I get a lot of questions regarding living on a boat with my pups, so I figured I’d write out how I manage. I’ve already written a post about sailing and traveling with them, you can read about it here.
When I first moved aboard my little Columbia 26′, it was the dog hair that drove me absolutely insane. It was everywhere. All of my energy went to showing up for my office job looking like a normal person! Keep in mind there are a lot of weird things I have to do just to combat their hair, and to keep Zita from permanently scarring any random people on the docks.
Initially, brushing the dogs every day didn’t seem to help. It was such a small space inside my first boat, and there was no closed off storage. Everything I needed on a daily basis was out in the open. I cut up a shower curtain I’d gotten on sale, added velcro and draped it alongside the port and starboard areas to keep hair off my dishes and whatnot. I used to wash their bedding once a week thinking that was helping control the situation. Looking back, that is absolutely ridiculous as I only wash it once a month now.
Seven years later I realize the first mistake I made was using a “furminator” brush. I know the brush is specifically for dogs with long hair that sheds, but it seemed to create more hair because I could brush them for an hour every day and still get hair everywhere. I only brush with a wire brush now. This has drastically cut back on the amount of time I spend brushing them, which means it isn’t a chore I actively avoid anymore. Dogs with short hair could benefit from daily brushing as well, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s doing anything. I hear plenty of complaints from short-haired dog owners. For me, when Thing 1 and Thing 2 are shaved (aka when it’s hot enough), I feel like I am on vacation from dog hair duty.
In the mornings, I brush the pupperinos outside after we return from our morning walk. It only takes a few minutes and leaves them super smiley! Then I go inside and remove any item they sleep on along with the floor rug. I shake them out up on the deck over the side, in whichever way the wind will blow the hairs away from the boat. Before putting these items back inside, I sweep down below. Then I put everything back in place and voila, I have a clean boat for the rest of the day. There are other things I do that non dog owners don’t quite understand:
- Switching out fabric cushions for vinyl can raise your quality of life. They are much easier to wipe down once a week, and dog hair can’t weave itself into vinyl
- Any time you’re trying to get dog hair off your clothes, go up to the deck to do it and let the wind blow it away. Otherwise it will just swirl around down below and won’t help the situation
- Cleaning up a mess of lines (sheets, halyards) and getting them off the deck is now habit! Getting them out of the way lessens the chance for dog hair to settle on them
When it is hot enough, I do shave them with this awesome trimmer. When I started shaving them years ago while living in Arizona, I had a huge honking thing that overheated quite a bit and was heavy, meaning it took a while to finish one haircut. This new trimmer is cordless, quiet, smaller, lighter, and came with a ton of attachments. I can even charge it via USB! The battery lasts long enough to where I don’t have to charge it mid-shave either. The attachments mean I can leave some hair so they don’t get sunburnt, or trim around their cute little faces to even the fade out.
Leaving Them on the Boat
People are for some reason so shocked I leave the dogs on the boat when I go places. Like to work when I had an office job, or to an appointment I can’t bring the dogs to. When I had an apartment, I left them at home like many millions of pet owners do every day. Why would it be any different on the boat? Their beds are there, their water is there, they eat / sleep / get pets there, I am not sure what is so surprising about this.
Things I do before I leave: I always make sure Little Miss Piggy and Kermit the Dog get a walk to go potty before I leave if I am going to be gone for a couple of hours or more. I make sure they have water. I leave a pee pad for Zita if I may be gone longer. She’s usually okay, but I just want to give her an option other than the rug or floor. She is terrified of noisy flies when they get inside the boat, and for some reason this makes her piddle .
I also ignore them for 10 minutes or more, however long it takes for them to ignore every movement I make. Many dogs have separation anxiety, and if I make a big deal about leaving / coming home, this further proves to them they simply can not live without me and makes my absence harder for them to deal with. My little one, Zita, is overall a very anxious dog so I mainly do this for her. She still barks in protest when I leave, but after 20 minutes (as reported by many neighbors over the years) they quiet down. Bear usually joins her barking by singing / howling and it is very funny to hear if I’ve forgotten something shortly after leaving!
