For dog owners, your pup is a member of the family, so it’s only natural to want to take your pet out on the water.
“You want your dog to be able to enjoy the same things you do,” says Michael Vatalaro, digital innovation team manager at BoatU.S. His knowledge of boats and boat safety—combined with lots of time on the water with his dog, Bodhi—has given him a personal interest and specialized knowledge of a dog’s unique needs while on a boat. “Boating is part of our lifestyle, and bringing Bodhi out on the water with us makes the experience better,” he says. “But there are some important things to know and do.”
It’s also important to understand your pup’s unique physical limitations. For instance, while some dogs are strong swimmers, not all are naturals in the water, says Dr. Judy Morgan, the owner of Dr. Judy Morgan’s Naturally Healthy Pets. “Always pay attention when your dog is in the water,” she says. “They should never be left alone.”
Dogs On Boats: Safety First
Vatalaro recommends the following tips when out with your pooch.
Acclimate Your Dog
Have your pooch spend lots of time on the boat starting when you first get them. Introduce them to the water gradually, so they can get comfortable swimming, especially with a doggy life jacket on.
Get A Doggy Life Jacket
Whether your dog is a strong swimmer or new to nautical life, a life jacket made for dogs can be a literal lifesaver (even though it’s not mandated that a dog have one). Look for manufacturer recommendations to find a good fit. Most are rated based on weight ranges and will help your pooch float without too much effort on their part. It should fit snugly but not be tight. You should be able to slip two fingers underneath once it’s fastened. You’ll also likely need to adjust it throughout the day, especially if your dog gets wet and the life jacket loosens.
Watch Your Pup
Even though your dog is wearing a life jacket, you should still supervise them when they’re in the water. Doggy life jackets will help keep canines afloat, but the flotation is generally centered on their back. So while it will help keep them at the surface, it won’t necessarily keep their face out of the water.
Contain Your Canine
There can be a lot of excitement on board—from marine life to other dogs on passing boats to an approaching dock. Leashing your dog or keeping them in the cabin can help keep them safe and avoid distracting the helmsman, especially in sensitive situations like docking. Just be sure to use a harness. If your pup manages to jump overboard, they’ll be supported by their torso instead of their neck.
ID Your Pup
Make sure your doggie has a collar with identification and that they’re microchipped. If you’ll be crossing state lines, bring along their rabies certificate.
Understand Fido First Aid
Morgan recommends the following medical tips.
Bring A First Aid Kit
You may already have some over-the-counter items for your dog, since they’re the same for humans: bandaging material, styptic powder to help stop bleeding, antibiotic ointment, essential oil bug spray. For nausea and diarrhea medications, consult your veterinarian.
Provide a shady spot to help your pup stay cool. For dogs that can swim, a quick dip can help them cool off. Otherwise hose Fido off with fresh water occasionally.
Slather On Sunscreen
Dogs can get sunburned, too. Bring either dog or baby sunscreen and put it on their noses, which can be sensitive, and apply to any thin-haired area of their body.
Keep Them Hydrated
Bring a bowl and have plenty of fresh water for your dog. Just as important, make sure Fido isn’t drinking from the side of the boat. Salt and algae are bad for a dog’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract and can make them sick.
Just like humans, dogs can get motion sickness. Consult your veterinarian, who may prescribe medication, suggest an over-the-counter remedy, or recommend natural remedies like ginger tea and flower essences.
Stow Fishing Gear
Keep lines, hooks and bait away from your pet. In general, look out for anything they can get tangled in or injured by. Bait can also cause severe GI issues for dogs.
If the deck is too hot for bare feet, it’s probably too hot for unprotected paws. Bring boots or other paw protection, or hose the deck to cool it down.
Pack For Your Pup
Here are some ways Vatalaro recommends helping Fido stay comfortable and happy on a boat outing.
Encourage Good Habits
Bring plenty of treats on board and use them to reinforce good boat behavior.
Pick A Spot
Dogs need a place to relieve themselves so train your canine to use a specific spot on the boat if a trip to shore isn’t in the cards. Use a square of artificial grass that can be easily hosed off. To avoid unpleasant odors, be sure to clean it right away—especially in warmer weather.
Keep It Fresh
Humidity on board can make food spoil more quickly, so if you’re storing dog food, keep it in a watertight, airtight container.
Read More: How To Keep Your Dog Safe While Driving
By Nicole Price Fasig