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Updated Jul 17, 2023 2:05 PM
The best hunting dog vest for your pup can protect it from icy cold water, or from briars, or help it be seen by drivers and other hunters. The right vest for your needs depends on what type of hunting you do. Neoprene vests that keep retrievers warm and buoyant are too hot for all but the coldest, wettest upland hunting, and camo only makes a dog harder to see. Blaze vests that help you keep track of your bird dog and protect its skin are totally inappropriate for the duck blind. In addition to choosing the right type of vest, you have to make sure it adjusts to fit your dog so there is no chafing or rubbing. Here’s a guide to help you find the best hunting dog vest for you.
How We Picked the Best Hunting Dog Vests
Finding the best hunting dog vests on the market meant searching for vests with the right features to help your dog perform at its best—be that in the duck blind or in the uplands. In all vests, we looked for sturdy construction that would last more than a few hunts. Bear in mind, though, that dogs wear vests hard. Even the best vest will have to be replaced every few seasons, so price factored into the decision, along with construction.
Beyond price and quality, we looked at features. How thick was the vest? Could a retriever vest provide the necessary insulation for extreme late season hunts, or was it a vest suited to milder climates? Did the vest have flotation to prevent fatigue during long swims? Could it protect a dog from ice and debris in the water? In an upland vest, we looked at coverage, at the thickness and durability of the materials. Is the vest long enough to protect a nursing female? Does it offer good back protection for dogs crawling under wire?
Finally, one of the most important questions is how well a vest fits. While you can’t tell if a vest fits before buying it, you can check to see what size dogs it fits. How many different sizes is the vest made in? How much can the vest be adjusted? All of the above factors went into choosing this selection of the best hunting dog vests.
Best Hunting Dog Vests: Reviews and Recommendations
- Materials: 3mm neoprene on top, 5mm on the chest plus a flotation layer
- Color: Timber or Marsh Optifade camo, Blades or White
- Sizes:five sizes to fit 24 to 33 inch chest
- Features flotation to make swims easier
- Sturdy paracord handle for hoisting your dog into a boat
- Five sizes
- No D-ring for leash
- May be too warm in milder conditions or for dry land runs
The Bloodline Elite vest combines a 3mm neoprene back layer under a tough canvas shell with a thicker 5mm neoprene chest plate backed by a layer of flotation material to keep your dog afloat and safe from branches in the water. The vest has an athletic cut to allow full freedom of motion, and it comes in five sizes to fit anything from small Boykin spaniels up to 100-pound Labs. It has Velcro closures so there are no zippers to struggle with. A sturdy and good-looking braided paracord handle lets you help your dog out of the water. This vest is as warm as it is tough, and works best in cold weather.
- Material: 3mm neoprene
- Colors: green camo
- Sizes: S-XXL for 21 to 32-inch chest
- 3mm neoprene is back with extra chest protection
- Grab-handle holes and D-ring for a leash
- Old school camo with reflective Carhartt logo for nighttime safety
- Lacks flotation
- Not as warm as thicker, insulated vests
Carhartt’s vest is affordable workwear for your working dog. The 3mm neoprene offers warmth while extra reinforcement on the chest protects from sharp sticks underwater. A webbing harness inside adds strength and structure so you can lift your dog out of water with the grab-handle holes. There’s also a reinforced D-ring on top so you can leash your dog for safety or if you need to tie a young dog out in the blind to keep it from breaking. In all, this is a vest that is both bare-bones, yet also well-made and well-thought out enough to be functional in the field.
Best Adjustable: MOMarsh VersaVest Dog Vest
- Material: 5mm neoprene, nylon shell
- Colors: Optifade Marsh
- Sizes: One size fits dogs 35-100 pounds
- Custom fit prevents chafing
- One vest fits your dog as it grows
- 5mm neoprene under 600-denier nylon makes it tough and warm
- Assembly required
Designed by a vet and hardcore waterfowl hunter, the VersaVest tackles the problem of fit and chafing with an innovative design that actually lets you build the vest around your dog for the right sizing. You add the outside panels to the Velcro-covered frame, then, once the vest is fully assembled you can leave it that way and use the top opening to put it on and off. In addition to the custom fit, the vest offers plenty of protection with 5mm neoprene insulation and a tough nylon outer shell. There’s also a stow-away handle and leash anchor so you can lift the dog into the boat and leash it or stake it out.
Best Upland: Cuga Dog Vest
- Material: 1,000 denier nylon
- Color: black/orange or coyote/orange
- Sizes: 5 sizes fit dogs 18-100 pounds
- Very tough material
- Cut to protect nursing females
- Lots of Velcro for size adjustment
- Costs more than other blaze vests
- May be too hot in warm weather
The Cuga vest is a no-frills, tough answer to the problem of protecting hard-charging hunting dogs from sticks, briars and even barbed wire. The two-tone Cuga has a blaze orange upper for visibility to let you keep your dog in sight and to help other hunters identify it during firearms deer seasons. The underside is double-layered for added armor and the vest is made to withstand lots of abuse. A wide band of Velcro hooks gives this vest some adjustability, too. And, it’s machine washable.
