Sailing with dogs does not mean smooth sailing at all, where on a boat does a dog, you know, go?
That’s always the first question liveaboard dog-humans get asked, and, rest assured, we do answer it in this blog.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Getting your dog used to living on a sailboat with you is totally possible. It can be really enriching – and, at times, incredibly challenging.
As every responsible dog owner knows, going anywhere with your pup requires a certain amount of advance planning. Just so you know what you’re getting into – on a boat, the planning aspect to dog ownership multiplies by (a heck of) a lot.
In addition to planning your route according to countries that will allow your dog to go ashore, you will also most likely have to help Fido find his or her "sea legs", undertake a boat-potty training programme and, importantly, modify your boat to ensure it's as safe as possible for your four-legged friend.
Scroll down for 11 Top Tips for Sailing with Dogs that every dog-loving ocean adventurer should read before setting sail.
This is a no-brainer. Setting out on an adrenaline-fuelled cruise in rough winds and choppy seas with your trusty (yet petrified) pooch is not the most excellent idea. Apart from traumatising your dog for life, neither of you are likely to enjoy the experience.
However, suppose you are planning on going on a relatively calm voyage at a leisurely pace, with lots of exciting stops and exploration adventures along the way. In that case, it’s bound to be a cruise even the timidest of dogs will enjoy.
Getting your pooch boat ready as is not something that will happen overnight.
Cruisers who have successfully transformed their doggos into fully-fledged ocean hounds did so very gradually, first taking the dog onto their boat for only a few minutes at a time. Then a few hours, then overnight stays, then short 2-day sailing trips – you get the picture.
Always remember that food is a powerful motivator for most dogs. Throw in lots of treats (and heaps of praise), and you’ll speed up the learning process.
Once your dog is used to being on the boat, you’ll have to assess all the practicalities of doggy boat life. Getting onto and off the boat, getting into the dinghy, stepping off the transom, “going potty” on the boat – these are all actions your dog will have to carry out daily.
Patiently practice these little onboard routines, showing your dog the ins and outs of boat life over and over again, until they understand all the tasks at hand.
Again, some tasty high-value treats will speed things up significantly!
Sadly, not all countries will be rolling out the red carpet for Fido.
Some countries (and islands) are not pet friendly at all, and you will have to plan your route accordingly.
Quarantine and customs laws vary vastly from country to country, and it’s crucial that you clearly understand each country on your route’s policies towards pets. Hitting a snag in this department can profoundly impact your journey. Get stuck into this research before planning any other detail of your voyage.
Importantly (if you haven’t done so yet), right now is always the perfect time to start teaching your dog basic voice commands. These include words like “come”, “sit”, “stay”, “stop”, “no”, “good boy/girl”, “potty”, etc.
According to this scientific study, the average dog can learn the meaning of around 165 words. Once your dog possesses a basic vocabulary, it will greatly enhance the understanding between you and your canine companion.
For your dog, pleasing you is what life’s all about. Teaching him or her a basic vocabulary of commands is one of the best things you could ever do for them.
Obeying commands like ”stop” and “stay” can help keep your dog out of harm’s way and even save its life.
When it comes to on-board safety, securing your boat’s perimeter by surrounding it with safety-netting is really just the first step.
As a responsible dog owner, you’ll also have to dog-proof every nook and cranny on your boat to ensure your best friend is as safe as possible at all times.
You’ll have to close off access to potentially dangerous areas, like steep companionway stairs. Non-skid mats and rugs in certain places will provide your dog with better traction, for example, when ascending stairs. Also, consider taking a retractable ramp along on your voyage for easy dock access.
Don’t leave land without life jackets for your dogs. Get ones with handles on the back, in case you have to pull them out of the water. Make sure your dog wears his or her lifejacket in rough seas, when on a dinghy and at all times after dark.
Some dogs are just more highly strung (and therefore more prone to anxiety) than others.
