Best Get-Away Tips for a Canine Coastal Vacation

Coastal get-away tips for you and your canine companion, and other waterfront pet-focused pointers I’ve learned while living coastally.

Warm weather is here and most of us will be heading to the water to cool off and relax.  As temps surge you might be planning a coastal vacation with your canine companion. Travel websites are showing an uptick in pet lovers taking their canine family members on vacations with them. While at your waterfront destination you may endeavor in boating, paddling, or just a splash at the lake or the beach. We have assembled some first-hand tips and important things to consider before heading out to your pet-friendly vacation get-away.

Prepare before you leave home for your summer fun.

1. Pack a get-away bag for your pet-kid too!

Foremost Get-Away Tip #1! … INVEST IN A Canine LIFE VEST!

  • Make sure it has a sturdy grab handle and leash clip on the topside
  • Provides a good fit for your dog’s girth
  • Keeps buoyant your dog’s weight
  • Wraps completely around the underbelly and chest (straps alone can be cumbersome, create restrictions and loosen)
  • Brightly colored with reflective features
  • Comfortable and breathable
Dog sitting with luggage in the back of a car

Also include in your pups coastal get-away travel bag-

  • Travel water bottle and bowl combo
  • Make Cooling dog treats (toss in the cooler before you leave).
  • Bring a beach umbrella or two. There are small pop-up cabanas available online for under $20.00 and up.
  • Pack a portable dog bed or favorite blanket and TOYS
  • Bring a kennel if space permits
  • Enough kibble and treats for the stay. Once you get to your vacation spot you will not want to do a special shop for pet food.
  • Beach Towel
  • Make sure you are bringing a collar with a tag that has current information.
  • While at your veterinarian getting up-to-date shots and vaccinations, have your dog microchipped prior to leaving. It is inexpensive and a quick procedure.
  • Simple homemade First Aid Kit
  • Canine Sunscreen* (formulated for dogs, avoid sunscreens with zinc oxide)

2. Arrival: Don’t be caught off-guard

Canine get-away Tip 2 is especially important if you are returning to a familiar waterfront spot. My lab could smell bodies of water and would make a beeline for it if I didn’t have him leashed.

Make sure you have control of your pup as you arrive and settle into your vacation residence. Secure your pet until you are ready to go out exploring.

  • Leash your pet in common areas.
  • Bring poo bags, pick up your dog’s waste immediately, and properly dispose of it in a waste receptacle.
  • Check to see if dogs are allowed in the water or where they are allowed and/or times it is permissible.
  • At night make sure your pup is leashed when outdoors with you, or put them in the house. Fireworks are a common theme for summer nights, especially in vacation areas. Pets go missing more times on the 4th and 5th of July than any other time of the year.  

I have a friend whose Boston Terrier bolted at the first firework BOOM while they were vacationing in Massachusetts in 2010. The family lived in New York and Pennsylvania, so they were forced to rely on the kindness of complete strangers to recover their canine family member, who was now missing for days.  Likely the pup was picked up by a stranger that never surrendered my friend’s pet to the local authorities. A dog’s fear level can change year to year. One year, fireworks are not an issue and the next they could be a major problem. Save your vacation and your pet and keep them secured or indoors at night.

3. It’s true. Not all dogs can swim.

(Best eye-opener Get-Away Tip)

Our canine coastal get-away tip 3 is a shocker to a lot of pet parents.

Whether age, physical condition, or breed not all dogs are swimmers. 

  • If you are with a puppy, they are not familiar with the changing depth of the water and have not experimented with swimming, introduce them slowly over time. Do not force the introduction to water or they may fear it and never be receptive to a refreshing dip in the lake. And then, some dogs will never be water lovers.
  • If your dog is lame, arthritic, or a senior, make sure he or she has a vest on while they are showing interest in the water. If they are more interested in lounging, a vest will be too hot for them.
  • Top-heavy dogs with short legs and large chests, such as bulldogs, dachshunds, corgis, basset hounds, and certain toy and terrier breeds can struggle to stay afloat. 
  • Brachycephalic breeds (or short-snout, flat-faced breeds) may be able to swim but not for any length of time.  It’s risky business for a flat face breed because the structure of their noses makes breathing difficult while swimming and this would be detrimental should they panic and/or if water is inhaled.
  • Large dogs with heavy coats can not swim due to the sheer weight of their coat when it is wet, such as Chows, Komondors, St. Bernard’s, and more. Know your breed and check to see if they are swimmers.  

Some dogs are apprehensive around water … it may be temporary, or it may just be ‘who they are’. Coaxing is o.k. but don’t force it.  (I once saw a guy throw his 30-pound dog about ten feet into the water from the shoreline. Don’t be that guy!)

