Boating can be a great activity to share in with your dog. Whether you’re heading out onto canals and ponds or larger bodies of water, like lakes or the ocean, bringing your fur baby along can make for a fun outdoor adventure. If you’re taking your dog on a boat this summer, follow these boat safety tips to ensure your pup feels secure and confident while out on the water.
Familiarize Your Dog With the Boat Before Setting Out
Prior to taking your dog out on a boat, it’s always best get her used to the boat itself. Allow your pup to sniff around and explore the boat before even turning the boat on. Slowly expose her to the vessel, its movement in the water and how to get on and off.
After bringing your dog onto the boat a couple times, you can then start it up and let her get accustomed to its sounds. Once she is accustomed to and comfortable on the boat and the sounds of the motor, you can start taking your boat dog out on your water adventures.
“Teaching your dog to safely jump on and off of things is another great skill for loading and unloading from the boat,” says Kayla Fratt, an associate certified dog behavior consultant. “Letting your dog move herself rather than be moved is key to building her confidence and comfort around the boat.”
Life Vests Are Necessary
When on the water, your dog’s safety is your first priority, making a dog life jacket a must. Life vests not only help your boat dog stay afloat and visible should she go for a swim (or fall in the water), but they also typically feature a top handle designed to make lifting her back into the boat much easier. You should keep the life jacket on your dog during the entire boat trip, even if there’s no dog swimming on the itinerary.
Before choosing a dog life jacket, measure your dog to make sure it’ll fit properly and safely. It also is smart to purchase a life jacket with bright colors and reflective fabrics, so you can always clearly see your dog swimming around in the water.
Pack With Safety in Mind
By planning ahead and packing certain safety supplies, boating with dogs can be a fun and safe experience.
Many boat owners keep a human first-aid kit onboard, but rarely, if ever, do they have a medical kit for pets. The best way to keep your dog safe onboard is to be ready and prepared for anything. Bringing along a pet-specific first-aid kit ensures that you are equipped for minor medical emergencies involving your dog. If serious injuries do occur, you need to know the closest emergency veterinarians on your boating route.
Another oft overlooked but essential item to pack is pet sunscreen. The sun can be just as taxing on animals’ skin as it is on our human skin, especially if your dog has light skin and fur. Prevent your pooch from getting a sunburn by applying pet-safe sunblock. Bring it with you, too, in case she goes for a swim and you need to re-apply.
Lastly, you’ll want to bring along a towel just for your dog. For starters, you need something to dry your dog off with should she go swimming. Yes, dogs shake themselves off, but towels do a better job of getting them dry. Plus, it can get pretty cold riding on a boat when you’re wet. Towels to dry off wet and shivering pups after some dog swimming should be readily available.
You can also use the towel to designate a special place for her to sit and feel safe.
“Settling on a mat is one of my all-time favorite behaviors to teach my clients,” Fratt says. “This behavior is simply teaching a dog that she lies on a given towel or other piece of cloth and calmly ignores the world.”
You’ll need to train your dog to “settle on your mat,” as Fratt calls it, prior to the boating trip.
“It takes a few weeks to train really well, but once your dog is good at it, it’s one of the most valuable bits of training out there,” she says.
Don’t Forget Your Dog’s ID and Medical Records
It’s important to keep your dog’s collar and ID tag on him while boating—even if she goes swimming. You never know what may happen, and it’s best to make sure your dog can be easily identified if, for example, she swims off.
It’s also a good idea to pack your pet’s medical records in a waterproof bag or box. That way you’re prepared in case of an emergency.
Keep Your Dog Hydrated and Cool
While out on the water, it’s important to remember how hot and dehydrating the direct sunlight can be. Provide your dog with a fresh bowl of water at all times to prevent dehydration. It’s also vital to provide a shaded area for your dog to relax. Just like humans, dogs should not be left exposed to direct sunlight all day with nowhere to go for some cool shade. A shaded area will allow your dog to recuperate from the heat and stay cool.
Provide Plenty of Potty Breaks
When it comes to letting your dog do his business, you have two choices on a boat: dock and go on land, or lay down some puppy pads.
If you decide to use puppy pads, place them in one designated spot so your dog associates that spot with her potty habits.
If you dock throughout the day, you can take your boat dog onto land to do her business. If you choose to go on land, remember to pack disposable poop bags to clean up her mess.
Boating with your dog can be an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Following these boat safety tips will ensure it’s that way for the both of you.
Leah McCormack is a New England native and dog lover. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with her bachelor’s degree and started her animal care business, Winni Pups. Her published articles and features can be found in The Boston Globe, The EveryGirl, The Improper Bostonian, Mane Addicts, WGSN and Chewy!