Before you bring a dog aboard, there are some important things to consider, says Mary Minard, who has logged 12,000 cruising miles with canines.
Does a pet really fit your cruising lifestyle? Do you like to spend five hours beating down to Block Island, R.I., on your ear, get into Great Salt Pond and throw down your anchor before taking the launch ashore for a spontaneous bike ride around the island and dinner at Ballard’s? Too bad for the dog left that’s on board.
Do all the partners on the boat like the idea of cruising with a dog? It takes a team to care for a dog on board, and it’s important that everyone be willing to help out in their care and feeding. If someone feels the dog is a nuisance, it won’t work.
Are you willing to accommodate a dog’s needs? Walking a dog does get old, but it needs to be done — in bad weather, after a long day. And you need to pick up after them, even on beaches. Remember, a dog needs a lot of attention.
Are you willing to deck train your dog? It takes some time and effort. Start at home using a plastic mat, the same as they’ll use on the boat. Once they use it at home they’ll recognize it and use it on board, too. And reinforce those basic obedience commands: OK, wait, leave it and stay.
How do I get started? Start slowly. Get them used to wearing a harness. Take them down to the boat and go for an easy run. Make it a short and pleasant experience. Watch the dog’s reaction; some will be perched on the bow yelping “go faster,” and some will be trembling down below.
Chances are that with focused, patient training your dog will learn what it needs to know to be a good cruising companion. “Praise, praise, praise,” Minard says. “They live for it. Make the boat a happy, fun place. When your dog knows what to expect and feels secure in its place, everyone benefits.”
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December 2012 issue