Boating for Dogs

Taking the Plunge

My first experience taking my dog on a boat was not good for Boots or me. He almost drowned, and so did my husband.

It was late fall in Ocean City, Maryland (“The White Marlin Capital of the World.”) We had just gotten Boots. He was an adorable black lab, and we thought he would make a great boat dog.

I assumed all Labs just naturally loved the water and could swim. Boots proved me wrong. We were spending a long weekend camping at Treasure Beach RV Park. We had brought our 17′ Galaxy Center Console with us, and planned on flounder fishing and cruising around Assawoman Bay.

Naturally, I wanted Boots to enjoy the day on the boat with us. I introduced him to the vessel before we left the dock. He seemed to be okay with the craft and excited about the unknown.

We left the dock and started slowly towards the open waters of the bay. I thought it would be okay to let him roam around the deck before we accelerated, so he could sniff around and try to satisfy his curiosity.

Before I knew it, he leaned a little too far over the bow and dropped right into the chilly water below. My husband immediately cut the engine. We were both looking over the sides, hoping our new pup’s head would pop up.

After a few seconds without a visual on Boots, my hubs jumped into the water and dove under the boat. Right after my husband went under, Boots came popping up from under the boat. So, that was Boots’ one and only ride a boat.

This incident gave Boots an unnatural fear of water. I believe I had the only black Lab in history to hate the water.

K-9 Comfort and Safety

I have had a few water dogs since Boots. My current k-9 baby is Okie, and he loves boats and water. He loves boats so much he is willing to jump into anyone’s boat that comes close to the dock. He is always ready for a ride.

There are a few things I do to ensure my pup is ready for a day on the water.

Just as we need sunscreen to protect ourselves from harmful rays, so do dogs. An excellent place to start sunscreen application is their noise and the inside of their ears. Short haired breeds of dogs can get easily sunburned I found a spray sunscreen that works well for Okie’s coat.   Make sure you choose a neutrally scented sunscreen, so it doesn’t irritate your dog.

I  keep a life vest on him. Even if your dog can swim most dogs aren’t great swimmers and any dog can get fatigued or disoriented.  Older dogs, especially, can tire easily. Pets with low body fat can have trouble when exposed to water for long periods. Health issues, such as hip or joint problems, can also make swimming difficult for some dogs.

Make sure the life jacket fits correctly, is comfortable, has a handle, and is a bright color, with reflective qualities. There are no regulations regarding life jackets for pets, but a dog life jacket can help keep your pet safe while aboard your boat or around any body of water.

Make sure you have fed and walked your pup before he boards. Let him relieve himself (poop or pee) as much as possible before heading out. This is no guarantee he won’t have to go later. If you are near shore, get him to land periodically. If you are not, there are puppy pads or it’s relatively easy to teach him to relieve himself on a piece of carpet. The trick is to make sure the rug has been peed on or soiled before.  It basically has that scent.  Also, have a few command words for your pup when it is time to go. Like “do your business,” you can start this training on land.

Make sure you have his food and water. I know we all typically pack a cooler with drinks and snacks for ourselves.  Do the same for your dog. Pack some water and treats. And don’t forget his favorite toys

Discourage him from drinking out of the body of water you are on. I think we all know saltwater can cause diarrhea, but they can also get sick from other types of brackish or fresh water. And do not give them people food. It can upset your dog’s digestion.

If your dog is a large breed, boat dock boarding steps are useful.  Bigger dogs may be able to jump onto the boat by themselves but having some steps for your pets to climb up is a better idea. This will help avoid injury and protect your boat from damage.

Lifting a large wet dog out of the water can cause harm to you or your dog.   Boat ladder dogs are a perfect solution.

Enjoy the Day

Taking some of these ideas into consideration can help you make the most of your boating trip. Your dog will enjoy the fresh air and time spent with you. And be as exciting as you are to leave the dock.  Exercising basic safety precautions should ensure a safe and pleasant day out on the water.

Author: Barb Gorrera

I grew up in the Baltimore suburb of Joppatowne, Maryland. It is a water oriented community located off the Chesapeake Bay, snuggled at the end of the Gunpowder River. Boating and watersports have always been a part of my life. I have cruised on types of vessels, Sportfishers, Cruisers, Sailing, High Performance, etc., etc. I wish I had one of every kind. After spending 23 years in the banking industry, I am ready to start this new venture. Boat Bosses is an exciting new project I hope will inform and entertain.

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