Worry-free Sailing With Your Precious Pup

Naviguez sans souci avec votre chien chéri
Malou comportement canin

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


Thinking of adopting a dog soon? Have you done so recently? Or have you shared your days with a canine companion for several years already? If the answer to one of the above questions is “Yes!”, read the following carefully to enjoy sailing with your pooch.

For any type of vessel, whether manually-propelled or engine-propelled, it’s imperative that you have a life jacket on board for each occupant, and that includes your favourite furry friend.

Many breeds of dog, including the Labrador, the Golden Retriever, and the Portuguese Water Dog, feel at home in the water. However, there are also breeds that can be called non-swimmers. These dogs have a different centre of gravity, as the front end (neck, chest, head, and forelimbs) is heavier than the back end. Just think about pugs and bulldogs (English or French). Dogs with short legs, such as the dachshund, chihuahua, or basset hound will also tire themselves out faster, which increase the risk of drowning. The life jacket lets them save their energy, and be more relaxed in the water.

Their overall health should also be considered. Over-weight dogs, dogs who have cardiac problems, or dogs who are just old, are more likely to drown. Swimming is a healthy sport, as much for human beings as it is for dogs, but it still requires a healthy cardiovascular system. And, unlike us, dogs don’t have the natural ability to let themselves float when they are tired. So having a life jacket on will let your dog catch its breath.

We all hope accidents won’t happen, but they can, and quickly. Wearing a life jacket is important, to prevent a catastrophe. If your animal falls overboard, or hurts themselves jumping into the water, their reflex may not be to swim. So, as a safety measure, I advise putting a life jacket on them before they come on board.

How do you choose the right life jacket for your pooch?

Keep these three features in mind:

1. Good freedom of movement: your animal can easily move their four legs to swim and move around on land.

2. A handle on top of the life jacket, so that you can grab it firmly if something should happen.

3. A bright colour in order to quickly locate your dog in the water.

These are a few brands that include these features: Outward Hound, Pawteck, GoFreshPet and Sea-Doo.

Naviguez sans souci avec votre chien

Photo credit : Svetlana

Where can you find them?

At pet stores, of course. Many large retailers that have an outdoors section also sell life jackets. If you are shopping online, make sure there’s a sizing chart available. Ideally, that chart will be set according to the dog’s girth around the ribcage, and weight.

If your animal falls overboard, or hurts themselves jumping into the water, their reflex may not be to swim.

How do you teach your pet to like their life jacket?

For a dog, wearing clothing can be quite un comfortable. Here are a few simple steps to take so that your best friend cooperates, and feels comfortable, when you put their lifejacket on.

The first thing to do, whenever you want to work with your dog, is to make sure they are in a good mood, that they are calm, and cooperative. So choose times following a period of play, after they’ve had a chance to go wild, or after a good walk, when they’ll have expended their extra energy. The surroundings are also very important: choose a quiet room in the house. Get out some treats and their favourite toy.

1. To get their attention and start the learning process, give them an easy command that they enjoy obeying: “Sit,” for example. Say “Good dog,” and give them a treat. Repeat this two or three times, to get your dog properly focussed. Normally, you should see that your dog is concentrating and listening to you.

Photo credit : marijoleroux

2. You can then show your dog the life jacket. Place it on the floor. When they go to smell it, say “Good dog,” and put a treat on the floor, beside the life jacket.

3. Continue, by putting the life jacket on your dog, but do not fasten it. Say “Good dog,” give them a treat, and take off the jacket.

4. Do the same thing again but, this time, fasten the vest. Say “Good dog,” give them a treat, then unfasten and take off the jacket.

5. The goal is to have your dog wearing the life jacket for longer periods of time, and moving around with the jacket on. Put the life jacket on your dog, say “Good dog,” and give them a treat. Then, take their favourite toy and throw it to them. When your dog brings it back, say “Good dog,” give them a treat, and take off the jacket.

The key to learning is repetition. It would be good to do each step more than once, before moving on to the next, and take breaks during the process to make sure that your dog comes back to you. This behaviour will tell you that your dog is willing to continue the activity. Your dog might lose interest while you’re doing this. If this happens, shorten the learning periods. Some dogs are able to concentrate for only 10 minutes, others for an entire hour. If you respect their pace, and break the exercise into smaller steps, they will learn quickly and stay excited about it.

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