Can Dogs Live on Boats?

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Introduction

Do you love the feeling of being out on the open water almost as much as you love your dog? Is your home a yacht, a houseboat, or some other form of watercraft?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, you may be wondering whether you and your furry friend could live together on a boat. It sounds grrr-eat in theory, but would it actually work in real life?

Well, salty sailors and their pirate pooches can rejoice — it's absolutely possible for dogs to live on boats, so you and your pet can sail the seven seas together.

However, you'll need to make sure your dog is the right pet for the job and take a few simple precautions to ensure a harmonious and safe living environment.

Signs Your Dog Might Love Life on a Boat

Okay, so you've decided that living on a boat is the way to go, but how do you know whether or not your pet shares your passion for life on the water? There are a few surefire signs that indicate your dog could learn to love calling a boat home:

  • They love the water. Some dogs absolutely hate water and will avoid it at all costs — simply say the word "bath" and they'll head for the hills. But plenty of other pooches are bona fide water babies who love nothing more than making a splash. These are the pets that can make the best crewmates.
  • They're a strong swimmer. While doggie paddling is a natural instinct for our furry friends, that certainly doesn't mean that all dogs can swim. From a safety point of view, knowing that your dog is a competent swimmer will help provide you with peace of mind while you're sailing around the world.
  • They don't get seasick. While there are medications that can help control your pet's seasickness, a pooch who gets a little green around the gills on even the calmest of seas may not be the ideal boating companion.
  • They're a perfect fit. Unless you're the proud owner of a massive yacht, chances are you and your pet (and anyone else on board) will be sharing some fairly cramped living quarters. This doesn't mean you need a toy or miniature breed, but just make sure there's enough room for your canine companion to live by your side.
  • They're happy to go with the flow. If your pooch is full of energy and always ready to run, maybe life on a boat isn't for them. The best dogs for boat living will be happy to sit back and relax when out on the water, and be willing to take advantage of any opportunity to stretch their legs when you dock.

Body Language

Unsure just how fond your dog really is at the idea of taking to the high seas? Watch them closely for any body language signs that could indicate they're uncomfortable on or near the water, such as:
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

Other signs that may indicate that your dog would prefer to stay on dry land include:
  • Excessive salivation
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Avoiding the water at all times
  • Depression

The History of Dogs on Boats

It's generally thought that humans built the first sea-worthy boats some 800,000 years ago. As for when dogs first started accompanying their masters on voyages, no-one knows for sure.

What we do know is that several breeds were developed for their ability to work on, in and around the water. For example, Labradors were used by fishermen to fetch fish that had fallen off hooks and help pull in nets. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers were prized hunting companions known for their ability to retrieve ducks from icy waters, while the Irish Setter was another birding dog known for its skill in the water.

In more recent times, boat-based dogs don't get much more famous than a mixed-breed pooch by the name of Sinbad. This four-legged sailor served aboard the USCG Campbell, a 327-foot vessel tasked with protecting convoys during World War II.

Sinbad served aboard the Campbell for seven years and was awarded six medals, including the American Defense Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. A granite monument was even constructed in his honor at Barnegat Light, New Jersey.

The Science of Dogs Living on Boats

There's no hard and fast rules about which breeds will do well on a boat and which dogs won't. Instead, it all comes down to the individual dog, their temperament and how much they like being around water.

That said, there are a few water-loving breeds that are well worth considering if you're looking for a maritime mutt, including:

  • Labrador
  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Schipperke
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Irish Setter
  • English Setter
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever

You might also be surprised to learn that the Poodle can also adapt well to life on a boat. Despite their reputation for being prim and proper, Poodles are actually quite a hardy breed. Originally bred as water retrievers, they're excellent swimmers and usually love getting wet.

Training Your Dog to Live on a Boat

How can you teach your pet to love life aboard a boat? Keep the following tips in mind to help your pet get their sea legs:

  • Take it slowly. While some pets will feel right at home on a boat straight away, others may take a while to adapt to their new surroundings. There are a whole lot of new sights, sounds, and smells to explore on a boat, not to mention the sensation of the ground moving beneath their feet to get used to. Never force your dog to do anything they're uncomfortable with; if they're cautious, introduce them to life on the water slowly, with plenty of rewards long the way.
  • Toilet training. The process of potty training your dog on a boat can vary widely depending on the animal and the type of boat. Encourage your pooch to go in a designated area, and use treats to reward them for doing the right thing.
  • Exercise. Make sure your pet always gets plenty of regular exercise. Whether taking a dip, going for a run along the beach, or just helping out on deck, give your pooch plenty of opportunities to tire themselves out.
  • Give them a safe place. When conditions get rough, a boat can be quite a scary place for a dog to be. Create a space that your dog calls their own, somewhere they feel safe and secure and can retreat to if they're ever anxious or uncomfortable.

Once your pet has started to get the hang of life on a boat, start with a short shakedown cruise to see how they'll handle it. If they love it, you and your furry friends could enjoy many happy years exploring the world's waterways together.

Staying Safe When Boating with a Dog:

  • Invest in a good-quality dog life jacket.
  • Use a harness and tether to prevent your dog going overboard in choppy conditions.
  • Have a plan for getting your dog back on board if they do happen to fall overboard.
  • If you're sailing to another country, make sure to check with your vet about any vaccinations your pet may require before you travel.
  • If your dog requires any medication, make sure to pack additional supplies or check whether you'll be able to access more wherever you're going.

We Want to Hear About Your Boat-Loving Pooch!