Tips And Precautions For Boating With Dogs

Welcome to Dog House Times article on Dogs and Boats.  I love going out on the water, and I love my dog. I want to make sure that my dog is safe and that we have a great time with no regrets.  The last thing I need is to have to explain to the family how I wasn’t prepared for a situation that would potentially be fatal to the furry family friend.  

There’s nothing quite like having a nice day out on the water with your dog and boat.  Taking out dogs and boats onto the water can be a fun and rewarding experience. There are many things you will need to keep in mind and other things that you must do to make sure your family and a furry friend(s) have an amazing time.

In this article, I review the safety precautions you need to take when bringing a dog out on a boat.  I also provide many tips and tricks to make your experience with your dog and boating much more enjoyable and without issue.  We’ll also discuss dog breeds dog in water, dog breeds bad in water and more! Let’s dive into the world of dogs and boats (no pun intended).

Boating Precautions For Dog Owners

Keeping an eye out for potential hazards is a smart way of preventing accidents.  When planning an excursion out on the water with your furry friend, a bit of smart preparation could mean the difference between a good time and losing your pet to Davey Jones Locker.  Here I have compiled a list of the common boating hazards, and how you can EASILY avoid mishap out on your boat.

Drowning. 

Okay, this is obvious, but people often forget about it as most dogs are fantastic swimmers.  But dogs don’t understand physics. They don’t necessarily realize that a moving boat makes for difficulty when jumping out into the water. I had a friend with a small bowrider boat and he used to take his dog out on the water.  One time we were out on his boat to do a bit of fishing and his dog thought he saw something worth chasing. The problem was that we were ripping along the lake, traveling to one of our favorite fishing spots when the dog decided to jump out of the boat. 

The dog didn’t realize that the impact with the water would be so shockingly difficult. The dog had the wind knocked out of it when it hit the water and nearly drowned. My friend had to quickly turn the boat around and then he jumped in to rescue his drowning dog.  We were able to get the dog back into the boat. It wound up being okay but got some bad bruising along it’s lower ribs. Hitting the water at whatever speed we were going was obviously too much for the small dog to handle. But the dog thought jumping into the water was no big deal.  The dog was literally afraid of the water after that. My friend picked up a dog life jacket to use after that incident. 

Exhaustion

With dogs, this is a real and serious threat.  Many breeds have issues with respiratory problems due to shorter snout.  Many dogs have shorter legs. And most dogs get excited easily and don’t always think ahead.  A dog might jump out into the water off your boat and have a little too much fun, tiring quickly out in the water.  This can inevitably lead to drowning, our primary concern when it comes to dangers with dogs and water.  

Injury

Dogs may not understand how propellers work, but heaven forbid a dog is near one when it starts up.  Depending on your boat and engine type, there may be a lot more than your dog could get hurt on.  Fishing tackle is a common issue with inquisitive dogs. Especially when it has a nice fishy smell, mmm… Until that is, it pierces your dog’s lip and you need to remove a fishhook from your dog’s mouth.  Not fun at all, and your dog will think it’s the end of the world, so keep them away from your fishing gear.

Do a ‘pre-flight check’ of your boat before you allow the dog on board. Make sure all fishing gear, sharp objects and so should be stored away so your dog is safe.  The same kind of care you would take if you were to have a small child on board, that is how you should treat bringing a dog on board. Although, the dog may be a much better swimmer than a child, depending on the breed of course. In case there is an injury, like someone getting hooked, keeping a good first aid kit on board is always a good idea.

Although dogs are usually great swimmers, they too can have aquatic accidents.  And just like with kids, they don’t always think before they act. Investing in a good quality life jacket for your dog is always a smart thing to do and can be an easy way to keep the dog from a watery grave.

Common Dangers For Dogs And Boats In The Water

Two dogs playing in the water is shown here in this file photo.
Easy Boys! Settle Down Now!

Propellers

Even when not running, they have sharp edges and a dog can easily slip on the deck of a boat and hit the prop.  

Other Boats

Whenever there are other boats around, it’s best to keep your dog on the deck.  Other boats are always a danger. You wouldn’t let your dog go play on the street in traffic right?  Well, boats take way longer to stop and there really is no such thing as stopping on a dime when you’re in a boat so use caution.

Jet Skis And Personal Watercraft

This is basically the same threat as other boats but I wanted to mention it separately because people on jet skis whip around really fast on the water and they can turn fairly quickly as well.  They may not see a dog in the water who has swum away from the boat so keep them under control when there are jet skis in the area.

