Dogs are typically happy to go on any type of adventure that life takes them. Most dogs can be a great boating companion, but it does take some advanced training, some planning, and some safety gear to make sure you have any emergency situations covered before you leave the dock.
Getting your dog comfortable with being on a boat is the first step. Just like most dogs are a bit afraid of getting into cars for their first few rides, the same is true of both large and small boats. Keep the dog on a short leash and take him or her on board, or place the dog in the boat and just sit with the dog and relax. Bring some treats and give lots of praise and attention, taking the dog off if he or she becomes frightened or anxious.
It is important to have the dog under control at all times for this initially desensitizing process. Dogs that panic and jump off the boat can become traumatized, and it can be more difficult to get them comfortable onboard in the future. Dogs that are more nervous about new situations can even be desensitized to the boat on dry land, perhaps on the boat trailer or in the yard, and then to a boat that is at the dock before you head out into deeper water.
Plan a Positive First Trip
For the first trip, have one person dedicated to watching and managing the dog. This should be a person the dog is bonded with and that the dog listens to with when given a command. Keep the trip short and give lots of praise and attention, gradually allowing the dog more space and freedom on board once he or she has adjusted and is calm.
Have a Dog Life Jacket
Just like all the people on the boat need a life jacket, so does your dog. There are several different types of life jackets but look for those that have a harness type of design with a loop type of handle on the back. This is essential if you need to pull the dog out of the water.
The dog life jacket should be snug but not tight, with the straps secured in place with reliable fastener systems. The buckles and straps should not impede the movement of the legs or sit too far up the neck. The strap across the chest should also be snug but not tight to avoid restricting the dog’s breathing or neck movement while he or she is swimming. Ideally, choose a bright, fluorescent dog life jacket for easy visibility.
Take your dog out into the lake or in a pool and let them play in the water and practice wearing the life jackets and swimming. This prevents the dog from becoming stressed if he or she does go overboard and has to swim with the jacket on.
Know the Drill
Always have a plan of what to do if the dog jumps or falls overboard. Everyone on the boat should know their role from managing the boat to keeping their eyes on the dog in the water.
If there is rough water or if your dog is anxious or simply is not responding well to being on the boat, it is a wise decision to leave them on dry land. You can work more on getting the dog comfortable on the boat and plan for your next outing.