You see the teak, the sails, the adventure it promises. What does your dog see when they board your boat? Maybe it’s time to look at your boat through your dog’s eyes.
A Boat Is A Strange Home For Your Dog
Your dog has spent his entire life in your dirt house. Or maybe he spent a little time in a shelter.
Now you’re moving on board your boat. How strange must it be to your dog?
Instead of walking up the steps and into the door, your dog may have to leap over the water to board your boat.
And what if your vessel is on a mooring ball or at anchor. Is your dog prepared for a wet dinghy ride? And how will she get from the dinghy to your boat? Especially if your boat has a high freeboard.
Some sailors find halyards clanking against the mast a major annoyance. But if your ears are as sensitive as a dog’s, it could be torture.
Moving around on board
A sailboat is like a floating agility course.
A dog needs more hind leg awareness on a boat than anywhere else outside an obstacle course. And let’s not forget that non-skid surfaces are only non-skid for shoes, not for paws.
We all know how much more sensitive dogs are to scents than humans. But somehow, we don’t often think about how our smelly world affects our dogs.
If you find the smell of diesel unpleasant, is it worse for your dog?
So many things must be strange to our dogs on board. And they don’t have the mental ability to understand it that we do.
So what’s the answer?
Look At The Boat Through Your Dog’s Eyes
To understand how best to help your dog become accustomed to boat life, look at your vessel through their eyes.
You may discover issues that you can address before they become a problem for your dog.
Here are some things to try:
Find the slippery spots
Will your dog feel secure walking around all areas of your boat? Or are there places where they might slip or feel insecure.
Put on a pair of your most slippery socks. Then try the following:
- enter your dinghy from the boat
- return to the boat from your dinghy
- go down the companionway steps
- walk around the cabin sole
- jump up onto your v-berth or settees
- jump up onto your cockpit cushions
How did it go? Did you slip and slide?
When we moved onboard, we observed our dog slipping on our dinghy floor, when jumping onto the cockpit cushions, and when jumping off our very high v-berth.
Solutions: Groom your dog’s paws. Too-long nails or fur growing out between the pads can cause your dog to slide. Put rubber mats on the floor of your dinghy. And use velcro or some kind of tie to attach your cockpit cushions so they don’t slide around underfoot.
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Listen for noises
If you’re a real overachiever or perhaps a podcaster with some sound equipment, the best way to find noises that might frighten or irritate your dog is by plugging a sound meter (Amazon) into a microphone (Amazon).
But just paying attention to higher-pitched sounds will help.
Some people believe that the reason many dogs don’t like walking in the rain is that the sound bothers their ears. With a wider range of hearing than humans (humans hear sounds between 65 – 23,000 Hz while dogs hear sounds between 67 – 45,000 Hz), even the sound of rain may affect your dog more than it bothers you.
So listen carefully. Put your head close to your electronics. Do they emit any high pitches? How about your halyards? Put your ear right against the mast. How do you feel when you hear the sharp oil pressure alarm when you turn the key to your engine?
Our dog Honey is a pretty stoic dog. It takes a lot for her to complain or show signs of pain. But we’ve still made a few adjustments to her hearing sensitivity.
Solutions: Turn off electronic instruments when you’re not using them. When you stop traveling, tie your halyards far away from the mast. Assorted bungee cords (Amazon) are an easy solution. But we’ve always tied our halyard out with stray lines.
You can buy compression hoodies (Amazon) that some dogs find comforting around loud noises like fireworks or thunder. But since Honey doesn’t mind most loud noises, I’ve relied on covering her ears with my hands when we start the engine.
Walk like a dog
Do you wonder why your dog won’t just walk down your companionway stairs? Have you ever looked at it from their point of view?
Get on your knees in the cockpit. Now lean over the bridge deck to put your front hands on the top step. If you dare, try to go down the whole way headfirst.
Most dogs have less trouble doing up than doing down. And if you try to do that on all fours, you’ll see why.
Do you want to lift your dog in and out of your boat cabin every day? No?
Well, then it’s time to look for some ways to help them get up and down.
Solutions: Look for ways to adjust the steepness of your companionway stairs. Use a ramp. Or extend the steps with an insert board to decrease the pitch. And don’t forget to make treads non-skid–for a dog.
Follow your nose
A boat contains a myriad of smells–from chemicals to mildew to cooking food. But your dog may find the things you use to cover up those smells even more objectionable. Or even dangerous.
Keeping your boat clean and free of smells is good for both you and your dog. And the planet.
Look At Your Boat Like Your Dog Does
It’s tempting to think that your dog will love the boat as much as you do. But you can make your dog’s first time on the boat a success by planning ahead.
The first step? Look at your boat through your dog’s eyes (and nose, and feet). It will give you the information you need to make the boat a happy place for him too.