Hot days, sun rays and heat waves – summer has hit with full force here in Alberta, Canada. During these dog days of summer I often find myself on a never ending quest for ways to keep Atlas from overheating. Luckily in Alberta we have several lakes and rivers for our canine companions to retreat to when the temperature rises. I consider myself lucky that Atlas enjoys swimming and I was so happy to have the opportunity to test out a medium Surf N Turf Dog Life Jacket that we received from Kurgo through Dogs That Hike. I was lucky enough to be able to try out this jacket at beautiful Abraham Lake and Sylvan Lake for a few months.
The most important feature of dog life jackets is that they are designed to work with your dog’s natural buoyancy to assist them while swimming. The Kurgo jacket uses a large main piece of closed cell foam that covers the majority of the jack and part of the belly to keep pooches near the surface while maneuvering in the water. During our testing, Atlas was able to swim out quite far into Abraham Lake while chasing a stick. Normally he would rush back towards the safety of the shore. With this life jacket, he was able to calmly swim around for a while before deciding to drop the stick in the water and head back into the beach (clearly, he is not known for his fetching ability). The life jacket appeared to give him quite a bit more confidence in the water allowing him to spend more time cooling off and having fun and less time worrying about getting his fluffy butt back to land. The buoyancy of this jacket allowed Atlas to effortlessly keep his head above water and was a great reinsurance to have this jacket providing extra float while Atlas was playing in the water.
The Kurgo life jacket has some really interesting features that I have not seen on any other dog life jacket that we have tested. The life jacket can have the buoyant foam removed to easily convert it to a rain jacket. The foam is removed by unzipping a zipper and sliding it out. The rip stop polyester shell is water repellent and quick drying so I can see it working relatively well to keep your dogs back dry in drizzle. I can’t really see myself using it for this feature often because it does not have a ton of coverage but I can see it being useful in a pinch, especially when you are trying to pack lightly.
The jacket has survived quite a pummeling during our testing period as Atlas has a habit of rolling around when he emerges from the water (weather that is on grass, sand, or…rocks) – even the buckles show little sign of wear. Most edges are well sewn with carefully selected strong material although I’d like to see some reinforcement with the fabric loops that belly straps threaded through before buckling. The material on the underside of the jacket is mesh like and has been breathable enough for our uses so far. Mud is easily wiped off and Kurgo confirms that the jacket is machine washable on their website. Additionally, this jacket sports extra safety features such as reflective trim, and two handles (one vertical and one horizontal) to assist for those times when your pooch catches sight of a duck in the distance. The horizontal handle is actually the same part of the jacket as one of the belly straps for added security. The handles have held up to some light lifting of Atlas onto my paddleboard so far (he does most of the climbing up himself). The straps of this jacket all tuck into various ports to keep them from getting in the way of your dog while they are paddling through the water. This is an excellent safety feature that keeps your pooch from getting tangled and panicked when swimming.
Arguably one of my favourite additions to this life jacket is that the summer 2017 version features a multi tool (screwdriver, Allen wrench, dull box cutter and bottle opener). I’ll be honest; this technically unnecessary accessory has saved me many times when forgetting my bottle opener while out camping. Unfortunately, unlike the Kurgo Muck Collar (which also has a bottle opener), the bottle opener on this jacket can be tricky to use due to lack of leverage. The multi tool can slide out for use, so it is not designed to be a leash attachment point. But Kurgo has you covered by having an additional (and very secure) leash attachment spot near the back of the jacket.
One downside to the design of this jacket is that the belly panels to not reach far enough to cover Atlas’s entire belly. For this reason, it may not be recommended to lift your dog out of the water by the handles of the life jacket as the straps may dig into your dogs belly. This could pose an issue for SUP users or for some boating or other recreational situations – particularly for large dogs. Additionally, if your dog isn’t extra fluffy like Atlas is, it may cause irritation to their skin. I’d really like to see this belly portion expanded (perhaps to the point of overlapping) in any potential redesigns Kurgo may have planned in the future. The life jacket will fit every dog differently so it is important to assess where these belly panels sit on your dog. This is a medium and Atlas is in the middle of the recommended girth range meaning someone at the higher end may find the straps more directly against the belly and no padding keeping them off the body. I recommend trying on this jacket to determine if this jacket will be safe for your needs and if in doubt, consult your veterinarian for advice.
