Adventures with Backcountry Bulldog Part II: Keeping Your (Big) Head Above Water

Story Contributed By Leda Olmsted

Image: Beth Price Photography

If there’s one thing that Bula loves more than anything in the whole wide world, it’s stand up paddle boarding. It’s an obsession. If she sees a board, she will instantly hop on. However, if there is one thing in the whole wide world that bulldogs don’t excel at, it’s swimming. Bulldogs tend to sink like a rock, and run a tad large in the head and chest (note the meaty turkey leg in the above photo). In years of owning multiple water-loving bullies, and paddling as a profession, I’ve tried my fair share of dog life vests. I’ve learned what features make a good quality life jacket, what things to avoid, and how to fit a life jacket properly.

What not to do!

In my journey of trials and errors, no other dog life vest on the market has come close to the performance and quality of Ruffwear’s K-9 Float Coat. Bula’s favorite feature about the Float Coat is the easily adjustable, yet super secure, single piece neck opening. Most dog life jackets on the market use two straps that velcro together around the dog’s neck. Velcro wears out easily with time and regular use. Imagine if a velcro neck piece opened up while your dog is swimming, this would cause their tail end to remain afloat and their head to sink, which essentially leaves them bobbing like a helpless bulldog buoy at sea. Ruffwear has wisely opted out of using Velcro anywhere on their dog life vest, allowing it to withstand the test of time, adventure after adventure.

If your dog is equally as hard-headed as Bula, they will be in a rush to get to the water and pull at the reins. A strong leash loop is fixed at the perfect spot on the vest, allowing you to keep your overly excited monster under control as you make your way down to the water. Busting out of the Ruffwear life vest is not an option.


Another great feature of the K-9 Float Coat is the perfectly positioned handle to lift your dog out of the water in case they go for an unexpected swim. Even though Bula has a low center of gravity, she still falls off the board every so often. The handle is strong and durable, and because of the super secure neck/chest strap your dog will not slip out as you pick them up and safely place them back on your board or boat. Click here to see the handle in action.

Image: Beth Price Photography

I cannot stress how important it is to have you and your dog equipped with a properly fitting PFD on the water, even if you are both strong swimmers. I wasn’t sure at first how to fit a dog that weighs 40 lbs, but is squeezed into the height and length of a 20 lb dog’s body. When purchasing a vest based on your dog’s weight, you’ll find that it typically isn’t the right fit. Ruffwear took a much smarter, and safer approach for the sizing of their life vests. To fit your dog for a Ruffwear vest, measure your dog’s girth around the biggest part of their rib cage. Also take into consideration the length of the jacket, too long of a jacket will impede their hind legs’ full range of motion. For precise measurements, check out the Float Coat fit guide. All the vests have sufficient amounts of flotation for even the largest dogs, so you can focus on getting the best fit to keep your dog comfortable and ready for adventure.

Image: Beth Price Photography

These tips on finding and fitting the right life vest are not only true for bulldogs, but important for dogs of all shapes and sizes. If the K-9 Float Coat can keep a large and in-charge lady like Bula afloat, then it’s sure to work wonders with your dog as well. Whether you’re enjoying an evening booze cruise on a pontoon, or stand-up paddling miles of shoreline, your dog will be happy and safe with their head above water.

Follow all of Bula’s adventures on Instagram at @backcountry_bulldog. Stay safe and float on, friends!

Leave a Reply