Welcome Aboard, Fido

Tips on how to ensure your pets are safe and sound while out on the water.
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Captain is a perfect example of how pets can adapt quickly to fun times on the water with proper safety gear.

It’s no surprise that so many furry family members in Michigan enjoy boating activities with their owners, whether they’re peeking over the rail of a 50-foot yacht or standing watch near the bow on a pontoon.

More than 62 percent of Michigan households are home to at least one pet, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Combine that with Michigan reigning as the third-largest boating market in the country and it’s easy to see why many of our four-legged friends are wagging their tails and sporting a happy face while lapping up a boat ride in the sun.

As a longtime boater and dog owner, my suggestions — and those from my boating pals — might help make the time you share with your pet onboard safer and more fun. Also, visit michiganbluemagazine on Facebook or Instagram and post some of your tips under this story when it appears live on those platforms.

Not all dogs are quick to make the transition from dock to deck, and many need to be coaxed aboard the first few times. Stepping across that watery gap from dock to boat can be a scary encounter and may require a treat or two before the process becomes easy.

Once onboard, the problem may be keeping them on the deck and out of the water, especially for breeds such as springer spaniels and Labrador retrievers. Throw a ball and they’ll likely reward you with a canine cannonball as they give chase.

While cats can be found on some larger or live-aboard vessels, dogs are a much more common sight on the water, especially on smaller boats. With greater affinity for the water than their feline counterparts, dogs seem to quickly adjust to a life at sea.

Pet Safety

Like any other passenger or crew member, keeping your pet safe while on the water is an important responsibility. Although many animals can swim better than their two-legged companions, life jackets are a good idea for dogs — especially on a bigger boat or a large body of water such as one of the Great Lakes.

If a dog falls overboard while the boat is moving, there’s a chance that they may not be missed immediately. A brightly colored life jacket makes your pet easier to see in the water and protects them from exhaustion if a rescue takes time.

For extra safety, clip a water-activated strobe light to your pet’s life jacket to improve visibility and make them easier to find in choppy water.

It’s also important to have a plan in the event your pet goes overboard. A large-breed dog can be hard to get back onboard — especially a larger dog that’s panicked. Having a plan for getting your dog out of the water, and even trying it at the dock while others are present, will eliminate surprises and save precious time.

Pet Comfort

The sun can be brutal on the water and dogs can easily overheat in the summer sun — especially long-haired breeds. While swimming may seem like a good way to keep your pet cool, staying afloat can take a lot of energy, so forced time-outs in the shade are important when it’s time to cool down.

Although there’s no shortage of fresh water in Michigan, drinking from some sources can leave pets with stomach issues — something nobody wants to experience on a boat. Keep plenty of fresh water on board for both people and pets, and remember to bring a water bowl. Several companies make collapsible water bowls that can be carried in a day pack or easily stored away.

On bigger boats, where the water bowl may occupy a permanent spot in the cabin, a splash-free bowl can help keep your pet’s water off the galley floor when seas are rough.

Hoops, a long-haired dog, looks forward to a time-out in the shade to cool down.

Day Trips and Overnights

Most Michigan marinas are pet-friendly and provide a spot to walk your dog. However, while out on the water, bathroom breaks can become a challenge. If you’re anchored near the shore, heading onto the beach can solve the problem. But while away from land, your dog may not be able to go.

Many live-aboards and blue-water sailors have taught their dogs to go on a piece of outdoor carpet. This can be difficult since the entire boat, including the cockpit and swim platform, may be seen as  “inside” to your dog.

If you plan to travel with your pet, learn how they’ll handle potty breaks before heading down the coast of your favorite lake. Asking your dog to hold it isn’t fair.

Friends Everywhere

Remember that some people, and other dogs, may not be dog-friendly, so keep your pet on a leash while walking the dock. Although your neighboring boaters will likely share treats and tummy-rubs once they get to know your dog, don’t force them to endure a wet nose in a private place before they do.

Boating with your pet can be a fun experience. For your dog, going for a boat ride is like getting to stick their head out of the world’s biggest car window before chasing seagulls down the beach and swimming after playing with an endless supply of floating sticks.

How could life possibly get any better?

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