It may be winter right now, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t already planning your summer activities. Or maybe you’re the type to skip out on the cold and head south with the birds. Whatever your habits, there’s one activity that many warm-weather lovers share year after year: boating. It’s a fun way to explore the water, get a thrill, and participate in water sports. It’s also a great way to spend time with your loved ones, including your four-legged pals. But before you take your dog on a boat, there are a few key safety tips to keep in mind.
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(1) Make Sure Your Dog Knows How to Swim
Most dogs have an instinctual understanding of how to swim, but that doesn’t mean that all dogs like it or will do it. If you can, spend some time training your dog to at least tolerate swimming in a pool or a smaller lake, before you head out on a boat. You don’t anticipate any troubles, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t have any. And if your dog doesn’t know how or hates to swim in an emergency, that could put you in a very difficult position. If your dog is very small, you could even teach them to swim in a bathtub or a baby-sized plastic pool. Just five minutes of training every day should help them get comfortable with the idea, until you slowly introduce them to deeper water and longer time periods.
(2) Give Your Dog a Tour Before You Set Sail
Before you go out onto the water, make sure your dog has a chance to check out the boat. They’ll want to have a chance to learn the new space before they are stuck there with no way back to land except a long swim. Make sure they are allowed access to the whole boat, so that they can thoroughly check it out and feel comfortable with the space. If you are renting a boat and don’t have the time to allow your dog to check out the boat before it gets to the water, at least let the boat idle for a few minutes near the dock or the bank while your dog gets used to the place.
(3) Have a Secured, Shady Spot for Your Dog
If you’ll be on the boat for quite some time, such as an all-day trip, you’ll want to have a place where you can secure your dog in the event that they are getting in the way or starting to get anxious. Bringing a small kennel that is just big enough for your dog to lay down in will be very helpful. Make sure you tie it down so that it doesn’t move around, and be sure it’s in a shady spot so your dog isn’t stuck baking in the sun where they can’t get away. Something like what you’d use for air travel would work just fine, because they are made to be strapped down inside planes.
(4) Plan Pit Stops or Bring Puppy Pads
Don’t forget that your dog has to go to the bathroom, and they can’t just excuse themselves off the side of the boat like some people. Either plan pit stops on the shore for your dog, or bring along some puppy pads so they have a place to go. Also, I think it’s a good idea to have some dog waste bags along, just in case. They may not be able to hold it while you navigate through some choppy water, or they may get nervous about getting off the boat. If your dog is a puppy, they’ll need several stops throughout the day, and they’ll need to relieve themselves about 15 minutes after eating, so be sure to plan accordingly.
(5) Bring Your Dog’s Papers
It doesn’t matter if you think your dog will be with you the whole time and nothing could ever go wrong – if you are taking your dog to a situation where he could get separated from you, or where he could get anxious and act unpredictably, it’s a good idea to have his vet papers along with you. At least have the date of his last rabies vaccination and the number of your vet, in case there are any problems. If a dog has never been on a boat before, they could get scared, and if there are new people around, that could translate into danger. Just be aware that you’re taking your dog off his usual landscape and putting him in a place where he may not feel secure, and that’s always a situation in which you need to be prepared for anything.
(6) Bring Fresh Water and Sun Protection
Your dog will need fresh water to drink while you are boating. Even if you are boating on a fresh water lake, bring water. There is bacteria in fresh water lakes that can be bad for your dog, and they may not drink it out of confusion or fear anyway. Stock up your cooler with water bottles for your dog, and grab a simple collapsible bowl so that they can drink on the boat. You’ll also need sun protection for your dog. Dogs can get sunburnt just as easily as humans under their fur, and it can be even more dangerous for them because you can’t tell when it’s happening. Spray some dog sunscreen on their nose and ears especially, but also over their backs, necks, and the rest of their body.
(7) Put Your Dog in a Life Jacket
If your dog is not much of a swimmer, or if they are a very small dog and you’ll be on a large body of water, a pet life jacket is a good idea. You can find pet life jackets that fit like harnesses, so your dog doesn’t feel too restricted, and they have handles on top so you can lean over and grab your dog out of the water. Always be sure to get one with reflective stripes or coloring so that you can see your dog if they fall overboard in the dark. (And hey, here’s a cute one that makes your dog look like a shark!)
