Boating with Dogs? Fur-Sure!
Everything pleasant calls to you at the start of a boating day. There’s cool rippling water, toasty sun, cold drinks, and hot tunes to accompany the chill as family and friends relax. Lastly, but far from least, there’s the warmth from your canine companion, tail wagging, with eyes that say, “Let’s go!”
The combination of recreational boating and pet parenting has created a culture of its own. Whether you’ve been a part of the all-paws-on-deck club for years or just starting out, it’s helpful to see how other experienced boaters travel with their furry seamates.
Andrea Arden is no stranger to the sea. The Animal Planet expert, frequent guest on Live with Kelly, author, and dog trainer extraordinaire grew up on her father’s boats. She is also an avid scuba diver.
Lucy the bulldog is always sporting her life jacket, along with a harness underneath. Her vest has a top handle, an essential aid in lifting her out of the water if the need arises. Eight-year-old Lucy does her boating with Dan Brooks and Harold Goldstein. The couple rescued Lucy, so her boating history is unknown, but Brooks relates that she was a natural from the get-go on their new boat, growing comfortable listening to Jimmy Buffett tunes!
“When we took her out on the water for the first time, you would have thought she was an old salt,” says Brooks. “She did bark at the engine, but that went away. The only time she’s hesitant to get on the boat now is when there is a low tide and we need to carry her onto the boat, but I don’t think she minds the extra attention.”
Not all dogs adapt to the boating life as quickly as Lucy did. Says Arden, “Some dogs take to boating with little or no intervention on the part of their people, but most need an opportunity to spend time on a boat while docked prior to setting out on the water. This way they can get their sea legs, and you can spend time reinforcing good manners without being distracted. Practice the manners exercises you have instilled on land (i.e. asking your dog to sit, lie down, and come when called), and reward generously to ensure your dog’s reliability is up to snuff.”
Arden advises boaters to designate a go to spot such as a dog mat, bed, or towel where your dog can rest safely and comfortably when you direct them to do so. Place the spot right next to your dog and give a reward when they step, sit, or lie down on it. Gradually increase the periods of time between asking them to go to it and the reward, says Arden, or consider tethering them to a stable object next to the area until they develop the habit of chilling out there.
Once your furry friend has adapted to being on a boat, Arden’s advice is to start out with short trips. “Keep your first outings brief in order for your dog to become adjusted to the boat’s movement and to best avoid seasickness.”
Brooks and Goldstein bring doggie bags along for Lucy when she has to go. For longer excursions, Arden says you can teach your dog to eliminate on a pad or a specially designed dog potty spot.
There’s always plenty of bottled water aboard for Lucy, which Arden says is key to prevent dogs from drinking salt or algae-laden water, leading to stomach upset or worse. As far as food, Lucy has dog biscuits, though Brooks admits that people food somehow makes it to her tummy during a boating day.
That’s the same tummy that gets sunscreen (along with the rest of Lucy). Arden recommends using sunscreen formulated for dogs, and to never overlook sensitive areas like the top of the muzzle/nose and ears.
Arden stresses supervision of your canine at all times as being a key component to boating safety, and Lucy’s parents exemplify this caution. “We keep a handle on her leash and do not let her get too near the side of the boat while underway,” says Brooks. “When docking, we hook her leash to something on the boat to ensure she stays out of the way. Her floatation device is always on her while underway and mostly on while we are docked.”
Again, just as with people, emergencies do arise. Arden recommends that boaters “create a plan in case your dog goes overboard or is injured while on the boat. If you are traveling a good distance, this should include contact information for the closest veterinary hospital. Make sure your dog is wearing identification and discuss microchipping with your veterinarian.”
When the temperature soars, Lucy stays home, as bulldogs have a low tolerance for heat. Her absence creates some concern among fellow boaters who have come to know her on social media and on the water. “Everyone is always asking ‘Where’s Lucy?’ if she’s not with us,” says Brooks. However, she creates a sensation when she is aboard. He proudly explains, “One Sunday evening we were going out of the channel and another boat was coming in. Lucy poked her head up and looked over to their boat and everyone on the boat clapped and yelled ‘Hey, Lucy!’”
By Rebecca Hoey