My dog Emma has always been a strong swimmer so I’ve never really thought of a life jacket for her until one day she went for a swim in a glacier fed lake. She normally swims around just for the fun of it, but this day I noticed she seemed a bit stressed and came back instantly. At first I just shrugged it off thinking she was not acclimatized to the cold water but then it dawned on me that cold water can make someone not able to swim, which got me thinking of life jackets for dogs. I was lucky enough to receive a large sized blue Mariner Life Jacket from Alcott to test out this summer.
Emma can be body sensitive but she often adjusts given the promise of treats and by doing short bursts of training to get used to it. To my surprise when I first put this and our other life jacket on Emma she would not move a muscle while wearing it! At first it was funny, then I felt bad and when I realized she would not go in the water at all with it on I started to become stressed, I had to test it before being able to write a review! While this jacket seems lighter and more flexible than some jackets we’ve seen on the market no word of a lie, in order to get Emma to swim in the jacket I actually had to tie a piece of meat to her floating retrieving buoy and toss it in the river to coax her into the water. Thankfully she’s food motivated as it worked like a charm and now she is happy to swim with this and other life jackets on.
An important thing to consider when selecting a life jacket for your dog is for what purpose are you requiring the jacket? The Mariner Life Jacket is meant to be a swimming aid for naturally good swimmers which means that it may not save your dogs life if they are unable to swim for help themselves. Unfortunately, like many dog life jackets on the market, these are sold by size measurements and not by weight. The downfall of this approach is that for for dense bulky breeds (e.g. bulldogs) the size that fits them may not be designed for their weight. The large worked very well as a swimming aid for my Golden Retriever cross and she did not tire out while wearing the jacket. We tested this jacket in cold rivers with mild to medium currents and in cold lakes with small waves, on each day we tested the jacket it was very hot out. Given that it is meant to be an aid for naturally good swimmers we did not test this in glacier fed lakes as I was not comfortable it would save her life.
One features I really like is that the padded jacket has a neoprene under belly that wraps around Emma’s body and attaches to itself with three strips of Velcro and two straps with quick release buckles securing the jacket well. It also has a padded chest piece that wraps in front of her body (under her neck) that also attaches with Velcro and is secured with a quick release strap and buckle. Initially I thought the stiffness of the jacket would be uncomfortable under the arms but I have not seen any chaffing marks and Emma moves well while wearing the jacket. To me this design seems more comfortable than having the straps directly on Emma’s belly causing chaffing while in the water. I also love the sleek non bulky design and in spite of the hot weather conditions I didn’t notice Emma over heat while wearing the jacket, keeping in mind we were also swimming in cold water.
One feature that doesn’t seem to work so well is the floating chin pad – for Emma the pad is set too low and only comes up to her collar, likely due to her slender long figure, and so it does not help keep her head out of water. The integrated support handle is over her upper half of her chest and is a convenient tool to help me to give extra support and guidance to Emma while we are swimming. While the handle is great to use in the water, it doesn’t appear sturdy enough, nor it is advertised as, a means to lift your dog out of the water. On smaller sizes/for smaller dogs it may work but for my 53 pound dog I don’t imagine it would last too long. If your planned water activities include the need to lift your larger dog out of the water (e.g. boating, SUP) this would likely not be the right jacket for you.
When inspecting the padding it has dried flat each time, and has stayed in the correct portion of the jacket. The buckles look as good as new and the straps have no wear or stretching from our use. The reflective trim has not flaked off and over all the jacket has weathered our level of use very well. Unfortunately under light to moderate use the Velcro has started to tear away from the jacket due to the strength of the Velcro and the light stitching holding it to the jacket, it literally tore when I was opening the sticky Velcro. Thankfully this is a repairable issue and it did not affect the overall function of the jacket.
The jacket looks really cute on Emma, it slims out her fluffy hair and makes her arms look buff like an athlete, one of our friends commented that the jacket reminds her of something she would wear wake-boarding “sleek and stylish”. The sizing offers no overlap so measure your dog carefully. If you are on on the high end size, especially in the waist I’d recommend sizing up as there is no stretch in this jacket at all. Unfortunately, if you do need to size up the jacket may end up being too long in the belly for you. This can be easily fixed by tucking the jacket under or by sewing it shorter yourself (if you’re handy with a sewing machine).
Overall the fit when in use is great on Emma, it does not shift over her body and does not loosen when wet. When we first put the jacket on I was concerned as it looked like it would rub the back of the arms but I haven’t seen any sores or redness on Emma. It should be noted that she has a thick protective hair coat and a short coated breed may have a different experience than we did. For ease of movement, I really like that there is no bulk in this jacket. While it allows more natural movement and has attractive to look at, I would rather have a bit more bulk to add to the floating ability.
When I look at this jacket I feel that you get what you pay for – at $30USD/$40CAD it is in the lower cost range of the market for dog life jackets. The low cost does show up slightly in the quality and durability but for light use as a swimming aid it holds up it’s end of the bargain well. We truly tested this jacket twice weekly for a month swimming in a river with a light to moderate current and two lake visits. We actually used it two months total if you include the adjustment period Emma required to get the confidence she needed to actually walk, run and swim in the jacket.
The Alcott Mariner Life Jacket would work best with light recreational use like fetching sticks in the lake or for aiding a naturally good swimmer to allow less energy output while swimming in calm rivers. We will likely choose another jacket for use in glacier fed lakes as my fear is that the freezing water can be paralyzing, so we would require a jacket that will keep Emma afloat in that specific situation. We will use it again during fun lake days where we are swimming all together and just having fun!
This life jacket would be best for: dogs who fit the sizes, light recretational use, shoreline activities, good swimmers, moderate to warm water, calm and mild waters
This life jacket may not be ideal for: dogs outside of the 3 sizes that they offer, dogs that can’t swim, dogs that need to be lifted out of the water, anything more than calm to mild water, glacier water, unsupervised use
Review by: Dogs That Hike Trail Tester @emmainthewild
Disclaimer: While we liked this 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.