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It’s a late summer weekend and you plan to go do something fun with your best canine friend (your dog, Bowser), when your best friend of the human variety texts you: “Hey, let’s head out to the lake on my boat today.” Then, a few seconds later (because your human friend knows you): “And bring Bowser, he’ll love it!” Should you? Boating with dogs can be fun, but there are a few important things to keep in mind before you go.
Boating with Dogs: The Ultimate Guide
Boating safety for dogs and humans is similar in scope. If your dog is a “water dog” who loves to swim, your job is both easier and harder. For example, Bowser’s love of water gets him excited and staying onboard a boat can be a challenge for those that love to swim. Conversely, if your Bowser isn’t one to go in deeper than the tops of his paws at the shore, being on a boat can be scary.
Introduce Your Dog to Your Boat
For boating safety with dogs, we’ll consider a boat to be a cabin cruiser, a canoe, a sailboat, a bay or flats boat, a rowboat, a kayak, a fishing boat—basically, anything that ventures out onto the water, whether human-powered or motor-powered, including stand up paddleboards.
Bringing your dog on any of these requires similar safety measures, and if your dog is frightened of water, something like a paddleboard or kayak might not be a good idea.
For any excursion on any watercraft, plan to introduce your dog to the craft prior to your trip. Head to the marina, or even the vessel still on a boat trailer, and let him sniff and hop onboard in a safe environment without any pressure. Add treats!
Plan for Water Safety
A doggie life jacket—even on excellent swimmers—is a good idea. This is important for several reasons. First, depending on the body of water, hypothermia can set in quickly. Even on a hot day, water temperatures can be quite chilly, and if the water is choppy, your dog can become overwhelmed quickly.
Second, the bright color of a life jacket makes it easier to spot the dog in choppy water.
Third, dog life jackets have a handle on the top. If he goes over, this will be the only way to grab him, which is important because he might not understand how to get aboard and having something to grab onto to lift him up could be necessary.
It’s helpful to get your dog used to swimming in the life jacket first, and double check the buckles and straps, to ensure it’s on securely before you leave port or shore.
Have a plan in place in case he does go overboard, and make sure everyone on board your vessel knows the plan. A large, panicked dog in the water can drown a human trying to save him, and an intermediary like long-handled grab pole or fishing net, a life preserver ring, or other tools may be necessary to pull him in.
Your Dog’s Safety on the Boat
If it’s a hot sunny day, be sure your dog has shade onboard—a large golf umbrella can work in a pinch—and consider using a sunscreen made for dogs on his nose area and any exposed skin. A bowl with fresh water, especially for saltwater boating, is a must.
A pet first aid kit for minor scrapes and injuries is a good idea, especially for longer sailings. Talk to your vet about ways to treat seasickness, in case your dog experiences this. While more likely on larger, sea-bound vessels, even a choppy ride on a large lake can induce this feeling.
For longer voyages on larger vessels, investing in slip prevention can be helpful for your dog’s overall traction and comfort on deck. Toe grips are a great, non-intrusive way to give your dog traction without compromising his gait as a non-skid boot might, and he can wear them even if he goes for the occasional dip.
As with any outdoor activity, a little forethought and prevention will go a long way in making the adventure fun for both of you. With a few precautions, you can have a great time boating with your dog.
Featured image: Flickr/Virginia State Parks