Why We Won’t “Wait Out” Our Dog

Yep, you guessed it.

Seeing our last post’s picture told you everything you needed to know. Honey will not potty on the boat.

Here’s what that means for us.

Why I won't wait for my dog to pee on the boat.

You’d be waiting a long time, lady. I like to pee natural.

 Waiting Out The Dog

Common advice to people who live on boats with dogs is to just “wait them out.” When they really need to go, they’ll go.

Even our vet advised us that Honey would never hold her urine long enough to make her sick. If we just waited, eventually she would pee on board.

So far, Honey has waited 33 hours without a bathroom break. I have no doubt she would hold out longer. How much longer I couldn’t guess.

Meander moored at St Augustine, Florida/

On a mooring ball in St Augustine. So close to shore. But when your pup has to pee, so far away.

I belong to a private Facebook group for people who live on boats with pets—all kinds of pets.

Everyone gives the same advice. Just wait them out.

Everyone, that is, except for one person. And it’s that person I’m going to listen to. Here’s what she said.

Trauma Alert

My nameless dog potty mentor told the story on Facebook of waiting out her dog.

Her small dog was very well-trained and had not had an accident since she was a puppy. Her first long trip on the boat without a shore break was when they sailed to the Bahamas.

Honey the golden retriever puppy pees on the floor.

Probably the last time I peed somewhere that wasn’t outside.

The small dog waited twenty-four hours. Her people took her forward on the boat deck and encouraged her to go on a pee pad.


After thirty-four hours, she had still not pottied despite her people’s encouragement.

Finally, after forty hours, the poor dog could hold it no longer. She did just what her people had been asking for and was praised mightily.

But the poor puppy didn’t care. She went scurrying back to the cockpit and spent the next two days whining and shaking.

Her person said she was never comfortable on the boat again.

I’ve heard from dozens of people that I should just wait Honey out. But one bad experience from one person with a sensitive dog is who I’m going to listen to.

Here’s why.

Honey the golden retriever plays on Marineland Beach.

I’d rather wait to pee than wait to have fun on the beach.

Most Dog Lovers Are Morons

Every so often I see a dog lover who is a kindred spirit: the young woman clicker training her puppy to stay calm near farm animals, the couple who arrange their lives to manage their dog’s separation anxiety, and the sailor who outfits his boat and his dog to keep her safe on board and on dock.

But I also see lots of people who love their dogs but don’t seem to notice or deal effectively with their dogs’ discomfort.

St Augustine, the dog-friendly city, from the Matanzas River.

St Augustine is a lovely and pet-friendly city. Which means that you see dog lovers doing all kinds of inappropriate things.

I’ll never forget the couple on a stormy day who were yelling at their boxer to hurry up and jump from the boat to the short finger pier before the next gust forced the boat away from the dock. I offered to lend them Honey’s ramp so they could get their dog off safely but they demurred.

They thought there was no reason their dog shouldn’t be able to jump a one to three-foot gap between a rocking boat and a fixed dock in high winds.

By the way, the dog was the smart one in the group. If he had jumped at the wrong time, he could have fallen and been crushed between the boat and the dock.

I see dogs who are known for jumping off docks in high-current areas whose people refuse to leash them or have them wear a life jacket.

One couple went kayaking, leaving their elderly dog with hip dysplasia in the cockpit. When he heard their voices in the distance, he decided to go looking for them, leaving me to try to wrestle an 80 pound Labrador back into the cockpit.

So was the small dog traumatized at having to go on board just extremely sensitive? Or do other dogs have stress reactions when their people wait them out and just don’t notice what they’re subjecting their dogs to?

I don’t know.

But it’s not worth it for me to take a chance on Honey’s happiness and the trust she has in me.

Honey the golden retriever rests in the cockpit with her bear.

I trust my bear. He doesn’t care where I pee.

Where We Go From Here

Yes, I love the idea of snorkeling in turquoise water as much as the next person. But if we need to take Honey to shore at least twice a day long, ocean passages are not in our future.

Island in Guna Yala.

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

Luckily, there are many amazing places to sail in the coastal U.S.

We’ve only seen a tiny fraction of the Chesapeake Bay. We have not yet been to Maine. The only great lake we’ve sailed is Ontario.

As I write this, we’re in the Sea Islands area of Georgia.

St Mary's Georgia from the river.

Coming into our anchorage just off the town of St Mary’s Georgia.

It takes some planning to anchor in places that have shore access. Some of the islands are natural preserves and humans and domestic animals are not allowed. Others are surrounded by marshes occupied by snakes with no solid ground to land on.

We have a long travel day planned next week because there are no safe anchorages for over 50 miles (yeah, by car, that’s nothing; but we travel 6 miles per hour).

So I don’t mind not waiting Honey out if she can’t potty on the boat without stress. We’ll just travel in areas where we can stop for the night in anchorages that have nearby access to land.

And that means I have nothing to complain about.

Because being ungrateful enough to complain that I can’t sail with my dog to the Bahamas is like someone pitching a fit because the only flavor of homemade ice cream available is chocolate.

