What We’ll Leave Behind

Now that we have a timeline for selling the house (next spring) and using the proceeds to buy a sail boat, this whole dream thing is starting to feel real. And I’ve started to think of what we’ll be giving up when we move aboard.

Missing family and friends is such a given it doesn’t even make it onto my list.

The only things I know I’ll really miss are long, hot showers and flush toilets. And I’ll really miss them.

But what about our golden girl, Honey? What will she miss the most?

Honey the golden retriever aboard a sail boat.

I think I’ll miss being naked the most.

What The Dog Gives Up To Go Sailing

If Honey knew what was ahead for her, I wonder what she’d think. And would she be happy about it?

Because she will be giving up a lot when we go sailing:

Going for a walk whenever she wants to.

Life on land supports several spontaneous walks a day. Life aboard a boat means walks only happen after a dinghy ride to shore. If shore is nearby.

But when she does get a walk, Honey will enjoy new smells at all kinds of exotic places.

Her favorite dog food.

Honey loves rolling her Kong around to eat her FreshPet dog food. Unfortunately FreshPet needs refrigeration and can only be bought in small quantities—something about keeping it fresh.

That means it’s time to find a new food that’s nutritious, stores well, and Honey likes.

Hopefully she won’t mind too much once she gets a taste of fresh fish.

Honey the golden retriever eats from a Kong.

Fresh Pet in a Kong again? Yum, my favorite!

Playing with other dogs.

I’m sure we’ll meet other cruisers with dogs. But we won’t encounter as many dogs as we do in our neighborhood now. And most people who live on boats are smart enough to have small dogs.

Unfortunately, most small dogs we meet think big dogs like Honey are pains in the tail.

But when she meets another playful pup at a marina or on another boat, she’ll appreciate it so much more.

Honey the golden retriever has mixed emotions about playing tug with a chocolate lab.

C’mon Handsome. Let’s go to my place.

Room to roam.

Honey has the run of a 1300 square foot house and a small, fenced yard. She has a bed in the kitchen, the living room, on the porch, in my office, and a queen-sized bed all to herself while we’re at work.

The boats we’re considering are just over 30 feet long and about 10 feet wide. (If you’re curious about what that space feels like to live in, check out this short video of one of my favorite boats.)

On the other hand, this is the view from the cockpit.

Island in Guna Yala.

A Guna Yala island off the coast of Panama. And you can only see it by boat.

Floors that stay still.

We live in an old house. So our floors do slant. But always in the same direction.

It means Honey can play ball by herself in the house. All she has to do is drop a ball and it rolls to the opposite corner for her to retrieve.

I wonder how enthusiastic she’ll be when the floors change their tilt with every shift of the wind.

Of course, it will make her ball games much more challenging.

What The Dog Gets When She Goes Sailing

When we move aboard, I most look forward to spending the day with my husband Mike and Honey.

I think Honey and I are twins in this.

My husband works long hours. When he’s not home and Honey’s ready to go to bed, she gets squirrely and starts to bark.

If Mike takes her for a walk while I’m sitting on the porch, Honey will pull him back to the house after going only a few steps. When Honey and I walk Mike to work, she looks after him and refuses to walk home without him. At least until I do some major coaxing with a side of liverwurst.

Honey the golden retriever enjoys sailing.

This sailing business isn’t too bad. Can we become pirates?

I hope that Honey doesn’t miss easy walks, yummy food, other dogs, a big house, and still floors as much as she loves being together as a family.

But I guess it’s up to me to be more fun than all those things.

Your Turn: When you change your life, do you worry about how your dog will react?




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  1. Okay…I have to ask…where/how will Honey go to the bathroom on the boat?

    • Since we’re newbie sailors, we’ll be coastal cruising while we build our skills. That means we’ll have to dinghy Honey to shore at least twice a day for breaks.

      My fall training goal is to work on teaching her to use a fake grass mat to do her business. If we can get her used to that, we’ll put it on the foredeck of the boat and see if we can get her to go on board.

      If we can’t (and some dogs never do adapt), our future plans will not involve going too far offshore. I’ve read stories of dogs who “held it” for 3 days because they refused to go on board the boat. I would never make Honey suffer that much.