Slipping On Deck

Dogs don’t have great traction on slippery surfaces.  The deck of the boat is usually pretty slick. If your dog likes to ride out on the bow, take heed as a small bump from a wave can send your dog sliding along the deck.  They could break bones or even be thrown overboard so make sure if your boat is in motion, that your dog is safe and secure.

Fishing Gear

Obviously any sharp hooks and barbs are going to be a problem for inquisitive dogs that can’t resist the fishy scent that fishing gear acquires.  But it’s not only the obvious sharp hooks that can be a problem. The fishing line is made of plastic. If a dog eats some line, it could cause an impaction that would need surgery and could potentially cause death.  Keep your fishing gear safely stored and if you throw away any bad pieces of fishing line, make sure you secure them in a sealed bag or similar container to ensure no animals like your dog, will get tangled up in it.

Netting, Ropes, And Entanglement

This is usually only an issue when a boat is moving and the dog is slipping on the deck.  A dog’s leg bones are much smaller than our own so when a dog slides along in a moving boat, it can get its legs tangled in the rope which could potentially cause a broken bone.  Again, keep ropes safely stored and the dog in a safe part of the boat, especially when the boat is in motion.

Flying Objects

So how on this great Earth do you get flying objects in a boat?  Well, anyone who has been out on the water on a small boat and hit some waves at the wrong angle can tell you:  There are NO SHOCKS on a boat like there are in a car. You hit a bump i.e. a wave in a small boat and it can feel like you’re landing on concrete.  Heavy and dangerous objects like the anchor can easily be tossed around the boat in choppy waters. And if you’re alone with your dog, you’ll be focused on keeping control of the boat and won’t be able to stow things away when trying to drive the boat.  For this reason, the ‘Pre Boating Check’ of the boat before you leave the shore, is the best course of action.

Heat And Sun Exposure

This is a danger of boating that is often forgotten.  The sun’s rays are strong and not only beat down on you but also reflect up off the water.  You can literally be under a shade and still get sun from the rays reflecting off the water’s surface back up at you.  Well, a dog has a fur coat on, so a hot day out in the sun on a boat can cause health problems for you or your dog if you aren’t careful.  Watch for odd behavior and keep your dog hydrated. Remember, you can’t drink saltwater and neither can your dog. Check out my article on air conditioning for your dog house if you haven’t yet.

Dog Breeds Good In Water

When I was a kid, my mom sent me for swimming lessons.  I always sank. Like a stone. I remember this one kid, he was dark tanned, obviously was out in the sun a lot.  Same height and build as I was. But this kid got in the water and swam like a fish. And there I was struggling to doggy paddle.  Seems my body is built like a rock – it sinks. Anyway, just like people, some dogs are naturals in the water. And some are decidedly not.  Let’s take a look at a few breeds and why they may or may not be suited.

American Water Spaniel

An American Water Spaniel standing with it's owner in a dog park.
Picture Source: By Awsguy1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The name says it all.  This breed is right at home in the water and will outswim you any day.  That is unless you happen to be a trained Olympic swimmer or someone with that caliber of swimming ability.  Otherwise, these dogs will definitely out swim you.

Barbet a.k.a. French Water Dog

French Water Dog
Picture Source: Public Domain

Also known as the Mud Dog, these popular French water dogs were originally bred for retrieving waterfowl, among other things. This makes this breed a dog good with being in the water.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers can swim really well.
Picture Source: By George Makatura – Photo from dog’s owner archive, Public Domain

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has been one of my favorite ‘outdoorsy’ breeds of dogs for some time.  They are strong, energetic and can swim like a fish, so to speak.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are great swimmers.
Picture Source: By Dirk Vorderstraße – Golden Retriever Carlos, CC BY 2.0 The Golden Retriever is a dog breed good in the water.

The playful and energetic Golden Retriever is right at home in the water.  So much so, in fact, that many dog owners of this breed have a hard time keeping the dog out of the water.  And oh how they love to jump in and then shake off right beside you! So much fun! 

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers are great boating docks because of their natural ability to swim.
Picture Source: By derivative work: Djmirko (talk)YellowLabradorLooking.jpg: User: Habj – YellowLabradorLooking.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0

Like the Golden Retriever, the Labrador Retriever is right at home in the water. From what I know, most of the retrievers are excellent swimmers, being their nature as a retriever, they had to retrieve from all manner of environments, water being no exception.

English Setter

Picture of an English Setter.
Picture Source: By Elf at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

The English Setter was bred as a bird hunting dog, dated back to the early 15th century.  That being said, that would have included having to go out on the water to retrieve fowl that have been downed over the water.  These dogs have kept these instincts to this day and are avid swimmers. That’s why they are a dog breed good in the water.

