Now that the weather is warming up, boaters and dog lovers are spending more time out on the water. It can be a lot of fun to have your best furry buddy by your side while you enjoy the surf and sun as the wind blows through your hair, but it’s also important to make sure your canine companion is safe.
There are many potential dangers when boating, so take care of your pooch when you bring them along for a boat ride.
Here are seven safety tips for boating with your dog.
1. Have A ‘Dog Overboard’ Plan
Even if you’re very careful, there is a chance that your dog might fall overboard, and you need to have a plan to get them back to safety. Make sure everyone who comes onto your boat knows what to do if it happens.
The first step is, of course, to circle back to your dog and cut the motor when you get close enough.
Do NOT jump in to get your dog.
Animals, like humans, can panic and drag you down with them when they are struggling to stay above water. Instead, call your dog over to the boat and lift them out of the water. Most dog life jackets have handles to pull dogs up.
2. Get The Right Kind Of Life Jacket
Even strong swimmers need a doggy life jacket. There are just too many situations where your dog might not be able to swim. The water could be too rough. Your pup could be pulled under by a current. They could be knocked unconscious or injured or swallow too much water and choke.
All dogs should have life jackets when on the water. Brachycephalic dogs–dogs with short snouts–are especially at risk.
Not all life jackets are the same. They come in different sizes and buoyancy, and no matter which one you get, you should always test it with your dog in calm, shallow water before you rely on it during a boating trip.
Get one that’s brightly colored and has some reflective trim so it’s easy to see. Most life jackets have handles in case you need to lift your dog out of the water, but not all do.
The life jacket you choose should ideally keep your dog’s head above water and be comfortable enough for them to move, lie down, and go potty.
3. Bring Sunscreen, Insect Repellent, And A First-Aid Kit
Dogs are susceptible to sunburns and skin cancer, so it is very important that you use a sunscreen that is formulated for dogs.
Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate sunscreen for your individual pup. Dogs with lightly colored or short fur are at greater risk. Make sure to pay particular attention to any areas where fur is thin, like around the armpits or on the ears and nose.
Dogs can also be bitten by mosquitoes and other insects that carry diseases. There are bug sprays specifically for dogs.
Do NOT use bug spray for humans on your pup. Some dog owners rely on natural insect repellents. Whatever you choose, don’t leave your dog unprotected.
First-aid kits are necessary in case something goes wrong. Make sure your first aid kit has bandages, antibacterial ointment, Dramamine or other medication for seasickness, and any other regular medication your dog might need while you’re on the water.
4. Offer Fresh Water And Shade
Sunscreen isn’t the only thing you need to keep your dog safe from the summer sun and heat. You should also bring an ample supply of fresh water and a doggy bowl that won’t spill too much.
Your dog should have a shady spot to rest where they can get out of the sun. This can be a below deck area, under an awning, or even beneath a console or seat. Always make sure your dog can find relief from the heat.
Pouring water on your dog to keep them cool may actually make them hotter, so don’t rely on that.
5. Get Your Dog Used To The Boat
Before you take off, make sure your dog knows what to expect. Give them a chance to get on the boat while you’re docked so they can get used to their surroundings.
If they’re nervous, keep an eye on them when you start the motor so they don’t bolt. Take your dog for a slow ride at first to see how they do. If they are too nervous, leave them at home.
Anxiety can be a big safety issue on the boat, and your dog might get hurt. It’s not worth it if that happens, so make the right decision.
6. Bring A Leash And Plan For Potty Breaks
You should always have a leash handy when you’re on the boat for many reasons. If you have an unplanned stop, an emergency, or an encounter with other boaters and dogs, your pup will be better off on leash.
You should also have a plan for potty breaks. Some boaters use puppy pads or astroturf to let their dogs go potty on the boat, but some pups need to be on land before they feel comfortable enough to do their business.
If that’s the case for your dog, plan where you’re going to stop for potty breaks, and make sure your dog is on leash before you approach a dock or land. You don’t want your dog jumping off the boat early and running off because they have to go potty.
This can be a safety issue because some dogs feel very anxious when they have to do their business and don’t have anywhere to go. Most dogs know it’s not okay for them to go potty on the boat, so they may start to look for a way to get off and head for land.
Don’t let it get to that point for your dog. Take breaks.
7. Pay Attention To Your Dog, But Don’t Get Distracted
It can be unsafe to go boating alone with your dog because you are responsible for both your dog’s safety and control of the boat.
It’s much easier when you have another human aboard to take responsibility for one or the other, but you should always make sure that you know where your dog is and what they are doing while still paying attention to driving. Losing focus on either can be disastrous.
More than a few dogs have been lost at sea after falling overboard when their owners weren’t paying attention and drove off without them. If you can’t dedicate enough of your focus to your dog or driving, leave your dog at home or bring another responsible human along for the ride.
What other boating safety tips do you have for dog owners? Are you going to do some boating with your dog this summer? Let us know in the comments below!