How-To Size A Dog Vest & Buyer's Guide

Follow These Steps To Ensure You Get The Best-Fitting Vest For Your Dog

One bird shy of a three-man waterfowl limit and Hunter (my yellow lab) continued to show the same anticipation as with the first retrieve.

Black Lab wearing a neoprene dog vest
Cabela's Northern Flight Neoprene Dog Vest

Hunter’s neoprene dog vest had performed flawlessly in a demanding, ice-covered environment. We hunted on the North Platte River in Western Nebraska at the junction of a cornfield and hayfield - a prime location for waterfowl, but a trying area for dogs. The swift current of the Platte was open, but floating slush for the first hours of shooting. Ducks wanted the open river after their still-water sweets had iced over. This, combined with some good shooting, sent Hunter on several lengthy water retrieves.

Water Dog Vests

The added flotation of the neoprene supplied Hunter with the extra energy to make multiple-bird retrieves without missing a step. The insulating dynamic of neoprene also put an extra wag in Hunter’s tail. By midmorning the duck shoot was over and a three-man limit filled, but the geese were headed to brunch - we were waiting at the corn buffet.

The vest prevented the sharp, frozen stubble from puncturing and cutting Hunter’s chest and belly. On extended retrieves the unrestricted movement allowed Hunter full speed without excessive skin-to-neoprene friction. The vest’s ability to shield out the environment gave Hunter protection and me confidence on challenging retrieves throughout the hunt.

Types of terrain that working dogs cover is as broad as the game hunters pursue. For that reason there are different vest designs for an array of hunting situations. While each vest may cover multiple protection issues such as visibility, shield, insulation, and flotation, they are split into two hunting categories - water and upland.

Upland Dog Vests

Priorities of the upland hunter consist of visibility and protective shield. Upland dog vests are made of protective nylon-based material and sport

Spaniel Retriever Wearing Cabela's Dog Vest
Cabela's Ripstop Dog Vest

blaze orange patches for enhanced visibility. A vest built for protection from thorns and stick-ups will cover the dog’s neck and chest. This keeps the most vulnerable areas of the upland dog protected. Nylon is lighter weight than the waterdog’s neoprene, which minimizes overheating. Don’t let the weight of the vest mislead you; there is plenty of protection to keep your dog safe in the thickest covey hold. Blaze orange increases safety by allowing the dog to be visible at the flush. The bright color also makes it easy to spot the dog on point. If the idea of a visible dog is appealing, but you don’t need the shield protection or hunt an extremely warm climate - lightweight blaze orange vests are designed to cover only the dog’s back.

The protection needed for waterdogs consists of a puncture shield, insulation and buoyancy. Neoprene is a great material for the waterdog’s vest, offering all three protective elements in one. For situations where numerous snags or extra sharp stubble prevail, vests with additional shielding layers are offered. Neoprene flotation vests feature the same protection as a standard neoprene vest with the added feature of sewn-in buoyancy pockets; each pocket contains closed-cell flotation foam. This adds even more buoyancy to the neoprene, allowing retrievers to make those extra-long retrieves without the fatigue - ideal for big water.

Dog vests are engineered for comfort, and knowing that dogs come in all shapes and sizes has lead to generous adjustability. For example: Cabela’s neoprene dog vests have additional bar tacks (cross-stitched seems) positioned to allow custom cuts to be made. Removing excess neoprene gives the retriever complete freedom of motion and the bar tacks hold the stitching in place without fear of the seam unraveling. A 2-3/4" wide Velcro® closure rides parallel to the dog’s spine. Simply increase or decrease the amount of overlap for a precise fit. Upland vests have elastic or cinch straps to adjust to the dog’s exact size. There are two ways that dogs are measured for vests. One method is to use measurements similar to ones you get before your best friend’s wedding and the other is weight. The size of each vest will be stated in either inches or pounds. Making sure the vest’s size is as close as possible off the shelf will make the adjustment much easier. Don’t guess the size, measure it! Below are a few tips for measuring your dog.

MOMarsh VersaVest Dog Vest
MOMarsh's VersaVest fits all dogs

Sizing Tips For Measuring In Inches

• When making measurements, be sure the measuring tape is pulled snug (not tight) for maximum accuracy.
• In the event that all dimensions do not fall under the same size classification, choose the largest of the sizes applicable and adjust for slack in needed areas.

Sizing Tips For Measuring Weight

• Vet records often state the dog’s weight.
• A bathroom scale will also suffice. Place the dog’s hind legs on the scale and raise the front legs until all of the dogs weight is applied to the scale.

When putting a vest on your dog for the first time your dog may attempt to roll around and

Cabela's Dog Flotation Vest
Flotation vests like Cabela's Advanced
Dog Flotation Vest are another option

scratch or bite at the vest because it is not used to wearing it. These tendencies are easily cured with proper introductions. Put the vest on the dog around the house or in the back yard and then keep the dog occupied with a dummy or a favorite game until your dog totally forgets about the vest. Repeat this process occasionally and it will become a routine. Hunter’s first encounter with the vest was nothing more than attitude; he froze and gave the "you’ve got to be kidding me" look. Not to worry - that lasted all of about 30 seconds. One dummy retrieve and he was ready to go. The introduction phase is also the time to determine if sizing adjustments need to be made to eliminate areas that could potentially rub and cause your dog discomfort. Without question, properly fitted vests are a true field-bag necessity - giving working dogs and their handlers comfort and confidence.