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All Paws On Deck

Safety Tips for Boating With Your Dog

Love dogs, and boating? The two can be combined without hassle if you follow the expert advice below.

Nautical Dogs Need Training Just Like Boat Operators Do 

I mean, you don’t need to sign Rover up for a BOATsmart! Course, but you do need to determine if your pooch is a sailor or a landlubber. Not all dogs dig the boating experience… but the expression "water dog" had to originate somewhere, right?

I have two very different dogs at home – there’s Harley, a big, sloppy, hound, and there’s Gus, a chubby pug. As a BOATsmart! gal, I like my dogs, like my peeps, to wear their lifejackets. Harley swims like an Olympian, but little Gus is about as buoyant as an anchor. Some breeds, like pugs, tend to thrash awkwardly and sink like stones in the lake. If your dog isn’t a great swimmer, their best bet at surviving an overboard emergency is if they’re wearing a properly-fitted lifejacket. It’s looks pretty darn cute too! Check out the photos below of our BOATsmart! dog Foxy rocking her lifejacket!

I think it’d be awesome to know what our dogs think about boating. Do they hate it? Love it? Truthfully, I’m pretty confident that their everyday thought stream goes something like this: "FOOD… Water… FOOD… Stick… Play…FOOD. " But I’d wager that when we go boating on Stony Lake, these thoughts change to: "WATER… Swim… Boat… Fun… Water… FOOD… Fish… Swim!"

But for Gus, who can be a little skittish around the water, I’ve realized that he’ll never be truly thrilled to go on a family boating adventure on the Trent-Severn Waterway. I’ve also realized that it’s really important to know the difference – an unhappy dog makes for a really dangerous boat passenger. 

Use these tips to determine if your pooch is a sailor or a landlubber!

READ THEIR MIND (or at least their behaviour!)

It’s simple – just watch them when they're playing around the shore. For example, Gus will only wade in the water and is really reluctant to jump in the boat. Harley, on the other hand ,will run and leap off the pier at McCracken’s Landing. Harls also loves to stand in the bow of our Bayliner and let his ears billow and flap in the wind. I’m convinced that next to treats, boating is his absolute favorite thing in the world!

Some dogs (and people too!) get seasick when they’re in a boat. Others are afraid of falling into the water. If your dog collapses into the starfish position when you try to coax him into the boat, he’s probably not interested in coming aboard. However, if he wags his tail when you zip up your lifejacket and actually beats you to the boat, then he’s probably down for a cruise on the lake. 


If your dog jumps over the side of your boat, it can end very badly. There have been terrible boating accidents in which dogs have panicked and either caused the boat operator to lose control, or the dog jumped overboard into rough water and drowned before the boat could turn around and recover them. Don’t let this happen to you! 

Be especially cautious when boating on Canada Day weekend or any other holiday! Long weekends are the best because you can always find a regatta and a variety of other fun events happening all over Ontario’s waterways. Just remember, when the sun sets on long weekends, you can count on seeing fireworks and hearing their high-pitched sound – which freaks most dogs out. Additionally, don’t boat in bad weather. It’s dangerous for you and your passengers, and the thunder and lightning can terrify your dog, causing frightened and unpredictable behaviour.


Make sure your dog is well socialized before taking it in a boat. If you’re cruising along the shoreline or through the Ontario locks, your dog might bark at people hanging out on their docks. When boating in Huntsville last summer, I watched a dog leap a dangerous distance from a boat that was docking to fuel because another dog was running around at the marina. So, always carry a leash to restrain your dog from jumping out of the boat! I mean, it’s just good manners to leash your dog whenever you dock at a busy marina, or at a cottage where they may be food, people and other dogs around. 

You can be BOATsmart! by taking a Safe Boating Course and your dog can be BOATsmart! by getting socialized on short boating trips before going on a long cruise. Just make sure to let your dog decide if he wants to go for a cruise – and if he does, get him a properly-fitted lifejacket! They‘re inexpensive, easy to find and dogs don’t mind them… much. 

life jacket doggies



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