  • Train your pup to come out of the water on command.
  • Do not play in the water with your dog for more than ten minutes at a time without breaks. Water exercise is more demanding than on land and is more difficult to catch your breath.
  • If you are at the beach your dog will likely try to drink the water. Bring him or her out often for a drink of fresh water.  The same would go for a lake potentially having algae blooms, a bacteria in the water that is toxic to dogs.
  • Make sure there are no watercraft near where you are playing with your dog.
  • Watch for broken glass, seashell shards, or metal fragments.
  • Wipe your dog off when they are done swimming. Rinse in fresh water when you’re back at your ‘camp.’
  • After all water exposure, make sure to dry your dogs ears.
  • Check for ticks, sand fleas, cuts, etc.

Paddling With Your Dog

If you are like more than half the people that are bounding towards water vacation destinations, you may find yourself on a sit-on or sit-in kayak, paddleboard (SUP), or canoe. Paddle sports have been trending since the equipment or access to it has become affordable, easily accessible, and ‘approachable for most. You may have seen paddlers with canine companions on board.  Suffice to say, most of these dogs were brought up on the water and in the sport, especially if their pet parent is a water sports enthusiast.

I brought my small terrier along with me for a calm paddle in our bay, and he took to it like a champ.  My retriever would have no part of it.  

Every dog is going to be different in their comfort level.  With that in mind, here are some pointers that will help you have a safe paddling experience with your pup IF they are ‘open’ to the experience.

  • Personal Flotation Devices or PFD’s on you and your pet. (While you may be comfortable not wearing a floatation device, wearing one is detrimental to both of you, should you capsize. It’s important to keep in mind how dangerous it is to save a distressed swimmer, whether that swimmer is a dog or person. Panicked reflexes often result in the would-be rescuer being injured or worse. Vest-up!)
  • Doggie Dry Bag: fresh water, pet treats, towels, a toy for chewing, NOT fetching, poo bags, basic First Aid Kit.

a banner of dogs at pool and beach in swim vest

Tips Before Setting ‘Sail’

  • Find a shallow entry point.
  • Pick an area on your kayak, canoe, or SUP where you can put a non-slip mat for your pup.
  • Put your dog in that place where you can freely move your paddle/s and see your dog.
  • Tether your oar/s.
  • Stay close to your entry/exit area until you feel your dog is acclimated to the movement of the water and your paddling.
  • Keep an eye on your dog at all times (especially if there is boat, people, or wildlife presence on the water).
  • Retrieving your dog will be a feat if you are in a kayak. As the weight on a kayak becomes unbalanced, it requires a lot of core strength to correct the attitude of the craft. Combine that with pulling the weight of your overboard first-mate onto the kayak, and you may be struggling for a while. So, make sure you and your pet are comfortable with all scenarios before setting off into deeper waters.

If your canine first-mate needs additional training or practice, this is an article worth reading.

Boating with your Canine Family Member

  • Put on your pet’s life vest and leave it on.
  • Bring plenty of fresh water and a water bowl.
  • *Apply canine sunscreen – Apply sunscreen to your dog’s ears, nose, around the lips, groin, inner thighs, belly, and any area where there is light pigmentation. If your dog is a short or fine coat breed, it’s best to apply sunscreen all over. Cover your dog’s eyes if using a canine spray-on sunscreen.
  • Here’s a tip as you beach or boat with you dog that a lot of people don’t consider… Bring poo bags and plan for a toilet break. Potty breaks for your pup on a boat can be a challenge, whether getting to shore from time-to-time or making a potty area on the boat. Bring duct tape to tape down pee pads, or a small turf mat so it won’t sail away).
  • Let your dog get acclimated to the boat movement before taking speed. Just like people, dogs prefer ‘terra-firma’ for moving about. Bring paper towels and a waste receptacle in case your pet experiences motion sickness.
  • If you fish, make sure your gear is stowed safely away. Be mindful of your cast.
  • Your pet’s Life Vest (PFD) should have a sturdy Grab Handle. If your dog does go overboard a boat hook can easily grab onto the handle and pull him or her safely back to the boat.
  • Provide a shady spot for your dog to rest from the sun and heat.
  • Keep an eye on his or her paw pads.
  • Never let your canine kid out of your site.

Closing: More families are taking their pets with them on vacations. And thanks to websites like VBRO, Airbnb and Bring Fido every year more vacation home-owners open their doors to our cherished pet-family members for pet-friendly vacation rental. To head off a calamity and leave the should-a, would-a, could-a’s behind … go prepared and enjoy the entirety of your vacation and make memories that you can share for years to come. When exploring pet-friendly vacation sites or the host’s website for your vacation residence, check to see if they also offer specific tips on your get-away with your canine family member.

By exercising these tips, pointers, watercraft precautions, and common sense items, your four-foot family member can be your trustworthy first mate. Stay observant and you can look forward to many happy nautical miles in each other’s company.

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