Get ready for great water adventures with your dog

Exercice de chiot dans la piscine
Malou comportement canin

By Marijo Leroux,
animal behaviourist, pet therapist, and behavioural groomer

Are you planning to go offshore with your family? So why not bring your doggie? Here are some tips and tricks for your outings to go smoothly and for your dog to behave in an exemplary and safe manner.

Before you start the training, it is best to check if your four-legged friend knows how to swim. In a previous article, we learned that some dogs are less at ease in the water because of their body type. So bring a life jacket if this is the case with yours.

Here are two important things to teach them before leaving on your boat:

Exercice de chiot dans la piscine


Train them to come back to you when they are in the water.

You can practice in a pool or on the edge of a lake at first, and, when they are ready, repeat the exercise on the docked boat. I really like using an easy game, such as throwing them a toy that they will fetch. My signal to go to the water is obviously to throw the toy, and when they bring it back, I systematically reward them profusely. The same technic is used for when we practice on a boat. The dog must wait for the signal to go in the water.

Chien sur sa serviette rouge

©Marijo Leroux

Teach them to stay on an area associated with calm.

Begin at home with a mat or a towel that you will then move on the boat. Lay the mat on the floor. When your dogs look at it, reward them on the mat. Then they come back to you. If they look or touch the mat again, reward them on the mat. Repeat the exercise until they understand the connection between the mat and the reward. Then, when they stay a while on the mat, if they sit or lay down, reward them. Why do we teach them that? The ability to redirect your dog to a calm zone when a situation stimulates them will be of great help.

Advice before going offshore

Doris en bateau

©Marijo Leroux

Before going offshore, I strongly recommend to gradually get your dog to be on the boat. Here are some simple steps in order to achieve this in a positive way:

  1. 1. Show them how to get onboard when you are at the dock. It is possible to use the ramp, as needed. Choose a quiet time, without too many waves so that your boat is not moving a lot. Do it repeatedly and reward your dog each time they succeed.
  2. 2. When they will be at ease with the first step, start the engine. The sound of the engine can scare some dogs. This is why it is important to check this aspect.
  3. 3. Show them where the calm zone is (their mat or towel).
  4. 4. Determine a way to get onboard when you are on the water. If it is a medium or big dog, you can use a ladder or a platform at the end of the boat. If it is a little dog, a net or a landing net can do the trick. However the size of your dog, it is important to practice before leaving.
  5. 5. Finally, start by small outings of 15 to 30 minutes. This will allow you to check if they are seasick. Because, yes, seasickness exists in dogs, and, if it is the case, a veterinarian can prescribe them a medicine.

For the natural needs: avoid problems and make sure you get them to relieve themselves before leaving. If you are leaving for a long period, organize your itinerary in order to plan stops with access to dry land so that your dog can go and do their business.

On the other hand, there are rugs made out of synthetic grass or «pee pads» designed for your dog’s needs. We can teach them how to use them.

Un chien sur un bateau à moteur

©Ina van Hateren

Here is a list of necessary material on your vessel:

  • A first aid kit for human, to which you can add bandages for dogs and medication for seasickness.
  • A life jacket for dogs (Worry-free Sailing With Your Precious Pup).
  • A very long leash, also called a lead, of more than 20 feet. It will be very useful if your callback is not at point. Attached your dog before letting them go in the water, it will give you a better chance of catching him.
  • A water bottle for dogs.
  • Some bags to clean-up their dropping, a cleaning product and absorbent paper.
  • Their mat or towel for the calm zone.
  • A towel to dry them off after their swim.

Heatstroke prevention

Heatstroke’s also exists in dogs, and can be fatal. To decrease their body temperature, dogs will sweat from the pads under their paws. It is not a large surface to get rid of excess heat. They can also regulate their temperature by breathing or exposing the hottest areas of their body to fresh airflow. Dogs are one of the mammals with the most difficulty to get rid of the heat. Veterinarians also say that it is among the most common causes of emergency visits during the summer. Therefore, add a refreshing mat for dogs aboard, and plan a shaded place on the vessel as well as plenty of fresh water.

For more security

If you wish to do a swimming stop, choose a safe place. It is best to seek advice, if you are not familiar with the body of water where you are. There are two important reasons why I am telling you this, and the first one concerns water currents. It is sometimes very difficult to assess the strength of the water by simply looking at the surface. You and your pooch could be carried dangerously far from your boat. The second reason concerns algae. Some are toxic for dogs and can cause death (especially cyanobacteria). We will cover this topic in detail in an upcoming article.

Last little advice

Always keep an eye on your dog to prevent dangerous situations or accidents. I wish you wonderful moments with your family on your boat.