The Surf N Turf Life Jacket is available in 5 adjustable sizes. There is quite a bit of room for adjustment leaving me to believe that most dogs would fit into one of the sizes that are available. There are no weight restrictions or recommendations on the Kurgo website which seems to be a trend with dog life jackets. Kurgo claims this jacket is made to work with your dog’s natural buoyancy and they recommend your choose a size based on your dogs measurements. I’d like to see a weight limit for all life jackets sold online and in store to ensure consumers are selecting the correct size when purchasing this safety item. Atlas is 57lbs and appears to fit the medium size quite well.
This buoyant jacket is a nice bright red color with a blue neck that is easy to spot in the water. The jacket itself is quite rigid (as the foam is all one piece) but I found that Atlas was still able to run and frolic just as he would with no life jacket on. More body sensitive dogs may react differently with such an inflexible material surrounding them. To aid with this you can attempt to try the jacket on them with the foam removed until they get used to the fit. Once the dog is somewhat comfortable with the shell, you can add the foam in and reward your pooch heavily with their favourite snack. In addition to the body foam, the neck strap also includes a foam panel that helps to keep your dogs head above water. This is an integral feature when selecting a life jacket. The floaty neck panel is created nicely and helped to support Atlas’s while swimming.
As previously mentioned, depending on your dog’s size, the belly panel may not fully cover your dog’s stomach leaving a portion being attached by nylon straps only. There was some disparity when comparing Atlas’s fit with some of the other Trail Testers. Most of Atlas’s belly was covered with only about an inch or two being left without the padding while another Trail Tester had quite a bit of her belly exposed despite them being very close in size and weight. Additionally, one Trail Tester found that because the float material is so structured, the jacket tends to lift up in the back when her dog was bending over. I found that to be the case with Atlas as well, but when I adjusted the straps a bit more snug in the back it helped to keep it in place.
Overall the Kurgo Surf N Turf Jacket has proven to be a great option for when your dog needs a little extra help in the water while padding close to shore. When Atlas wears this life jacket he is quite a bit more confident chasing after his water toys and sticks. He no longer instinctively heads back to shore and seems to enjoy himself more in the water. I would happily recommend this jacket to anyone who frequents doggy swimming spots with the warning that you should not expect to be able to lift your dog out of water safely due to the lack of belly panel coverage. If you anticipate the need to lift your dog out of the water I would recommend looking for an alternative life jacket with full belly coverage. If your main use is a place where your swimming pup can safely walk out of the water on their own, the Kurgo Surf N Turf Dog Life Jacket would be an excellent moderately priced choice.
As always, remember to always be cautious around water and supervise your dog at all times. Bodies of water can be a dangerous place for our furry companions as well as ourselves so it is of the utmost importance to act safely and responsibly when allowing them to swim.
This life jacket would work best for: Dogs who enjoy swimming and could use a little extra buoyancy, dogs that measure to fit within the 5 life jacket sizes, swimming in an area where the dog can come to shore on their own if needed i.e. no lifting required (rivers, streams, lakes)
This life jacket may not be ideal for: Dogs who are terrified of swimming or situations where you often need to lift your dog out of water (depending on fit), recreation that requires the dog to be lifted out of the water frequently (boating, paddle boarding) unless the dog is confident in helping himself up.
Disclaimer: While we loved this life jacket every dog is different and it does not mean it will work for you. A life jacket is not a fashion accessory, before you purchase evaluate your pups needs and make sure that the size and buoyancy will work for YOUR pup. If you’re not sure how specific safety features will work for you reach out to the company and get clarification/confirmation.