If your dog gets scared and anxious easily (common triggers are thunder, lightning, large waves, wind, rain and loud sounds), consider putting a comforting, snug-fitting thunder shirt on them.
Also, be sure to provide your dogs with a safe space on the boat where they can take shelter if they feel the need. CBD oil for pets can also help soothe an anxious dog’s nerves.
“When you’re sailing with dogs, where do they go to the bathroom?” That’s the question every liveaboard dog owner gets asked the most.
May we introduce the potty patch.
Essentially a plastic tray covered with synthetic turf that often resembles grass, these so-called potty patches come in various shapes and sizes. But, great as these mini pee pads are, teaching your already-housetrained dog to start doing its business on a patch of grass inside “the house" can be a challenge at first.
The secrets to successful potty-patch training are 1. Before even boarding the boat, get your dog familiar with using the potty patch at home 2. Rub some dog urine on the potty patch surface to encourage your pup to "add their scent" in the same spot, and 3. Have lots of tasty, high-value treats on hand during training and praise and reward your dog every time it uses the potty patch.
Ps. While the potty patch is a fantastic invention, frequent trips to the mainland, away from busy centres where your furry amigo can do their business and sniff about in peaceful surrounds, is always first prize.
For both your dog's and your sanity, pack lots of favourite toys and doggy treats for your journey.
Sailing together is super exciting, but there will be times when you need to focus on sailing your boat (or just need some downtime). That’s when toys and activities to keep doggo entertained (and out of mischief) will be a godsend.
Store your dog’s dry food supplies in airtight containers to prevent mould or insect contamination.
Split the food supplies up and store it in different areas of your boat so you don’t lose all the dog food if some of it ends up going bad during your journey.
When it comes to water, your dogs should drink the same water as you do. Water that will make you sick will most likely affect your dog negatively too.
When it comes to medications, research the regions on your planned route and see what diseases there are prevalent among dogs – then take the necessary precautions. For example, in Mexico, ticks will be a real risk to your dog’s health. Regular deworming is also crucial in this country.
Croatia will require your dog to have a microchip, a European passport and a valid rabies vaccination (confirmed in said passport).
You'd be wise to do all the relevant research early and ensure your dog is prepped and papered for all the destinations on your voyage.
Remember to pack a doggy first aid kit (anti-nausea, anti-diarrhoea, disinfection ointment, general painkillers, antibiotics, eye and ear drops) and don’t forget to stock up on any chronic meds for your dog before you set out on your cruise.
Important: Wherever you may sail, always have proof of your dog’s vaccination status close at hand.
Make sure there are always some cool, comfortable onboard spaces available to your dog, as it can get swelteringly hot aboard a yacht or sailboat.
A secured water bowl filled with clean water, available to your dog at all times, is also essential.
If your dog needs to cool down quickly, don’t soak or submerge him or her in water. Instead, lightly splash its legs and groin area with cool water for a quick cool-down.
Dogs are said to have the emotional intelligence of a 2- to 2.5-year old child.
Although they are very sensitive, intelligent creatures, like young children, dogs also require patience – and learn best when they are gradually exposed to new experiences (with lots of praise when they get things right).
When you start boat-training your dog, be sure to rope in some of their favourite things to help them warm to their new surroundings. A favourite toy or blanket will make everything feel familiar faster.
A comfort item will also soothe your dog during bad weather or when they are feeling stressed or anxious.
There you have it – our 11 Top Tips for Sailing with Dogs!
What can we say? Remember the winning combination of training, treats, praise and patience and you cannot go wrong. You’ll be ready to sail the high seas with your beloved canine compadre before long!
Remember that some dogs will take a bit longer to come around to the many joys of liveaboard life. Also, accept that some dogs will never take to the liveaboard lifestyle, and will always be happier at home on solid land.
Curious about how other sailing enthusiasts and their furry friends live life out on the open seas? Here you can read more about how the folks at Sailing Nandji have been exploring the big blue with their boy, Marley.