Labs are the quintessential boat dogs. They love being in and on the water, so there is no one better to have as your first mate, whether you're planning a short jaunt around the harbor or around-the-world cruise on your own vessel. Taking a dog on board with you is rewarding in many ways, but only if you're properly prepared.
Before you set sail for more than a day or two, make sure your Lab is amenable to life in confined quarters and a relative lack of physical activity. Unless you're hugging the shore or making brief hops from island to island, it's not as if you'll be able to pull over to a rest stop and let him run every few hours, or even every day. You can help make things more interesting by teaching your Lab to perform chores on the boat, such as bringing you things.
Even the most water-loving dogs can fall overboard. They may even jump overboard if fish or dolphins attract their attention. Until your Lab gets his sea legs (and even afterward), protect him with a pet life preserver. Choose a bright yellow or orange vest with a loop or handle. Let your Lab get in the water while wearing the vest so you can see how it works. Practice grabbing the loop or handle with a boat hook, or teach your Lab to swim to a ring thrown in the water so he can be pulled in.
Another safety measure is to have your Lab wear a harness attached to a safety line. Run a jack line along the port and star-board (left and right) sides of your boat, connected by a ring to safety lines attached to your Lab's harness. He can move freely about the boat, dragging the line behind him. For added safety, put up netting between the stanchions all the way around the boat, and make a point of knowing where your Lab is at all times. He doesn't know to bark if he falls off, and you might not hear a splash.
Seasickness, sunburn, and skin problems can all affect the seagoing dog. Fortunately, seasickness seems to be rare, but if your Lab does start looking a little green, a dose of Dramamine will usually take care of it. Ask your veterinarian what the proper dosage should be.
Just like people, dogs can become sunburned, especially if they have light-colored fur. The nose and ears are especially at risk. Monitor your dog's sun exposure, and make sure he has a shady place to retreat to. (This is one of those instances when the “Down” and “Stay” commands come in handy.) Apply sunscreen to the nose and ears for extra protection. Salt water can dry out your dog's fur and cause skin problems, so provide a freshwater rinse after any planned or unplanned dunkings.
If you're planning to visit any Mexican ports, be sure your dog has a current health certificate from your veterinarian. The incidence of rabies is higher in Mexico than in the United States, so a current vaccination is a must if your dog will be going ashore.
Most of the same injuries that happen to people on boats can happen to dogs, so the supplies in the first-aid kit you carry can be used for your Lab as well. See Chapter 19 for advice on stocking a first-aid kit.
The two primary physical needs your dog will face on board are eating and elimination. For the first, carry a good supply of your pet's regular food, especially if you're planning to visit foreign ports where it might not be available. If you start running out and won't have access to more for a while, begin mixing the dog's regular food with whatever you plan to feed so the digestive system will have time to adjust. The last thing you want on a boat is a dog with diarrhea.
Stainless steel food and water dishes are the popular choice to use, since they're easy to clean and won't break. Some dishes are weighted at the bottom or angled outward so they won't slide around. If water sloshing out of the dish is a concern, you can buy a specially made bowl with a lid on top and a hole in the middle for the dog to drink out of.
For potty breaks, choose a spot that's easy to hose down, and teach your Lab to go there. To give him the idea, capture some of his urine in a sponge or container and use it to scent a small mat on the boat, so the dog recognizes that it's an acceptable place to eliminate. Commercially available scented pads can also indicate to your dog where to go.
Most marinas and yacht clubs welcome pets as long as they are well behaved. No matter where you're docked, the same rules of good pet ownership apply. Keep your Lab leashed so he doesn't chase people or other pets, and pick up waste. Boaters tend to be early to bed, early to rise, so don't permit barking after 9 P.M.
Be sure your Lab always wears a collar and tag with your name, the name of your boat, and your slip number.
It's likely that your Lab will be so fascinated by watching you, the birds, and the fish that he won't have time to get bored or destructive, but take a favorite toy or two along just in case. The occasional trip to shore will allow your dog to stretch his legs and sniff some exciting new scents. When you're in port, take him for long walks every day. Having your Lab on board is a sure way to make friends in any port, and he's one friend that won't contradict you when you're telling that big-fish-that-got-away story.
Boat Life Tips
Let your Lab become accustomed to the boat before you go out on the water. Spend time just hanging out on the boat so your dog can familiarize himself with it. This is a good time to practice getting on and off the boat. Some dogs find it unnerving to walk a gangplank or jump onto a surface that rocks when their paws hit it. Take things slowly, and give lots of praise when your Lab successfully makes it on board.
Keep your first trip short, no more than a couple of hours. This will give your Lab a chance to get his sea legs, and you can find out if he's prone to seasickness. Ladders can be slippery, and dogs aren't really built for climbing them anyway. Make it easier for your Lab to negotiate a ladder by applying nonskid adhesive strips to the steps. If you're taking your Lab on a powerboat, consider getting him a pair of doggie goggles to protect his eyes from dryness and windblown debris.
These two six-year-old female black Field Labs love to swim.