Our dog Honey has laid down the law–she will not potty on the boat.
Here’s what that means for us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your Turn: Do you think you could retrain your dog to potty differently? Would you find it worth trying to wait them out?