All Aboard! A Step-by-Step Guide for Boating with Your Dog

All Aboard! A Step-by-Step Guide for Boating with Your Dog

The dog days of summer are here, and sometimes it’s just too hot to hit your favorite trails. So what’s better than getting out on the water with your favorite first mate – your pup! Whether you’re paddleboarding, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, motorboating, or even houseboating, you know it’ll be more fun with your dog by your side.

We know a couple of rad canines and humans who love spending their free time together out on the water. Lola is a seasoned sailing pup who enjoys cruising by boat, and Faith, the Surfing Pitbull, spends her days hanging ten while winning surf competitions.

If you have always wanted to take your four-legged aboard, look no further. We created a step-by-step guide. Before heading out on any new adventure with your dog, consider whether they are a good fit for the task. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to steer you in the right direction:

  • Does my dog like water?
  • Is my dog a good swimmer? 
  • Does my dog listen well off leash?

If your dog hasn’t been swimming before, your first step is introducing them to water and getting them totally comfortable; otherwise, setting sail with your dogs won’t be enjoyable for them. You should also feel confident in your own skills to ensure your dog's first time traveling on the water will be smooth sailing. 

How to Take Your Dog Boating & Paddleboarding

Step 1: Introduce Your Dog to Your Vessel

The first step to getting your dog out on the water is getting them comfortable with your vessel on dry land. It’s essential to give your pup plenty of time for this step, so be sure to plan ahead and don’t force them on the water before they’re ready.

Paddleboarding: Put your paddleboard in the backyard or living room and let your dog investigate it and become comfortable with it. You can put your dog's favorite blanket on top of the paddleboard or play around the board so that they start to gain a positive association with their newest watercraft. If they need more convincing, you can create a trail of their favorite treats leading up to the board to entice them to stand on the board.

Boating: Onshore, give your dog time to explore around the boat. Consider designating a spot on board just for your dog by putting a blanket down under a chair where they can get some shade. Sit on board for a while until they seem comfortable.

Step 2: Teach Your Dog Commands

Teaching basic commands onshore can ensure that your dog's first day on the water will be a success. For paddleboarding, begin with commands they are familiar with, like “Sit” or “Lay Down,” then reward them with treats. Be sure to practice sitting on your board just as you would when floating on water. Have your dog sit on the front of the board to distribute weight evenly. After they have mastered this step, you will want to teach them a command for getting on the board, such as “Up” and off the board, such as “Swim.” Practice with their life jacket or harness on and grab the handle on top, giving a slight pull when you give the command “Up.”

For boating, you will want to teach them how to “Load Up.” The best way to do this is by luring them onboard with a treat in hand. Practice this multiple times until they can board on command without you having to persuade them. Once your dog has completed these steps with ease, it's not a bad idea to turn on the engine if your boat has one and allow your dog to get used to the sounds.

Step 3: Repeat Training Near Water

Before heading out on your voyage, repeat these steps on land next to the water. Your pup might be distracted or nervous in a new environment, so don’t skip this step. Based on their behavior, you will have a good idea if they are ready to head out on the water.

For paddleboarding, you can start with half your board in the water and half on shore while practicing their training. It’s not a bad idea to get your dog in the water in a shallow spot but try to have them get on the board instead of swimming to shore. Most importantly, don’t forget to reward them with treats!

Step 4: All Aboard!

For your dog's first time at sea, choose a calm day. Make your first trip short and have patience with your pup. Keep expectations low, and with a little practice, your dog will be a pro-water dog in no time!

Gear for Boating & Paddleboarding with Your Dog:

Before heading out on your next water adventure with your dog, you’ll need to make sure you have all your gear. If you’re planning on paddleboarding with your dog, add your weight and your dog's weight and check your board specs to make sure that you’re under maximum capacity. A wider board is also recommended for dogs as they are more stable, and consider using a board that has a grippy deck pad.

  • Life Jacket or Harness: It’s recommended to get a life jacket or harness with a handle on top so that you can help lift your dog out of the water. You will want them to get used to their gear before heading to the lake. A life jacket is recommended the farther you go out.
  • Leash: Even if your dog won’t be leashed up on the water vessel, it’s easy to forget your leash, but it's good to have when you’re back onshore or at the dock. Waterproof leashes can stand the test of time and stinkiness when if your dog decides to go for a swim.
  • Poop Bags: Nature calls on all adventures! You can keep your poop bags and leash all in one spot with a poop bag holder that attaches to your leash.
  • Water Bowl: Spending a day out on the water can be tiring for your pup, so make sure they have plenty of water. If you’re in clean fresh water like a lake or river and you know the water is clean, your dog probably will drink it! If you’re in salt water, you’ll definitely want to pack an adequate amount of water and a bowl. Also, consider if there’s a bit of a hike from the car to the water. Foldable water bowls like our Silipint Dog Bowls pack up easily, and their silicone material ensures that it won’t slide around on slick boat surfaces. Also, consider if there’s a bit of a hike in from the car to the water. 
  • Treats: If you’re working on training your pup to get on the boat, you’ll definitely want to pack a ton of treats for positive reinforcement. Make sure to keep them dry!
  • Towels: It’s always a good idea to keep a couple of towels on your boat – one for your dog to sit on and one to dry them off.
  • Dry Sack: Dry sacks come in handy for a long day at sea and keeps your gear moisture-free!

More Tips for Taking Your Dog Aboard:

Plan Ahead for Potty Breaks: If you're on a boat, know how much time you will be out and plan to stop onshore.

Practice Docking: It’s not a bad idea to get your dog familiar with the dock before getting on the boat. For larger dogs, boat ramps can come in handy.

Fishing Boats: Be sure to clean your boat and pick up any lures to protect your dog's feet.

Check Laws: Local laws change by state, so check your requirements for having dogs on board.

Have a Dog Overboard Plan: For boating, make sure everyone on board knows the plan if your dog unexpectedly goes overboard. Most importantly, assign someone to turn off the engine immediately.

Protect Those Paws: If you’re traveling by boat, have a blanket or towel on the ground for your dog to stand on. The boat's surface can get hot and uncomfortable on your dog's pads.

Check the Weather: Always use your best judgment when heading out on hot days, and if the weather is too hot, leave your four-legged friends behind.

Clip Nails: When paddleboarding, be sure to clip your dog's nails so that you don’t damage the deck of your board. 

Happy Sailing, Friends!

At Wilderdog, we love helping dogs discover their next adventure with their new gear. Subscribe to our email list to get updated with more blogs about stuff like backpacking with your dog, and the occasional interview with some remarkable canines (okay – we interview their humans, but it's mainly about the dogs). And, if you subscribe now, you’ll receive 10% off on your first purchase as a thank you for joining our pack!