News article created on 31 October 2018

Paws for thought: How to keep your dog safe whilst boating

Some practical hints and tips for boating safely with your dog.

A painting of a narrowboat with a dog going through a lock past a man walking two other dogs. Boating safely with dogs by "Art by AnnaMarie"

Whether you’re taking a boating holiday, introducing a dog to a boating life for the first time, or even if you've boated for years, there are a few things that you can do to make boating with your dog a safe and enjoyable experience.

Invest in a lifejacket

Lifejackets save lives for both humans and animals. Do invest in a life jacket suitable for you and your dog.

Not all dogs are swimmers, and some dogs just don’t swim well. If your dog isn’t a swimmer, then make sure that the lifejacket you purchase is extra buoyant. If your dog is active make sure the jacket is flexible.

Whatever type of doggie lifejacket you purchase make sure it fits correctly and doesn’t impede your dog’s movement. A good lifejacket should have a well stitched handle and good under tummy support, there should be no way for your dog to wriggle or slip out of the jacket.

Tommy the coalboat puppy wears a lifejacket

Tommy from Midlands & Coast Canal Carriers models a well fitting dog lifejacket

Practice makes perfect

You’ll need to practice wearing a life-jacket with your dog. First of all, get used to putting the jacket on your dog away from the water. When your dog appears to be comfortable wearing the jacket practice some 'scoop drills' on dry land.

Lift your dog a few inches off the ground using the lifejacket handle, replace dog on ground and then reward your dog. Do this a few times. This should help prevent any nasty shock or bad reaction if your dog falls into the water and needs to be scooped out of the canal.

He ain’t heavy?

Dogs that are heavy on land are much heavier in the water especially when you’re trying to pull them out of the water and back onto your boat or dry land. Make sure that you can handle your dog should they fall into the water.

Do you have a rescue plan? Or better still assess and avoid the risk. If you’ve got a hulking great Malamute or Great Dane and you’ve got a trad or semi-trad style narrowboat, then your dog might be under your feet.

Consider if they will be safer locked inside the boat whilst cruising rather than out on that tiny stern deck. Even a small dog can easily get under the helmsman’s feet so think hard about where your dog is safest, and happiest whilst underway.

You know your dog best, whether they will sit and watch the world go by or whether they are a bit more excitable.

Dog on a boat Aldermaston

Dogs by locks

Locks are one place where you don’t want any distractions. If something’s going to go wrong at a lock, it goes wrong fast. Single handed or mob handed it can be tempting to let your dog loose lock side whilst you work your boat through so that they can do what they need to do.

If you are working a lock single-handed, you can’t be picking up after your dog at the same time, or keeping an eye on what they are doing. Dogs have been known to topple off the lock edge into the lock or slip whilst crossing a balance beam.

Very young dogs and old dogs are more prone to mishaps. Falling into a lock or above the head gates whilst the paddles are open could be catastrophic. Your dog could get crushed between the boat and lock wall, sucked through a ground paddle sluice or come into even contact with the boat propeller. It only needs to happen once.

Our advice is to keep all dogs on a lead or under very close control around locks, especially if a boat is passing through.

We would also ask that you try and prevent your dog from doing their business lockside. Doggy doodahs on ropes and boater’s boots are not pleasant and can also be a health hazard. A mooring bollard is not a dog toilet.

Sign asking dog walkers to pick up after their dogs

Waterside Walkies

Walking along the towpath, a harness is much safer for your dog than just a lead and collar. Ideally your walking harness will have good strong stitching, under tummy support and a handle similar to your doggie lifejacket. You can really hurt a dog by hauling them out of the water by their collar.

If the towpath is busy with people and cyclists, do keep your dog on a lead or under close control so that you can steer your dog out of harms way. We ask everyone using the towpath to #SharetheSpace so that we can all enjoy it so please be aware of the needs of other users. And it goes without saying please pick up after your dog, please do not 'stick and flick' into the water.

Grrrr, Bark, Woof!

With thanks to @Tommythecoalboatpuppeh’s humans for their advice on lifejackets, AnnaMarie at Art by AnnaMarie for the fabulous illustration, and our very own Boating team dog owners for putting this together.

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The boating team

Find out what the Canal & River Trust's boating team have been up to.

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