Pooping In Paradise

We get lots of questions when we tell people we’ll be setting sail:

“Will you be visiting Guam?” “Aren’t you worried about pirates in the Indian Ocean?” “Are you planning long, ocean passages?”

The answer? It depends on our dog Honey. And it all comes down to poop.

Honey the golden retriever.

You want to sail to Guam? Will there be goose poop to roll in there?

The Curse of Perfect House Training

I never thought I’d say this, but I worry that Honey’s house training is too perfect.

Honey is five years old. In all that time, she has only had one accident in the house since she completed house training at about ten weeks old. And that accident was the result of a blockage that required emergency surgery. So I can’t really fault her.

Will we be able to retrain Honey for long passages on a boat?

Dogs Who Poop On Boats

Experts estimate that there are about 10,000 sailboats in the world crossing oceans on extensive cruises. Of that small number, only a tiny number are doing it with dogs aboard.

And every one of those dogs has learned to poop on board.

It takes about two weeks to cross the Atlantic ocean. And that’s a long time to hold it.

We’ve met cruisers whose dogs never learned to “go” on the deck of their boats. So they limit their travels to stay within sight of land so they can dinghy their dog to shore at least twice a day for potty breaks.

The trip from Florida to the Bahamas takes 24-36 hours by sailboat. And many cruising dogs have a very uncomfortable sail until arriving in port.

We want Honey to be comfortable. And we want flexibility to travel where and when we like. But mostly we want Honey to be comfortable.

Of course, we’ve already begun training her to accept pooping on the boat. Will it work?

Retraining The Dog

A record-cold winter put off my plans to train Honey to do her business on an Astroturf mat. But spring was my salvation.

To many people, spring means returning birds and blooming bulbs.

Here in Ithaca, spring means mud. Lots and lots of mud.

But this time the mud came in handy for training Honey.

I put straw down on the muddy ground to keep wheels and shoes clean while moving our bikes in and out of the basement every day. Interestingly enough, Honey liked the straw too. And although she normally went to the back of the yard—as far from the house as possible—to poop and pee, the straw around our back door changed her mind.

Our dainty little princess decided that rather than get her feet muddy, she’d just toilet near the house on the dry, clean straw.

Astroturf mat covered with straw.

If we just put the mat down on its own. I doubt Honey would have gone near it. But she’s fine with the straw.

Eureka! We hid the Astroturf mat under the straw and hoped Honey would eventually use the straw covering the mat. Then we’d have something with the right scent to use on the boat.

As of today, Honey has peed on the straw-covered mat twice. Hopefully the scent on the Astroturf mat will be enough to encourage her to use it when we put it down on the deck of the sailboat.

Pooping In Paradise

Will Honey eventually learn that it’s okay to toilet on the deck of a boat?

I have no idea.

But I do know that we won’t make any plans in which Honey is not happy or comfortable.

Hopefully our puppy in paradise will end up pooping in paradise.

Honey the golden retriever poses in straw.

Why do you want me to pose here? It smells like pee.

Your turn: Have you ever had to retrain a dog to use a deck or other new surface to do their business? Any advice?



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  1. I definitely have not had to do that! I wish you good luck & success with retraining Honey :-) I’ve never been on a cruise, let alone with a dog, so this is unknown territory for me ~ one I find very interesting though. I’m looking forward to hearing more from your boat adventures with Honey!

    • I think most of us are just happy to get a puppy or adult rescue dog house trained from the beginning, much less thinking about wacky future options.

      I, for one, am very thankful I taught her a “hurry up” cue to go on demand. Hopefully it will also help.

  2. Sheesh, that would be tough. No advice here.

  3. How about training her to those scented puppy wee-wee pads? Probably not the best option for a boat due to generating trash, but if it worked….

    My dogs barely even want to do their business in their own backyard so getting them go on a boat would be tough, esp. with the movement. Desperation would probably have to play a part. Tank Honey up with a lot of water, no walks for a while, and then only let her go as far as your astroturf. Move it around the yard so she doesn’t fixate on one spot, but more on the texture under her feet. Transition to a porch or deck so she doesn’t need it to be the yard. Pooping is a lot harder as it seems easier to deny that urge. My dog can be mid-squat and if something distracts them, it’s a no-go! LOL! Good Luck!

    • When I fostered puppies, the SPCA would send me home with some of those wee pads. The only impulse I ever noticed was the puppies’ instinct to chew them.

      I’m hoping that capturing Honey’s own urine on the mat will work. But those are good suggestions to move the pad and to make it harder for her to avoid using it. Thanks.

  4. Bailie held it all in for about 24 hrs on the way to Vegas last year. She refused to go on anything but grass. We even found fake grass, but no, she refused. I did my business like a good girl many times so she could see how it is done, but no, she wanted grass. Once we found grass, there was a flood followed by the need for a 40 gallon hefty bag. She was only 10 months old, so she was used to “producing” a lot. Good luck retraining Honey.

    • I’m really hoping Honey doesn’t follow Bailie’s example. She’s not THAT particular so there’s that.

      And I have heard of dogs that held it for 3 days on a boat. I would never subject Honey to that.

