Tips for boating with dogs

Dog in canoe

As cottagers and outdoor enthusiasts, we love the idea of getting outside to barbecue, have a morning coffee on the dock, or take the kids out on the boat—we’ll do anything to get out into the fresh air.

I’m not sure it’s possible, but you know who loves being outside even more than we do? Our dogs! I love launching myself off the dock for a morning swim, but I’m pretty convinced that my bloodhound Harley has an even bigger smile on his face when he’s flying through the air to catch a Frisbee off the end of the dock. Harley even enjoys sunbathing more than I do, the way he sprawls across the sun-warmed deck and adjusts every half hour to ensure that his sunny patch is the best available!

Just like us cottagers, our dogs are “outdoor enthusiasts” (even my little pug likes to stick his nose in the mud once in a while). And just like us, it’s important to consider that not all dogs actually like to be in the water, and not all dogs may enjoy the experience of being on a boat.

Best breeds for boating

Some dog breeds have difficulty swimming because their bodies aren’t quite right for the sport. I spoke with veterinary technician Meg Kenney-Elliot, who advised me that dogs with physical characteristics like longer legs, a longer snout that can be held high above the waterline, and webbed feet find swimming easier. Just for a moment, picture a pug trying to swim in a race against a lab. Now imagine that a dog with the physical characteristics of a pug (and an athleticism that’s better suited to napping) falls overboard while boating—you may not think it’s likely, but like many boating emergencies, the unexpected can happen. Of course, there are other breeds, like labs and golden retrievers, that are naturals in the water, and they’re sometimes even categorized as “water dogs.” It’s rare to be able to keep these dog breeds out of the lake, but remember that even these breeds may be at risk of drowning or being hit by boat traffic if they fall overboard in a busy waterway.

We’ve all seen those dogs standing in the bow of boats with their ears blowing in the wind as they try to catch the spray in their face—it looks cute, right? Most of our four-legged friends naturally position themselves up in the boat to better enjoy the experience. As pet moms and dads, we just need to remember that if we’re operating our boats in choppy water your dog could be propelled overboard very easily.

Canine boat safety

One thing you can do to protect your dog when boating is to buy a canine lifejacket. The value is the same as it is for people: when in the water, your dog will remain buoyant without struggling and will be more visible to other boaters because of the bright colour of the life jacket. If you love your dogs like I do, I’m sure you see the value of the investment to protect your pooch!

Here are some tips for ensuring that your dog is comfortable around the water and in your boat:

  • Introduce them to the water as puppies so they can develop an acclimation to the swimming experience. This is not to say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it will certainly make the dog more comfortable around the water as an adult. Don’t force the dog into the water or into your boat. Praise and play with them instead, and encourage them to come for a swim or a boat ride.
  • Get your dog a canine lifejacket that fits well. Just like our own lifejackets, canine vests come in various sizes, so shop carefully, keeping your dog’s weight in mind.

  • One of the things you learn when taking the BOATsmart! Safe Boating Course is to ensure that you test lifejackets and PFDs both when first purchased and at the start of each season. The foam in PFDs and lifejackets can deteriorate over time, and it’s also important to ensure the jacket is a proper fit. Put the jacket on your pooch and get him or her out in the water to ensure the buoyancy is sufficient. You’ll want to make sure it keeps his or her snout above the water and fits snugly. And after a doggy swim, be sure to dry the lifejacket out of direct sunlight to prolong its useful life. 

  • It’s a good idea to carry a leash on your boat so that when you dock at a busy marina your dog can be restrained from jumping from the boat to the dock—dogs tend to get excited if there are people and other dogs around. Additionally, if your boat breaks down and your dog is with you, you will be glad to have a leash, especially if boarding another person’s boat or getting towed to a location where the dog should be leashed. 

  • Bring a water bowl on the boat and a supply of fresh water for the dog to drink. It can be a long hot day on the boat for a dog and if they drink from the lake or river during the trip they could ingest parasites and unhealthy bacteria. The same goes for shoreline visits: make sure your dog does not eat washed up fish, feces, or garbage. It’s terrible to see these things on the shore but it does happen unfortunately.

  • If you’re on a fishing trip with your dog in the boat, make sure there aren’t open containers of fishing bait, lures with sharp hooks and fishing line loose that may cause an injury for the dog.

Operating your boat safely and confidently is the best way to keep yourself, your family and your four legged friend safe when on the water. Get your boat license from BOATsmart! today so you can boat with confidence and enjoy your time on the water!