Best Budget Upland: Cabelas Ripstop Dog Vest
- Material: Ripstop nylon
- Color: Black, blaze with reflective strips
- Sizes: Small, Medium and Large
- Reinforced chest plate for added protection
- Reflective strips for nighttime visibility
- Buckle closures in place of Velcro that lose effectiveness
- May be hard to fit on larger dogs
Upland hunters on a budget still get plenty of protection for the dogs with this vest, which combines blaze orange and reflective stripes with a nylon shell that’s reinforced on the bottom with tough 900 denier material. Three sizes and adjustable buckle-closed straps help you find the right fit for your dog.
Best Warm Weather Upland: Browning Dog Protection Vest
- Material: Neoprene
- Color: Blaze, black skid plate
- Sizes: M and L fit dogs 35-85 pounds
- Reinforced skid plate
- Open design for hot weather hunts
- Trimmable chest area for better fit
- Velcro can lose stickiness as it clogs with seeds
- Will not fit some very large dogs
Ideal for early-season hunts, this cut-down vest still has enough orange on wide, comfortable straps and sides to provide enhanced visibility. The soft neoprene can be trimmed to be sure it doesn’t rub on your dog’s chest. It also has reflective lettering to provide a small degree of nighttime visibility and the bottom is reinforced with a second layer to provide a skid plate to protect your dog where sticks and briars most often injure dogs. It makes a good choice, too, for nursing female dogs.
What to Consider When Choosing a Hunting Dog Vest
Obviously, the first decision you have to make when you buy a dog vest is what type of vest you need. Will your dog hunt ducks or upland birds, or some of each? A dog that plunges into icy water, then sits still for some time, needs a much warmer vest than a dog that will be hunting in the uplands, constantly moving, and not getting wet. And, while camo is a good choice in the duck blind, an orange vest that keeps your dog visible to you, other members of your party, and firearms deer hunters makes much more sense for upland hunting.
If you’re choosing a vest for a water dog, you can find neoprene models made of thick 5mm material for added insulation, or lighter 3mm for milder conditions. Some vests even have added flotation to make swimming easier and keep your dog from tiring out.
Upland vests also offer varying levels of protection which you have to balance with weather conditions. Overheating can be even more dangerous to a dog than sticks and barbed wire. Reflective strips on a vest can give you peace of mind, too, if you worry that your dog might wind up on a road at night, be sure to choose a model with reflective strips.
Just as important as what kind of vest you buy, it’s important to get the size right. Be sure to measure your dog and choose the right size, and look for a vest that can be adjusted or can be trimmed to fit your dog.
Q: Does my hunting dog need a vest?
A hunting dog needs a vest in several situations to keep it safe and healthy. Retrievers working in cold weather need a vest to help them stay warm. In between swims in the cold water, the dog is expected to sit still, so it won’t be able to run around and keep itself warm. That said, even if the dog is wearing a vest, you need to watch it for signs of hypothermia like sluggish movements and excessive shivering. A sturdy vest will also protect a retriever from ice and underwater sticks.
Upland hunting dogs need hi-vis vests to help them stay safe and visible during firearm gun seasons. On the underside, hard-charging dogs and nursing females require the chest and belly protection that a vest affords. Dogs coming back into the field after stitches might need the protection of a vest as well. And in very cold, wet conditions, even an upland dog could stand to wear a neoprene vest in the field.
Q: Can a dog’s nose get frostbite?
A dog can get frostbite on its nose, but it is much more likely to suffer frostbite on its ears, paws or tail. Frostbite occurs in extreme cold, or wet and cold conditions as the body directs blood away from the extremities to warm the core. Areas that experience a drop in blood flow are more likely to become frostbitten. The nose, as part of the dog’s head, is less likely to be affected. You might notice tenderness, swelling or discoloration if your dog gets very cold.
Although a dog vest doesn’t cover the areas most likely to be affected by frostbite, it does help warm the dog’s core making it less likely for frostbite to occur on its extremities. A vest can also help the dog stay dry. Dog boots can also help prevent frostbite in very cold conditions.
Q: What does it mean to say a dog has a “soft mouth?”
A dog with a soft mouth is a very good thing. It means that the dog retrieves birds without biting down on them so they are in good condition for the table. A retriever should bring birds to hand without biting, and it should bring crippled birds back alive. The opposite of a soft mouth is a hard mouth. Hard-mouthed dogs bite down on birds, sometimes only leaving a tooth mark or two, sometimes crushing or mangling the bird so it’s practically inedible.
A hard mouth can be an inherited trait in some dogs, or a puppy can become hard mouthed if it has a bad early experience like getting thrashed or spurred by an injured bird. The best way to ensure your dog has a hard mouth is to do some sort of trained or forced retrieve training even if the dog has a strong natural retrieving instinct.
Best Dog Hunting Vests: Final Thoughts
Choosing the best hunting dog vest means taking the needs of your dog, and the hunting you’ll do with it, into account. Vests for retrievers keep them warm, dry and can provide flotation to help the dog keep working longer. They can also shield your retriever from jagged ice and sticks in the water. An upland vest can protect a dog’s chest and belly from wire, sticks, briars and other hazards in the field. The bright orange color makes it easier to keep track of your dog, and it can make it visible to firearms deer or predator hunters. As important as getting the right vest for your dog’s needs is, you have to be sure it fits properly. It makes no sense to buy a vest to protect a dog if that same vest rubs them raw. Hard-working dogs may run through a vest in a couple of seasons but even so, the right hunting dog vest is a sound investment in your pup’s safety.
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