Although Pandion runs pretty light with three of us as the primary crew, we make room for our, arguably, furriest crew member Salty the Pug! There are lots of other boats with dogs on board, however we do get asked a lot about having a dog on board. I thought I’d share our experience after living on a boat for over three years with a dog.
Like people, all dogs have a unique boat-life experience. Salty is the only dog we have lived on board with, however, having a dog means you meet a lot of other boats with dogs and share stories. I’ll try to share here a lot of what we have learned first and second hand.
Salty – the Pug, the Dog, the Mystery!
A bit about Salty! He’s a 4 year old Pug who we got from a small family that bred their two pugs. Not official breeders or anything, just a family looking to make a buck. We got him after someone else had bought and then quickly returned him for being “a lot of work”. In other words, he was a perfectly normal puppy! Remember that before you get one! The advantage for us getting a puppy was that we could expose him to boats and sailing from a very young age. At the time we had a 30 ft sail boat and we took Salty sailing and paddle boarding whenever we could. He has become an avid paddler and, since we left the marina and have been sailing Mexico, he’s become a really good swimmer! He knows the word “paddle” like most dogs know the word “walk”, or “park”.
Salty is very easy going with people and other dogs. He’s not a dominant dog so its low stress when we have other humans or dogs on board. At times he can be too friendly - a bit of a close talker you might say! All in all he is a really easy going dog. As a pug he likes to rest a lot and is a breed whose purpose is to be your companion. This makes him a great match for a small space and long sailing days.
Despite his awesome demeanor Salty still has not mastered relieving himself on the boat. We potty trained him when we had a small home with a backyard and it seems those lessons really stuck. We have tried multiple things and there are a lot of great online tips about this however I have to be honest, they didn’t end up working for Salty. He will now #2 on the boat but it takes a full 48 hours before he will pee on the boat. We have discussed this with a few veterinarians and they have told us that, other then an unlikely change of a urinary tract infection it should be fine. We also rarely ever sail for so long that he has to wait more than 12 hours. Reality is we just have to accept that while we sail with Salty, we have to negotiate with his bladder. As the vets have said, he’ll go when he has to go! Meantime Salty gets to poop in a lot of beautiful places!
Considerations with a Dog Onboard
Personality, Permissions and Planning
Some people come to have a dog on board because they want to sail and already have a pet! That’s great. We have met a lot of cruisers who have their pets joining them on their cruising dreams. Just like our loved ones, however, they may not always share your passion. Have a back up plan or at least a backup idea because a constantly seasick pet will be unpleasant and possibly dangerous when you’re halfway to Bermuda! Obviously you know your pet and wouldn’t let this really happen but be prepared; on your initial cruises your pet is going to have a personal journey too, and it may well end with “get me off this f*%&ing boat”.
If you have the opportunity to get a dog for your boat intentionally it’s ideal that the dog can be satisfied with a little or a lot of exercise, and be very good with travel in general. The boat is your primary but not only form of travel, and living the cruising life means taxi rides, bus rides, planes to get visas and trips home to see friends or for supplies. There are logistics to consider beyond your ship and water routes, having a dog is one more layer to that.
When arriving at an anchorage, you’ll be excited to take the fur ball out for some exercise and fun on shore. Some islands in Mexico do not allow dogs on shore at all, some only allow them on the beach and not beyond to explore. We have found all sorts of rules and restrictions to contend with and we route plan around some places that may be too restrictive. If the place is too good to miss then Salty is going to need to stay onboard so try and get your pooch used to being onboard alone for short periods.
Restrictions go beyond islands within a country as well. Some countries have rules for bringing in animals involving many forms and quarantines which can really put a damper on your trip. Be sure to check out what the regulations are as you create your dream route. You can find a lot of great information at bringfido’s travel page.
Safety gear on board a boat is important for every crew member, and your dog is no exception. Your dog is going to need a life jacket, which is tough for a breed like a pug which has a very round body shape and can slip out of the life jacket easily. We often have Salty secured in a harness and tethered in the cockpit and pilothouse instead of a life jacket to keep him safely on deck, with his life jacket nearby. We also sometimes use the harness simply so he has a “handle” and makes picking him up much easier. Some boats have put netting on the lifelines to keep their dog on board in more tumultuous seas as well.
If you have a smaller vessel consider that there are a few more things you need to store for a dog but it really is pretty minimal. We have some extra medicines, toys, pee-pads, and a few Halloween outfits just in case. The biggest storage we have used for Salty is a kennel that he feels safe in and dog food. We’ve realized that we were having trouble getting access to high quality dog food so we ended up having to store more of it then we initially planned leaving California. Some friends of our overcome this by preparing their own dog food which doesn’t help much with storage but you know the quality is good. If you are a competent fisher you can probably save some money as well! The kennel we have for Salty is a lot of room under our galley table, but it’s good to know he has a place he feels safe, and is safe if we ever need to keep him contained on the boat. For us the trade off is worth the room.