5 min read

7 Preparation Tips for Boating with Your Dog


Written by Mel Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/21/2021, edited: 10/05/2022

The dog days of summer are upon us, which means it's time to hit the water with your woofer! Does your fur-baby take to water like, well, a duck to water? Or will this be their first boating excursion? Either way, we've got you covered with some boating safety tips for dogs to ensure your adventure is smooth sailing!

Start training early

First, let's clear up an old wives' tale: dogs aren't born knowing how to swim. So if something goes awry or your pupper somehow jumps out of the boat, make sure they know how to do the doggy paddle!

If your dog isn't a proficient swimmer or they're afraid of the water, you'll need to train them to swim. You should start training as far in advance of your trip as "pawssible" so they're comfortable making a splash when the big day comes. You could start out in a kiddie pool, or enlist the help of another four-legged friend who loves the water. This will show your woofer there's nothing to be afraid of.

If your pooch has never ridden in a boat before, you'll want to get them acquainted beforehand. For some dogs, this step will be a walk in the park. Other dogs may be afraid of the boat. The key is to introduce the boat on dry land. Keep a clicker and a pocketful of treats handy for their first encounter. Whenever they investigate the boat by sniffing or touching it, reward them with a treat. Check out our step-by-step guide on training your dog to ride in a boat with you for more information.

Buy a doggy life jacket

It might sound a bit silly, but a life jacket can save your pup's life if an accident occurs. Even strong swimmers, like Irish Water Spaniels and Retriever breeds, will struggle to stay afloat if they're in open water or far away from the shore.

First, hop online or head to your local pet store to see what's available. You'll want to find a life jacket that's reflective, brightly colored, and the right size for your dog. (We recommend measuring your dog for this step.)

Buy the life jacket well in advance of your trip so your pup can get used to wearing it. Our guide on training your dog to wear a life jacket walks you through every step of the training process.

Don't wait until you're boarding the boat to put the life jacket on your dog for the first time. Once your pup is used to it, test it out in shallow water to make sure it accommodates your dog's weight and allows them to move freely.

Mind your manners

If you're headed to a state park or similar remote area that's home to wildlife, you'll need to consider your dog's prey drive. Even the best-trained Beagles and Bloodhounds can tear off after a critter. Work on your dog's recall command before your adventure to ensure they'll come to you when called if needed. (Need a helping paw with training? Book a dog trainer near you to bring the obedience classes right to your living room!)

Always keep your dog leashed when they're not in the boat. When you take your pup for a potty break, practice good "petiquette" and clean up after them. Not only is this a common courtesy to other visitors, but it also protects you and your dog from wildlife. Your pup's pee and poop can attract predators, so move on quickly after Buddy's finished doing their business.

Protect yourself against bugs

The only drawback to spending a day on the lake is attracting mosquitoes and other pesky pests. Protect your dog against fleas, ticks, and other parasites with a routine flea and tick preventative.

Dogs can also be bitten by mosquitoes. However, bug sprays formulated for human use, like DEET, are toxic to dogs. Don't spray bug repellent on your dog or let them lick you if you've applied it to yourself. Candles and torches containing citronella, as well as the plant itself, are also toxic to dogs.

To protect your mutt from mosquitoes, we recommend purchasing a dog-safe mosquito repellent from your local pet store. While some DIY bug sprays for dogs can work, the evidence is mostly anecdotal. Some recipes online also include essential oils that can be toxic to dogs. If you have any questions about mosquito repellent for dogs, consult your vet or chat live with a vet now.

Bring fresh drinking water for you and your dog

Lake and ocean water contain all kinds of contaminants that can upset Sparky's stomach. Saltwater is particularly dangerous for dogs and can even be deadly if they consume enough.

Water purification tablets are a lifesaver if you're camping with your canine in an area with limited access to clean water. But if you're just spending a day on the lake, bring a cooler stocked with enough drinking water for you and your dog.

Watch the temperature

Floating on the lake from sunup to sundown might sound like your ideal vacation. But for your dog, spending too much time in the sun can be uncomfortable at best and deadly at worst.

Take frequent breaks in the shade to drink water and cool off. Bring sunscreen for both you and your dog. Yes, you heard us right — dogs can get sunburned too! You'll find sunscreen formulated especially for pups at most big-box pet stores. Apply it 20 minutes before you board the boat and every 4 to 6 hours after that or according to package directions. (Don't apply sunscreen formulated for human use to your dog.)

Monitor your dog for signs of heat#7. Don't "furget" the first aid kitstroke. Signs of heat exhaustion in dogs include:

  • Excessive panting

  • Seeking shade or water

  • Vomiting

  • Nosebleed

Don't "furget" the first aid kit

Last but most certainly not least, pack a first aid kit for both you and your dog. Not sure what your dog's first aid kit should contain? Our guide on first aid kit essentials for dogs can help!

Dogs can get motion sickness just like humans. The constant rocking of your boat can disrupt your dog's equilibrium and cause disorientation, vomiting, and diarrhea. Prescription and over-the-counter medications can treat and prevent motion sickness in dogs. Ask your vet about which medication and dosage is right for your dog.

Preparing for a dog-friendly boating trip: wrapping up

A fun boat trip is a safe boat trip. Sure, preparing for your trip well in advance might take some of the spontaneity out of the adventure. But it also protects you, your pup, and other boaters (and their doggos!).

Taken a boat trip with your buddy recently? Share selfies of you and your seadog with us on Instagram! Seeing the adventures you share with your fur-babies makes our day. Don't forget to tag #wagwalking — we just might share your snap on our own feed!

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