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Going Boating? Don't Leave your Dog Behind!

Updated on May 2, 2012

Boating may be one of the least utilized opportunities of all the activities that humans and dogs can share. Sure, it takes a little extra preparation and planning before setting sail, but any length trip from a short jaunt to a multi-day trip can be an enjoyable bonding experience for you and fido.


Prepping your Dog

Socialization to numerous different experiences is crucial in the upbringing of a young pooch. Exposing puppies to the broad range of environments that they may one day encounter helps to show them that the world is not as scary as it seems. Most dogs are never exposed to the sights sounds, and smells of a boating environment in their entire life, let alone in their formative years. Getting to the point where your pooch is happy on a bobbing slippery boat will take time, but it’s well worth it to invest time on or around your boat before taking your dog on an actual float trip. Let your dog smell the boat, paddles, and any other equipment before ever leaving the house. If your mode of travel will be a smaller boat, toss some treats or a favorite toy into the kayak or canoe and let him experience hopping in, walking around, and hopping out again.

While it would be great if we could say that all of our dogs were perfectly obedient all of the time, we all know it would be fudging the truth a little or a lot. There are many unknown variables while traveling by boat, and teaching your dog even a few strong commands may help to prevent any mishaps. If your dog knows the stay command, and that correctly responding to it will result in a favorable treat, you may be able to defuse a situation where your dog is intent on visiting some local wildlife. A strong understanding of the sit command could help to make sure your boat stays stable on a wavy outing.

Wear a Lifejacket!

The importance of wearing a lifejacket whenever you’re on the water cannot be overstated, and the same applies to your dog. Hauling your dog back into the boat will be a chore no matter what size he is or how he got into the water. Make sure you choose a lifejacket that securely and comfortably covers your dog’s belly, won’t come unstrapped at the neck, and has a well-connected grab handle on top. Having these attributes will make sure you can grab your dog and yank him out of the water if needed. Choosing a lifejacket in bright colors will also help to keep your dog visible while in the water, which is particularly important in high-traffic boating areas.

A brightly colored lifejacket will ensure your dog can be seen, whether in the water or on the dock
A brightly colored lifejacket will ensure your dog can be seen, whether in the water or on the dock | Source
Even something as simple as a wet towel on the bottom of the boat can provide sure footing and a cool place to rest
Even something as simple as a wet towel on the bottom of the boat can provide sure footing and a cool place to rest | Source

Prepping your Boat

Boats come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but chances are your boat won’t be tailored to having a canine companion on board. There are, however, a few easy ways to get your vessel ready for your dog.

  • Dogs dislike slippery surfaces, like the smooth and possibly wet floors on most boats. Placing a soaked towel, a bath mat (just like you would use yourself in your shower or bath), or having the dog wear a grippy pair of boots will help the dog get a sure footing.
  • On a hot sunny day, dogs pant and wag their tongues as they exercise and the moving air around them helps to cool them off. On a boat, your dog will most likely be sitting or laying down for the majority of the trip and could lose out on this air movement as a way to cool them down. If your boat doesn’t have any shade available, as most canoes won’t, try to jury rig a small covered area to help your dog stay out of the sun. Anything as simple as a wet towel or tarp hung over the edges of the boat can provide shelter from the sun. If you notice your dog squinting a lot while you’re on the water, you may also want to check out eye protection for your dog to prevent glare from damaging his eyes. I don’t think my pooch would appreciate wearing them for a long trip, but your mileage may vary.
  • We’ve all heard the saying “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink”, and this is probably what your dog is thinking while you’re floating with the current. Bring a collapsible or lightweight bowl and keep it filled so your dog can stay hydrated.


A Quick Reference...

  • Plan on investing some time in getting your dog acquainted with boating before setting sail
  • Provide plenty of traction, hydration, and shelter for your dog particularly in hot and sunny weather
  • You shouldn't go out on the water without a lifejacket, so make sure your dog sports one as well

If your trip will include some overnight camping, take a look at my guide on camping with your dog to make sure your trip is a success!


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    • Brystle profile image

      Brystle 5 years ago from Moscow, Idaho

      Thanks Alliemacb. Good luck with your Westie, it may take some time to get him comfortable with such a foreign activity but it could turn into more trips where you don't have to leave your pooch behind!

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

      This would be a great way to enjoy a break without having to worry about putting the dog into a kennel. Not sure how my Westie would react to being on a boat or wearing a life jacket but we have so many beautiful waterways near where I live, it is definitely worth a try. Voted up and useful.

    • Brystle profile image

      Brystle 5 years ago from Moscow, Idaho

      Thanks! My lab used to enjoy canoeing and kayaking, but as he's grown a bit the smaller boats are now too tight of a fit for him. I keep telling my fiancee when we get a second dog, he'll have to be kayak-sized above all other traits!

    • PageC profile image

      PageC 5 years ago

      Loved this hub -- my dogs like many sports, but they *hate* water. I'm not sure if they would ever learn to love kayaking, though I'd love to bring them with.

      Great point about the life jacket. It is important to remember that if the boat or kayak tips, even a dog who's a good swimmer could get knocked unconscious and unable to swim.