Bring 'em On
It’s true what they say—dogs really are man’s best friend. They're always happy to see you when you get home, they’re never in a bad mood, and as long as you give them food, water, and a cozy nook to call their own, they’ll be your loyal friend for life.
Everyone, it seems, loves dogs, but there are those owners who go beyond the bare necessities and deliver their pet's meals on china and send them to doggie day camp and pet hotels where they enjoy afternoon ice cream and spa treatments. Personally, there are plenty of times when that 6:00 a.m. walk for my four-year-old Boston Terrier, Monty, seems about as appealing as jumping into Boston Harbor in mid-February. Yet I know my life wouldn't be as much fun without him, which is why I try to bring him with me to as many places as possible, and boating is no exception. When it comes to dogs and boats, I say, bring 'em on.
Dogs are ideal boating companions. They don't talk back, they do exactly what they're told (at least Monty does), and they'll never make fun of that docking attempt that went awry. What's more, they sleep about 18 hours a day and can curl up in the smallest of places, taking up very little of the limited onboard space. All you need to do is take a few simple precautions and buy a few helpful products, and you and Fido will be best boating buds.
The main way to make boating fun and safe for your dog, according to Brian Keane of MarineMax, which hosts a Pets on Water workshop, is to ensure your dog is comfortable. If you're going out for a day trip, take your pooch for a long walk so he can relieve himself and make sure he gets lots of exercise prior to boarding. If you're going to cruise for an extended time or spend a lot of time at anchor, consider one of the “doggie potties” on the market that will help ensure he can do his business when he needs to. (One of my favorites is the Portable Dog Potty from Trips With Pets , which retails for about $150 and features “specially scented K-9 grass” to attract dogs.) It's also a good idea to get your dog acclimated to safely boarding a dinghy, so that you can bring him with you for on-land bathroom breaks, walks, and other fun shore excursions.
By nature, dogs don't like unstable surfaces, so give your canine plenty of time to become acclimated to the onboard environment. The younger your dog is when you bring him aboard, the better. But even if you didn't get your dog when he was a puppy, there's still hope. Although Monty was a little skeptical about gangways and the unsteadiness of my Carolina Skiff, we worked through it little by little by bribing him with treats and rewarding him for overcoming his fear. Today he's a champ onboard. In fact, the mere mention of the word “boat” sends him running to the door.
Just like humans, dogs can and do get seasick. And also like humans, if you wait until after they're already feeling sick, it's generally too late to do anything about it. My veterinarian recommends giving Monty a half dose of Dramamine to keep mal de mar at bay (it can cause drowsiness, so there's no reason to be concerned if your dog is kind of mellow for a good 24 hours). Consult your vet to determine the proper dosage for your dog.
You want boating to be as safe for your dog as it is for any other member of your family. So, first, consider your pet's basic health considerations: Make sure he has plenty of water and a cool, shady spot to call his own as dehydration and sunstroke are real concerns. Give your dog a thorough freshwater washdown after he goes for a dip in saltwater to avoid skin irritations, such as earmites, which can cause infection.
Dogs look for direction from their owners, so get yours accustomed to the commands that you'll be giving him both while underway and while at the dock. In addition to the basic instructions like "sit," "stay," and "lie down," commands like “on boat,” “off boat,” and “down below,” will help both you and your best friend be clear on where he should be at all times, especially underway.
Beyond that, outfit your dog in handy items like neoprene and/or nonskid boots or lay nonskid tracking on the deck so his paws don't get burned, your decks won't get damaged, and he'll have solid footing underway. Whether your dog is a strong swimmer or not, get him a doggie PFD. While there's no shortage of these on the market and you can find them at practically any major marine-supply store, my favorite is the one from Ruff Wear, which allows Monty complete freedom of movement whether he's in the water or on land and features a nifty handle on the top so we can pull him aboard easily and quickly.
Finally! On-the-Water Fun
Once your dog is comfortable and you've taken all the necessary precautions you need to ensure that he'll be safe out on the water, it's time for the two of you to have some fun. Go swimming. Play fetch. Make up a new game. There are countless products to help you facilitate this—things like boarding ramps, ladders, and more (for some of our top picks for on-the-water pet gear, see "Gadgets & Gizmos," February 2006). They can make your next trip more enjoyable for both you and your best friend, because at the end of the day, boating with the family is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend the dog days of summer—or any season.
Pets on Water
If you're dying to bring your pooch on your boat but aren't sure how he’ll handle it, enroll in one of MarineMax's "Pets on Water" workshops. I brought my dog Monty to the one at the company's Brick, New Jersey, dealership, and he had a whale of a time. After a brief on-land introduction from MarineMax sales consultant, course teacher, and dog trainer, Brian Keane, we joined ten other dogs of various sizes and breeds and their owners for a day on the water, where the dogs got to swim, run on the beach, and practice what they had learned.
The two-hour workshop is free, open to dogs who are novices or experienced on the water, and is an ideal way to get your dog excited about boating.
This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.