I’m not just a self-proclaimed river rat; I literally dwell on the river–or at least I used to–on a floating home. That’s right, a home that has floats instead of a foundation and bobs up and down with river tides.
There is a universal code for identifying river rats: dock shoes, tan lines, Oakleys, the last surviving species of the relic “koozie”, and of course…the Labrador Retriever.
Deeg, my Labrador/Golden mix was meant to be the “perfect” dock dog. At only a few months of age, he would approach the water with such enthusiasm, he would practically hyperventilate at the sight of a puddle. So when we moved onto the river, we thought, “how perfect for Deeg.”
Hmmm…perfect alright. In case you were wondering: DOG that loves water PLUS living on WATER, EQUALS the following lessons learned:
- Carpets are not sponges, though that’s what ours felt like.
- Leash plus lounge chairs means unanticipated afternoon dip.
- Toys that sink to the bottom of the river are considered unretrievable by humans, but not dogs.
- No scented candle can cover up the yearlong smell of wet dog.
- Swimming in deep waters with water-loving dog means he will swim to exhaustion and then practically drown you trying to get you to hold him up while he rests.
- Labradors will not exit the water no matter if they’re practically drowning from exhaustion.
- Wet dog hair is difficult to clean off docks.
- Tying a dog to the dock does not keep them out of the water. It merely limits the distance in which they can practice their dog paddle.
- There is no “season” for dog swimming. In the dead of winter, with waters of 40 degrees, Deeg would launch himself into the Columbia if ever the door was open (see next point).
- If door was not left open, Deeg would beg at the door–even at 10pm at night–hoping you will eventually exhaust from his pleads and let him out for a swim.
- And finally, where exactly does a dog use the bathroom when there is no yard? Every bathroom break involves the 1/4 mile hike down the docks, steep climb up the ramp (on leash, so he doesn’t take a spontaneous swim on the way up), across the 50-mile an hour highway, to the grassy “patch” by the parking lot. Deeg would often aim for something closer, usually the nicest, currently-occupied boat on the dock.
I don’t mean to make it sound all bad. The fact of the matter is, having a water-loving dog has many advantages for a river rat. Who else would swim alongside my kayak at 6am on a sunny morn? Or whimper with excitement at the carp I caught that afternoon? Deeg is an amazing companion, and one of my best friends.
Because of my unique experience of being surrounded by water 24/7/365, I offer some tips for fellow river rats and their water hounds. These are things I found useful not only on the floating home, but on week-long houseboat trips, overnight float trips, beach outings–any water adventure with Deeg.
1. Invest in a lifejacket for your dog. Yes, Deeg can swim. But there were things that affected his swim ability that I didn’t anticipate: currents, exhaustion, and shockingly cold water. Make sure to get one that fits your dog properly so that their swim performance is enhanced, not hindered. After a web search, I found the Ruff Wear Float Coat, and Deeg has been using it ever since.
Lifejackets also provide visibility in high traffic boat areas, and are a huge help in assisting dogs up onto the docks.
2. The correct order for boat adventures is as follows: Leave dog in car/house, load the boat, load the passengers, let dog out, dog jumps into boat. Otherwise, you will have the dog follow each passenger into the boat, causing chaos and tripping hazard.
3. Boots will save the boat upholstery from nails. Also, never attempt a raft trip without dog boots, and always come prepared with patch repair kits.
4. Leashes and water can be a hazard. A dog like Deeg will likely drag you down the dock and into the water via the leash. Tying your dog up is also a hazard to you and your dog. The best option is always training your dog under voice command. Deeg, who is otherwise mildly-trained, becomes insane when water is nearby. We had some luck training him using treats (he’s very food motivated), but more often relied on the handle of the lifejacket to keep him out of the water.
5. Get your dog used to distractions. Ducks, kids, and other dogs will send your dog flying into the water. The best tactic is exposure and a calm voice. Oh, and a bag of treats to help distract.
6. Give your dog a designated spot. A waterproof bed on the dock or boat somewhere gives your dog a place to retreat and prevents him from moving about and potentially tripping someone, getting caught in fish line, or knocking something in the water.
7. Water toys not only need to float, but need to be extremely visible in the water. Shapes and colors that are hard to see will become lost at sea.
8. If you frequent a boat, houseboat, marina or dock, I would recommend investing in dog-friendly dock products. For example, my moorage had a dog ramp for easy access out of the water. Another great addition was the “poop dock”, a “floating yard” complete with pee pole and AstroTurf for Deeg to “do his business”. There are companies online that offer dock-savvy products like this.
Whenever the sun is shining, I think about our adventures on the water. I’m not sure who misses it more, me or Deeg. Having a dock dog is a lot of work, but they make living waterside so much more fun!