By Lindsay Lowe
Boating can be a fantastic activity for both you and your pup, but there are several dog safety considerations to keep in mind to ensure a safe and stress-free outing on the water.
Before you do anything else, check your local laws regarding dogs and boats. Once you’ve ensured that dogs are allowed on the water in your area, it’s time to start planning your trip.
Here are seven boat safety tips to consider before setting sail with your dog.
1. Should Dogs Wear Life Jackets?
A proper flotation device is a must. Look for a dog life jacket with a handle on top so you can grab your dog if she falls into the water, suggests Arden Moore, a dog and cat behaviorist and pet safety coach based in Dallas, Texas.
Also, make sure the dog life jacket fits well.
“The jacket needs to allow full movement of the shoulder joint, and the front leg needs to be able to reach forward completely without restriction,” says Dr. Tari Kern, a veterinarian at Pawsitive Steps Rehabilitation & Therapy for Pets in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
The dog life jacket should not put any pressure on the dog’s neck or throat, and it should be adjustable.
“This is not an item to skimp on when purchased,” Dr. Kern says. “If it is really inexpensive, it may not be very good quality.”
Give your dog a chance to wear the life jacket around the house before heading out on the water. Be sure to offer lots of praise and even a few dog treats when she has the life jacket on and acts like she is comfortable in it.
2. Make Sure Your Dog Is Comfortable Around Water
There are several dog safety precautions to consider before going boating with your dog, including making sure your pup feels comfortable around water.
First, your pet must absolutely know how to swim in case she falls overboard, says Moore.
She also recommends walking with your dog around a marina so she can get used to the sights and sounds of a boating environment.
In addition, Moore suggests starting slowly with short trips. Don’t take a day-long boating journey until you are positive your pet can handle it without becoming stressed.
While some dogs love boating, it isn’t for every pet. “Some dogs will never be comfortable on a boat, and this should be respected,” Dr. Kern says. “Never force a nervous dog to go boating.”
3. Know Your Dog Safety Basics
Pet owners should have basic dog first aid and CPR training before any boat outing.
“You need to know what to do when an emergency happens,” Moore says.
A dog first aid kit is also essential on board. These kits often include basic dog safety supplies like bandages, antibiotic ointment and an extra dog leash.
If you know your pet gets a little queasy while out on the boat, you can talk with your veterinarian about possible motion sickness medications that you can use. Only give medications that your vet has prescribed, and be willing to accept that fact that your pup might not enjoy boating if they have motion sickness.
4. Have a Plan if Your Dog Goes Overboard
Dogs should be able to respond to basic commands like “sit” and “come” so they don’t venture too close to the water, Dr. Kern says. A long lead may also be used, though Kern warns against using a retractable leash, which could get tangled around objects or people on deck and could also act as an anchor in the water.
If your dog falls overboard, shut off the motor immediately, says Dr. Kern. If the motor is on, the dog could be injured by the propeller.
Also, make sure your pet is trained to swim immediately toward the boat’s steps or ramp. Dogs that become overtired while trying to get back to the boat can have fatigue and be at risk for drowning.
Resist the urge to jump in to help your dog get back onboard. Frantic dogs can cling to whoever is trying to help, putting that person at risk of drowning too. Call your dog over to the steps or ramp and use the handle on her life jacket to pull her aboard.
If you have to enter the water, make sure you are wearing a life jacket that will keep your head above water even if your dog is in your arms.
5. Keep Your Dog Safe From the Elements
Ideally, there should be a place onboard where dogs can take shelter from the sun, Dr. Kern says. It will not only help them stay cool, but it will also provide them some protection from sunburn.
To further help your pup, you can also apply dog-safe sunscreen to her more sensitive skin areas, especially if she has light-colored fur or a thin coat. Check with your veterinarian about the safest dog sunscreen for your pup.
Kern also recommends bringing a mat or blanket for your pup to lie on, as metal boat floors can get very hot. You can also try a cooling mat like TechNiche International Evaporative dog cooling pad that uses a unique fabric to help cool your pet.
However, the sun isn’t the only weather concern to keep in mind.
“Don’t take your pets out on the boat if storms are in the forecast,” Dr. Kern says. “Storm anxiety while on the water will be no fun for anyone.” Rough waters also increase the likelihood that your dog will suffer from motion sickness or fall overboard.
6. Have a Potty Plan
Moore recommends using a dog potty turf designed to help dogs ‘go’ on the go.
These grass pads are made with an attractant that lures dogs to them, and they are made with odor-resistant and antimicrobial materials that mask odors.
Be sure to bring plenty of dog poop bags, and if an accident does happen on deck, make sure you have an environmentally friendly, dog-safe cleanser to clean it up, Dr. Kern says. Also, only discard waste once back on shore—never in the water.
7. Keep Your Dog Happy on Board
Bring healthy snacks and clean water for your dog to enjoy, Moore says. Dog travel bowls like the Lixit Water Boy travel bowl will help keep your pup hydrated, and it’s BPA-free and spill-proof.
You should also give your pup fun activities to avoid boredom on deck.
Playing fetch on board is never a good idea for obvious safety reasons, Moore says, but dog puzzle toys can be a great way to keep your dog occupied.
A boating trip should be a positive experience for everyone involved. So, it is important to take dog safety and boat safety precautions to make sure that everyone has a safe and fun time.
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