Boating with Your Dog

Dog and family on boat
If you've got a boat, bringing your best buddy on board will make life better!

Just as you would never think of taking your two-legged kids out on the water without a safety lesson first, you need to consider your dog’s safety before venturing too far from the dock. As predators, dogs may find any number of interesting things they’d love to chase in the water, and as your best buddy, they may be tempted to follow you overboard for a swim.

Safety First

Just as you would never think of taking your two-legged kids out on the water without a safety lesson first, you need to consider your dog’s safety before venturing too far from the dock. As predators, dogs may find any number of interesting things they’d love to chase in the water, and as your best buddy, they may be tempted to follow you overboard for a swim.

And here’s the thing: not all dogs know how to swim!

Dogs with very low body fat don’t float very well, and older dogs may not have enough stamina to make it back to the boat after a game of splash and dash.

Some breeds don’t have the proper type of fur to ward off hypothermia while in the water.

Finally, disorientation may affect some dogs when they’re on the water, making it tough for them to find the way back to shore or to a boat which may be out of sight due to choppy water or distance.

Dog with life jacket
On the water, life jackets are as important for you pup as for your child.

Dog Life Jackets

Most experts agree that common sense and caution carry the day, and that life jackets for dogs can provide the same benefit they do for humans. The Boating Association of the United States recently tested some canine life jackets. They found that most canine life vests put their flotation devices on the dog’s back, which didn’t necessarily translate to keeping the dog’s head above water. The Super Soft Doggie Vest had flotation all around.

Most vests come with handles on the back to allow you to lift your dog out of the water and back into the boat. Take a look at how the straps are wrapped around your dog’s body and where the buckles hit. Consider whether lifting the dog (which transfers all of the dog’s weight to the straps) will cause any pain.

When you put your dog in the life vest for the first time, observe him walking, sitting, and lying down with it on.

Make sure he can make himself comfortable in all positions so you will be able to leave the vest on the entire time you’re on the water without making the dog miserable.

Different brands of life vests have padding in different places, so you’ll have to see which one works best on your dog.

Check out how the life vest fastens to hold it in place. Although Velcro closures may be more comfortable and easier to operate than buckles, the Velcro will attract dog fur and may lose its sticking ability if the hooks and loops get too matted with hair.

Dog with water life vest
There are many kinds of life vests-- tailored for little chiwawa to Great Dane. Don't buy what's on sale. Take time to chose the best life saving vest for your pup.

Dog Life Vest Details

Life jackets are sized based on your dog’s weight, and a girth measurement taken by wrapping a measuring tape around your dog’s chest, just behind the front legs.

However, the Boating Association warns that different manufacturers have different size designations associated with the same dog measurements, so make sure you use the sizing chart from the manufacturer of the life vest you decide to purchase, if you don’t happen to have your dog with you to try it on.

ĺIf your dog falls at the low end of the size range for a specific size, try going one or more sizes lower so you don’t have excessive lengths of extra straps hanging from the vest that could impede your dog’s swimming ability.

Lastly, although we all want our dogs to look fashionable, keep in mind that one of the functions of a life vest is to provide visibility so you can locate your dog in the water. Bright colors are easier to spot on a murky lake than dark ones, although strategically placed reflective tape can take up the slack on darker life vests.

Once you’ve gotten the right life vest for your dog, have the dog practice swimming in it in shallow water under close supervision so you can make sure the vest performs as you expected. Your dog needs to be used to how the vest feels and how it affects his doggy paddle before he ventures off into the deep end.

Prices for canine personal floatation devices (PFDs) range from $20 to $100. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Your dog’s contribution to your family is likely priceless, so don’t skimp on protecting him or her. The Boating Association has a good article evaluating the best PFD brand choices for each size of dog.

More Safety Tips

from VetStreet

Have a plan BEFORE you go out on the water for what you will do if your dog decides to take a flying leap off the boat. Shutting down the engine would be a good thing to have on the to-do list, and you’ll need to decide which part of the boat will be the easiest place to get your dog back aboard…assuming he or she has the sense to come back when you call.

Let your dog check out the boat on dry land before taking him on the water. Better you should find out that the fishy smell under the carpet drives him nuts before he tears the boat apart in the middle of the lake.

Start with short outings until you find out how your dog likes the experience, then build up to longer trips.

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Just like humans, your dog cannot use saltwater to quench his thirst. Don’t forget to bring some potable water for him to keep him from overheating.

Make sure there is a shady place somewhere on board where he can get away from the sun, if needed. And if your dog has no hair or even thin or sparse hair, you may need to apply some sunscreen to protect his skin. You might want to consider booties to protect the dog’s feet from any hot surfaces on the boat.

Man and dog in boat
There is much more water fun with your pup than a boat ride too!

Water-related canine activities

If you and your dog need more fun and excitement than sitting on the deck enjoying the sunsets, there are a few water-related activities you might enjoy. Dog Scouts offers merit badges for your dog based on his understanding of water safety, boating safety, and water rescue, among other skills.

Water Rescue involves training your dog for life-saving jobs such as towing someone to shore or carrying a life jacket out to a swimmer in trouble. Certification in water rescue used to be available only through breed clubs for well-known water lovers like Portuguese Water Dogs, but since 1992 a group known as WET DOG (Water Education and Training Obedience Group) opened up the sport to all breeds. They offer three levels of certification as your dog progressively learns new skills.

There are still breed-specific clubs that offer certification, including The Colonial Newfoundland Club, the Newfoundland Club of America, and the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America.

Happy Boating!

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