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Taking your dog with you on a boat sounds like so much fun. A recent survey indicated that 62% of Americans take their dogs on boats. But a dog that is not properly trained to ride in a boat on the water can become scared or excited. The last thing you need out on the water is a big, young, dog jumping around knocking things, and people, overboard! Also, boats can be tippy--you can run the risk of capsizing if your dog doesn't sit calmly and quietly on the boat with you. If you're out camping or hunting and would like your dog to join you on the water, there are a few things you should do to prepare, and train him, to comfortably ride in a boat so that your boat trip does not end up as a swimming trip, or a rescue mission!
There are two behaviors you will want your dog to learn in order to ride safely in a boat with you. The first is to get in and out of the boat without fear, the other is to ride quietly and calmly in the boat, at his assigned spot, so as not to endanger himself, you, other passengers, and the boat itself! Training your dog to get used to the boat on land is a useful idea, a dry run so to speak! Combined with teaching your dog to be calm around a boat and teaching your dog a 'sit-stay' or 'down-stay' command that can be used on the boat, this training will keep your dog calm and safe in the boat and prevent unbalancing a boat, or inadvertently knocking things or people overboard. Training your dog to be both confident and calm in a boat will make your nautical voyage a delight-- and a lot dryer.
Before teaching your dog to ride in a boat you should address safety concerns. Dogs can drown and are not necessarily adept at swimming. If possible, teach your dog to swim before putting him in a boat so he is used to the water and less likely to panic. You should always use a dog life vest, even if your dog can swim. A dog that is injured in a capsize, confused, or far from shore, needs a flotation device to aid them in case of an accident. Dog life vests are available commercially, make sure you have an appropriately sized vest for your dog, and that it is fitted and adjusted correctly. Prior to training your dog to ride in a boat, get him used to the life vest by allowing him to wear it for short periods of time and taking your dog on walks with the life vest on. A harness is a better idea to restrain a dog on a boat then a collar. A harness can be used to more safely lift an overboard dog out of the water, as it does not put pressure on the neck.
The Shaping Method
Prepare for training with a clicker and a supply of treats.
Introduce on dry land
Put your boat on dry land, propped up so it is stable. When your dog approaches the boat to investigate, click and treat.
Reinforce touch boat
When your dog touches the boat, click and treat. When your dog puts paws on the boat, click and treat.
Reinforce get in boat
Get in the boat and call your dog. When he jumps in, click and treat. Add a verbal command for 'get in the boat'.
Get in on water
Put your boat in the water. Call your dog into the boat, click and treat when he jumps in. Command your dog to 'sit-stay' in the boat, click and treat.
Reinforce ride on boat
Launch a little way from shore, continue to periodically treat and reassure if your dog stays calm and in his spot. If your dog moves or is nervous, redirect your dog and comfort him, then return to shore and practice there if necessary until your dog is calm.
Reinforce get out of boat
Have someone on shore call your dog out of the boat, when docked. Add a verbal command for 'out of the boat', click and treat to reinforce behavior.
Gradually extend times out on the water and remove the clicker. Continue to praise your dog for sitting quietly in his spot while riding in a boat.
The Gradual Method
Teach your dog the 'sit-stay' or 'down-stay' command.
Get in on dry land
Teach your dog to get in the boat while on dry land, prop the boat so it doesn't rock. Give a command for 'get in' the boat. You may want to get in the boat yourself and call your dog. Give your dog a treat when he jumps into the boat. Never drag your dog into the boat, and avoid putting him in the boat by picking him up, unless he is too small or unable to get in by himself. Practice getting in and out of the boat and having your dog 'sit-stay' or 'down-stay' in the boat.
Expose to water and motor
Move the boat into the water and have your dog sit on the dock on a leash. Start the boat and let your dog hear the motor. Reassure and provide treats and make sure your dog is calm and used to the sound of the motor before proceeding. A dog that is frightened of the motor will be difficult to control in the boat.
Get in boat on water
Turn the motor off, and ask your dog to jump in the boat with the command used on dry land. Provide a treat when your dog jumps in.
Stay and launch
Ask your dog to 'sit-stay' or 'down-stay'. Start the motor. If your dog is calm, carefully launch off of the dock a few feet. Talk to your dog, give him praise and a treat. If your dog shows fear, provide treats and reassurance until your dog is comfortable, do not rush him.
Keep the initial voyage short and near shore, on calm water. Gradually increase the length of trips and distance from shore, and venture out in different weather conditions as your dog gains experience.
The Luring Method
Lure on dry ground
Put your boat on dry ground, propped up so it stays steady. Put a high value treat in the boat. When your dog jumps in the boat or reaches over to get his food, praise him and let him have the treat. Repeat until the dog jumps all the way into the boat for his treat. Associate a verbal command for 'get in the boat'.
Lure for out of boat
As soon as he has finished his treat in the boat, put a treat on the ground outside the boat and give him a command to 'get out of the boat'. Repeat until association with verbal commands is established.
Lure in boat on water
Move the boat to the water, put the boat off a dock. Put a high value treat in the boat. Call your dog to get the treat. Provide the verbal command for 'get in the boat'. When your dog jumps in to get the treat, praise him.
Ask your dog to 'sit-stay' in a spot on the boat. When he is calm and in place, take a short boat ride, close to shore.
Get out of boat on water
Return to the dock or shore. Hold your dog and have someone on shore with a treat. Give your dog the command to get out of the boat and let him retrieve his treat. If your dog jumps out of the boat before being commanded, call your dog back onto the boat without getting a treat and repeat. You only want your dog to jump out of the boat when you give the verbal command.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 11/02/2017, edited: 01/08/2021