When people hear about living aboard with dogs, the layman’s first thought is no way… you need to have a yard and space for your dog to run. But I have had dogs my whole life, Lived with them with and without yards, have lived aboard with different dogs over the past 13 years, have cruised to Mexico and crossed oceans with a dog aboard as crew. I don’t believe boat life is better than land life, or land life is better than boat life. I am introducing the idea that boat life isn’t so bad for a dog. And there are unique parts of living aboard that enhance a dog’s life. In both cases, as dog parents, we need to meet their needs. But most important is developing a life that works for both the dog and the dog parents.
Doing what you want takes forethought – boat life is no exception. With guidance and planning, it’s definitely possible to have a happy life together.
Now, the below can all be accomplished in a house and many dogs I know have these experiences being house dogs. For me, it feels more automatic for a boat dog… but maybe it’s because I’ve lived aboard with dogs for over 10 years now…. here are some of my thoughts on the positives.
I’m writing this in hopes of opening the minds that sometimes an alternative to the norm kind of lifestyle can also be super great for dogs. As long as their needs are met, dogs are really adaptable. The website of our life with Matey is full of examples (check out the link at the top of the blog). I’m sure if you follow along, you will see real world examples with Tack and Clewie as well.
1. Boats have little cozy nooks and crannies
Dogs are den animals and they like cozy nooks. There are a lot of cozy nooks aboard a boat. Our previous dog had her own room…. she was very comfortable in her playroom. She also had a space under the table that she enjoyed to hang out in. Also, the floor in the quarter-berth (small back room) curved in a way that seemed like it was made for her. Tack and Clewie enjoy being in the cockpit. We have a space for them under the dodger with a bed nestled out-of-the-way and close to us. If it’s too rough, they can be below – we have a crate set up and in the aft cabin, a dog sized couch on one side of our bed and a plush dog bed nestled on the other with walls on 3 sides – so dark and cozy.
2. Physically close to each other
Dogs love being with their families. And on a boat – they are literally not more than a few feet from you. Our boat is 47 feet long and about 15 feet wide. About 10 feet of that is inaccessible outside the boat and another 7 or so feet for interior storage. At the furthest, Clewie or Tack are only about 30 feet away from me. Most of the time, they are hanging out a lot closer. This allows for frequent interaction throughout the day whether you are planning on it or not.
3. Routines and Structure
Dogs like structure and routines. And living in a small space involves routines and structure. Things need to go in their correct place – and most of the time if you want something, you need to move at least one thing, maybe many to get to it – then put it all back in reverse order. This balance of structure and routine in living aboard makes things easier. I believe this also creates a comfort with structure and routine in your life which is easily passed on to the dogs you live with.
4. Core of the family
The goal is for all dogs to be an integral part of the family. On a boat – because of the small space, we literally can’t get too far away from each other. For example, our bed becomes the dogs play space when we wake. the “chairs” to our dining table is literally our couch. The kitchen is the hallway from the play-space to the water-bowl. Good or bad, they are always there.
5. More activities together
Because most of our weekends off together and vacations are spent doing what we love – which is boating. Living on a boat with our dogs mean they are always invited and mandatory on family adventures. We love having them with us and always accommodate them. When we got to club cruises and hang out with our friends on the dock, our dogs are there… because their home is there.
6. Play time is Quality Time
Because we don’t have a yard to leave our dog in to get exercise and outdoor time – we need to bring them to a park or open space and actually BE with them. I think this is most important for a dog/family relationship. When they are antsy – I don’t have the option of letting them out to the yard – this is sometimes a pain, but mostly it ends up being they have taught me to enjoy the doggie moment.
This does make me think a bit that these views are about the uniqueness of the live-aboard life. I’m sure you all have uniqueness of your daily lives.. what are they? maybe we can all learn new tricks to improve the lives with our dogs.
What are the unique things about your life that make your bond with your dog special?