A Dog’s Life Aboard A Boat

Honey sleeps. She eats. She runs around and plays.

In many ways, little has changed for my dog since we moved aboard a boat.

But some things are very different.

Honey the golden retriever lives aboard s/v Meander.

I’m Honey. And I live on a boat.

The Rhythm Of The Day On A Boat

So far we haven’t created regular rhythms on the boat. And it has confused Honey.

When we lived in a house, Honey (like all dogs) would watch for signals to tell her what was going to happen.

When I started rushing around and getting ready, she knew I was leaving. When I brought out her leash, she knew she was leaving with me.

But on the boat, it’s hard for Honey to tell if I’m leaving the boat, if we’re leaving the boat, or if we’re all leaving in the boat.

Short trips are simple.

I just walk off the boat if I’m going somewhere close like the marina bathhouse.

If Honey is going with me, I lift her into the cockpit while I gather her leash, a poop bag, and get her ramp ready for her to leave the boat.

Honey the golden retriever sniffs bird poop on her walk at the marina.

Somehow I don’t remember the walks at our old house involving quite so much bird poop.

But if we’re leaving the boat for a long time, or leaving in the boat, we get very busy. And Honey doesn’t know what to expect.

Getting Ready To Leave

Dogs learn so much watching us prepare to leave. That’s why trainers who help dogs with separation anxiety suggest we make our departures as low-key as possible.

One book I read even suggested leaving by the window instead of the door to keep the dog’s anxiety from ramping up at the opening of the door.

I guess that trainer lived in a one-story ranch home. It didn’t work out so well when I had to drop more than six feet from the first story windows on my Victorian home.

Anyway, it’s impossible to make leaving a boat or leaving on a boat low-key.

If we’re going out for the day, we have to secure ten ports and two hatches. Everything we take with us is hidden away or secured to the boat. It takes a little longer to gather our stuff than when we can just grab a purse or jacket off a hook.

If we’re taking the boat out for the day, we have to secure lines for leaving the dock and take up fenders. We have to turn on the instrument panel and radio. We close seacocks so water doesn’t flood the boat while we’re sailing. And we have to stow everything in the cabin away so it doesn’t become a projectile in rough seas.

Honey knows we’re moving the boat from all our preparations. What she doesn’t know is if this will be a quick motoring trip to the fuel dock or a full day sail on the Chesapeake Bay.

Honey the golden retriever lies on a fiberglass cow.

I was so excited when you started getting ready to go out. If I had known you had this in mind, I would have stayed home.
I’m so humiliated.

Making New Friends

One thing that hasn’t changed for Honey is making new friends.

The marina we’re staying in this month is a popular dog-walking spot for local dog lovers.

Honey gets to play and sniff with other dogs. And of course, she loves meeting all the people who stop to stroke her and tell us stories about the dogs (and cats) they’ve shared their lives with.

Apparently Honey brings out the nostalgic in people.

It gets a little trickier when Honey wants to meet someone while she’s on the boat.

When we’re docking, one of us drives the boat. One of us handles the lines to secure us to the dock. And both of us keep an eye out for Honey who’s thinking of jumping off the boat to greet the nice man waiting to fill up our fuel tank or the woman who’s grabbing our lines to bring us safely into a slip.

Yep, I’m thinking we need to tether Honey to the boat when we dock. Otherwise, I can see her flying off the boat to meet her new best friend.

Honey the golden retriever cuddles on the boat.

When we’re underway, I only have one best friend. It’s whoever lets me cuddle them.

Figuring Out Life On The Boat

We’re all still figuring things out. Honey is no different from us.

I’m trying to think of ways to help Honey predict what’s going to happen next.

Perhaps I could ring a bell on the mornings when we’ll be setting off somewhere. Maybe the first thing I should do is set out her life jacket.

Or maybe it’s time to give her a little job of her own.

Honey the golden retriever holds the chart down with her paw.

Maybe I’m not such a great navigator. But I’m doing an awesome job keeping the chart from blowing away.

Your Turn: How do you keep things normal for your dogs when you’re traveling or other things in your regular life change?



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  1. You’re so right, dogs LOVE routines. When the sheepdogs were alive, they were so regimented in simple things, even deviating from our walking route would send them into a tailspin. Sam isn’t that neurotic but definitely prefers a set pattern. Good luck as you ‘navigate’ the steps setting up a predictable routine with Honey. 😉

    • In truth, I, like many humans, love routines myself. I’ve struggled a bit in creating the best routines for us humans which is simply reflected in Honey’s experience as well.

      But Honey got breakfast right on time this morning followed by a walk and game of ball. It’s a nice routine to start the day around.

  2. We haven’t travelled anywhere with the dogs since before we adopted Ducky. And the furthest we went was up to Gerton, NC (near Asheville), to spend the day with my friend Millie at her place. We put Callie and Shadow in the car, along with some water and bowls, and headed north. I’m hoping to go up there again in mid-October. But, now that Callie’s “gone”, the easiest way to stick to our old routine – and keep things as normal as possible – is to just play fetch and keep-away out in the back yard.

    • Yep, losing Callie (at least physically) is a big disruption.to your routines. I can see why spending time at home with the ones you love would be particularly important, even if you weren’t someone who really loves her home.

      October should be a lovely time to visit Western NC. When I worked for the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, I had co-workers in Black Mountain (also near Asheville). Fall was always the best time to visit them.

  3. Gosh, I don’t think we’ve thought that much about making things predictable for the dogs. But we haven’t moved since we’ve had these dogs, and we tend to stick to the same routine even when we do change some things up. The main change my dogs have to endure is when we get a new foster dog…and I think you’re right, having some sort of routine around that would make it easier for everyone. Very good to think about, especially as I contemplate when/whether to do it again!

