Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Picking the Perfect Pooch

This week, Captain John shares his tips on how to choose a “sea pooch” for cruising...

Guest blog by Captain John
Captain John Jamieson, a regular contributor to the Daily Boater, is author of Seamanship Secrets and publisher of the popular boating education website SkipperTips.com


Dogs have served as mascots on sailboats, Coast Guard ships and square riggers. But how do you know if your dog would make a great companion for coastal sailing?

Look for These Water Dog Characteristics
Does your friend take to the water or not? To find out, engage in a game of fetch with a rubber ball. A great water dog fetches the ball with gusto every time! But if he or she shies away from the game, leave Fido with a friend before you cast off.

If you’re in the market for a new canine companion, look over this short list of well seasoned boat dogs:

•    Portuguese Water Dog
•    English Springer Spaniel
•    Golden Retriever
•    Labrador Retriever
•    Border Collie
•    American Water Spaniel

Consider These Dog Buoyancy and Health Facts
All dogs are not created equal, which means some swim and some don’t. The less body fat, the less buoyancy. A tubby pooch may float like a cork. Dogs bred for water fowl retrieval have more body fat. On the other hand, leansters like the Doberman or boxers often sink like a stone.

Older, overweight dogs or those with health problems could be in trouble if they fall overboard. All dogs experience fatigue after short periods in cold water, high sea waves or strong currents. Those out of shape or unhealthy, succumb much faster.

Life Jackets for Dogs
The US Coast Guard sets personal flotation device (PFD) standards for humans, but not for canines. Every owner must make their own decision as to whether to carry a dog life jacket. Here are some facts gathered from tests conducted by Boat US:

•    Dog life jackets keep the dog horizontal, without tilting the head back. This keeps the canine in the normal swim position, where the dog lifts the nose to breathe.

•    Most dog life jackets fasten at the chest and around the neck. For comfort, look for a vest with chest straps wider than 1”.

•    All dog life jackets come with a lifting strap on the back. Work out a recovery method with heavier dogs. Retrieval may prove difficult in all but the calmest sea conditions.

Take care in your choice of a canine companion to bring aboard your cruising sailboat. After all, he or she - like any sailboat crew - will depend on you for safety at sea.

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