  2. Oh, I hadn’t even thought of Lara’s question – but now I’m curious too. How will you exercise her on the boat?

    Rita loves our routine (so do I for that matter) so can’t see her adjusting very easily to such a huge change. Honey seems way more easy going though, so I’m sure she’ll adapt well!

    • So I wrote out the long answer to the potty question in answer to Lara Elizabeth’s question. You’ll have to come back to see it.

      As for exercise, I suspect we’ll be playing a lot of tug and doing agility activities as we move around the boat. And of course, while we’re coastal cruising, we will be heading to shore from anchor each day.

      My fervent hope is that Honey will get over her reluctance to swim and join me in the water. I’ve heard of dogs that started swimming late in life. I’m hoping Honey is one of them.

  3. I worry about moving Silas out of our townhouse. It will happen, sooner or later–we’re just renting, and my husband’s long-term prospects at this job aren’t very exciting. What will Silas do without our open loft upstairs, perfect for pitching toys over? What if we move to a house with no stairs to run up and down like mad? What if our next neighbors don’t think his barking is “cute?”

    I’m sure we’ll work it out, just like you and Honey will.

    • Although I don’t plan to move anytime soon, I have the same thoughts. A new place comes with new challenges for reactive dogs. I’ve been able to manage our particular trouble spots fairly well (window film, white noise in the bedroom) and have the perfect neighbors on each side (one lady who is gone a lot and one man who is hard of hearing!) but I’ve had some pretty serious issues with neighbors in the past over my dogs and it is incredibly stressful. While I’d love a fenced yard, if there were dogs in the adjacent yards that would create a whole new set of issues. Thankfully, I think the dogs and I are socked in to this townhouse for the forseseeable future.

      • Yes, it’s really helpful to have regularity so you can manage conditions for a reactive dog.

        My biggest worry was that Honey would be fearful on the boat. After all, this is the dog who wouldn’t walk on a ramp lying flat on the ground.

        But I’m pleased to say that the comfort of being “home” with her people along with the confidence building we’ve done convinces me she’ll do fine living aboard full time.

        I sometimes wonder how much better most reactive dogs would do in an environment without other untrained or reactive dogs close at hand.

    • Thanks for the encouragement.

      But you’re making me think Silas might like being a boat dog. I can totally see him dropping toys down the companionway and climbing up into the cockpit. Plus the closest dog (and people) would be at least two boat lengths away, even in a crowded anchorage.

      And he’d have the people who love him nearby all the time.

      • Oh, Silas would probably love being a boat dog. There’s no sidewalk on the ocean! I, however, hate being wet and get seriously motion sick.

  4. My first thought was the bathroom question as well! On all my Chesapeake Bay sojourns, the family I pal-ed with had 2 Irish Wolf Hounds. Needless to say, they stayed home while we sailed. But the other sailors that brought their dogs had several daily dinghy runs to the nearest land. Not exactly convenient. Hopefully Honey doesn’t get a bout of diarrhea from all that fresh fish 😉

    • I feel like I’ve been very blessed to have a dog with no sensitivities and a stomach of iron. Hopefully it will keep up on the boat.

      As for the toilet issue, I wrote out the long answer here: http://www.somethingwagging.com/what-well-leave-behind/#comment-113432.

      Any tips of getting a perfectly house broken dog to pee on her house are gratefully received. :)

      • I would bet that treating Honey like a puppy, and teaching her to use a puppy-pee pad in your house (or at least your backyard) now, would transition over to the boat. Of course, having been house trained, she’s going to wonder why the heck you are reversing that training. Try those puppy pads they sell at the pet store and then transition it to the square of fake grass.

        • Thanks for the pee pad suggestion. I was going to capture some of her own urine and pour it on the fake grass but you have a good idea.

  5. Ooh wow, that’s a big exciting life change!

    In general, Elka is hardly ever alone. If our work schedules both changed, she would have more alone time (which I think would just mean more sleeping time).

    • Elka is one lucky girl. I bet she loves having someone around all the time. And I be she doesn’t mind giving up a little sleep for the benefit.

