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On a beautiful summer day, nothing beats being on the water. To level up your next boating adventure, why not include your dog among your passengers? Who knows: you might discover that boating is your new favorite summer activity to share with your furry sidekick.
Of course, there are some safety precautions you’ll want to consider before bringing your dog on a boat. For starters, always check the weather forecast before heading out on the water. And because the sun is at its peak between 10 AM – 4 PM, try setting out early in the morning or in the late afternoon—to avoid spending your entire excursion during those peak sun hours.
When the water is calling, the following steps can ensure a safe and enjoyable boating day with your dog.
Before You Bring Your Dog, Ask Yourself These Questions
Some dogs will love boating, while others…not so much. Before taking your dog out to sea, it’s important to consider whether she’d enjoy the activity in the first place. If this is your dog’s first time on a boat, we recommend running through this checklist for clues about how she might react.
Does your dog like water?
Many dogs indeed love the water—but this fondness isn’t universal. Whether it’s because of their stocky build or they just hate being wet, some dogs struggle with swimming and may prefer to avoid the water altogether. And nervous dogs who are unsure about the water might find being on a boat frightening.
That said, a love (or disdain) of water is an individual preference with dogs. You know your pet best: if she generally exhibits an interest in water activities, she’ll probably enjoy being on a boat.
Will your dog get seasick easily?
Motion sickness is an unfortunate reality of boating, for humans and dogs alike. While more likely to occur on large, sea-bound vessels, even a choppy ride on a lake can induce this feeling. Unfortunately, dogs who get carsick often may not fare so well on an unsteady watercraft.
If your dog is exhibiting signs of seasickness—drooling, vomiting, diarrhea—it may be better to leave her at home, or you can ask your vet about medications that will help.
Will there be a secure place for your dog to rest?
Ideally, the boat will have a designated spot for your dog to relax and take a break from the sun. A special “dog zone” also keeps your pup from scrambling underfoot or getting hurt while the boat is in motion.
What do your local laws say?
There are no federal laws on boating with pets, but you could run into restrictions at the local level. Since laws will vary from state to state, check your local ordinances ahead of time.
Is your dog up-to-date on vaccinations?
If you’ll be traveling by public boat or ferry, it’s important to make sure your dog’s core vaccines are current. You can also add a layer of protection with the Bordetella vaccine, which prevents one of the most common causes of the highly contagious kennel cough.
Does your dog actually want to be on a boat?
Ultimately, boating is supposed to be fun, not stressful. Perform periodic check-ins with your dog to see if she appears happy—or if she looks like she prefers dry land. If it’s the latter, you can ask your vet about anxiety-calming chews, which might be able to help. But if your dog still decides that boating isn’t her thing, forcing it will only make things worse.
Get Your Dog a Life Jacket
According to Nicole Ellis, a professional dog trainer with Rover, even the strongest canine swimmers should wear a life jacket on the water. “Dogs can get tired and fatigued swimming (even the best swimmers) and having a life jacket offers some security,” Ellis says, adding that emergencies can happen at any time.
When it comes to personal flotation devices, a lightweight vest will suffice for casual pool days. But boating on a lake calls for a hardier dog life jacket, which covers more of your dog’s body and provides better buoyancy.
Life jackets come in all sorts of styles, but there are a few features that every dog owner should seek, including:
- Full-torso coverage: the additional flotation material means a more buoyant pet—which will be greatly appreciated if there’s a dog overboard situation.
- Bright colors: make your dog easier to spot with a vibrant color or print.
- Reflective accents: these also help with visibility and can make boating during low-light times safer.
- A durable top handle: at some point, you might need to scoop your dog out of the water. A strong handle makes it easier to do so.
- A sturdy D-ring: the ability to attach a leash makes your dog’s life jacket more functional and versatile.
Bear in mind, that first-timers may need extra time to get used to wearing a life jacket. To ease an apprehensive dog’s nerves, let her wear the jacket on land (preferably with treats) before you leave port or shore. It’s also a good idea to double-check the buckles and straps, to ensure it’s on securely before you head out.