  5. We haven’t had to but will be curious to see how this works out in case we ever do! They are very picky about where they do their business so I can’t imagine them going on a deck. They don’t even go when we are on walks, they hold it till we get back home! lol

    • That must make it awfully hard to travel. Maybe you need to tell your stinkers that they’d get to go on more fun vacations if they’d become less fussy. :)

  6. Obviously I haven’t had to change anything regarding peeing or po0ping. I’m just using this comment to change my email address which change wasn’t my idea in the first place but it is a pain in the patootie.

    • Sorry you’re changing your email. It’s almost as awful as changing your name when you’ve had one a long time.

      You should have future comments come through automatically under your new email address.

  7. My method is untested – but it may be a sound way to get her to poop on the boat. Maybe you can save some of Honey’s poop (refrigeration in a container to keep it fresh) and then place it on the area you want her to go on the boat. Perhaps if she already sees some of her poop there, it will encourage her to make another pile!

    • We have picked up poop and moved it onto her mat to leave a scent. But I never though of taking some with me onto the boat. Clever thought.

      We’re emailing a prospective boat owner today. Maybe I could even send him a morsel on dry ice and ask him to drop it on his deck in advance? :)

  8. The only experience I’ve had with retraining was with CindyLu – and it was the reverse of your situation. She came to me from my daughter, who’d raised her to “pee on paper” or to use pee pads. I needed CindyLu to do her business outdoors. The only advice I can impart is – consistency and persistence. It took what seemed like forever, and involved generous treats whenever we got the desired result, but mission accomplished 😉 I can’t imagine what it’ll be like on a boat, that’ll surely upset her routine and throw her off about everything – you’re brave, wishing you the very best!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Kim. At least it’s possible to train a change, even if difficult.

      Of course, we don’t have to take long passages in order to have a grand adventure. So if Honey’s bladder requires, we’ll just stay fairly close to land.

  9. Thankfully – or not – I’ve never had to retrain any of my dogs to potty anywhere. Although there are times when I wish I had trained Shadow to do both in the front yard as well as the back. But at 10-1/2, she just refuses to go anywhere but her own BACK yard, where she can have some privacy. She won’t even pee behind the shrubs in the front yard! So, it has taken me 70+ words to tell you I have no advice for you. Sorry.

  10. I have so much faith in Honey that I believe when you all set sail and she has to potty, she is going to remember that mat and do her business. #noproblems Everything is going to be just fine. I have faith that you’ll have so many successes you will be forced to write a “know how” book and become rich and famous! There, see you’re smiling :)

    • You’re right, I was smiling.

      Honey has been so adaptable. I hope she can make this adjustment. But if she can’t, it just means we’ll be exploring closer to land. And I suspect there’s plenty to entertain us throughout the coastal U.S., Canada, and Caribbean.

  11. margaret says:

    I once read a book about Monks that breed and train shepherds (if I remember correctly). They would train there shepherds to relieve themselves by giving a command & praising them afterward. I tried this when I was raising my Golden __Simon from a puppy. I would say “do it” when he was getting ready to relieve himself, & praise him if he did. It ended up working well. Especially when it was pouring rain outside & cold & I just wanted to get us both back inside. I would walk him briefly, say ” do it” & he would. (Kind of like Pavlov)-For some reason much to my dismay, I never trained my lab mix –Abby to respond in this way. I have wished many times over the years that I had trained her to relieve herself on command. Maybe you can try this with Honey.

    • You’re talking about the Monks of New Skete. And yes, I did something similar with Honey.

      We she goes outside to pee, I tell her to “hurry up.” When she needs to poop, I tell her “find a spot.” But it seems that pooping is more difficult to do on cue.

      I’m hoping that the years I spent reinforcing the cues do help us on the boat. Keep reading to see if I’m right. :)

  12. This might be a bit ‘out there’ and at the same time a bit stating the office, but I’d kick myself if I didn’t say it!

    Do you have any access to the boat before you set off? I’m just wondering if you’re able to get Honey used to the idea of pooping on a boat if you slowly get her used to the environment before the trip..?

    • I wish we did. We can’t afford a house and a boat at the same time.

      We’ve only been able to try Honey out on a sailboat by chartering two pet-friendly boats. But even I am not brazen enough to ask a stranger if I could let my dog poop on their boat to practice. :)

  13. Dog Training Genie says:

    Duh, ‘obvious’, not ‘office’!

  14. Hi there…. Just stumbled across your blog today. I look forward to reading your adventures as Honey gets used to being a full time boat dog. My husband and I have been livaboards with dogs for over 10 years…. we are just now starting life with two new to us dogs within the last year (Tack and Clewie). We’ve cruised for a year down the Pacific coast, across to Hawaii and back to California with our previous dog, Matey. I can definitely say it is well worth the effort to get Honey comfortable with going to the bathroom aboard. Here is an old blog post I did about how we taught Matey to go aboard. http://www.sailpuravida.com/Q&A.htm We’ve been basically following it again with Tack and Clewie… they are doing pretty well – both having already had overnights using the onboard toilet.

    A couple of helpful hints – the first time you decide to wait overnight – do not give in, it will be hard…. at least have Honey pee. All three dogs didn’t wait longer than the next morning – so hopefully you’ll have success. The next bit of advice – when you are out cruising, and Honey is good about going, she will probably still prefer land….. when at anchor (we don’t ever have them go in the marina – as you can probably guess), in the mornings – it’s a good habit to have her go aboard before heading to shore for playtime. This helped keep her comfortable with it….. and passages less stressful.