Irish Water Spaniel

Irish Water Spaniels are great dogs to take out on a boat because they are great swimmers.
Picture Source: By Pleple2000 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

These dogs were bred originally for water retrieval and sporting. And as the name suggests, they are right at home in the water.

Newfoundland

A Newfoundland dog.  These dogs used to save people when they fell off a boat into the water.  Great swimmers.
Picture Source: By Flickr user DanDee Shots – Flickr here, CC BY 2.0

The Newfoundland was at one time known for rescuing swimmers.  That’s how great a swimmer these giant dogs are. Don’t let their shaggy giant size fool you, they can swim like a fish. To sum up, they are a dog breed good in the water.

Poodle

A picture of a Poodle.  Dogs and boats are a great mix when the dog is a Poodle.
Picture Source: By Tim Wilson from Blaine, MN, USA – Full attention, CC BY 2.0

The Standard Poodle was originally used as a gun dog.  In particular, they were utilized for duck hunting, i.e. retrieval service duty.  Well, as you know ducks happen to love the water and this is often times where they are found.  So the Poodle was, like other retriever service dogs, akin to swimming out to retrieve a duck or other fowl for their hunting companion humans.  Poodles have held onto their abilities and are to this day really good swimmers.

Portuguese Water Dog

A Portuguese Water Dog
Picture Source: By Silke Hollje-Schumacher – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Known for their reputation of being able to swim from boat-to-boat, out on the water, these dogs seem to be just as at home in the water as they are on land.

Dog Breeds Bad In Water

Yeah, like me.  I sink like a stone. It doesn’t seem to matter unless I’m swimming as hard as I can I sink.  Some dogs have the same issue and some breeds are just not built to be able to swim. Like jackets are a must for these breeds.  Let’s ‘dive in’. 

Basset Hound

These adorable, long-eared trackers are great at sniffing things out, on land.  Not so great in the water. Best to keep these dogs on firm land and don’t let them into the water any deeper than their shoulders. A small kiddy pool would be the deepest I’d go with a Basset.  They are pretty heavily built and have short legs. Not to mention those big heavy ears that weigh down’ the head of the Basset Hound.  

Boxer

The Boxer has nice long legs, which you would think would make them decent swimmers.  And although this may be true in short bursts, this breed has been known for falling victim to Brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.  According to Wikipedia, this is a pathological condition which affects short-nosed dogs and cats.  The condition can lead to severe respiratory distress. Any breed that can have respiratory issues should be kept safely afloat or out of the water altogether. Having a respiratory attack when in deep water is a recipe for drowning.

Bulldog

Bulldogs are one of the most obviously short-snout dogs there is.   That being said, Bulldogs have the same respiratory issue that the boxers face but with Bulldogs, it tends to be more pronounced.  Add the dense, thick body and short legs and it’s a recipe to sink. Keep them life-jacketed if you take them out on the water.

Chow Chow

Chow Chows have a better chance than most on this list.  But they can tire quickly in water due to having the deep chest, thick coat and medium length legs compared to chest size.  Caution is strongly advised when getting these dogs near any kind of deep water they could drown in.

Corgi

The Corgi is a short, thick and dense bodied dog with short legs.  Again, we are looking at a dog that won’t last long in deep water. Like the bulldog, the short legs working against the thick and dense body make for a combination that is ill-suited to swimming.

Dachshund

The Dachshund, like the Chow Chow, has a better chance than most on this list.  However, the Dachshunds short legs don’t help it to swim and stay afloat as much as these dogs would like and they can tire quickly when in the water.

Maltese

This breed can swim.  They don’t have problems with breathing.  But there is always a ‘but’ right? Maltese are prone to getting chills and although I couldn’t find any definitive evidence to suggest that they might be more prone to drowning, I did read a lot of articles that point towards the Maltese tendency to get spooked or catch a chill in the water.  I suppose caution is in order here as the internet once again seems to provide conflicting evidence on the matter. Big surprise there right?

Pug

I love Pugs.  They are so adorable.  And I’ll never forget the role one played in Men In Black.  But again we are looking at a thick and dense bodied breed, with short legs and their short snout problem. Not worth risking a respiratory issue when out in the water so keep these flat-face dogs on the boat.  Chest high wading depth is deepest I’d let my pug go without serious flotation devices and constant supervision.

