Personally I’m more of a boat person, but I have a lot of friends who are also dog people, so much so in fact that a question I’ve been asked a number of times is ‘would it be safe if I bought the dog along for an afternoon’s boating’ or words to that effect.
It’s a really good question, and well in need of answering in my opinion. I’ve done a fair bit of research on the subject, and long story short, have determined that the answer to the question is a resounding ‘yes you can take a dog boating’. You just need to be aware of a few important safety considerations, as well as the dog’s individual preferences – just as many people are firmly landlubbers, the same is true of some dogs!
Do Dogs Enjoy Boating?
Some dogs are seasoned motorists, often seen happily cruising down the freeway, their head stuck out the back window with the wind rushing past their face, complete with the ubiquitous flapping of their tongue in the breeze; while others prefer to stay within the sheltered confines of the trunk.
The same applies to dogs at sea.
Some dogs will be seen taking up a similar position on deck, often at the bow where the full force of the elements is at its strongest, while others are more cautious, keeping all four paws firmly planted on the ground inboard and amidships.
All dogs tend to be playful, and enjoy a paddle in rivers and lakes at their leisure, so it probably won’t be easy to second guess quite how they’ll behave on the water until you actually attempt to take them with you.
If you’re lucky your canine friend will take to the water like a, well, dog to water. If they don’t however, do them a favour and leave them on terra firma for the duration of all future marine excursions. Their preferences aren’t likely to change, and it would be cruel to try and force the issue.
Even if they do seem to enjoy the experience, it would be prudent to keep the first trip short, no more than 20 minutes, just to get them acquainted with the experience, in particular the confines of the boat and the unusual motion.
Is it Safe to Take a Dog on a Boat?
Alongside the issue of whether your dog is a seafarer or not, the next item on the agenda is making sure that their boating experience is a safe one, for them, you and all others on the water. Things to consider on the safety agenda:
Dog Life Jacket
Whilst dogs love to paddle, hence ‘doggy paddle’, it’s a common misconception that dogs are natural swimmers. Whilst some breeds seem to be pretty adept in the water, it’s usually only for short distances. Breeds with low body fat or short limbs (whippets and dachshunds for example) have a particularly hard time staying afloat or being able to propel themselves through the water.
Breeds known for their athleticism such as Border Collies and German Shepherds can arguably manage in the water without the aid of a life jacket, but really it’s a good idea to kit out any dog with a life jacket. Any dog would struggle to swim in choppy seas, where they could find themselves in a ‘dog overboard’ situation.
Besides the safety aspect, during planned excursions in the water, dogs benefit from wearing a life jacket because it might actually make the experience more enjoyable for them.
Pet Specific First Aid Kit
Dog specific first aid kits are available that include dressings and other items specific to dog injuries. This is a must have to have on board should the worst happen.
In addition it’s worth having a stock of sea sickness medication on board. There are certain varieties suitable for dogs such as Dramamine, but you should consult with your vet to ensure that you choose a medicine that is safe for your particular breed.
Vet Contact Details
If anything particularly serious happens to your dog whilst out on the water time could be of the essence to get the help you require when you make it back to shaw.
It’s a little thing, but by simply ensuring you have your vet’s phone number saved on your phone, or written down and stored somewhere safe, it means you’ve got one less thing to think (and panic) about if an emergency situation arises.
Dogs won’t typically jump into the water from a moving boat, so really there isn’t any logic to keeping them on a leash while at sea.
The only thing to be aware of is hazards that might cause them to accidentally fall in. In particular, slippery areas of the deck such as the gel coat surface of a forecastle, complete with lashings of spray that makes the surface even more slippery, does have the potential to lead to disaster, particularly at speed.
Blocking entry to slippery areas and keeping decks dry are the best course of action to avoid incident.
Provide Fresh Drinking Water
Though keeping your boat’s fridge stocked with beer and champagne is a no brainer, with poochy along for the ride it’s important not to overlook keeping them hydrated as well, especially on hot summer days. Dogs like to exert themselves a lot more than people too so keeping the dog bowl topped up with fresh water will ensure they don’t get dehydrated.
The other issue is that dogs don’t know not to drink sea water, and won’t think twice about doing so if they aren’t provided with an alternative.
You might not think that dogs can suffer from the harmful effects of sunlight under all that fur, but don’t forget that ears, noses, and bellies all feature areas of exposed skin, which should all be protected.
When choosing a sunscreen make sure that it protects from both UVA and UVB, and most crucially doesn’t contain zinc, which can be toxic to dogs in the levels found in some sunscreens.
The safest choice is to opt for a sunscreen that’s specially formulated for dogs, but just make sure it offers the full scope of UV protection.
Besides sunscreen there also exists such a thing as ‘Doggles’ (honest!), dog sunglasses that protect against the discomfort of bright sunlight. Worth a try if you think your dog will wear them!
Keep Fishing Lures and Hooks Out of The Way
This one is fairly self explanatory, but needless to say an unwitting dog that decides to chew on a fishing lure will become an instant casualty.
If you plan on doing some fishing whilst out make sure you store these items well out of the reach (and sight) of your dog for as long as possible.
How Long is it Reasonable to be Out on the Water With a Dog?
The answer to this largely depends on the individual dog. If they enjoy the experience of being on (and in) the water, and they don’t seem to suffer from sea sickness, then in theory they could manage at sea for just as long as you or me.
It’s not unusual to hear stories of people jacking in their job and going off sailing around the world for a year, with their dog in tow, so there’s no doubt it can be done.
Before you attempt anything as ambitious as this, make sure you’ve fully ‘tested the water’ (sorry!) with your dog and he/she seems happy with being on board your boat for whole days at a time.
For long term stays on board it’s important that your dog feels like they have their own space, because as sociable as they are, they still need to be able to unwind away from distraction from time to time. Dedicating the corner of a cabin to the dog, complete with dog bed is usually enough to keep the dog relaxed when life on board gets a bit overwhelming.
Do Dogs Get Motion Sickness?
Dogs most certainly can get motion sickness, but they won’t exhibit the same symptoms as a person. Instead look out for drowsiness, whining, drooling and other signs of agitation.
Bear in mind that the symptoms of sickness as a result of drinking sea water can appear very similar to motion sickness
Managing a House Trained Dog on a Boat
You soon realise just how effective potty training is for a dog when they exhibit signs of distress on board your boat, because they can’t find their usual ‘spot’.
Just as you train your dog to go to toilet outside at home, you’ll need to take the time to do the same on board your boat.
One of the most popular methods is to simulate ‘outside’ by making the potty a patch of artificial turf out on deck. To encourage early adoption of using the spot, try placing doggy treats near to the spot in question.
What to do if Your Dog Jumps Overboard
All boaters know how serious a man overboard situation can be, especially in tricky conditions that even seasoned swimmers would struggle with. If a dog goes overboard it can be just as, if not more dangerous, especially with a small dog in choppy conditions.
Doggy life jacket use is essential at all times, not just because they could save your dog’s life if they ever did go overboard, but because many feature a handle to help you retrieve them as quickly and safely as possible.
Are There any Laws Against Taking a Dog on a Boat?
I’m not aware of anywhere where simply having a dog on board a boat is a criminal offence, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t local laws in some places that pose restrictions on dogs, particularly if they might pose a hazard to other boats.
The bigger concern if you’re hopping from country to country is that your dog is fully immunised against diseases that could threaten dogs in the country you’ve just moored up in. A dog passport will officially document all immunisations your pooch has received, and should make travelling from place to place less problematic from an administrative point of view.