Speaking of anxious dogs, I had a really tough time dealing with Zita after moving aboard. She was used to being crated in our past apartments. The crate was her safe space, she liked it and knew she needed it. I couldn’t crate her on the first boat, there was simply NO ROOM for one. Initially, I left her to her devices when gone and ho-ly sh$*, it was a bad idea. She’d pee, poop, vomit, knock stuff into said bodily fluids and knock over anything else she could get to. It took me a while to realize she was trying to see out the windows, along with having a full blown panic attack. She’d hear a noise, and want to see who it was outside. She also has no idea what to do with her freedom or how to handle stress. I love her, but she is nuts.
The only thing I could think to do, other than give her up for adoption, was to leave her on a leash while I was away. Honestly, it worked beautifully. I just had to be careful what was within her “radius” of what she could get to and usually I’d come back to the boat the same way I left it. The leash was wrapped around and secured to somewhere she already liked to hide (see below for her favorite hiding spot aboard our first boat). Meanwhile, Bear just curls up and waits for his mommy to come home.
I don’t know when I stopped leashing Captain Z, but it was definitely last year at some point. I started testing her, leaving for short periods to take the trash out or go to the bathroom, and I guess in her old age she is finally being a good girl! I do close the door to any cabin not containing a bed, currently the shop and aft cabin. Less space for her to pace / freak out is better.
When I am working on projects, there are a few things I do to “prep the dogs” if you will. First off, Bear is very cuddly and needs a lot of attention. Quite frankly, he gets annoying when I am trying to focus. Before I get into any project that will take several hours, I sit down with both of them and give them solid quality individual attention (about 20 minutes each). They are surprisingly polite about it, patiently waiting for their turn. After doing this, the fluff monsters will likely fall asleep and let me be.
If I am working down below with a toxic chemical or creating a lot of dust, I put Mama and Papa Ganoush up in the cockpit and move their beds and water dish out there. This can get annoying if I am at the docks, because Zita looooves to bark at everyone walking by. If I am working outside, I will bring them up with me as they love inspecting what I do while sunbathing, napping, and letting the wind flow through their hair.
Other Helpful Tips
I got new name tags made for Papa Smurf and his Smurfette. When I was stationary at the same marina, I added my slip number to their tag. Now that I’m overseas and bouncing around, I’ve replaced that with my email address and boat name. They shouldn’t get lost because I keep them on a tight leash, but we also house sit quite a bit and Zita has escaped from a backyard before.
I used to let them get off the boat first and then I’d wrangle them onto their leashes, but Zita is a jerk and can’t be trusted. She likes to run up to people minding their own business and bark at them. Sometimes, people legitimately get scared of her and start flailing their limbs thus egging her on. It creates a lot of chaos and is embarrassing. So I now get off the boat first. Then I get Bear off, and put him on the leash. Then I get Zita, and put her on the leash. I do the same in reverse when getting them back onto the boat. I say to Zita, “Bad Girls First” as I put her onboard. This ensures the least amount of apologizing on Zita’s behalf. I also ditched the dock stairs, as the dogs always seemed too nervous to jump and some are slippery thus waiting for me to just grab them anyways. They’re light, so I can do this easily.
Also, keep track of how long a bag of food lasts. I buy the smaller bags of dog food, so it has no chance of going stale after being opened and it’s easier to store. Knowing how much they eat helps when provisioning, or leaving them with a dog sitter to know they’ll have enough food for the trip.
As Mr. & Mrs. Smith age, these chews were recommended by a vet to help their joints. You do need to start with Step 2 before moving up to Step 3. The pups are now 13 years old and I started giving them the chews when I noticed Bear becoming a little stiff, around age 9-10. I ran out / forgot to resupply for several months and noticed a huge difference when we started up again.
I don’t leave any electrical systems “on” when leaving them on the boat, other than the bilge pump and fridge. After cooking, the propane solenoid is turned off and the propane empties out of the lines. I move the nob of the burner back to “off” and I then close the valve for the propane tank I’m currently using. I drilled another hole in the propane box to be able to turn off the valve easily. These steps give me peace of mind they will be safe while I am gone. While at anchor, especially if I have just dropped the hook, I absolutely take them with me ashore. First, they probably need to go to the bathroom. Second, if the boat drifts away I want them with me.
I hadn’t realized how many things I do differently, but honestly it’s 2nd nature and I don’t even think about it (other than the hair, it’s hard to forget about that!). If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask below. If you have a dog and want to move on board with them, I hope this has been helpful. You know your animal better than anyone, for the most part dogs are very adaptable and just want to be close to you. Best of luck to other future and current boaters with dogs!