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Cruising with dogs — what you need to know, Part 2

Sailing with dogs - what you need to know - Part 2 | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

8. Teach your dog to swim well

We taught Mika to swim with confidence buy starting her off wearing her life vest.  The very first time she started by pawing the water instead of really swimming, but the second time around, she understood that she should keep her paws under water.  By the fourth time, she was really confident swimming with the life vest.  

Next, we put here in the water wearing just her normal harness.  No problem.  She had the confidence to swim and did it well.  By the 10th time, she was jumping off the dingy on command and swimming alongside.  It’s great exercise as she can swim quite a long distance and it’s exercise she loves even if it’s raining. We always stick close to shore so that she can get out when she’s tired.  When we’re near a shore that’s difficult to access from the water (big stones or lots of slippery seaweed) we lift her out into the dingy by her harness.

Warning: You may have a dog that smells bad when wet.

One of the things we appreciate about Beaucerons is that they dry very quickly — usually within a half hour and that they don’t stink, even when wet (honestly)!  Their fur does not absorb water like our hair or like many other breeds.  We had a Golden Retriever, a German Shepard and a Flat-coated Retriever, and they all had the infamous “wet dog odour”.  The two Retriever types also took forever to dry.  We sometimes had to use a blow dryer with Freja, our Golden ( she hated it)! 

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika having an after-swim siesta.

9. Get your dog prepared for travel – he/she needs a pet passport and a microchip  

If you’re from Europe, your dog probably has these already, but I’ve read that it’s not required in many other countries.  In Europe you will be asked for your dog’s passport and customs officials will read off its microchip when you enter the country.  They will also check that your dog has the required vacinations and that they’ve been administered recently enough.

Some countries also require special de-worming treatments (Finland and Norway, for example) that must be administered by a vet between 24 hours and 5 days before entering the country.  Your dog’s passport must be filled out and stamped by a vet – you can’t do it yourself.  It’s a good idea to have proof that you’ve entered the country during the 24-120 hour window.  We stay at a marina so we have the fee receipt with the date on it.  Or you could go to the customs office.  

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika at Verdens Ende (Land’s End) Norway

When I phoned Norwegian Customs the first time we sailed there, they told us we didn’t need to visit customs for the dog, but that we needed to always have the dog’s passport with us in case of a police or customs check.  (Since we are a Schengen country boat and we are Schengen country citizens, we did not have to go to customs to clear into Norway).  We were , however, checked by a “roving” customs boat at the Verdens Ende Marina and they asked for Mika’s passport to see if we had the Vet’s stamp and date for the worm treatment.

10. Have a Safety and “DOB” (dog overboard) plan

When the seas are rough, Mika will have her flotation vest on and always be attached to a U-bolt via a soft shackle in the cockpit.  In calm conditions she will have either her flotation vest or, if the weather is hot, her harness.  When we are at anchor, she no longer needs a harness since she swims like a seal now. She is always attached in the cockpit when we are doing harbour or anchoring  manoeuvres, since we are both too concentrated on properly mooring the boat to keep an eye on her.

Mika with her harness and soft shackle | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika with her harness and soft shackle.

We had Discovery Yachts install four lines of life lines around the boat instead of the usual two.  The space between the lines is too narrow for a large dog to slip through them (and neither can we, as a bonus).  Some people use netting and some weave a line in a zig-zig pattern through the lifelines.

Our DOB plan is this:  we will use our buoy hook (about 1.3 meters long) attached with a soft shackle to our spinnaker halyard. We can hook the large soft shackle on her harness ring to get her back onboard.  If the seas are rough though, she is always attached inside our protected cockpit with a 1-meter line so there’s no risk of her going overboard.

Buoy hook dog over board system | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

The buoy hook can easily snatch the soft shackle and then locks shut.

11. Teach your dog to be alone on the boat

You’ve probably taught your dog how to stay alone at home?  Our dogs have had to stay on the boat alone while we go grocery shopping,  visit a museum or go to a restaurant that doesn’t allow dogs.