(8) Add Non-Skid Features to the Floor
If you own your boat, you may want to consider adding some non-skid features to the floor, similar to those non-skid stickers you put in a bathtub. The flooring on a boat can be extremely slick to a dog’s paws. While humans can stand around barefoot on a wet floor and grip with the toes, dogs don’t have grippy toes like that, and their nails will slide around if you wax or polish the floor to protect it from water damage. Also, they may have hair on their feet, which just makes them even more likely to slide around. If you can’t add non-skid features to the boat you’ll be on, consider getting your dog some non-skid boots for the journey.
(9) Make Sure Your Dog Is Trained to Heel
If your dog is roaming the boat freely, there is always the chance that they will see something that catches their eye off the boat. It may be a critter on the shore, or it could be a fish in the water. Whatever it is, if your dog has a lot of curiosity, they may be sorely tempted to get a closer look. You must make sure that your dog is trained to always heel, or come, or whatever command you use, to make them come straight to you and stay there. If you used to use a clicker but haven’t needed it in a while, or used to use treats, but haven’t needed those in a while, I would suggest bringing that tool along just in case your dog’s excitement in a new situation gets the better of their training.
(10) Bring a Dog First Aid Kit
You may not think that your dog can get into much trouble on a boat, but you’d be surprised. Since you’ll be away from land where you can easily go get anything you need, you need to bring a first aid kit with you. It should contain some basic tools, like tweezers for getting rid of splinters, vet tape for wrapping up a wound, styptic powder for stopping bleeding if a nail gets ripped out, any medications your dog takes, and so on. Or you can purchase a canine first aid kit and just take that if it’s easier than building one yourself. I’ve got one of these in my car, and it’s been very useful because it also contains a quick guidebook that shows you how to use all the included materials.
(11) Keep the First Outing Short
One great safety tip for a dog that has never been on a boating trip before is to keep the first experience short. Your dog may be anxious, and the longer they are away from land, the more they may start to worry that they’ll never get back home. Remember, your dog has no idea what is going on. They don’t understand that you are out for a fun day trip – all they know is that you took them away from home, put them on this tiny floating island, and set off away from land. By keeping the first trip short, you assure your dog that you will return home, and that puts them at ease next time, when you can spend a little more time on the water.
(12) Know Where the Nearest Vet Is
If you are boating in an area that is not near your usual vet’s office, it’s a good idea to have already mapped out where the nearest vet is, and how you’ll get there if you have to do any emergency anchoring. Once again, in a new situation, you never know what can happen. Maybe your dog tries to eat something and starts to choke, or maybe your dog tries to jump off the boat and injures their leg – in either case, you’ll need to get to the nearest pet care facility.
(13) Bathe Your Dog When You Get Back on Land
The final tip I have is to keep your dog safe after your boating trip. Lake water and oceans alike contain a lot of bacteria that your dog doesn’t come into contact with every day. This may irritate his skin and cause allergic reactions or itchy spots, so I would suggest bathing them when you get home. Use a good, antibacterial shampoo like Moosh (a recent favorite of mine) and you won’t have to worry about your dog smelling like a fish, either. This kills any fungus or bacteria that they may have picked up, and it also has soothing aloe in it, in case they got a little too much sun.
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The Final Word
Going boating with your dog can actually be a lot of fun. You can play water fetch, or simply let the breeze flow through your hair together. Some dogs take to the water like champs. Some dogs were even bred to be sailor companions, so they’ll love being on the boat with you. But you can definitely teach reluctant dogs to enjoy boating as well – you just need some patience.
But regardless of your dog’s excitement about boating, accidents can still happen. If you take these safety precautions first, you’ll cut down on how many accidents could happen to you. In addition to everything above, I did want to mention that it’s always a good idea to have your dog in a harness when you enter and exit the boat, just because it’s easier to ensure that, if they slip, they don’t get choked by a leash when they are hanging over the side of the boat. I’ve seen that happen before, and it was not pretty. This is another reason those dog life jackets are great – you can attach a leash and use them as a water harness, basically.
Now that you’ve got these safety tips, go ahead and plan your boating adventure!