Boat dog myths–do you believe them?
Self-proclaimed experts on the internet will work to convince you of any number of things about boat dogs. I’ve seen four the most often. And they’re all myths.
Boat Dogs Must Love Swimming
Yep, I know the dream.
You’re anchored in a breathtaking anchorage with crystal blue water. You toss a ball off the cockpit and your dog leaps overboard to retrieve it.
Or you go splashing around the boat while your dog gulps at tiny fish snapping at the surface.
But my pup doesn’t care much for swimming. And she’s a terrific boat dog.
I’d argue that her lack of interest in swimming is one reason she’s such a great boat dog.
The first time I saw the potential problems of a boat dog who loves swimming was on the beach at a New York state park.
The small powerboat came in toward land. As the crew worked to drop anchor, a powerful black lab went diving off the bow and swam to shore. His people yelled after him, “Bailey, come back here!”
But Bailey kept swimming until his paws hit land. After which he promptly took a dump in the middle of the crowded swimming area.
You never saw a fun time end so abruptly.
Since then, I’ve met a single-hander whose dog jumped off the boat underway to play with dolphins. And a couple whose wee pup chased a ball off the dock and got swept away in the swift current.
Now I’m not saying that if your dog is a fanatic swimmer you should leave her home. But if your boat dog loves swimming more than anything else, it’s your job to figure out how to keep them safe.
It may involve training better impulse control to keep your dog from jumping off the boat. Or adding barriers to the boat. Or using some kind of tether system.
But if your dog doesn’t love swimming, that doesn’t mean she won’t be a great boat dog.
That’s just a myth.
Which reminds me of boat dog myth #2.
Boat Dogs Must Be Water Breeds
There’s something romantic about having a schipperke, the traditional, Dutch boat dog on your deck. And who doesn’t associate a retriever with marshes?
But plenty of great boat dogs are not associated with water breeds.
In fact, mutts make great boat dogs. Just like they make great companion dogs.
I’ve observed lots of boat dogs. Most of them are not breeds (or breed mixes) one associates with loving the water.
I’ve seen happy pibbles, great Danes, German shepherds, and all varieties of mixed breeds on board. In fact, the breed I’ve seen most frequently on boats? Dachshunds.
They may not be great swimmers. But if the barking is any indication, doxies make great security dogs.
Obviously, their people don’t buy into the myth that boat dogs must be water breeds.
But they may have bought into another boat dog myth.
Boat Dogs Must Be Small
I won’t kid you that having a golden retriever onboard our 34-foot sailboat is as easy as having a boat dog small enough to carry in my pocket. But if you already have a large dog, there’s no reason he can’t make a great boat dog–no matter how small your boat.
Large dogs are more challenging.
We use a block and tackle to help Honey get in and out of our dinghy while we’re at anchor. And we keep a ramp on board to help her board from a dock or wall, no matter its height.
We have to store more food on board.
And yes, the saloon is a bit more crowded sharing a settee with a 75-pound dog.
I’ve outlined some of the issues that arise with a large dog on board over at The Boat Galley website.
But there are also ways in which a big pup makes an even better boat dog than a small one.
For instance, a big dog is less likely to be injured if you stumble or fall on them. We met a cruiser who broke their small dog’s leg in just such an accident underway.
And if you cruise in parts of the world where security is a concern, your Pomeranian is unlikely to scare off would-be intruders.
In truth, a dog of any size can potentially be a great boat dog. But the last boat dog myth can be a problem for any pup.
All Boat Dogs Will “Go” Onboard
Okay, this isn’t quite a myth.
Any dog will potty on board if they have no other choice. But not every dog will happily embrace eliminating onboard without stress.
But even if you do everything right, your dog still might not happily potty on board.
That every dog will eliminate onboard is the most frequently repeated myth on social media sites devoted to cruising. But I know of cruisers all over the world whose dogs have never become boat dogs who pee happily on a boat–including some who make good money teaching other people how to cruise.
Like humans, some dogs just won’t do what others tell them to do.
Our Honey is the most trainable dog I’ve ever had, including the more than a dozen dogs I’ve fostered.
Honey is smart. She trains herself.
But even though a urinary tract infection caused her to reluctantly eliminate on board a few times, Honey does not willingly potty on deck.
So if your dog is the same way, don’t feel alone. The notion that you can train any dog to eliminate onboard without stress is just a big fat myth.
What Boat Dog Myths Mean For You
Okay, so who cares about boat dog myths? Possibly you.
If you’re considering a cruising future with your dog, you may worry that your dog isn’t the right breed. Or that they won’t enjoy the boat if they don’t love the water.
You may wonder if your dog is too big to live on a boat. Or if there’s something wrong with you because your dog won’t pee on board.
But just because lots of internet “experts” believe something is true doesn’t mean it is.
Any dog can be a great boat dog. Especially if you work hard to build your relationship and work with your dog so she loves the boat as much as you do.
So ignore the boat dog myths. And work on growing your own boat dog dreams.