1990 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved
was just an eight-week-old ball of blond fur
when we took him sailing for the first time. Today
he's a hefty, 85-lb. Labrador Retriever who has logged
thousands of nautical miles under sail, many of them
offshore. During these several years of living and
cruising with "Pup" aboard our 37-ft.
cutter, we've learned - and invented - many ways to
make his voyaging easier and safer. Whether you're a
day sailor, a weekender, or a blue-water
passage-maker, there's no need to leave man's best
friend behind and miss the added fun and companionship
of canine crew.
your dog is the first step toward smooth sailing
together. Most dogs will readily accept the idea of
boating if they're introduced to it at a young age.
With adult dogs, it may be best to ease them into it
and to make it an especially positive experience for them
in the beginning.
first few times you bring your dog aboard the boat, take time to
encourage him. Tell him he's a good boy and give him a little
treat - a dog biscuit or something. He'll start associating
being aboard with pleasure and fun. When you first take him out
in the boat, do it on a mild day. Let him get the idea that this
is all right, that he's safe. (By the way, these techniques work
with people, too.)
teaching your dog the boat's rules from the beginning. Make sure
he knows that sheets and halyards aren't toys for him to chew.
At the same time, provide him with some toys that he is allowed
to pick up or gnaw. Keep these on the boat and available to him.
(Shaolin likes tennis balls and coconuts!) Another practice we
find very useful is assigning an out-of-the-way place for the
dog to go when we're maneuvering or docking. On the command,
"Go to your place," we taught Shaolin to move quickly
to the after deck where he can sit or lay down comfortably on
the lazarette hatch. He's trained to stay there until we release
him with, "O.K.!"
are a few other commands Shaolin has learned that make life
aboard nicer for everyone. For example, he won't jump until told
to do so - not into or out of the dinghy, nor from the boat to
the dock. In fact, he won't leave the boat at all without
permission. Another command, "Back!" gets him to move away from
the boarding gate when someone is arriving; Shaolin, being a
friendly soul, is sometimes overly enthusiastic about greeting
visitors. Time invested training your dog repays you forever
after, especially in the small confines of a boat. Pet shops and
libraries offer many books on the subject.
of training, one of the most common questions people ask us
regarding sailing with our dog is, "Where does he `go'
onboard?" The fact is, even though we're now full time
cruising liveaboards, he doesn't have to go on the boat very
often. We usually manage to walk Shaolin ashore wherever we are.
We've discovered that this sometimes encourages us to visit
places we otherwise might have skipped seeing. More
often than not, we wind up discovering something worthwhile that
we'd have missed if we hadn't taken Pup in.
course, shore leave isn't always possible. On Shaolin's first
long offshore passage he refused to relieve himself on the boat.
We cajoled, threatened, pleaded and (dare I admit it?) even
demonstrated. But he held firm for 48 hours! I don't know who
suffered more, he or we! Eventually, however, nature took its
pack animal's instinct is to "go" as far as
possible from the den. In this case the den, the place
we all spend the most time together, is the cockpit
area. So, offshore he now uses the foredeck or, in
rough conditions, the side decks. Either way, a
bucket-full of water quickly washes all traces
overboard. Some dogs will use a piece of Astro-Turf
(synthetic-grass carpeting) placed on the deck or on
the lazarette. Connected with a lanyard, it's easy to
clean by tossing overboard for a rinse. Small dogs can
often be trained to use a kitty litter box.
young children, dogs are at risk of falling overboard
accidentally. The surest remedy for both is the same: you can
string netting all the way around the boat's perimeter, in
between the lifelines and the rail. This may also keep a
spirited dog from jumping ship to follow when you go ashore
safety harness is another way to keep a dog on deck. Sturdy web
harnesses for dogs are for sale at pet shops and online. Offshore, Shaolin's harness is tied with a strong line to a central
attachment point over the cockpit. This gives him freedom of
movement as far as the side decks where he may relieve himself,
but the tether isn't long enough for him to reach beyond the
rail. A dog that isn't a strong swimmer might be safer wearing
some sort of floatation device. We've seen doggie life jackets
for sale at boat shows and advertised in some magazines.
Remember; never let your dog wear a collar, and especially a
choke collar, while on the boat. Never, never tie him by his
collar, or by looping a line around his neck! There's a
possibility that he could choke himself by snagging it or by
jumping overboard beyond the reach of the leash.
warm weather, dogs need a shady spot to lay down, and drinking
water available to them. (Kind of like people, aren't they?) In
inclement weather and at night, our dog is welcomed below decks,
but we roll out a length of carpet to protect the
teak & holly cabin sole from his sharp claws.
international cruising, make sure your dog has had all of his
shots, and that you have a record of this to show to foreign
officials. Some countries, mostly island nations, maintain a
rabies-free status. They severely restrict entry of foreign dogs, often
requiring quarantine for as much as 6 months before allowing him
to enter. New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and many British
Commonwealth countries, including several formerly British
islands in the Caribbean, are particularly sticky about this.
Check with the host country's consulate before you go.
has visited more than a dozen different countries to date. We've had no
problems with officials. On the contrary, we find that nothing
removes barriers quite so easily as a happy, friendly dog. We've
met more people, been invited into more boats and homes, and
had more fun mini-adventures simply because we
accompanied Shaolin. And for him, no matter where we travel
there's no language barrier!
an additional benefit of cruising with "Pup": While I
can't claim Shaolin is a vicious killer of a watchdog, his mere
85-lb. presence is undoubtedly a deterrent to would-be thieves.
Why mess with a boat that has a dog on it, right?
you have a dog, he or she is probably just as much a part of
your family as is Shaolin a part of ours. Since cruising at its
best is a shared adventure, why not include the whole family?
Strap on the dog's harness, tell him he's a good boy, and get
under way. Add a new dimension - and a whole lot more fun - to
your sailing. Next time, go cruising with Pup!
to List of Tor's Tips