One of the most frequent questions that we get about living on a boat is “How is it with the dogs”? It might surprise you that in our travels we would estimate that maybe 65% of the full time cruisers have one or two dogs onboard. Even more amazing is that many of the dogs are fairly large – Labs, Goldens, Huskies, Bull Dogs and many Doodles. We have seen a wide variety. For most people it is the pet that they had on land so they simply took the dog with them. The Dog House is now the Boat House and some adapt better than others, but overall everyone is happy for the companionship of their best friend.
Our dog, Jazzy, is an eight year old Schnauzer, who is in his 4th year of living on a boat. Dogs are able to adapt pretty easily to the lifestyle. Dogs love to be close to their people and we actually spend more time with him on the boat. When Steve and I were working we often left Jazzy alone for 8 hours or more. This never happens on a boat. We may go out for dinner, but often the restaurant is pet friendly and he goes, too. While we are in a marina he loves to be out on the exterior of the boat and patrol the perimeter. He doesn’t jump off or on the boat unless told. If I leave the boat to take out the trash he will wait patiently and watch for me to return. There is always something interesting going on in a marina and he gets lots of attention.
When we are underway he sleeps, much like he does when riding in a car. He doesn’t like a rough ride, but neither do I. When the wave action gets too much he honkers down on the couch next to the pillows. I try to sit next to him and we all grit our teeth until we get to smoother water. I know that some dogs do get seasick, but he has been okay on the boat and not been sick. He does the mental block out with sleeping.
His favorite time is after we dock at the marina. He knows that I have to go up to the office and check in and this is his time to explore. Oh, he also knows that many marina offices stock up dog treats so he can’t wait to go. He constantly is meeting new people and lots of dogs. It would be difficult to travel with a dog that didn’t like other dogs or greeting people. Fortunately, Jazzy is up for all of that. I call it “Doggie Speed Dating”. He can’t wait to get to the dog, but once he has had his sniff he is looking for a new dog. He also looks forward to Docktails when people come to our boat. If they have dogs, they are invited, too, so it all is one big social event.
Jazzy is fortunate that we often travel with his BFF, Mozzy (which is short for Maserati cuz he’s fast). Mozzy is a five year old Shi-Poo who has adapted to Boat Life better than Jazzy. They place “chase” up and down the hall, on the dock and especially on any beach. Steve had to put up dog netting along the side of the boat because they would run back and forth “body checking” each other. I would strongly recommend the netting for dogs living aboard if your sides are low. We ordered the material online and Steve installed it himself. We sometimes add more dogs as Gypsies Palace and become the dock kennel when owners leave the boat. Abby from One Eye Dog loves to come on board and get the boys all chasing her ball. We really do have so much fun with these dogs!
Some places come with Perks. Recently, we stopped in Titusville, FL. Next to the marina is a Dog Park. Life could not be better than a Dog Park. Well, maybe a beach is a great time, too, especially without a leash. No one is happier than to see dogs enjoying themselves on a beach. Jazzy likes the sand, whereas, Mozzy and Abby splash around in the water.
The dinghy is another reason for tail wagging. Both Jazzy and Mozzy love to ride in the dinghy. They readily jump in and out and cannot wait for Steve to get it ready for them. They know the dinghy means “relief” and great spots to explore. The dogs also love to ride in the kayaks. Who knew?
The question that you all want to know is what do the dogs do when they have to go to the bathroom? Are they trained to go on the boat? Ideally, we all want the dogs to be boat trained on a pad before casting lines for the cruising lifestyle. Sadly, that doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes not ever.
When we left the dock 4 years ago Jazzy was not trained to go on a pad or the grass mat that we bought for the bow of the boat. The one good thing that we did was to only take him out 2 times a day while we lived in the house. He was used to a morning walk and one about 5:30. He was good at holding it. That really helped on the boat because we could walk him in a marina before we left and once when we docked. That was no problem. However, we put the grass mat on the bow and would take him up there in the morning and evening. He thought it was great to stretch out and nap!
Oddly enough, little Mozzy was a perfect boat dog. When he is onboard he uses the mat regularly. At first, Jazzy would follow suit, but then it got to be not interesting to go after Mozzy. Jazzy basically ignored the mat unless a new dog came over to christen it. He can’t stand not to leave pee mail! He hasn’t fooled us. He knows what that mat is for. He simply chooses not to use it.
Marina life is pretty easy with dogs, but the problem arises when you want to anchor or take a mooring ball. Then the most important equipment on the boat is a dinghy! It also helps if the dingy is easy to operate because there could be multiple shore trips if the dog is unable to go on the boat. Fortunately, our dinghy is on a lift that makes using it a breeze. In searching for an anchorage we typically look for somewhere that we can land the dinghy. It could be a beach or an actual dinghy dock. Crowd sourcing on the internet has certainly helped us locate the right places.
Ideally, we would not have to drop the dinghy every time that we anchor if Jazzy would just go on the boat. So, how do you train your dog? We have read various methods and it all comes down to will power – can we stand to out last him and not give in? Everyone says that your dog will eventually go if you continue to take him to the spot and out wait him. When it he finally goes, he is rewarded. Simple, but painful for the dog owners! Steve decided to put this to the test while we were in the Exumas last year. We were at anchor in some fairly strong winds and it was too rough to put the dinghy down. We had both dogs on board. We stayed on board 24 hours. Mozzy used the mat, Jazzy wasn’t interested. The next day the winds were still up and Steve decided to prove a point to Jazzy that he was going to out-last him. Hours and hours went by and we went to bed. Now we were into the 3rd day and Jazzy had only managed one pee even though we even took him out on a leash and walked him around. At 54 hours I gave in and wanted off the boat! Everyone went in the dinghy to shore and Jazzy immediately relieved himself. So, the point is, he can hold it. If we do not want to take the dinghy down, we don’t. Frequently, we take it down to shore when we anchor, but not in the morning since we know he can hold it and he knows what the mat is for. If we ever had a puppy we would teach him to go on command as that is also part of the boat training with the pad.
The great thing about dogs on a cat is that the bow of the boat is so nice for them. They have room to move around. Speaking of cats, we have seen some cats on a boat. Some are on leashes and some jump off and on at will. It can be done as I have seen people that have made it work.
Another issue is finding a groomer while moving from place to place. Many dogs do not need grooming, but Jazzy does. Quite awhile ago Steve decided to do it himself by watching You Tube videos. He even learned how to groom Mozzy! It has been definitely worth it.
We love having Jazzy with us and we think he loves boat life, too! He has lots of friends, including Abby, the One Eye Dog, to play with as we cruise the waterways.