Boating can be a great hobby, the cornerstone of a marine business, or a fantastic getaway. Regardless of how you enjoy boating, you can always bring your dog along for a day on the water if you take the animal’s needs and behavior into consideration.
Why Dogs Love Boating
Dogs enjoy exploring new sights, sounds, and smells, and a boat is filled with new sensory experiences for any canine companion. Furthermore, dogs are instinctive swimmers and don’t typically have a fear of the water, so their inherent curiosity isn’t inhibited by a new environment. As pack animals, dogs bond strongly with their human pack-mates, and will greatly enjoy spending time with you rather than being left behind. It is important, however, that your boat be safe for your dog, and that the dog won’t cause problems that could be dangerous for other passengers.
Making Your Boat Dog-Friendly
It’s easy to make your boat dog-friendly. First, be sure equipment is firmly secured and there is no loose gear that could be chewed or damaged by a curious dog. Sharp objects, such as fishing tackle and prep knives, should be out of the dog’s reach to avoid injuries. It is also important to have the proper boating supplies available for your dog, including…
Life Jacket – Even if your dog is a good swimmer, a life jacket is essential. Be sure it is sized appropriately, and includes reflective strips and bright colors for easy visibility. Jackets with handles on the back are helpful for assisting your dog back into the boat if necessary.
Bowls – You will need a water bowl for your dog even for short boating excursions, but if you’re planning longer trips, you will also need a food bowl. Spill-proof designs are best on an active boat, and pack along a good supply of food and water as well.
Sunscreen – Dogs are just as vulnerable as humans to sun exposure, and pet-friendly sunscreen can help protect their delicate skin, particularly on their nose, ears, and underbelly where their fur is thinnest. Also be sure your dog has access to shade on the boat.
Potty Spot – Providing a potty spot for your dog is essential. Pee pads, a scrap of carpet, or a piece of artificial turf can be useful. It may take some time to train your dog to use this spot, but be patient with any accidents. Poop bags should also be available if needed.
Towel – An overly large, absorbent towel is necessary to dry your dog off in case it goes for a swim, whether that swim is intentional or not. Having several towels on hand can be helpful for longer trips in case they don’t dry quickly.
Leash – Even a well-behaved, well-trained dog may need firm control at times, and a spare leash should always be on board your boat. This is also necessary in case of unexpected stops in unfamiliar areas where leashing may be necessary.
Training Your Dog for Boating
Once your boat is supplied to meet your dog’s needs, it’s time to start training your canine crew member for boat activities. First, teach your dog how to safely get on and off the boat in different ways, including being carried if necessary, as well as using a ramp or ladder. It is best to do this training when the boat is firmly secured so the dog isn’t intimidated by rocking motions.
Your dog should also be trained to settle in one comfortable, out-of-the-way spot. This should be a go-to command when you need your dog out of the way, and it is a good spot for the dog to retreat when it needs a rest.
Potty training may be necessary if your dog isn’t already used to using pee pads or a designated potty spot. This training can take place on land as well as on board the boat so the dog will feel comfortable.
Finally, the most important training for your dog is a come when called command. This is critical in case your dog goes overboard – whether accidentally or for fun – and needs to be oriented to return. Use a strong command for this training, and one the dog won’t have any trouble hearing or recognizing even if it is in the water. This training can even be practiced on land or when swimming from a beach or dock.
More Fun While Boating With Dogs
Once you and your dog are ready to get out on the water, there are many different ways you can both enjoy boating. While your dog will easily enjoy the new sensations of boating while you fish, waterski, or enjoy other activities, it can also be fun to have other games you can play with your dog. Depending on your dog’s size, comfort level, and physical capabilities, fun options include…
- Playing fetch in the water
- Enjoying a pet pool lounger
- Diving from the boat or dock
- Playing keep away in the water
Do not force your dog into any activities the animal isn’t comfortable with, and watch the dog carefully for signs of tiredness so you know when to take a break. As you both get used to the boating routine, you and your dog can enjoy wonderful days on the water!