Bring Dog Sunscreen and Paw Protection
Yes, dogs can get sunburned, and yes it’s unpleasant. For a day on the water, applying dog-specific sunscreen is a must. Especially if your dog has a sparse, thin coat, white fur, or pink skin.
And don’t forget about vulnerable paw pads: if the boat deck is too hot for human feet, it’s likely too hot for your dog. For dogs who will tolerate footwear, a solid pair of dog booties might be able to offer protection. (They’ll also protect seats from scratching). Hosing off the deck with cold water is another option.
Bring External Shade, if Necessary
If it’s a hot sunny day, be sure your dog has shade onboard. This might be under a seat or awning—even a large golf umbrella can work in a pinch. Not only does shade keep your dog comfy, but it also prevents heatstroke from occurring.
Heatstroke is a serious risk for dogs, but luckily, it’s also highly preventable. You can keep your dog safe by learning the signs of heatstroke and taking steps to keep her internal temperature at a safe level.
Until your dog gets her “sea legs” (and even after, quite frankly) it’s smart to keep a few non-slip mats onboard. They’re especially handy for fiberglass boats, which have a smooth and slippery surface.
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.
Pads or Astroturf
For longer outings, your dog will need a place to relieve herself. One easy fix is creating a special potty station with artificial grass or absorbent puppy pads. Otherwise, plan to stop on the mainland for a potty break every 3-5 hours.
Always Have Fresh Water
Even though you’ll be surrounded by water, you still need to pack plenty of fresh H20 for drinking. Provided your dog doesn’t get seasick, you can also offer snacks and/or food with a dog-friendly travel bowl.
Whatever you do, never let your dog drink unfamiliar water. It could be contaminated with parasites or toxic blue-green algae, which can make your dog sick and isn’t always detectable by sight alone.
Have a Dog First Aid Kit
A pet first aid kit for minor injuries is a good idea, especially for longer sailings. Hopefully, it will just sit unused. But if nausea strikes or your dog incurs a scrape or scratch, you’ll be happy to have it on board.
Train Your Dog to Get On and Off a Boat
If your dog is small, it’s probably easier to carry her on and off the boat. But bigger dogs will need to learn how to board themselves.
What’s the key to getting a less-than-graceful pooch on and off a boat comfortably and confidently? Dr. Alex Crow, a veterinarian at Buttercross Veterinary Center, has three words of advice for pet owners: “Practice, practice, practice!”
“It can be a weird sensation for dogs to walk on a dock and use a ramp to get onto a boat,” Dr. Crow points out. “This can sometimes make your dog feel anxious or unsure. The more you practice with them, the easier it becomes.” Here are a few more pointers from Dr. Crow:
- Use positive reinforcement: The more upbeat you are, the more likely your dog will become comfortable in this new environment.
- Treats are terrific motivators: reinforce good behavior with your dog’s favorite snack.
- Start with a dry run: before your voyage, try using a docked boat to familiarize your dog with the loading & unloading process.
- Be patient: it can take up to 6-8 weeks for dogs to learn a new trick, and depending on your dog’s willingness to learn, this process could follow a similar timeline.
A simpler alternative (or a good backup plan, should training go awry) is using a dog ramp or boat ladder to help your pet get on and off the boat.
Out Fishing? Keep Baits Away
Since some dogs will taste-test nearly everything they encounter, keep any tempting bait or hooks stored in a secure place.
Be Confident In Your “Dog Overboard” Rescue Plan
Before jetting off, you need a solid rescue plan in place—and everyone on board your vessel should be acquainted with it.
In the unlikely event your dog goes overboard, don’t panic! Circle back to her and then cut the engine. You can grab her with the top handle if she’s wearing her life jacket. An intermediary like a long-handled grab pole or fishing net, a life preserver ring, or other tools may also be necessary to pull her in.
Sharing your life with a dog means a life packed with adventure—and a whole lotta love. To clock in some quality bonding time while making new memories with your furry pal, give boating with your dog a try this summer.