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Trainer Q&A: Pet Boating safety

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Pet safety Boating safety

Pet safety Boating safety

Marilyn Bailey, of Kirkland, and her bull terrier Browser both wear their life vests while sailing in Roche Harbor in the Puget Sound.

Trainer Stormi King Parish, who teaches at University Canine Learning Academy in Seattle, answers a series of questions about pet first aid.

Question: If my dog naturally knows how to swim, does he/she need a life jacket?

Answer: If your dog is swimming or boating somewhere where his/her feet cannot easily touch bottom, the safe answer is always yes.

Question: What are the risks of taking a dog boating? How do I make the excursion safe for me and my dog?

Answer: In the Pacific Northwest, the obvious danger is always going to be the water temperature. Even during the summertime, the lakes and waterways in our region can still maintain a chilly temperature.

Question: How cold is too cold?

Answer: A good general rule of thumb is that if the water is too cold for you to comfortably jump into, it's too cold for your pet, too.

The exact temperature will vary slightly depending on the dog's size, weight, age, physical fitness and coat, but it's important to remember that a dog's coat is not water resistant.

"Cold" water for people is defined roughly any temperature at or below 70 degrees. Because of sudden temperature change, jumping into water below 70 degrees can shock the system, which can cause symptoms anywhere from loss of breath and numbness to sudden cardiac arrest in even the most healthy of individuals.

The average canine body temperature is even warmer than ours (100.5-102.5 Fahrenheit), so the potential for shock from sudden temperature change is even greater.

Test the waters out for yourself first, and if at all possible allow your dog to gradually enter the water and get comfortable before taking that giant leap in.

Swimming in cold water can exhaust even the most capable of swimmers, both dog and human, because it constricts the muscles and blood flow. The safest thing you can do is save those swimming excursions for the hottest days of the year, and monitor any time your dog spends in the water.

Always have a life jacket on your pup, both in and out of the boat, and bring the dog back on to the boat or shore at any sign of exhaustion.

Also be aware that smaller bodies of water, such as flowing rivers, can have unexpected undercurrents that can be extremely dangerous.

If it's your dog's first time on a boat, it may not be a bad idea to simply hang out at the dock and let your dog get a feel for it. Dogs are not used to the ground under their feet moving and swaying, so the sensation can be unsettling for newbie’s.

If needed, a little desensitization and creating a positive association with being on the boat may help your pup become more comfortable.

Have a safe, cozy and shaded place on the boat for your dog to hang out while the boat is in motion, and make sure your boat has traction to keep your pup from slipping around.

Just as with children, dogs who hang off the side of the boat are more likely to fall overboard.

Dogs, especially those with lighter coat colors and light skin pigment, are susceptible to sunburn just as we are, so pack sunscreen for those sunny days on the boat.

Luckily, there aren't large predatory marine animals in our lakes and rivers, but there are occasionally warnings about toxic spills or bacteria. Always pay attention to any new notices posted at the beach or marina you are leaving from.

Question: Should a dog be tethered in a boat and under what circumstances?

Answer: If you feel you need to tether your dog, do it in a safe area of the boat and on a short lease. Your craft should be large enough that the dog cannot become hung up on anything or reach the side of the boat.

A tethered dog with too much lead, or one tethered in too small of a boat can fall or jump out of the boat and cause themselves serious injury or death.

Some tips:

  • Never tether your dog by the neck, always use a body harness.
  • Never leave a tethered dog unattended.
  • Never tether a dog in a smaller craft such as a canoe or paddle boat. There is not enough room to safely do so, and if the boat tips or begins to take on water your dog has no ability to escape.

Question: Is there a safe way to grab and pull a dog back in a boat if he/she falls out or jumps out?

Answer: When purchasing your pup's life jacket, be sure you have one with a handle on the back. If the dog should fall out or jump out of the boat, the safest way to get them back into the boat is by that handle. If your dog is a larger breed, this may require two people.

Grabbing for limbs can result in physical injury to the dog. Check your dog's life jacket each time you go out for any wear and tear that may cause the handle or its flotation to be less effective.

Question: Is playing fetch in and out of a boat safe?

Answer: Entering and exiting is when the most pet injuries and accidents occur on boats, so unless your boat has a platform off the back that the dog can easily climb onto and off, save your game of fetch for the shore.

Stormi King Parish holds a Certificate in Canine Studies and is an alumni from the Companion Animal Science Institute. She is certified in pet CPR and first aid, and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. She teaches group training classes at University Canine Learning Academy, as well as works privately with owners. She specializes in working with deaf dogs and presents seminars and workshops teaching owners how to train their hearing-impaired dogs. She lives in Seattle with her 7-year-old deaf dog Jack, who proudly holds a first-place obedience title and dabbles in canine freestyle and skateboarding, and three cats.


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