Honey the golden retriever on the dunes of Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Are you really telling me the Bahamas are prettier than the dunes of Jekyll Island, Georgia?

Your Turn: Do you think you could retrain your dog to potty differently? Would you find it worth trying to wait them out?


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  1. Meagan Maher says:

    Well when Merlin was between puppyhood and under a year old he would not pee in public. We’d go visit family 6hrs away with multiple rest stops, he’d hold it til we reached our destination and then had the longest pee ever. On walks he wouldn’t pee. It was only after the age of 1 he started to pee in public and has more recently been lifring his back leg more, but for the most of it still squats. I guess I’m saying just wait it out, but every dog’s different.

  2. Kudos to you for putting Honey in the captain’s chair when it comes to potty breaks! Thee are no shortages of owners who force their dogs to do things they are uncomfortable with on land or sea. Smooth sailing to you, Mike and sweet Honey.

  3. In a word? No. Which is why I have a pet sitter. If I know in advance that we’re going to be away from home for more than 2-1/2 hours, I’ll call the pet sitter to arrange whatever number of visits the pups will need. If I’m home and they have to “go” at the same time I do, I’ll let them wait a few minutes, but certainly no longer than that. It’s not fair to them. Besides, when Ducky needs to go out, she lets us know quite vociferously. 🤣

  4. I truly commend you for this Pamela, and I think you are right. I see so many people who seem to think it’s okay to force their dogs to do something they are clearly uncomfortable with.

    Once in training class we had a dog that was afraid of people. The trainer said, “We’re going to flood the dog” meaning every person in the room would converge on the dog at once and force him to face his fears. I refused to do it. I have fears and I know how I want to overcome them, why should a dog be different?

    Turns out, the male in that household was abusive, and they stopped coming to training class. I always wondered how poor Max made out.

  5. We are trained not to poop in the yard at home. When mom broke her ankle this winter the first 10 days or so, she could not walk us at all. Bailie loves to break rules so she retrained herself within a day. Madison was still young enough to not fully follow the rule, so for her it was easy, but I follow rules. I didn’t poop for four days. Finally, a friend came to walk us and I pooped 5 times! Many have said Mom should retrain us all to poop in the yard, but we don’t want land mines, so we won’t retrain either!

    • Your story is such a good illustration of how different dogs can be. So glad your Mom got some help for you when she was resting her ankle.

      I’ve always allowed our dogs to poop in the yard. But I hate land mines too. So my rule is that a human must clean up immediately.

      Unfortunately, humans are much harder to train than dogs. 🙂

  6. Being a complete landlubber I can’t imagine sailing beyond the sight of land no matter how alluring it sounds. Exploring the coastal areas sounds great and you are in no danger of sailing off the edge of the earth.

    • Yep, I’m really enjoying exploring the barrier islands of Georgia.

      Y’know the funny thing is that boat people realize that land is the scary part. Our greatest fear is having an anchor drag and ending up crashing into the shore or grounding hard in shallow water.

      Water is safe. Land is scary. 🙂

  7. I think you’re right. That bond of complete trust is far more important than a trip to the Bahamas. She may get used to the idea one day, but it’s not worth forcing it and giving Honey discomfort.

    • We have one last trick to try–using a square of real grass. But failing that, we’ll just enjoy sticking close to shore.

      Yep, it’s not worth making her unhappy.

  8. If one has a sensitive or “soft” dog, I would not wait it out and make them hold it until they not longer could. A sensitive dog may come away with trauma.
    Here is what I would try…
    First, if one doesn’t have this already, it is good to have a word to use that the dog understands that means “pee” here and now. And a separate word for “poop” here and now.
    Get to this point by saying the word of your choice each time your dog does one or the other as a marker. One can also use treats right after the deed is done. They will quickly know which word means what. Always use the same word.
    Then, move forward to getting your artificial turf piece and see if you can get her to pee on it using the command when the turf piece is in your yard on the real grass…or wherever her potty place is. Point to it and say the command for “pee” and have your treats ready if she does pee and give her a treat bonanza jackpot, LOTS of treats by hand, as fast as she can gobble them, along with lots of excited verbal praise at the same time.
    If she will not pee on command on the turf yet, try the following….ideally, leaving the piece of turf in her potty area of the yard, catch her urine while she pees normally someplace else with a long handled soup ladle placed between her legs from the back to catch some urine as she squats. Once you have some in the ladle, pour it onto the artificial turf piece so it smells like her urine. Then, the next day, try the pee command again while pointing to the turf in her potty area. Have the treats ready to jack pot her right away if she does! If she still will not do so…hopefully you will have access to a male dog…get the male dog to come over and pee on the turf piece, and he probably will without further ado, because he will smell her pee on it. Leave them both off leash if you know that they get along, and watch the pee party begin. She may go directly over to the turf after he pees on it, and pee over that…have the treats ready once again when she does. Make a fun party by giving both treats! Hopefully this will break the fear she has of peeing on the turf.
    If so, then keep moving the turf around in the area for a few days…each time giving her the pee or poop command, and reward with treats if done.
    Keep moving the turf around and in different areas, until you get to the boat as it is moored.
    Hopefully this will work!

