One of the exciting activities you likely haven’t tried with your dog yet is boating. Most dogs enjoy the combination of being outdoors and on the water. For pet owners, it’s another way to add more fun to the experience, bond with their pet and exercise the dog.
If you’re not sure whether your dog would enjoy boating or not, the only way to know is to take them to the boat first, and go for a very short trip. But majority of dogs love boats and boating – just take a look at this dog+boat photo round-up from Boating mag.
You will need to take some precautions so the boating trip with a dog is safe, whether you are boating on a river, a lake or an ocean. Being in an open space in the water presents a number of risks, and that is particularly true for dogs. Here’s how to ensure safety for everyone involved.
1. Take Your Dog to the Boat Beforehand
It’s best to get your dog acquainted with the boat ahead of the trip. Take your pooch to the boat a few times for him to sniff around without leaving the dock.
Some dogs may take longer to get used to the new environment, so if that sounds like your pet, get him used to the boat slowly: first bring him to the dock, then get him onto the boat and later simply turn on the motor (but don’t leave) to get him used to the sound and vibrations.
Once your Fido is more familiar with the boat and the process of how it works, you can take the pup for a few very short rides to “test the waters” and increase the distance from the dock gradually. These trips will also tell you if your dog is prone to being seasick, because just like with car rides, animals can get motion sickness.
2. Teach the Dog Basic Commands to Use on a Boat
An obedient dog is a safe dog to himself and everybody around, especially when it comes to boating and being around water. Ideally, you have already taught your dog the basics of obedience and some standard commands.
If not, this would be the time: train your dog at the very least to follow commands such as “come,” “sit” and “stay”, so you can stop him from doing something dangerous, like getting into the water or even drinking it.
3. Know the Dog’s Swimming Level
Most dogs are natural “swimmers”, but you should be certain whether your pooch can swim before you decide to take him boating. It’s unlikely the dog wouldn’t know how to swim (they all instinctively “dog paddle”) but that’s really the extent of their skills.
Some dogs are better at swimming and even enjoy it while other breeds not so much. If your pooch isn’t a good swimmer then you need to be aware of this. You must also know is if he’s scared of water, whether being near and around it, or only in it.
If your dog knows how to swim and isn’t afraid of doing so, that doesn’t mean that you should let him get off the boat in open waters in any instance. Keep the dog on the boat since swimming in deep waters is different than swimming in the shallow water. There can be a current or a tide that can make it hard to swim, but there are also many other water dangers that lurk underneath, especially in the ocean.
4. Get Essential Dog Safety Water Supplies
There are several pieces of equipment that will make your dog boating trip much safer and provide you with a peace of mind. You may not need all of them, but if you plan to have more than one boating with dogs trip, you’re likely to benefit from putting together the whole set. Below is what you may need on a boat with a dog.
Dog life jacket – A life vest is something that will guarantee a higher level of safety for your dog, is cheap and you don’t need to worry about it once you put it on your dog before the boating trip. Make sure to buy the right size and proper fit.
Water ramp (or dog boat ladder) – It’s likely your pooch will choose to jump into the boat or out of it whenever needed. There’s an extremely high chance he’ll hurt himself by doing that, so bring a dog water ramp or boat ladder for dogs to help him safely go into the boat and out of it.
Sunscreen – UV rays can be just as dangerous to dogs as they are for people. Being on the boat during daytime means a lot of sun, and you need to protect your dog from direct sun rays with sunscreen.
Carpet (or a mat) – Your pooch will need a place for solid footing to rest now and again. Boat decks are generally fine for people but not for your dog’s paws, and your pet is likely to skid, hurt himself and develop motion sickness. A piece of indoor/outdoor carpeting or a non-slip mat or dog bed is a good choice. Make sure it’s placed in a shade and not in direct sunlight.
Poop bags – Your pooch will need to relieve himself while you’re on a boat, so be prepared to clean it up afterwards with biodegradable dog poop bags and a poop scooper if you really want to.
Pee pads – Speaking of relieving oneself, most dogs need a specific location where they feel they can “go.” If no such place is available, the dog is likely to hold it in, feel uncomfortable and ruin the boating trip. Puppy pee pads are the best for boats as your pet will instinctively use those for his bathroom needs. Keep this in the shade and avoid exposing to sun.
