Can you train your dog for boat life before you buy the boat? Sure. It’s not that different from preparing your dog for any major life change.
Before you up-end your life, you need to know your dog will be happy with your choice.
How? It’s easy. Just train your dog to live on a boat—before you buy it.
Train Your Dog For Boat Life (Or Any Big Life Change)
Sure, moving onto a boat with your dog is a major life change. But before you panic thinking it’s too major for your dog to adapt to, think of any number of things they’ve already learned to handle:
- Moving to a new town
- Taking a long car trip
- Staying 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? You can do what we did and start training now help your dog make the leap.
Long before we bought Meander, we trained Honey for boat life. You don’t need to own a boat to do it.
Here’s how we prepared Honey for sailing. And it worked!
Training Honey To Be A Boat Dog
I started training Honey for boat life when I was still a newbie sailor–around our third season on the water.
As a new sailor, boat life was still strange to me like it was for Honey. Being a young (in experience) sailor helped with training our dog for boat life.
If I had sailed my entire life, I’d find it much harder to figure out what about boating will feel strange to my dog. And I’d struggle to know what I had to train her to do to adapt to boat life.
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.
Before You Buy A Boat
Once you start looking, it’s amazing how many boat experiences you can emulate on dry land.
Some links below (including all Amazon links) are affiliate links, meaning that I earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more here.
Our trainer, Russ Hollier, suggested a wobble board (Amazon) and a teeter plank (Amazon) 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 simulated flapping sails by hanging tarps on the clothesline. A flagpole 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 had to test it with the real thing.
Take The Dog Sailing
Thanks to our friends at Go Pet Friendly, we found Dog Gone Sailing Charters in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Captain Ro offers dog-friendly day sails.
And her first time sailing, Honey did great.
Taking Honey on a boat charter allowed us to see if Honey had any misgivings about sailing—before spending thousands of dollars on a sailboat.
Training Your Dog For Boat Life
We’ve done every one of these things to train Honey for boat life. I bet they’ll work for your dog too.
Here’s how to train your dog for living on a boat.
- Get professional help.
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.
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.
- List what you need to train your dog to do.
Once I had my list of potentially scary things about a sailboat, it was easy to take the next step. We developed a plan to train Honey to cope with each of the potentially scary parts of boat life.
We also worked on ramps, moving surfaces, and exposure to water.
- Expose your dog to changes a little at a time.
We spent a lot of time just walking around the docks with Honey before starting actual training.
Find a way to give your dog access to a boat tied up at a dock. Don’t be in a hurry to set off before your dog has even gotten used to a still boat.
- Practice every day.
We trained Honey every day for a few minutes to get her ready for her first boat trip. It made the actual experience somewhat familiar from repetition.
- Make a backup plan.
Some dogs tolerate change better than others. It’s the same with humans.
If your dog doesn’t like the boat, think about next steps. Perhaps you go back to step one. Maybe you adapt your cruising plans, Or perhaps you travel by RV instead of boat.
You’re family. Figure out how to make everyone happy.
Want To Cruise With Your Dog? Start Today
If you’ve ever wondered if your dog could handle something as crazy as living on a sailboat, now is the time to see.
Start training today even if you don’t own a boat.
You have nothing to lose. Except your curiosity to know 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?
(Note: This post was first written in April 2013–2 years before we moved onboard Meander. It has been updated and republished.)
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