What’s more fun than a beautiful sunny day spent boating? How about a beautiful sunny day spent boating with your best furry friend? Yeah…. That’s pert-near PERFECT!
A responsible dog owner knows that there are many things to consider and prepare for when planning to take your dog boating. Just because your dog can swim doesn’t mean he’s going to enjoy the water, the confinement of a boat, or the feeling of floating. Nor does it mean that he will be safe. Let’s see… where to start?
First of all, swimming. Many of our Camp dogs absolutely LOVE swimming! On the other hand, our customers are oftentimes disappointed when they sign their dog up for a Bow-Wow Luau only to learn that he is scared to death of the water! For these dogs, swimming is for survival only… they don’t really want to do it. Remember too that there are numerous breeds that do not have the body-type equipped for swimming… the long, heavy Basset hound, the Dachshund, etc. [Can your dog swim?]. If these dogs hit the water, they will just sink! Don’t assume your dog will take to the water like a fish, because it just may not happen.
Dog Life Vest
If you’re one of the lucky ones whose dog LOVES the water, even they may panic if they fall in unexpectedly. The most important piece of equipment you need to purchase before ever taking your dog out on the water is a “float vest” or “life vest”. Canine life vests can be purchased locally at West Marine in Glen Allen and Deltaville. Bass Pro Shop and REI both carry the popular k-9 Float Coat for around $80.00. It’s imperative that you make sure the vest fits properly. An ill-fitting vest can impede upon your dog’s ability to move, swim or even keep his head above water. Buy one in a bright color, maybe even with reflective strips, and make sure there is a handle on top so that you’re able to reach in the water and pull your dog to safety if necessary. Something else to consider when suiting your dog with a life vest is that they can get pretty hot. If you are out in the boat on a very hot day, your dog can get overheated. Pour cool water around his neck and have him take some time-outs in the shade.
Have you ever seen boats moving across the water… motors full bore… with a dog valiantly standing at the bow? Looks way-cool, huh? But it’s also way-dangerous. Never, never let your dog stand at the bow. If you were to stop abruptly or hit a wave, your dog may fall in the water and end-up under the boat. Very sad, and very preventable. When your boat is running, have your dog leashed and seated in a safe spot, well away from the sides of the boat, and never on the bow.
Equipping the boat
Put together a spot on the boat just for him… a secure, shaded area where he can get in out of the sun, and ensure he has a bowl of fresh cool water waiting there for him at all times. It’s a good idea to have some rubber-backed rugs to provide traction so that he is not slipping and sliding all over the boat…especially in “his spot”. And guess what else you may need… sunscreen! Our Camp staff uses sunscreen on our light-skinned campers who have exposed noses or thin hair spots. Dogs do burn and it can be very painful on their tender little noses (Make sure the sunscreen does not contain the popular ingredient, zinc oxide, as it can be toxic if they ingest it). Check with your vet for the best sunscreen for your dog. One more thing you might need? Seasick pills… yep, it happens to the best of us! Dramamine is generally safe for pets, but as always, check with your vet before giving your pet human drugs of any kind.
Planning Your Outing
Now, let’s plan this out a little bit … Will you be out all day? Where will he do his “business”? Some people have successfully trained their dog to potty in a designated area on the boat, but it generally doesn’t work…. they just refuse to do it. Make plans to make potty stops along the way (and then dispose of properly… not in the water). Will you be stopping somewhere to eat? You know you can’t leave your dog on a hot boat alone… Call ahead to make sure your restaurant is pet friendly. Likewise for marinas… most marinas welcome your dog, but not all. And when you do depart the boat at the marina, take a look around for fishing hooks. You sure don’t want your dog to step on a fishing hook. One more thing… Will you be stopping at the beach? Yeah… you guessed it… is it pet friendly? Oh, and carry a regular walking leash in your pocket for off- boat excursions.
Getting In and Out of the Boat
Which reminds me… Have you thought about how to get your dog in and out of the boat easily? Is he small enough to be carried? How do you heave your 90 pound retriever out of the water and into the boat? Some larger dogs do well on the ladder. A swimming platform is helpful as well. You may find it necessary to build or buy a ramp of some sort to help him get in and out of the boat. And, what if he unexpectedly jumps from the boat? You should keep a long enough leash attached to his harness at all times (a harness would be safer than a neck collar) to enable you to pull him back without harm. These are the type of things that are sometimes overlooked, but very important.
Starting Training When They’re a Puppy
If you have the luxury of beginning boating life with a new puppy, good for you! There are so many things you can teach your new puppy to ensure lifelong boating fun with the family. Basic obedience commands, like “sit”, “stay”, or “wait” will be useful for him to know. You can also teach him some specific boating commands such as “in boat”. The “climb” command that our trainers use is helpful to direct your dog safely to his “spot” on the boat and to stay there until you free him. Gradually introduce your puppy to water and boating so that he will not develop any fear. Take him to the lake or ocean and let him play in the shallow water. Bring him to Holiday Barn and let him swim in our pool. Once swimming is natural for him and there is no fear of water, then, take him onto the boat while it is parked. Let him explore so that he gets used to it. Take a few short boating runs… leaving the shore and immediately returning with him onboard. Start him young wearing a life vest (and be sure to change it out as he grows!). Our Trainers can be a great resource for you as they can design a training protocol to fit your needs, complete with wearing the life vest, swimming, swimming in the pool IN a life vest, basic commands, specific commands, etc..
Lastly, always keep a current pet id on your dog. Some people even add a marina location, slip number, and/or the name of your boat to their tag.
Whew! Did we forget anything? Did you ever think there was so much to consider when boating with your dog? Knowing these things ahead of time will assure a safe, worry-free day of fun for your dog and your entire family.