Here’s how we taught Mika.  When she was just 10 weeks old, we started playing “find the dog treat”.  We would place about 10 pieces of her usual dog food around the apartment while she waited (“wait” is a command she learned early along with sit and lie down).  It would take her around 5 minutes to find the treats.  Then we started hiding the treats and then saying “OK, find the treats” and then leave the apartment for a few minutes.  This became longer and longer — 5 minutes, then 10 and 15 minutes.  We always came back to find her lying in her dog bed not perturbed at all.  Nose work tires her out!

So, when we need to leave her in the boat, we first take a long walk, have her swim for awhile, or go to a dog park if there’s one available. That way, she’s already tired. Then we hide about 25 tiny dog treats (we use normal grain-free dog food for small breeds as treats) all over the boat while she waits.  Just before closing the companionway door, we say “find the treats” !  We always come back to the boat and find her lying down on her rug, a bit drowsy, and just as calm as can be. 

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika loves her sheepskin rug (an IKEA purchase). The nautical water bowl is from Hunter.

If the day is sunny and the temperature is over 22°C inside the boat, we turn on the saloon air conditioning and set it to 20 °C for Mika. We also close all of the sun blinds inside the boat. When it’s extremely hot, we attach the big canvas covers for the big saloon windows on the exterior side to keep the sun from hitting them as they can become hot (they are tinted black).

12. Ask yourself “Does my dog actually like being on a boat?”

We’ve been lucky.  Both Senna and Mika adapted well to life on a boat.  Mika usually sleeps like a log while we’re under way. The only times she hasn’t slept were when we had rough conditions closed-hauled or on a close reach with waves on the beam. That’s when we know she’s not entirely happy.  That’s why we try to adapt our sailing to keep Mika confortable.

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika usually sleeps during the entire voyage, with a break for a few treats at lunchtime.

Neither dog got seasick or stir crazy.  Training them while they’re still very young is your best bet for having a perfect boat dog, but then Senna, who came onboard as an “old lady”, adapted beautifully.  

You may have to change your habits (for example, always stopping at night so your dog can get some exercise on land if you have a breed that needs it, or staying in the marina or at your protected anchorage if conditions are rough, even if you’re racer types that love that kind of challenge).

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika easily makes friends with all animals!

If you are thinking of adopting a dog for your cruising life, you should think about choosing a calm, sociable, friendly breed rather than a nervous, high-strung, barky one.  You and your boat neighbours in anchorages and marinas will be glad you did.

Good luck!

Cruising with dogs – what you need to know, Part 1

Sailing with dogs - what you need to know | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

What you need to know about cruising with a large dog — our experiences with Senna and Mika

We’ve been cruising with big dogs since our first season on Freja. Senna was with us until July of 2017 (she died of old age while we were in Stockholm) and we’ve had Mika onboard since the end of April 2018.  Mika was born on September 24, 2017.

Cruising life is admittedly a bit more difficult and complicated with a dog, but it is so worth it!

1. Getting a large and heavy dog into the boat can be complicated

Most large dogs have no problem getting on the boat, especially if you have a gangway. Our gangway has a non-slip surface and is made of carbon fiber, so it’s easy to fold up and carry to our workshop, where it’s stored.  When I lived in Stockholm and sailed a Sveakryssare (a low and narrow 36-ft sloop) our Flat-Coated Retriever would leap from the pontoon, through the bars of the pulpit, onto the foredeck.  Amazing.  

Getting your dog onto the boat -sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

This non-slip gangway makes it easy for Mika to get on the boat when we can’t get an alongside berth in a marina. This is the Navis Boat Club Marina in Stockholm.

The big problem is getting your large/heavy dog into the boat.  We chose our boat, which has a raised saloon, partly because it’s easy for a dog to get into the saloon from the companionway.  We have just three wide stairs that go down at a 45 degree angle – they’re like the stairs you have in a house, rather than like a step ladder.  

If you have more of a step ladder entrance into your boat, you’ll probably have to either modify the stairs so they’re less steep and wide enough for the dog to comfortably walk down, or rig a block and tackle “crane” from the boom to winch your dog down. 

Getting you do onto the boat -sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Helping Mika onto the boat at the Knippla-Källö Marina on the west coast of Sweden. This was taken when she was 6 months old. She now just jumps right on.

