Let’s say you want to do something dramatic. Like selling your house and moving onto a boat.
Before you up-end your entire life, how do you know your dog will be happy with your choice?
Introducing Big Change to Your Dog
Before you stop reading because you have no intention of putting your dog on a boat, let me remind you that changes you are thinking about could be a big deal for your dog:
- Moving to a new town
- Taking a long car trip
- Leaving your dog in a kennel or with a pet sitter
- Going camping
- Adopting another dog (or adding a cat or other animal)
How do you know your dog will handle the change well before you just go ahead and do it?
Here’s how we’re preparing Honey for sailing. By the end of May, we’ll know if it worked.
Making Honey a Sailing Dog
I’m a newbie sailor. This will be our third season on the water.
The good thing about that is that sailing is still a bit strange to me, like it will be for Honey. If I had sailed my entire life, I’d find it much harder to figure out what things about boating will feel strange to my dog.
I started by noting all the things about sailboats that could feel unsettling to Honey:
- Boats are big
- Boarding a boat is awkward, requiring a gangplank or scrambling over a bow pulpit or around stanchions
- Boats move when you step aboard or move around them (at least the small ones)
- Parts of the boat move unexpectedly, like the boom swinging overhead when you turn through the wind
- Wind causes sails to flap noisily
- Moving parts, like halyards, clank against the mast
- When a boat is in motion, it may heel (lean to the side) so you find yourself sitting or standing on a tilting surface
- Big gusts can blow a boat over dramatically
- Spaces in a boat are compact and crowded
- Wet boats are slippery to walk on
And that’s just the beginning. I haven’t even mentioned house training a dog to a boat on a long passage with no access to land.
So how do we expose Honey to a sailboat without buying one we can’t afford?
We expose her to similar experiences on dry land.
What Reminds a Dog of a Boat
Once you start looking, it’s amazing how many boat things you can do on dry land.
Our trainer, Russ Hollier, suggested a wobble board and a wobble plank to teach Honey to feel more comfortable with traveling over new and potentially moving surface. You can see her early experiences with these scary, moving objects in her video, Adventure Dog in Training.
After many months of training, she’s a natural with moving surfaces. She’ll sit or lie down on a wobble board even as I move it under her.
We’ve used drop cloths on the clothesline to simulate flapping sails. A flag pole is a good stand-in for halyards hitting a mast. Metal playground equipment in the rain is not unlike climbing around a slippery boat.
With all this practice, Honey has gained a lot of confidence.
Now we just have to test it with the real thing.
Honey Goes Sailing
Thanks to our friends at Go Pet Friendly, we found Dog Gone Sailing Charters in Provincetown, Massachusetts. At the end of May, Honey is going for a sailing day cruise.
I don’t expect any problems.
But if Honey has misgivings about sailing, we’ll see them—before spending thousands of dollars on a sailboat.
I read about a couple who wanted to go cruising with their miniature schnauzers. They took off on their new sailboat to discover quite quickly that both dogs freaked out every time the boat heeled. Luckily for these little dogs, their people were wealthy enough to sell the monohull and buy an even more expensive catamaran that would ride upright in the water, no heeling.
Poor Honey was not adopted into money.
So we have to count on training and socialization ahead of time to avoid making a big mistake.
Training Your Dog to Accept Change
Are you thinking of any big changes in your life? Moving? Fostering? Travel?
How about big changes you don’t plan for? Like the Hurricane Sandy devastation our friends at Life with Desmond are coping with? Can you do anything to help your dog tolerate big change?
Based on our efforts to prepare Honey for sailing, I have a few pieces of advice. If she freaks out on the sailboat in P-town, I’ll take it all back.
1. Get professional help.
Our trainer, Russ, suggested things I would have never thought of in a million years. Honey’s confidence has increased a thousandfold thanks to the advice we got from a pro.
If you’re making a big change in your life, why leave it to chance? Give your dog the best chance of success by working with an experienced, positive, and relationship-based trainer.
2. Make a list of the specific things your dog will have to cope with in your planned change.
Once I had my list of potentially scary things about a sailboat, it was easy to take the next step.
3. Expose your dog to your planned change a little at a time.
We spent a lot of time just walking around the docks with Honey before starting actual training.
If you’re planning to foster dogs, why not try walking your dog with a neighbor and practice introductions to new dogs in the yard and house? Taking a cross-country car trip? Better plan a multi-hour road trip first.
4. Practice something every day long before you make your change.
If you’re going on a trip in the fall, it’s not too early to work on crate training if you’re planning on taking your dog to a kennel. Maybe you can plan some trips to the kennel with really fun treats so every time your dog sees the building, she gets all excited.
Sure, your ego will suffer if your dog doesn’t give you a second glance when you leave her behind. But wouldn’t you want her to be happy while you’re gone?
5. Have another plan if your dog just can’t make the shift.
Some dogs tolerate change better than others. It’s the same with humans.
If Honey doesn’t like sailing, we won’t go sailing. You may face a similar issue. But it will be easier to consider if you have a back up before you find out your dog just can’t handle the change you’re hoping he will make.
We’re family. We have to figure out how to make all of us happy.
Planning a Change? Start Today
If you’ve ever wondered if your dog could handle a new dog in the house, travel around the country with you, tolerate a stay with a pet sitter, or even something as crazy as living on a sailboat, now is the time to see.
You have nothing to lose. Except your wonderings of what your dog is capable of.
Your Turn: Do you have big dreams of an adventure with your dog? How about another change that’s less dramatic? Have you done anything special to prepare your dog?
Frosty Paws Giveaway Caption Contest
I am pleased to announce that our impartial judge, reading the captions to yesterday’s picture,without the names of the commenter attached, has chosen two winners.
“I don’t know what this ‘doggy smell’ thing is, but ever think maybe it’s YOU?” from Carma Poodale
“I love my people… I love my people… I love…” from Roberta of Silverwalk Hounds
As I look at the judge’s notes, I see it was a tough decision. Many of the captions have smiley faces by them. Comments mentioning “pee” seemed to go over quite well with this judge. But in the end, he chose the two who seemed to best capture Honey’s expression.
So Roberta and Carma Poodale, please send me your mailing addresses by Saturday, April 27 so I can mail your Frosty Paws prize packs.
Congratulations to you both. And to all our other entrants with wonderful senses of humor and sympathy for my poor wet dog.