At first, like anything unknown, most dogs are going to worry about their safety. I like the saying that “Nature doesn’t give a lot of second chances” and if a dog has potential safety concerns, that will dominate their attention until the matter has been settled. That’s why when you begin introducing a dog to something like this, you want to focus more on making a positive association with it all than any other goal like distance or time spent swimming. There are some things to consider when approaching such a task:
- Have you provided your dog with fun training activities that involve getting on something that moves, that is unstable, makes noise, or otherwise shakes up their normal world? Start off by seeing how your dog reacts to things like wobble boards, standing on a pile of cushions (and then sitting, lying down, performing tricks like sitting up, etc), walking on different textured surfaces through shaping games. Using operant conditioning and playing around with clicker type training can build a lot of confidence and turn goofing around with your dog into valuable experience. The more your dog learns, the easier it gets to learn the next things (with the occasional conflict of behaviors being an exception). Want to learn how? Check out our Tricks class (both online and in Seattle)
- Is your dog comfortable being handled by you, being close to you, being picked up/moved physically? If not, you might be biting off a lot more than just introducing the boat and would do really well to practice one of my favorite exercises where you teach your dog that you need to handle them and strengthen your relationship. This is an exercise taught only during private lessons (and almost always ends up being necessary during the first private with a new client).
- Are you able to control the boat…AND the dog? It’s quite the physical feat and if your not sure about your abilities, don’t even try without some backup.
If you’re not feeling confident about something mentioned above, then you really should ask yourself if it’s a good idea to subject your dog to such an adventure. However, if you are sure, then, the answer to “Why?” is, “Because it’s awesome!” What a change of pace to get out on a lake and float around with your best friends. It’s so much fun to observe them as they discover what a great view they have out there.
They watch the wildlife, the people, the boats, check out things they’ve never seen before like lily pads, investigate strange algae, they get a terrific workout…and on a hot day nothing cools you down to the core like getting out there on the water. All this is said with a low boat that dogs can dive off of in mind. I’m not sure that all the dogs would have as good, or as cool, of a time if they were on a very different kind of boat. You’d have to work out the logistics and see how you can make your dog comfortable at higher speeds, without shade or the ability to take a swim on a whim, and make sure that you can get your dog the traction and assistance he’ll need to get down to the water, in and out, and move around safely. If, at the end of it all, given the training and time to learn how fun it can be, your dog tells you that it isn’t something he enjoys, well, you know what to do. Don’t bring that dog on the boat anymore. I know you wouldn’t do that to your best friend.