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Helping your dog find their sea legs

Is there anything cuter than a dog on a boat? Maybe a dog on a boat wearing sunglasses and a lifejacket. If you dream of bringing your furry pal along on your aquatic adventures (with or without doggles), you’re going to need to help him find their sea legs, first. Some dogs take right to boating like a golden retriever to a lake, while others (like my sweet little pup, Indy) aren’t so sure about the whole boat thing.

When we first bought our boat, Indy was not having it. Hanging out onboard made him incredibly nervous, and I had to carry him down the dock. But these days, he’s basically a professional boater. Here’s how we helped him find all four of his sea legs.

Think about safety first

If you’re serious about helping your pup become a true sea dog, you’ll want to make sure you’re taking all the right safety precautions first. Get them fitted for a canine life jacket, ask about the pet policy at your dock, and check in with your vet to ask if they have any pointers. When you’re ready to bring your dog to the boat, remember to bring their leash, water bowl, treats, and favorite toy. The safer and more comfortable they feel, the better their first boating experience will be.

Take it slow

Your dog might hop aboard without missing a beat. And if they do, great! But, plan on taking things slow, just in case. Start by getting them used to the life jacket (strap them in for a few minutes a day and give them lots of treats and praise), then try taking a quick walk around the dock so that they can get used to the new surroundings. If that all goes well, bring them aboard for a quick exploration of your boat.

The idea is not to dive headfirst into an all-day excursion on the water. Take gradual steps, so that your pup will feel comfortable and familiar with the boat before it ever leaves the slip.

Follow their lead

Once onboard, don’t force anything. If your dog is clearly telling you that they’re ready to return to dry land, call it a day. But, if they’re all smiles and tail wags, feel free to hang out for as long as you want.

The first time we brought Indy aboard, he was excited for about 10 minutes. After he’d completed his initial exploration of the boat, he became visibly nervous. So, we headed home. A few days later, we came back and tried again. Indy couldn’t have been more relaxed!

Practice “pawsitive” reinforcement

Getting used to something as foreign as a boat can be intimidating for your dog, so make sure to shower them with praise and encouragement. Any professional dog trainer will remind you not to reward nervous behavior, so as not to reinforce their anxiety. But, if your pup lets you put their lifejacket on without a fuss or boards your boat without hesitation, let them know what a great job they’re doing!

We gave Indy his favorite treats for simple things, like navigating the steps into our boat’s salon or laying down for a nap in the sun on the flybridge. He figured things out pretty quickly from there.

Keep it fun

Dogs are way better at learning new skills when they’re having fun. So, remember to keep this new adventure as light and positive as possible. If your pup can tell that you’re feeling relaxed and happy, they’ll probably follow your lead.

Dogs are remarkably adaptable. Your fur baby will likely be a seasoned sailor in no time! And once they find their sea legs, please send me all the pictures.

Photo credits Jacquelyn Warner Photography