By Patrick Dines
I have been boating with dogs and cats for more than twenty years and have experienced all the benefits as well as most of the problems that can occur with dogs on a boat. If you want to enjoy the company of your pets on the water you need to remember the Ten Commandments of Boating with Pets.
I. Dogs need to learn to swim just like humans. Although their first paddle will be a lot easier for them than your first breaststroke, you need to make your dog feel comfortable in the water, and a boat is not the first place to begin swimming lessons. Tossing a stick or a ball in the water, progressively further from shore is the best way to teach them to feel comfortable in the water.
2. Some dogs will never feel comfortable in the water. Dogs with large bodies and small legs will never swim for fun… they will swim to survive. American bulldogs are a good example. Compare them to standard poodles, originally bred as duck hunters that can swim all day long and ask for more. If you have a dog that is not a good swimmer, consider fitting them with a doggie life vest when you are on a crossing.
3. Dogs, just like humans, can get hypothermia in cold water. However, they won’t know they are getting cold because their instincts to please you in the water are stronger than their understanding of cold water. The ground rule is that if you need to get out of the water because you are getting cold, your dog is getting cold. The exception is dogs with very thick fur that trap air in their fur that acts as insulation. If your dog comes out of the water and begins to shake uncontrollably, put them in a hot shower or warm them up with blankets or towels.
4. Most dogs cannot be trained to use a marine toilet. Therefore, you need to plan your stops along the way accordingly or teach them to pee off the swim platform. That’s not so easy. Most dogs would rather rupture their bladder than pee on a swim platform. Buy some of those paper training blankets for puppies and lay them on a spot where you would like them to pee, preferably near a scupper and a water hose connection.
5. If your dog falls overboard at night, you will never find him if you are underway. At night, make sure your dogs stays inside the boat.
6. If your dog falls overboard during the day, and you see him fall overboard, keep pointing at him in the water so as not to lose his position. Dogs cannot wave at you. All you have is a small head that can easily get lost in the swells. Guide the captain to the location where you are pointing. If the dog falls overboard underway and no one sees him fall in, he will be lost.
7. Vets are not available at sea. If you are going to be out at sea for any length of time, make sure you have all his meds with you, especially his flea medication. A flea infestation at sea is a nightmare. If you have any problems, consider contacting an expert at VetLive.
8. Small dogs cannot climb ladders…but big nimble dogs can. If you are going to live aboard and want a pet, select a long legged and nimble dog, or at last resort, a cat.
9. At sea, most dogs cannot get back aboard from the water without human help or a device to that end. Hydraulic swim platforms are the best solution but very expensive. The other option is outfitting your swim ladder with a float that leaves about two feet of ladder under the water.
10. Big dogs that panic in the water can drown a human, in particular small humans. Do not try to help them by swimming next to them. Instead, using a calm voice, guide them to a location where you can get them out of the water safely. If you are in the water with them and they panic, push them away from you keeping them at arms length.
Patrick Dines has been boating for 30 years, has lived for extended periods on boats (with pets) and now operates a St. Petersburg, Florida Yacht Charter business called Florida Yachts Charter. He has lived in France, England, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States for most of his life and speaks five languages. He now resides on the West Coast of Florida for 6 months of the year and Europe for the other 6 months.