By: Ashley Lizzi on May 3rd, 2021
6 Tips for Boating with Your Dog (Tips from a Boat Dog Mom)
Years back I found Chunk at the local pound. They guessed that he was already a year old and fully grown. It was the week leading up to Christmas in Indiana, which means the temps were near freezing and snow was starting to fall.
I brought Chunk home and quickly found out that as the newest dog in the family, he adapted well to his new lifestyle. He got along with the other dogs, went to the door when he needed to go out, and was friendly to all humans he came in contact with.
Winter was easy, he lived a warm, cozy life indoors with the family and was loved by all. When spring came around and the lake started to thaw, I was concerned with how he would take to the water. I was worried that he would not like the lake and would be afraid to jump aboard the pontoon boat.
When May hit and the boat was dropped in the water, I wanted to help him adapt to being a boat dog so that he would enjoy cruising the lake and not shy away from my favorite pastime. If you can relate and are trying to make a boat dog out of your pup, I’ve got some pointers that will help. Trust me, from the photo below, Chunk is a very happy water dog.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I say, you can teach him how to be comfortable on a boat with just a little extra love and care. Here are my tips for boating with your dog.
1. Get them Comfortable with the Water
One of the most important elements to getting your dog comfortable with boating is getting them used to the water. Depending on the type of dog you have, they may not be built for swimming in which case, don’t push it.
Breeds such as bulldogs and pugs are not necessarily the Michael Phelps of the dog world so don’t expect every dog to be thrilled when they see water. Other breeds such as labs and spaniels often enjoy swimming.
Knowing this ahead of time could prevent your dog from developing a fear of the boat, so make sure you are aware of their swimming abilities. If you have a dog that loves the water, I recommend having a ladder on board that is suited for pets.
Most boat ladders are not made for four-legged friends and it can be difficult to get your dog back into the boat if they want to swim. Some manufacturers offer a pet-friendly ladder, and for those that don’t, there are a bunch of aftermarket ladders you can buy online.
2. Invest in Doggy Safety Gear
As I mentioned above, not all dogs are made for swimming. Even the ones who are built for the water sometimes need a little assistance, and that’s where life jackets come into play.
There are lots of dog-specific life jackets on the market today and I recommend having one for every dog on board. Chunk, my black lab is the captain of our Barletta pontoon boat. We say the words boat ride and he’s running to the pier as fast as he can.
Chunk has webbed feet and we have a hard time keeping him out of any water he sees. That said, he gets worn out from the excitement, heat, and exercise during a day on the water. Knowing this, we always keep his life jacket on board and he wears it any time he’s in the water.
If you have a dog like Chunk, keeping a life jacket nearby at all times is a good idea. For those pups who are better at sinking than swimming, I suggest they wear a life jacket at all times while on the boat.
The life jacket you buy must meet the size and weight measurements of your dog. Just as with humans, the jacket needs to be able to support the weight of your pup and keep them afloat so make sure to check sizing before you buy.
3. Have a Hydration Station
When you take the boat out for a day, do you pack a cooler of your favorite beverages and ice it down so the drinks stay cool? I’m sure the answer is yes, in which case, you should be doing the same for your boat dog.
It’s critical to make sure your dog stays hydrated while boating. Being in the heat all day will result in a thirsty pup and you don’t want them drinking seawater or lakewater. Make sure to bring fresh and clean dog water aboard with a pet dish. These two items should be added to your list of must-have boat accessories if you plan to boat with your dog.
Some manufacturers take this very seriously, like Barletta who builds pet dishes right into the helm of the pontoon boat so you never leave home without one. Be mindful of your dog’s hydration just as you do your own when hitting the water for the day.
4. Make Sure There’s Shade
Just as dehydration can be detrimental to your dog, so can overheating. If you’re on the boat, there’s a good chance the weather is hot and sunny. This is where your bimini top will come in handy.
Keep in mind that dogs can overheat easily so make sure to check in and watch for signs of heat exhaustion throughout the day. As I mentioned, our black lab Chunk loves boat rides but we do keep him at home in the air conditioning when temps get up into the 90’s or higher.
Another great way to provide shade for your dog is by utilizing features of the boat that are already built-in. Barletta’s stow-away table makes the perfect shade spot for Chunk when the bimini isn’t deployed.
Overheating is dangerous and can become deadly if your dog is exposed to heat for too long. Keep this in mind for those pups who are anti-swimming especially since they won’t be jumping in to cool off.
5. Bring SPF For All
You may have packed plenty of sun protection for the kids, but what about the fur baby? There is SPF on the market that’s made especially for dogs. This protects their nose and any exposed skin that may be susceptible to sunburn.
If you’ve got a swimmer or your pup enjoys laying in the sunshine instead of the shade, it may be beneficial to lather them up with sunscreen. If your dog is in and out of the water, that means they’re spending less time in the shade and more time catching rays.
Protecting your dog’s skin is just as important as protecting your own. Check out different SPF choices and see which is best for your pup, you will be glad you did.
6. Keep a Leash Handy
If you’re out for a long day on the water, your dog will need to relieve itself at some point. As I mentioned, staying hydrated will be key for your boat dog, so don’t be surprised if they need to potty.
I recommend keeping a leash on board for any pit stop that may come up where your dog will be able to relieve themselves. If you’re not planning a pit stop along your cruise, it may be a good idea to stop at home so that they can do their business and stay comfortable for the day.
If your dog is prone to having accidents and you don’t want that happening on the floor of your boat, then maybe the pup should stay at home during extended boat outings. Just like you, they will need to relieve themselves at some point during your excursion, so make sure you’re equipped for them to do so.
No Ruff Days Here
If you think you may have a boat dog in the making, these tips will help cover the bases so that your pup enjoys their day on the water. Some dogs take to boating like they were born to do it, some never adapt and that’s okay too.
It’s important to introduce your dog to the boating lifestyle slowly. The same goes for swimming. The quickest way to turn a dog off from enjoying the water is by forcing them in or scaring them by simply tossing them overboard.
Be their guide, but ultimately, it should be their decision on if they want to swim or cruise. My dog was introduced to boating later in his life, and he loves it. Every dog is different, so have patience and you might be surprised to find that you have a boat dog in the family.