Living Aboard with a Dog - The Reality!
While Conlee and I spent our first year onboard Akhlut getting comfortable in our new abode and learning how to sail, Muoi—our 11 year-old Siberian Husky—stayed with her second family back on land. When we finally got the boat to Canadian waters it was time to introduce Muoi to her new home.
Muoi, an adventurous dog at heart, adjusted to the sailing life relatively quickly. It didn’t take her long to recognize the dinghy as her ticket to shore. Whenever we arrive at a new anchorage, she is up on the bow, sniffing the air, prudently supervising the dinghy launch; anticipating the new territories to claim and squirrels to chase once we drop the hook.
Our routes to date have made for an easy training ground when it comes to the business of Muoi’s…”business”. Sailing the BC coast is great for making short trips from anchorage to anchorage, however, the time will come when we will make longer offshore passages where she will need her to do her business on the boat; one aspect of life on the water she has yet to try, let alone master.
So far, we have attempted a few methods thanks to a couple of friendly recommendations paired with a bit of independent research. We have bought puppy training mats and a square patch of green turf to emulate—what we believe to be—a satisfactory urination station. We have carried said turf to shore and rubbed it in places she has peed, hoping she’ll later acknowledge it as her ‘turf’ and continue to re-mark it as necessary. Conlee even tried peeing on it thinking an opposing scent might strike her competitive side…apparently, he is the wrong species for the job.
On one occasion, she ate something that I’m sure, to her discerning doggie taste buds, was unquestionably delicious. But, resulted in an appalling gastral consequence—resulting in a need for her to go PRONTO while we were sailing. In a mad dash, we grabbed her mat and threw it underneath her. Instead of using it, she made a sudden, rather offended swerve and adroitly avoided it; not quite the result (or the mess) we were hoping for. Luckily, we are surrounded by a plethora of water, otherwise the clean up could have been a lot worse.
While sailing or motoring in light weather we have also tried walking her on board. These ‘walks’ consist of several zig-zags, figure eights, and circles across the foredeck with random stops on her grass mat as if we’ve just happened upon it, but other than for entertainment value and a bit of additional exercise, this method hasn’t proven successful either.
We almost considered strapping her to the boom and sending her out over the sea to do her thing. Though this technique may have literally scared the poop out of her, it was not deemed a suitable solution.
Needless to say, trying to teach our ‘old dog new tricks’ is still a work in progress.
As far as other aspects of having a pup on board, it initially took some patience figuring out how she felt most comfortable when the boat heeled or the seas developed, or how to have her safely in the cockpit with us while sailing. Regardless of the situation, what we have come to realize is she is most comfortable with her life jacket on—which gives us all some peace of mind.
Her dog life jacket is equipped with convenient handles in case we need to move her out of the way or grab her quickly. And, it also seems to double as an ‘anxiety jacket’ when conditions get rough. She now spends most of her time happily sleeping under the tiller in the cockpit, jacket donned, paws gently braced, while her husky coat blows in the breeze.
Having a dog on board may mean the vacuum is constantly recharging, or that too many clean towels get sacrificed to mud and sand, and there is the very real fear that her dog hair will clog up areas of the mechanical system. Challenges aside, it is truly priceless being able to include her in this adventurous lifestyle of ours.
As far as the potty training goes, it’s still a work in progress, but we are determined not to give up. If you have any suggestions or strategies, please let us know!