
With block and tackle the Ethie’s crew, aided by fishermen on the shore, rigged a life-saving device, using a boatswain’s chair for a carriage. One by one, in this chair, ninety-one of the ninety-two persons aboard were hauled to safety. A baby, 18 months old, was pulled ashore in a 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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). They make top rated PFD’s (personal flotation device) for humans and use the same technology and products to make their CFD (canine flotation device). 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.The 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 plan to write a more detailed review on both of them at the end of the summer. Time will tell which one I like better.