  6. Hi Pamela!! I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am for you guys!! It’s great that you’ll be able to make your dream a reality!! However, may I make a couple of suggestions re Honey’s upcoming diet change?

    (1) do it S L O W L Y because I know from experience that Goldens are prone to digestive “issues” related to diet changes. (2) to aid in the process of making those changes, add probiotic supplements to her food, starting asap, if you don’t already give them to her. When you see/read my next post, you’ll see why I’m saying the above.

    • Thanks! I’m glad for the encouragement and thrilled for the good ideas.

      We’ve been lucky that Honey tolerates diet changes very well as long as we’re feeding high-quality foods. But given the stress that comes with a life change, I’d like to make the change soon so she has plenty of time to adapt.

      And I don’t give Honey probiotics now (except for occasional yogurt).

      Do you have food and supplements you’d recommend?

      I’ll look forward to seeing your next post.

      • Just a quick note: I just started giving my girls probiotics (and enzymes) last week so I’m hesitant to recommend one brand over another, but I’m using NWC Naturals’ Total-Biotics and Total-Zymes powders right now. Yogurt and Kefir are both made from milk; and since all dogs are to some degree lactose intolerant*, you don’t want to overdo the amount of yogurt. (*some so slightly you wouldn’t even notice, others so much that it upsets their tummy). My girls are also eating Fresh Pet dog food.

        • I’m switching to Pet Health Solutions’ Proflora Probiotics for Dogs as soon as it arrives…I ordered a one-month supply to try because it’s less expensive and money-back-guaranteed to work. The other stuff is working but really expensive.

  7. Being a landlubbing chicken I am following your adventures like I would follow a book or TV series. If I am honest I would admit to using my dogs to avoid any changes that might affect their lives. I’m sure they would adapt to change easier than I do.

  8. Sounds like exciting times ahead!

  9. Mom has moved a lot with pets including moving to Europe and back twice which means selling almost everything she owned. The only part she worried about was the airplane, she figured we would just adjust to everything else and she has been pretty much correct. We can’t imagine living on a boat, but it is a dream many humans do have, but few are brave enough to actually try it.

  10. I think Honey will do fine with you and Mike there, as I’m sure you will be anticipating her needs very well.

    Typically my guys let me know if something is bothering them and I work to help ease whatever that worry might be and make sure they are comfortable. Typically as long as they are with me, they are content or at the very least comfortable.

  11. Holy moly, I’m so excited for you!

    Well I think its true that the most important thing for dogs is to be with their people. And it sounds like you’re putting so much thought into addressing her needs, that she’ll be able to adapt. I certainly think some dogs are more adaptable than others, and Honey is for sure one of the more resilient and amenable to change because of how well you’ve raised her. I look forward to following your adventures!

  12. I never thought about all the things you will be giving up, and Honey too. I am sure with you and Mike there to support her she will be fine and you will find a way to make it work. I think the above suggestions of slowly introducing new things to her now would be a good idea. So that she can be use to as much as possible before the move.

    Completely off topic but when I read ” I most look forward to spending the day with my husband Mike and Honey” I thought that your husband and Mike were too different people and thought you’d gotten yourself another man to join you on board. I thought perhaps you were trying out a completely different life style – brings a whole new spin to the ‘boat that rocks’ title!

  13. Those are some big changes for all of you — living on a boat. As you know, adding a border collie puppy to the house last weekend means some big changes here. So far so good. I’m sure all of you will adjust to the sailing adventure .

  14. Oh boy, that’s a small boat…I think that the fact that her family will be together all day, every day will make up for some of the things that she will miss. I worry our dogs will miss thier favorite parks or walks, but luckily we always find new ones.

  15. This is exciting! I’m sure Honey will adapt, after all she’ll have what matters most you and your husband!

  16. Here’s what she will cherish – her constant companionship with you and your husband. I believe Honey will be just fine and adapt well. No regrets, don’t look back – exciting adventures and stories await …

  17. I bet Honey will adjust pretty easily. Retrievers tend to just go along with things. Maya is really easy going. Both her and Pierson did well when we moved to Iowa. A new house meant new rules and they figured it out rather easily.