Going Boating With Your Dog? Read This First.

Taking basic safety precautions and anticipating problems will help you and your dog have a wonderful experience together.

Is your dog a strong swimmer? By: wplynn

If you’re lucky enough to live near a body of water, it’s likely you’ve been out on a boat at least once or twice. Boating is an excellent recreational activity and comes in so many forms: fishing, whale watching, kayaking or a pleasure cruise.

So naturally, we want to bring our pets along with us because they’re members of our family.

Boating can be tremendous fun for our pets, provided we follow some basic safety precautions and remember their limitations.

Be Savvy With Swimming Skills

Obviously, swimming skills are going to be handy for your dog to have if they’re accompanying you out on the water. If they fall or jump overboard, being able to swim will keep them alive while you’re scrambling after them.

Portuguese water dogs, labs, retrievers and poodles tend to be good swimmers (although no standard applies to all dogs).

But some breeds struggle with or simply can’t swim. “Some dogs simply have the buoyancy of cinderblocks,” say D. Caroline Coile and Margaret H. Bonham in Why Do Dogs Like Balls? More Than 200 Canine Quirks, Curiosities, and Conundrums Revealed. “Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese and other breeds with similar heavy-fronted body builds simply sink like rocks. No amount of swimming lessons will help them float.”

Understanding your dog’s breed limitations will help you determine whether they’re going to be a good swimmer or not. Then you can prepare accordingly.

Don’t let your dog drink water in the wild — harmful algae may make them sick. By: Travis Wise

Don’t Drink the Water

If you’ve ever accidentally taken a mouthful of seawater, then you know that it contains a ton of salt. If your dog is thirsty and starts lapping it up, it’s simply going to increase their thirst due to the high salt content. This can lead to nausea or diarrhea (which can cause dehydration).

Even fresh water isn’t always safe. Ponds and lakes can contain various types of toxic algae. “If it is not safe for people, it is not safe for dogs,” warns Jan Meyer in A Trained Dog Is a Good Dog.

Keep plenty of bottled water on hand for your dog to drink throughout the day.

Life Vests Save Lives

Life vests should be a standard on all vessels for both people and pets.

Even if your dog is an excellent swimmer, riptides and strong currents can quickly overwhelm them. They may also panic if they fall overboard and are looking for you; a life vest will keep them afloat until you can circle back.

If you’re worried about how your dog might react to a life vest, start putting it on when they are young (or well before their boating experience) to get them used to the feel of it. Repeated exposure to the vest will cause it to become standard procedure for your dog.

This boating dog seems pretty relaxed:


Boats feel weird if you’ve never been on them before. All that rocking and bouncing around can be just as startling for your pets.

Build up to long trips slowly: Bring your dog on and off the boat several times, gradually increasing the time spent aboard until they are acclimated to the feel of the water.

“Dogs should be first acclimated to the boat at the dock, then brought on short voyages in calm waters,” advise Cody W. Faerber and S. Mario Durrant in Canine Medicine and Disease Prevention. “Dogs, like humans, can suffer from motion sickness, so the dog should be watched for signs of nausea.”

This is even more important when you’re canoeing with your dog because it is so easy to tip a canoe. They should spend a great deal of time with you learning how to get in and out of the canoe and how to remain still; they should also be trained in sit, stay and down commands.

Bathroom Breaks

If you’re spending several hours or more on your boat with your dog, you should accommodate their need for a bathroom break. If you don’t plan to go ashore at all, litter boxes are an option, and pee pads are another. By anticipating this need, you’ll be saving yourself from some smelly cleanup as well as sparing your dog from bladder distress.

With the proper preparation, boating with your dog can be a uniquely enjoyable activity. Follow regular boating rules and regulations — and be sure not to drink and drive, even when boating, canoeing or kayaking. Pay attention to weather patterns and shifting tides and have a plan in place to counter any problems.

Melissa Smith

View posts by Melissa Smith
Melissa Smith, discussions manager for Petful, has been researching and writing about pet behaviors for several years. A longtime pet lover, she lives in Massachusetts with her teenage son, their cat Harrison and the spirit of their German shepherd named Gypsy. Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia design and hopes to adopt as many needy animals as she can.

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