    • Getting a foster dog was always a big disruption to our routines as well. Especially since we fostered so many puppies. Somehow the adult dogs let us keep to our routines a little more.

      Can’t wait to see if another foster is in your future. I’d take it as a sign that everything else is going pretty well.

  4. Before he eats, after I put his food bowl down, I give Justus a signal, then he eats. When we were traveling last year, in the motel, I put down his food. He sat and looked at me. Good boy! I’d forgotten his signal, which I immediately gave to him.

    At home, I’m careful to move the dogs NOT going for a walk behind the gate BEFORE I pick up leashes; they are a powerful motivator for anyone in my bunch.

    I like the idea of setting out Honey’s life jacket as a cue to what’s coming. Happy sailing!

    • I love that Justus waited or your signal. And that’s a good idea. I’ve gotten away from giving Honey the cue to start eating because it’s so crowded on the boat. But it is one of those meaningful rituals that I should probably get back to.

      And yes, the sign of the leash is powerful indeed.

  5. I laughed at that vision of Honey getting ready to jump off the boat. One time when we were at Big Bear with Sally & Tino, we went out fishing for the day on a pontoon we rented. Tino was not a fan and as soon as we were within about 3 feet of the dock he jumped and ran down the dock to land. He couldn’t wait to get off that boat. Sally, of course loved it and sat in the front of the boat the whole time – always on the verge of jumping in.

    • Bwa ha ha! Yep, there are times when I suspect Honey has sympathized with Tino. Luckily she’s more motivated by people than by solid ground. :)

  6. Misty tells the other dogs what is going on. I’m sure she just reads our minds.
    I’m so glad to hear that Honey has adjusted to life on water, but we were sure she would. I wish you would give us a short vocabulary on the parts of a boat.

    • Sorry about that. I usually try to put a definition in parentheses after a “boat word.”

      Ports: boat windows. They’re small and open and close by being clamped shut with bronze fasteners.

      Hatches: boat skylights. We have two in the cabin ceiling to promote air circulation.

      Lines: the ropes that hold our boat to the dock.

      Fenders: the squishy rubber things hanging from the boat that soften the impact if we hit something (a fairly common occurrence since boats do not have brakes).

      Seacocks: valves that open or close to let water in the thru-hulls (holes in the boat). We need to let water in to cool the engine and to fill the toilet. We also have a foot pedal at our galley (kitchen) sink that allows us to get sea water for cooking or dish washing. But we don’t want water coming in anywhere (except the engine) when we’re off the dock.

      Slip: a boat parking space.

      Hope that helps. I’ll try to be better about including definitions in my posts.

  7. We pretty much always know what Mom’s behavior means right down to hearing a zipper in the morning means a walk, no zipper, a run which also means I can keep sleeping and not bother getting up. Can’t imagine being on a boat. I think we would all be bored to death along with mom. A few days of just cuddling and napping would be good, but then boredom would set in. I know you will have fun on your adventures, hope it is as much fun as you are hoping for.

    • Aren’t you clever that even a zipper tells you something? :)

      If you and your family don’t want to live on a boat, I’d certainly never try to talk you into it. But I don’t believe you’d ever be bored, especially if you don’t die of boredom in a car. After all, bays, oceans, and rivers don’t have street signs. You need to always stay alert to know where you are. And there are all kinds of interesting smells for dogs.

      You wouldn’t believe how smelly pelican poop is. :)

  8. She will get the hang of it. She’s smart and she knows that she is with her people. That’s a ll she needs in life.

  9. I’m sure that Honey will start to recognize when you are going out, although signals are good. Zora (like every other dog) recognizes her leash as a signal that she is going for a walk. When she sees me grab my computer bag, she knows I’m going to work and she is stay home. When she sees suitcases, she knows someone is going on a trip – but she doesn’t know if she is going too. Oneof us has to keep her distracted while the other one takes the suitcases out to the car. Otherwise, she would dash out the door and hop in the car to make sure we take her too!

    • You’re lucky Zora doesn’t jump into the suitcase while you’re packing. :)

      As we get more organized, our leaving procedures will go more quickly and be less chaotic. It’s always tough being a newbie.

  10. Even when our schedules get hectic I like to keep the routine of our morning walk. It’s been a constant in our lives for the past few years. We’ve never taken the pups for a road trip exceeding 12 hours of driving, so we were always able to still take them for a morning walk, and then hop in the car and on the road.
    It’s been nice reading this update from your new life ~ I’m sure you’ll all get used to your new boat routine soon!

    • I think the morning walk is as good for us humans as it is for our dogs.

      I can’t tell you how many times I came back from a walk glad we went out even though I briefly considered putting it off.

  11. She’ll get the hang of it!

  12. Dogs learn. I think they are so motivate to please their humans that they will give pretty much anything a try. Such sweet souls.

  13. I’ve been so curious about how this was going to work out for all of you. I’m sure Honey will learn the new routines quickly and I’m anxious to hear how the new potty procedures are going when you’re at sea, lol!

  14. We keep the same waking/eating/sleeping schedule. But for all the new routines, like setting up and taking down camp … it’s interesting to watch Zack learn fast to anticipate my next move. What I can’t figure out is why my leaving them in the RV to go shopping (no big deal) is so much different than my leaving them to take a shower (wow, it’s too hard to handle!)

  15. I like to try and feed Dixie around the same time when we’re on vacation, just so she has some sense of a routine. I love schedules and hate when mine get messed up. And now for something completely different, I must have that cow bench, it’s so cool!

  16. I do a lot of talking out loud in one syllable words and I keep them with me about 23.5 hours of the day. As long as I talk out loud to them and they have visual contact they seem to embrace all the changes that’s been occurring the past 30 days. Are you having fun yet? I love adventures.