    • Chris, you’ve described the ideal way to boat train a dog. You should turn it into an infographic and share it on boating groups. 🙂

      In fact, it closely matches what we’ve done. I’ve had cues for peeing (hurry up) and pooping (find a spot) since Honey was a puppy. They work on land. But not on the boat.

      I can’t introduce treats, however. She finds it so exciting that she forgets she has to pee.

      We also pre-scented her mat by hiding it under snow where she peed on it before we left.

      She does not scent mark, so having other dogs pee or poop on it doesn’t work.

      One last idea is to use real turf. If I can find a square for sale somewhere we land, I’ll give it a try. I think it’s my last, best hope.

  9. It’s so hard to work against something that you spent a lot of time teaching them and it’s confusing to them when it happens. For example, Zora knows that going out the back door means a quick potty break and going out the front door means she is going for a walk. But now we have feral kittens in the back yard, so we only go out the front door. More walks for her!

  10. PS: even if you rinse the turf off with water…a dog can still smell the urine, so no need to keep it dripping in urine (ugh!) Sorry for the slightly gross content! ..LOL

  11. Probably the best way to sail with a dog is to start with a tiny puppy that is going to pee all over the place anyway. Then train them to a puppy pad somewhere on the boat. But in the case of an adult dog who was trained not to soil in the “house”, I don’t think it is fair to expect them to unlearn it. If they do, great! But torturing them until their bladder just about bursts doesn’t sound like a good solution.

  12. I commend you! I am always conscience of the amount of hours the Boys have been w/o a potty break and I’m on dry land! Happy to see your blog again! I’ve missed you 🙁 Happy sails and safe passage until we meet in Charleston again. Are you making a guest appearance at BP 2017? It’s near water!!!!

    • Yep, we’re scheduled to stay at Osprey Marina and will be renting a car so I can get back and forth.

      And we might event make it to Charleston on the way up. If we can find marina room. I’ll let you know.

  13. I admit I would be frustrated having bought a sail boat with the idea of sailing long distances, and then having the dog veto the plan. But I am not one to pooh-pooh (ha,ha) the problem of getting a sensitive dog to accept a command that doesn’t seem right to them. I’m sure you remember the struggle we had getting Bogie to accept a crate so we could fly with him. He never did, so we don’t fly with him. I also admit that I do not stay home because of it. I have a wonderful dog sitter who he really loves, so we both get to do what we want, in a way.

    • I think it’s great that you have a plan that makes everyone happy.

      We left Honey with an amazing pet sitter when we went to Panama for a month. So I’m willing to look at other options. But for now, we’re fine keeping the family together and enjoying the places we can get to in short hops.

      It’s not like we’ll run out of interesting places to visit any time soon.

  14. Good for you for putting her first!

  15. We had a similar issue with a 6 month old puppy. We were traveling across country, and while she did urinate when we made potty stood, she would not poop during the two day trip. When we finally arrived in Wisconsin and put her in an x-pen with shavings, her relief was clearly visible. For her, peeing on a leash was fine, but somehow pooping was not…

  16. Wow – I can’t believe she held it 33 hours. Man, here I thought Rita had a good bladder. 🙂 And that poor pup from your unnamed Facebook pal. I’m with you – I certainly wouldn’t chance it.

    How about the turquoise waters of FL? Never been there myself, but have seen some awfully pretty photos. Any plans to head there?

  17. 33 hours, not to mention the pain and shame of having to let go on the boat. The dog must have been petrified after having to go “inside.” Poor thing.

    There are probably some dogs that could do it and not think anything of it, but I think dogs like Honey are not one of them. I already know all of my dogs would hold it forever or die.

    It’s really sad the moron that are out there with living animals. Scary!

  18. This is exactly why I read your blog. We’ll never know exactly what our dogs are feeling or thinking, but just because they’re so nice and tolerant doesn’t mean we should make them uncomfortable for our own convenience. What may seem like a small deal to us may be a huge deal for them. (and I know, I’m generalizing a bit, the severity or impact will vary depending on the particular situation and dog…)

    When I was a kid I was walking my Lab and we had a bit of an accident. He walked over a grated drain and one of his back legs ended up falling through. Luckily he didn’t physically injure himself, but that memory is not one he forgot. For the next 13 years every time we walked by a drain like that he avoided it like crazy. I felt terrible about it, but it’s a reminder that the ‘they live in the moment’ mentality fails to remind us that they can experience trauma and/or have experiences that change them for life.

  19. Beth Brunelle says:

    Houndy used to refuse to pee/poo while on leash. In this case, of course, we HAD to wait her out because she was not in a place where she could be safe while off leash. She eventually would pee…sometimes over a day later. And would hold her poo during the entire trip. She still takes a lot longer than when home, but she will do it. She,has to be on a really long leash (over 20ft) and we can’t watch.

    Have you spoken to any dog trainers? A little gross, but I wonder if you were to wet a puppy pad with her pee after she wet outside – and keep that on board

    Or see if she will pee on a puppy pad on lamd and work on moving it to the boat?

  20. To you I love dogs.My dog just died today and I went on here to listen about how other people are enjoying time with there dog.

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