Living in Baltimore, one of the most dog-friendly towns anywhere, I get my fair share of questions about cruising with dogs. There are many people who have never taken their dog boating, thinking it would be way too difficult to get their pooch to acclimate to the watery surroundings, or that the dog would fall overboard or even jump in pursuit of some irresistible fish -- or, worse yet, get seasick all over the newly varnished deck.
Before becoming a certified dog trainer, I was a cruise director for Carnival Cruise Lines, so I've seen my share of seeing-eye and other official assistant dogs cruising the lido deck with the aplomb of a seasoned sailor. But what about dogs that aren't trained for it? Dogs are like 2-year olds. They will look in the water, see something shiny and may try to retrieve it for you. Don't bother trying to tell them you're fine with- out that bottle cap lying at the bottom of the ocean. They know better and are absolutely certain your life isn't complete without it.
The good news is that your dog doesn't need to know 26 different commands and be certified in boat safety in order to cruise with you. It helps if they know a few basic commands on a boat, just like it helps if they know a few basic commands on land, but there's no reason your pet can't enjoy an afternoon at sea. Of course, it would be helpful if your little (or big) buddy knew how to lie down on command for when it gets a little rough, and a good recall is also important.
Training your dog to relieve themselves on a piece of Astroturf or in a kitty litter box isn't the easiest task to accomplish, but it is worth the time it takes to achieve this wondrous feat. It's easiest if you try this when they are puppies, but a dog of any age can tackle this challenge. Many dogs refuse to relieve themselves on a boat until they absolutely have to. Think about the first time you went to the bathroom on a moving boat, and you'll understand why they try to hold it as long as possible.
There are a few items that can make the trip safer and more enjoyable for all involved.
Certain collars sound an alarm when wet, helping to alert you when your pooch falls -- or jumps -- overboard. A PFD, which is a fancy way of saying pet flotation device, is a good idea. A properly fitted jacket will support your dog horizontally and keep its head slightly out of the water. Be sure to get one that has a handle on it so you can pull your pup out of the water with ease. Invest in a dog harness as well, something that's easy to grab onto. There are special water bowls called Water Boys that can be purchased at the larger chain dog stores and are great for boat trips because they won't spill even when flipped over.
Make sure you ease your dog into the boating concept. A week or so before your first trip, allow your dog to get acquainted with the boat while it is still on the dock. Start the boat engine, put on the dog's PFD, and give them a little while to get used to their new surroundings. I can't stress enough the importance of this. I've seen people cut their boating trips short at the last minute because their pooch refused to go on board. Dogs need time to acclimate. Also make sure you have a safe place for your dog to go when the weather gets rough. Having your pooch on deck while you navigate the waves is one distraction that you don't need.
Believe it or not, dogs are susceptible to sunburn. Sun blocks work as well on pets as they do on humans. The likelihood of sunburn can be further increased if your pet is taking certain drugs or medications --- antibiotics, tranquilizers, diuretics. To avoid serious sunburn to a particularly vulnerable area, such as a scar, cover it with either sunscreen lotion or zinc oxide. Sunburn is more likely when the skin is wet, so after swimming be sure to dry your pet as thoroughly as possible, then reapply sunscreen. Animals' eyes are extremely vulnerable to sun damage, as is the thin skin of their eyelids. Doggie sunglasses might give humans a chuckle, but they provide the pooch with wraparound protection against UV rays or flying bugs. There are many types out there -- just don't get ones with metal rims since they can get really hot.
For traveling to strange ports, get your pet an identity tag that includes a contact number as well as your boat's make and model, name and registration number. Some countries also require pets to have an implanted microchip that carries coded information about the pet, its vaccination history and its owner.
If you haven't acquired your dog yet and you're thinking that you want one that you can boat with, the smaller breeds are much easier to handle. Would you rather retrieve a 20-pound Miniature Schnauzer from the ocean or a soaked 120-pound Great Dane?
Paul Sheinberg is a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Pawsitive Paul's Dog Training, where the motto is, You have a good dog ... you just don't know it yet.To learn more, visit PawsitivePaul.com