Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Safe Summer Boating Tips for your Dog

by Penelope Davis (dog ghost writer for Susan E. Davis, PT)

It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your pet avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   

Hi, my name is Penny and by the time you read this, I will be 13 years old. My mom is busy getting ready for our annual summer boat trip, so I told her I would write her column this month! Now she owes me big-time: not just for this but for all the times she comes home late from work with lots of animal hair all over her scrubs: evidence of time spent with other pets instead of me!

But I digress—well, here I am aboard our sailboat with my silly striped shirt, and Dachshund attitude!

I’d like to tell you a few things about taking dogs on the water so we don’t get sick or hurt!  

Since I’m not a physical therapist like mom, I guess this article is more about “injury prevention” than therapy (but don’t worry, she will be back next month). Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. Throw us some Shade! No I don’t mean acting all mean and grumpy.  Just use an umbrella, canopy or give us time out of the sun in the cabin, here and there.  Oh, and watch us for excessive panting and other signs of over-heating: gums bright red, a lot of thick drooling. If that happens, give us cool damp cloths under our “armpits” and groin.  We need lots of cool water to drink with easy access.

  2. Man—I mean-DogOverboard Preparedness: it’s a very good idea to practice turning the boat around, directing it to a single spot and retrieving a “pet” (can use a float device for practice) out of the water.  Under unexpected circumstances of a pet going overboard, this prior drill experience will keep you calm and focused on the task of retrieval. 

  3. Protect Us:  See that funny-looking netting behind me in the picture attached to the Life lines?  Well, some other boaters were pointing at it and saying “they must have a baby on board”.  Well, that baby is ME!  That not-so-posh woven netting helps keep dogs safe when we decide to take a stroll especially along sections of the boat where the gunwales are shallow. Use life jackets or other wearable, floatation devices while underway and even when at anchor (unless you are posing for a picture!). Now here’s the thing—I don’t like to wear those bulky life jackets my mom puts on me.  But gosh it did help keep me afloat when I fell overboard once, until my dad rescued me using a boat hook that grabbed a handle on back of life jacket. During rough seas, my parents will attach a flexible “stretching tether” to my jacket with the other end shackled to the life line for extra security (I am considered precious cargo, you know). For night boating, attach a battery operated mini flasher to the back of the jacket.

  4. Practice Swimming: hey, we’re not all Labs or Portuguese water dogs! Make sure to give us prior experience swimming, so we get the hang of it before we go out on the boat for the first time. For swimming it is nice to wear something a little less bulky than a life jacket: like a Ruff Wear K-9 Float Coat.  It is perfect for dogs that enjoy swimming in protected waters, kayaking, rafting, surfing, and paddle boarding.  They cost a bit more, but they’re worth it.  I think my mom may have ordered one for my birthday—but don’t tell her I know! 

  5. Don’t make us jump! Remember, you don’t like us to jump on and off furniture, so remember all of those decks and platforms on boats! You might want to block off the dangerously high ones so we don’t jump and get hurt. 

  6. Prevent boredom: we tend to get into trouble when bored, so please have some special toys “just for the boat” that we can enjoy. Involve us in activity and have a comfy bed and blanket when it’s nap time.  I have a special roll-up bed that is easily stowed in a locker.

  7.  It’s Dinner time! A plastic caddy with compartments, non-skid bottom and a handle can be used for our food and water, so everything stays in one place and doesn’t spill. Keep extra bottled water on board and use air tight containers for dry kibble storage. 
  9. I need to “go” mom! Wee Wee pads, potty mats and whelping box liners work great when you can’t row us ashore to do our business.

  10. ID: Make sure our ID tags are transferred over to the collar, harness or vest we wear aboard. Write our ID info inside our life jacket with indelible ink. If boating in a foreign country, consider having ID tags printed with a QR code that can be read using a smart phone, as not all countries have microchip scanners.

  11. First Aid: every boat has a “people” first aid kit so be sure to include our pet medications and emergency supplies there! features Outward Hound Lifejackets and Ruff Wear K-9 Float Coats


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ideas to Chew on - Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Problems?
Wrap It Up: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog