Man’s Best Friend Overboard

By: Wayne Stacey, U.S. Coast Guard, Boating Safety Division

Keep your dog safe on the water

The pooch population in the United States is 75 million and growing, so it should come as no surprise that it isn’t just Labrador retrievers and other time-honored water dogs climbing into boats these days. Pet owners shouldn’t assume their dog is an adequate swimmer, or that he or she has the good sense not to chase that seagull over the side.

Dogs are “hard-wired” to chase, and swimming ability varies from breed to breed. Many with low body fat, like greyhounds, may have trouble staying afloat. Breeds with short legs and long bodies can swim but may tire quickly. Overboard, all dogs can become disoriented and suffer the same hazards from cold-water immersion as humans.

A dog in the water can pose a danger for the owner. Every year, the U.S. Coast Guard logs reports of dog owners who drown trying to rescue their pet. A large dog, wet and thrashing, can easily pull a would-be rescuer overboard.

Before bringing the family pet along on a boating excursion, keep these tips in mind for keeping your dog safe on the water.

Tips for Keeping Your Dog Out of the Water

Large Dogs:

Consider installing a pet ramp or stair on the back of the boat for easy access.

Older dogs will especially appreciate this since their mobility may be limited.

Small Dogs:

Most pet life jackets have a handle on the back that helps when hauling smaller dogs from the water. With very small dogs it can also come in handy for transferring them between the boat and the dock.

Be sure to have a backup plan if your dog goes overboard. Even a fishing net attached with line to the boat can be a useful tool in getting a small dog back aboard quickly.

All Dogs:

Make sure your dog only goes in the water when permitted to do so. When the boat is under way, keep the dog safely restrained.

A leash attached to a collar can present a choking hazard if a dog bolts overboard, but a dog life jacket, with a D-ring on back for attaching to a leash, can do double duty as a ­harness, providing a reliable restraint for an excitable pet.

Fitting Your Dog in a Life Jacket

Think about comfort and ­purpose. A foam-filled float coat may be more appropriate for dogs going in and out of the water. For dogs expected to stay in the boat, an auto-inflatable is cool, lightweight and provides emergency support.

Check the width of the straps and where they cross under the dog’s body. The straps should not interfere with the dog’s ability to sit or lie down comfortably.

Be sure the life jacket fits snugly enough that the dog won’t slip out of it when wet or being pulled into the boat.

Choose a bright color to make the dog easier to spot in the water.

Conduct a “float test,” just as you would with a life jacket for a person. ‹ Try it out on the dog in shallow water and have a harness and leash on as backup.

The jacket should support the dog in the water while allowing him or her to swim freely. Pet life jackets, unlike those for people, are designed to float the animal in a horizontal position.

Think about comfort and ­purpose. A foam-filled float coat may be more appropriate for dogs going in and out of the water. For dogs expected to stay in the boat, an auto-inflatable is cool, lightweight and provides emergency support.

& lsaquo; Check the width of the straps and where they cross under the dog’s body. The straps should not interfere with the dog’s ability to sit or lie down comfortably.

& lsaquo; Be sure the life jacket fits snugly enough that the dog won’t slip out of it when wet or being pulled into the boat.

& lsaquo; Choose a bright color to make the dog easier to spot in the water.

Conduct a “float test,” just as you would with a life jacket for a person. ‹ Try it out on the dog in shallow water and have a harness and leash on as backup.

& lsaquo; The jacket should support the dog in the water while allowing him or her to swim freely. Pet life jackets, unlike those for people, are designed to float the animal in a horizontal position.

– See more at: http://www.boatingworld.com/CoastGuard/Article/Man-s-Best-Friend-Overboard#sthash.GpDI7pu8.dpuf

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