The most important thing to remember is that for your dog, a boat and being on a lake, river or ocean might be completely new and very intimidating. You’ll want to take it slow, keep initial trips short, and be prepared to teach them simple things like how to get on and off the boat safely (tip: and practice it a few times on dry land!). Also, practicing your safety commands is a smart idea as well, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ really help when the boat is moving and you can add boat-specific commands like ‘on’ and ‘off’ later.
In addition, it is good to have a plan prepared for what to do if your pet goes overboard. Who controls the boat/cuts the engine? What section of the boat do you call them over to? Who helps bring them back onboard? All smart things to consider and it doesn’t take much time.
With reasonable expectations set and safety in mind, here are some tips to follow:
Get A Pet Life Jacket: everyone on board should have a life jacket, and that includes pets. Plus, not all dogs are good swimmers and even the good swimmers can run in to trouble if the water is too rough, too cold, or they are exhausted. Make sure that your dog tries on the life jacket before you buy and that it fits well. Tip: life jackets with lift handles are great for helping your pooch get back on-board after a swim.
Bring a Water Bowl and Fresh Water: a fun day in the sun on a boat is great, but remember that dogs can get easily dehydrated. Thinking about having your dog just drink from the lake or river? Be careful of waterborne parasites that can make your dog very sick. Tip: a collapsible water bowl is very handy and convenient.
Bring a Leash: for both on-boat training and on-shore adventures or potty breaks, remember to bring a leash.
Provide Shade & Sunscreen: Having shade available on the boat is ideal and for light-coloured or thin-haired dogs, pet-friendly sunscreen is important. Never use a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide on your dog, it’s safe for people but toxic to dogs.
Extra Towels/Mat: A mat or extra towel placed in a safe part of the boat can help prevent a dog from slipping. Your dog may want to be up at the bow of the boat with the wind in her face, but rough water or sudden changes in direction and speed could result in them getting easily thrown from the watercraft.
Waste Bags and Puppy Pads: some people train their dogs to go on puppy pads when on a boat, and make sure to bring spare waste bags. Extra tip: if your dog is new to the boating experience (or puppy pads), they may not be comfortable going on a boat. So plan extra time to go ashore where your dog is more comfortable.
First-aid kit: Please make sure that you have a stocked first aid kit on your boat. Supplies like antibiotic ointment for minor scrapes is great and be sure to bring along a good supply of any medications your dog may be taking.
Watersports: bringing your pet along when you are water skiing or wakeboarding can be fun but you want to understand that your dog won’t know the “rules”. If they see their human waterskiing, they may want to run out there and join, so be sure to have a leash on your dog and someone to keep them in the boat.
Fishing: a lazy day spent fishing with your canine buddy can be amazing, but hooks and lures can be dangerous to a dog if not kept safely secured in a tackle box. They may get one stuck in their paws or even worse, view it as a tasty treat and eat it. When you do land a fish, don’t expect your dog to necessarily stand back and way their tail with pride. Make sure your dog is trained to leave the fish alone while you are hauling it in and removing the hook.
Keeping YOU Safe in the Water: finally, if you do decide to take a swim with your pet make sure they are comfortable in the water. Some dogs try to climb on their pet parents when in the water, which can turn into a dangerous situation. Ideally, train your dog in shallow water where you can stand.
With these tips in-mind, you and your furry first mate should have a fun and safe time on the water.
Dr. Renee Ferguson
*Pictures courtesy of our awesome RVT Danielle, who came up with the idea of doing a 'Boating Safety for Dogs' blog because she loves boating with her two dogs Lexi and Roscoe!