Travel bowls (or a mat) – You’ll need to feed your dog and provide him with water. On a boat, this is a little more complicated, so you’ll need to have special travel bowls that have non-slip design to them. Some are specifically made for boating. Alternatively, you can also bring regular bowls but use a non-slip mat underneath.
First aid kit (and health records) – Put together a pet first aid kit for dogs or include additional pet-specific items in your own first aid kit. Bring your dog’s medications on-board and include antibiotic ointment to use for minor scratches and scrapes. Learn the basics of pet first aid as you never know when you’ll need it.
No-pull harness – A dog harness is better and safer to use because a leash that goes around the neck can be extremely dangerous on a boat. A harness that goes around his legs and torso is a much safer option because the pressure is distributed more evenly.
Seasickness medication – Even if you’re positive your pooch isn’t prone to being seasick, it sometimes happen anyway. Make sure you have seasickness medication on board as a precaution. Ask your vet for appropriate medications for your pooch.
Other things that go without saying: some extra drinking water for your dog, some food if taking a longer boating trip and of course dog treats for positive reinforcement or whatever other reason you’ll have to bribe your dog. Bring along a few of your dog’s favorite toys that will float in the water.
5. Have an Emergency Plan
Know what you’ll do in case something you didn’t plan for happens. The most common danger is your dog going overboard by accident.
Alongside the basic obedience training, teach your dog how to come back onto the boat in case that he goes overboard. This should be done while you are at the dock. Train your pooch to come to the swimming platform or to a ladder so you can get him back in.
If you have a small dog breed that’s coming on board with you, an easier way is to have a fishing net on your boat so you can use it to sweep your pooch back on board if he falls in the water. It’s much easier than trying to scoop him up with your hands.
6. Check Your State Laws
Even though there are no regulations or restrictions about the way dogs or other animals are handled on boats, there may be local and regional laws you should know about, as well as different international laws depending on the country. These laws can also help you keep your dog safe but knowing them can also help you avoid potential fines.
Simply Google “dog boating [your state]” and check what your state’s website page says about going boating with dogs and if there are any laws you must follow. For example, I live in Austin, TX with my dogs and there are no “dog boating” laws but some tips are provided by the state, as well as boat-specific rules that must be followed.
7. Sun and Overheating Protection for the Dog
I’ve mentioned that you need to bring sunscreen for dogs when going boating. You might not think that your dog needs sun protection, but he does and it is very important since dogs can get burns just like humans do. They can also get skin cancer from sun, just like we can. Some short hair breeds in particular are at bigger risk.
There are several pet-friendly sunscreens to buy. Generally, a light SPF 15 spray is enough for most dogs, so make sure to bring it with you when you go boating with your pet. You should also opt for the unscented spray because scented ones can get your dog agitated, trigger allergies or otherwise make your dog feel uncomfortable. In addition, you can opt for sun protection clothing for your pet, such as cooling vests.
Dog sun skin protection isn’t your only worry on a boat; your dog can also get overheated if he spends a lot of time in the direct sun. To avoid heatstroke, find a shady location for your dog where he can stay for some time and place the non-slip mat or carpeting that I’ve mentioned above in the shady (or have an air-conditioned cabin for him, if possible).
Dogs must always have access to fresh water which will help them cool off and avoid heatstroke. Make sure that the water is secured in a non-slip bowl and isn’t in direct sunlight. Accidents are often the result of a spilled water since the floor can become slippery and unsafe. To keep it cool, you can keep adding some ice from your cooler.
8. Keep an Eye on Your Dog
Something that should go without saying is don’t forget that you have a dog in the boat. When you bring your pooch with you, you need to be prepared to keep him in the center of your attention because animals are unpredictable, and this is especially true when boating for the first time.
If your boat is large, don’t let your dog go far from you so you can’t see him. Don’t let the dog drink the water from the ocean, river or lake since – it’s likely to be polluted or contain other bacteria.
If you notice that some areas of the boat have become slippery, block them off so your dog can’t go there or clean them up immediately. Use common sense you’d normally use with children on a boat to keep your dog safe.