Shih Tzu

These awesome little dogs are not meant for water, i.e. no mixing dogs and boats here without serious consideration.  Short-snout, short legs, and long hair; these spell trouble when trying to stay afloat.  Keep them on deck, no on the water. Or rather, in it. Smaller breeds also have a tendency to get nervous in open water, which would basically just stress them out.   This in turn just makes the experience that much worse for the dog. Remember, just because you may enjoy it, doesn’t mean your dog will.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier –

The Staffordshire is a super athletic dog, their thick, dense build makes swimming very difficult.  This breed also has a heavy and thick skull and head which makes it all that much more difficult to keep their head above the water.  They will soon tire and sink, so without a proper PFD, this dog is soon in over their head. Keep this dog on the boat and out of deep water.

Yorkshire Terrier

Although these little spitfires are full of piss and vinegar, don’t forget about their susceptibility to respiratory issues.  That and like any breed that has long hair, Unless you keep the grooming regular and keep that hair trimmed, it would soon reach the floor (Yorkie owners know what I’m saying!)  That long hair gets waterlogged and could sink your little Yorkie. Not to mention the short legs and respiratory issues as mentioned. Keep them on your lap and out of the water. 

7 Boating Tips For Dog Owners

A dog sitting on the bow of a boat.
Dogs and boats can be a great mix if you prepare.

Do A Pre-Boating Check. 

This is your basic hazard analysis.  Remember things like what happens if it gets choppy out on the water?  Are there things that could go flying? Is there a secure and safe area the dog can stay when the boat is in motion?

Get A Doggy Life Preserver.

Seriously, just like for a person.  It’s a simple way to avoid a tragic accident. Having a dog and boat mix is a great thing, but keeping your dog alive is even better so get a good PFD for your furry friend.

Train Your Dog. 

Making certain that your dog listens to your commands when you’re out on the water is essential.  When dealing with dogs and boats, you want the dog trained to obey. Unless you have someone willing to hold the dog’s leash while the boat is in motion, which might be a bit ridiculous in actual practice, you’re better off leaving an ill-behaved dog at home than bring it out on the water.  Keeping your dog trained and obedient is essential when dealing with moving boats, especially in smaller, less stable watercraft. You may find my article on Dog Communication useful when training.

Keep Treats With You. 

Keeping your dog under control is always easier when there are treats involved.  I was out fishing with a buddy once and his dog got too excited when we brought a fish into the boat and wound up getting hooked on the same hook as the fish when he tried to chomp on the flopping fish that was still hooked.  Thank goodness we had crimped the hooks to make them barbless or it would have been a disaster. Point is, a few treats to keep a dog preoccupied at times would be extremely helpful out on the water at times.

Bring Lots Of Fresh Water.

Even on cloudy days, you’re still out in the light getting baked by UV rays, and so is your dog.  Staying hydrated is important.

Bring Puppy Pee Pads. 

Yeah, cleaning up dog pee on a boat is not so much fun.  Make sure you get your dog to water some grass before you leave the shore and if you won’t be stopping off on land to relieve your dog for a while, showing the dog where the pee pad is on the boat can save you from a mess to clean up.  And your dog will appreciate having a bathroom on board just like you would.

A Bit Of Shade Goes A Long Way.   

Just like water is essential, so is shade.  Your dog is wearing a fur coat. Unless you’re on an ice breaker, it’s more likely that you’re out on a boat on a nice hot and sunny summer day.  Well, that means hot sun on a fur coat for your pooch. Bring some kind of shade you can set up to give your dog (and you too if needed) a break from the hot sun. Dogs and boats are a great combo, why ruin it by getting heatstroke?

Frequently Asked Questions About Dogs And Boats

Are Dogs Allowed On Boats?

Yes.  There are no laws that prevent dogs from going on boats.

Can Dogs Get Boat Sick?

Yes.  Just like people, some dogs can get seasick out on the water.  Unfortunately, there is no way to know unless you go out on a boat and find out.  The smaller the vessel, the less stable. With that in mind, the bigger the boat, the less likely that the dog or anyone else will get sea-sick.

What Dogs Like Boats?

Dogs that enjoy the water, like those listed above, generally like boats.  But as mentioned, any dog could suffer from sea- sickness and may like the water but may not like the movement of a boat.

Can Dogs Go In Inflatable Boats?

Yes, but you need to keep in mind two very important things.  The first thing to keep in mind is the strength of the material the inflatable is made out of.  An inflatable dinghy can be a lot tougher than an inflatable pool bed for example.  The second thing you need to consider is the dog’s nail size and sharpness. If you have a big dog with sharp nails, then you may want to file them down a bit to lessen the chance of puncture.  That is when relating to pool type inflatables. In general, for an inflatable boat, they are typically tough enough that puncture by a dog’s nail is highly unlikely.

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