|Old Dogs, Boats, and New Tricks|
Boating with man's best friend.
By Ellie Van Os, Illustration By Dean MacAdams — February 2002
On a recent trip to the Bahamas, my husband and I were walking the docks, checking out the boats, when I saw something that took me back a couple of summers. On the bow of a 48 Californian was a small, plastic kiddie pool in which someone had carefully planted sod. It was now lying on its side, obviously abandoned. As I grabbed my husband's arm and pointed it out, we both laughed out loud. We knew what it was right away: a portable lawn for dogs.
Our thoughts went back in time to Bert, a five-year-old golden retriever we had adopted from the local humane society who showed his intelligence by his love of boating. In fact, he loved it so much that just the mention of the word boat would trigger a mad dash to our dock, as soon as the front door was opened. Things got so bad that when speaking of our boat we had to spell out certain words, as you would with a child, so Bert wouldn't catch on to what we were talking about.
Bert was not entirely to blame for feeling like he belonged on the boat. The first summer that we had him, we spent the entire season cruising the Bahamas. But before we actually made the decision to bring a 90-pound dog--albeit an enthusiastic sea dog--aboard a 42-footer, there were a few details about his physical needs that we had to work out. The crossing from Florida to the Bahamas usually took about six hours, and checking into customs right away assured that Bert would get "shore leave" as soon as possible. However, once we cleared customs and settled into our cruising routine, which includes a lot of anchoring out, we needed to make arrangements to get him ashore often. Our nine-foot Zodiac was certainly up to the task, provided we could find anchorages with sandy beaches. These were always high on our list anyhow, but making them an absolute necessity would eliminate a few of the more sheltered coves that offered no soft landings.
That's when I got the inspired idea to teach Bert to use the dive platform to do his business. Yes sirree, by the time I was through, he'd be barking at the transom door every time nature called, and the livin' was gonna be easy. I'd passed Psychology 101, so I was sure that it was going to be as simple as positively reinforcing him when he used the platform. Pretty soon he'd never need to touch land again.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.