Our dog Flipper knows when my (Perry Jameson) family is getting the boat ready. The smell of sunscreen and sounds of loading coolers all get him excited and racing around the house as he knows they culminate with us putting the boat in the water for a day of fun.
Flipper loves riding on the boat as much as any other member of our family. Anyone who boats knows, however, that a day of boating can turn into a catastrophe very quickly, especially if you are not prepared. You need to prepare for your pet’s safety on the water as much as you do for the rest of the family.
First, get your dog accustomed to being on the boat prior to his first trip. This is best done while the boat is on a trailer in your yard or anchored at the dock. The layout and smells of a boat are different from a car, so let him explore these several times before heading out on the water. The younger the dog is exposed to boating, the easier it will be, so expose puppies as soon as possible.
Even if your dog is a great swimmer, get him or her a life jacket. The best swimmers, humans and dogs, may panic if they unexpectedly fall into the water. Dog life jackets are designed to ensure they float in their natural swimming position, keeping their heads up and out of the water.
Make sure the jacket fits well and is comfortable enough for them to wear for an extended period. Purchase a jacket with handles along the back. These handles make it much easier to lift a heavy, wet dog up and over the gunwales and back into the boat. Select a bright color such as yellow or orange that will be easy to spot.
The first trip should be a short one. A moving boat is different than one trailered or tied to the dock. Your dog may be frightened at first or even get seasick. It is a good idea to have your dog’s veterinarian prescribe anti-nausea medication to have on hand in case he needs it.
Dogs can get sunburned and develop skin cancers from sun exposure just like we can. Apply sunscreen to hairless areas (groin, ear tips, top of the nose). The safest sunscreens are those specifically designed for pets. Avoid anything with zinc oxide as this can be toxic to your dog.
If you boat at all, you should already have a plan in place should anyone go overboard. Develop a plan if your dog falls overboard and go over it with your family prior to heading out.
Who is the spotter? Who steers the boat? Who cuts the engine when you get close? Who speaks to him while in the water to reassure him? And, who will pull him out of the water? If you have a big dog, this may require several people.
If you plan on stopping at a marina or beach, make sure dogs are allowed. Several of the beaches that can only be reached by boat are bird sanctuaries and dogs are not allowed as they disrupt nesting. Some of these areas are restricted only part of the year, so check before you go. Also, make sure the restaurant or bar has a dog-friendly area as well.
Boating here in the summer is hot and your dog can dehydrate easily. Make sure you bring plenty of fresh water specifically for them. They may forget to drink with all the excitement, so I recommend bringing water to them hourly as a reminder.
On the boat and beach be sure they have a place to get out of the sun. For small dogs, this could be under your chair, while larger dogs can share the beach umbrella.
The sand gets hot and can burn their feet. Check it yourself before allowing them free access. You can actually purchase booties to protect your dog’s feet and prevent burns or injury from glass or shells in the sand.
Boating is part of many of our lives and sharing this with your dog can be great fun, but prepare in advance to ensure a great day on the water.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.