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12 Tips for A Day on the Lake with your Dog

A dog in a life vest on a kayak on a lake

Boating on is a wonderful pastime for just about everyone – even dogs!  However, bringing a dog on a boat requires special preparation.  Here are some helpful tips we think will ensure a safe and carefree boating experience on Lake Hopatcong with your dog:

1. Know Your Dog

Not all dogs are boating enthusiasts.  Know your dog before you head out.  If your dog has not been on a boat before - introduce them to boating before a big outing.  Take them on a few short calm rides to see how they handle the noise, motion, and their ability to obey commands.  Some dogs can become seasick, anxious, or overly excited on a boat.  If your dog does not agree with the test rides – it may be best to keep them home on your next big trip to the lake.

2. Consider a Dog Life Vest

Dog vests are not mandatory by law. However, like humans, even the best swimmer can succumb to drowning if they become injured, fatigued or disoriented from a fall overboard.  A life vest very well may save your or your dog’s life in an emergency.

Recreational use of vests as well as precautionary life-saving use of vests benefit dogs who:

  • are puppies or seniors:
  • have medical conditions that impair movement, sight, hearing, and breathing;
  • are a short-legged breed;
  • are a short-snouted breed;
  • are a small breed.

If you have doubts about investing in a dog vest, seek advice from your veterinarian. 

If you are in the market, know that dog vests come in a variety of sizes from XXS to XXL.  Finding a fit suited for your dog is easy – vests should be chosen by considering weight first with secondary fitting on girth or length of the spine.  There are many makes, materials, and models of vests to choose from.  We suggest you look for brightly colored vests with a hoop or handle on the back as well as reflective tape for low light conditions.   Main Lake Market offers a selection of dog vests for purchase.

3. Have an Overboard plan which includes a Boat Hook

Best intentions are not enough to safeguard against accidents.  It is important to be prepared for the unlikely event of your dog jumping or falling overboard.   It is equally important to discuss the rescue plan with everyone on board prior to leaving the dock.  If your dog should go overboard – the first thing you must do is cut your engine to prevent injury.  We also suggest that no one jumps into the water to save the dog – a panicked dog can hurt or drown a well-intentioned rescuer.  If your dog is wearing a vest, it is best to use a boat hook and fish your dog out by the safety strap.   If the dog is without a vest, be sure that the person who is responsible for fishing the dog out of the water is wearing a properly fitted USCG-approved PFD and, if possible, always remains on board.

4. Bring a Leash and Practice Safe Leash Practices

Your family may need to get off the boat for stops or potty breaks.  A leash will be needed on land. 

While underway, many dog owners unleash their dogs.  However, if you believe it is in your dog’s best interest to be on a leash while boating – it is imperative that a responsible person continuously hold the leash and actively attends to the dog.  Unattended leashes can become tangled on boating equipment, rails as well as creating a trip hazard for fellow boaters.  Take special care when approaching docks or land as your dog may attempt to jump overboard before it is safe to do so.  Proper use of a leash will keep your dog safe during docking.

5. Provide Ample Fresh Water from a Bowl or Feeder

Despite moving air and cool water – boating is hot.  Dogs need extra amounts of water to stay cool and hydrated. Have ample fresh water and a bowl or feeder on hand. It is a good idea to water your dog often with cool freshwater rather than leave a bowl out where it can become hot or spilled. Main Lake Market sells dog bowls and water feeders.  Drinking small amounts of lake water likely will not hurt your dog. To be safe, have the bulk of your dog’s water diet be proper drinking water.

6. Snacks and Food

If you will be on your boat during mealtime – bring a serving of your dog’s regular meal on board.  It is tempting to give your dog table scraps while on a boat – however if your dog is not accustomed to table scraps, this could upset their stomach or make them ill.  Do not forget to bring some dog snacks.  Dog treats are a great positive reinforcement for your dog and can be a useful tool in having your dog obey necessary commands such as sitting and staying. 

7. Arrange for Potty Breaks

It is a great idea to walk your dog prior to boarding your craft.  Yet, depending on the length of time you are boating – it is very likely your dog may need to relieve themselves during your trip.  Some dogs will do well with an onboard fake grass mat or training pad, others will need to be on solid land to do their business.  Lake Hopatcong has a few places that will allow you to take your dog off your boat. Main Lake Market welcomes customers to dock at our location for a quick walk provided dogs are leashed and in the command of a responsible adult.  No matter where you bring your dog for a relief break – have your dog leashed - and respect the lake by cleaning up after your dog.

8. Toys and Chews

Dogs may become restless or bored on a boat.  Bring a chew toy or other item to keep them occupied.  Gnawing toys are also great soothing devices for a nervous dog.  If you plan on spending time in shallow water with your dog – floating fetch toys and balls are a great game for your dog.  Be careful not to over-exercise your dog so that they become too fatigued to swim safely.  You can pick up chew and water fetch toys at Main Lake Market.

9. Provide Shade

Provide a shady spot for your dog to stay cool and encourage them to sit in the shade.  Dogs can become overheated easily.  Encourage your dog to sit in a shady spot and offer ample fresh water to keep them comfortable.  Dogs can even get sunburn! Ask your veterinarian if your dog is prone to sunburn or sun-related skin conditions.  A dog-specific sunblock may be recommended. Do NOT use human sunblock.

10. Bring a Dog Towel and Slip Free Mat

Some fiberglass decking and other boat surfaces can be slippery to dog paws even though they are ‘non-slip’.  To prevent accidental falls consider having a non-slip mat, towel or carpet remnant which can serve as a non-slip area for your dog to sit.  This can also be used when boarding and disembarking the boat.  Additionally, have an extra towel on hand to dry your dog or give them a bedding area.

11. Stay Vigilant

The most important measure one can take when deciding to take a dog boating is being prepared to cut your boat trip short should your dog not tolerate boating conditions.  Always keep an eye on your dog.  Watch for signs of your dog not feeling well or has become overheated or too cold.  Watch to see if your dog seems unusually agitated, excited, or anxious.   If you notice any of these, it may be time to take your dog home.

Be extra mindful when approaching land or boarding your boat.  Dogs may become excited coming to shore and jump off a boat at the wrong time.  When boarding and disembarking watch and control your dog - some boat surfaces may be slippery for dog paws.  Lake Hopatcong can have some big wakes on the water - these create a danger of falling overboard.
Whether you are taking a quick dip or stretching your legs on land - never leave your dog on a boat unattended.  It is always a best practice to have a responsible person stay on board with your dog – taking turns if needed. 

Special notice to boaters who fish…please watch rods, hooks, bait, and other fishing equipment around your dog.

12. Thank Yourself for Being Responsible Dog Owner

We are confident that your dog will love Lake Hopatcong as much as you do.   We hope you found our tips and suggestions helpful.  The Main Lake Market has a dog area on the first floor where you may find many of the items mentioned in this post.

Two seagulls flying