2. Dogs do take up a lot of space

When Mika is lying down, stretched out to her full length, she takes up basically all of the floor space in the saloon of our 55 foot sailboat.  She also likes to sleep on one of the cockpit benches while under way (taking up almost the entire length of it).  If it’s just the two of us, it’s no problem, but when we have guests on board, it gets a bit crowded.

3. They shed. A lot!  Be prepared to clean

You will vacuum every single day.  Sometimes twice a day. We invested in a Dyson hand-held chargeable vacuum cleaner.  They are more expensive that other brands, but the quality and power are so much better.  We went through 2 other brands before finally being satisfied with the Dyson.  We brush Mika every morning as well.  In the spring, we leave her soft fur in the forest for birds to build their nests, but after the nesting season we put it in the trash.  In the summer, when she’s really shedding,  it’s enough to fill a pillow every week!

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika likes to sit on the aft deck to watch people go by. This is taken at the Turkku Marina (Finland). It was 33°C and about 95% humidity while we were there.

4. If the weather is hot and/or humid…

The summer of 2018 went into the record books as being the hottest and most humid summers in history in the nordic countries.  We had about 5 straight weeks of over 30°C and high humidity during July and the beginning of August while we were in Stockholm, Åland and Finland.  We let Mika swim several time a day if it was possible.  The only place where it was possible was in Turkku, since the marina is up the river Aura that runs through the city.

We’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, and when we have to leave Mika on the boat to go grocery shopping (no dogs allowed),  we put her inside and run the air conditioning at about 22°C.  We also have insulated canvas tarps that we fix over the saloon windows to keep the heat out (one side is Sunbrella and the other is felt).  We also make sure she has plenty of cool water.  She has a cooling bandana and we may buy her a cooling vest if climate change means permanently hot summers in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries.

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

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5. You’ll need a dinghy if you anchor out

We love to anchor out if it’s possible.  The feeling of peace and tranquility at anchor is a natural form of Prozac.  Mika loves to anchor out because that means swimming!  It also means exploring the islands around the anchorage and experiencing new sights and smells.  It’s obviously not possible to do this without a dinghy.  Make sure you have one that’s big enough — Mika takes the space of two adults!

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika loves to be in the dinghy. Sometimes she’ll jump in to have a nap.

6. About buying and storing dog food

We buy grain-free dog food for Mika (and did for Senna before her) and it’s only available at specialty pet supply stores, not at  grocery stores.  If we’re in a town that has a pet supply store, we stock up with two to four 20 kg bags and store them in one of the lazarettes.  We sometimes don’t know when we’ll find the next shop.  In Denmark, we once had to bicycle about 15 km to find some food for Senna.  We store the bag that’s open in the cockpit table (there’s storage space in the middle that some people use to store bottles or even fill with ice cubes (!)

You’ll probabally have “treats” in addition to “normal” food.  We usually buy grain-free food for small dogs and use those small nuggets as our “treat/training food” so Mika won’t end up gaining too much weight.  She’s heavy enough as it is!

7. When the food and water need to come out

Train your puppy to eliminate on deck. If you’re at home, train her to eliminate on the terrace, balcony or porch instead of on the grass.  This will translate into the deck once your puppy is on the boat.  This worked perfectly for Mika and she will walk up to the foredeck to take care of her needs.  We then wash the deck off with our anchor wash hose, or a bucket if we’re at anchor.  Number 2’s go into a poop bag before we rinse the deck of course.

Senna, who was already 11 years old when she came to the boat, was never able to eliminate onboard.  When she was a puppy, we had no plans whatsoever to go cruising so she was trained to “do it on the grass.”  We tried with a piece of artificial grass, but that didn’t work.  We also tried pee pads with her own urine sprinkled on it. That didn’t work either.  So with Senna, we had to limit our sailing to around 5 hours a day.

Sailing with dogs | Cruising Attitude Sailing Blog | Discovery 55

Mika has no problem eliminating on the foredeck. Afterwards we rinse the deck with our anchor wash hose or a bucket.