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Boating With Your Dog

By Lindsey Johnson, Photo by Bill Doster 3.27.09 -

You like taking Max on the boat. Max likes being on the boat. But you both feel washed with regret the moment he breaks one of your golden boating rules. Is there any way to keep a ride totally free of misbehavior?

World-renowned dog trainer and behavior expert Cesar Millan, star of the National Geographic Channel's hit series Dog Whisperer, talked to us about some of the most-common issues boaters experience with dogs on board and surefire ways to keep a warm boating friendship.

When I take my dog on the boat, he has a tendency to lean over the side, too close to the water. What can I do to keep him safely on deck?

Cesar Millan: You might want to condition your dog to understand commands such as "off," or "go to your place." Use a kennel or bed to train your dog for this exercise, and take that object with you on the boat. When he starts getting close to the edge, tell him "go to your place." But definitely start the training in safe, land-based environments, like your home or car, where there are fewer distractions (and dangers) for your dog.

As we're pulling up to the dock, my dog is always trying to jump ship before we're safely moored. What should we do?

CM: The simplest solution is to use a leash. When you're nearing the dock, put your dog on the leash and give corrections when he tries to get off before it's time. Be sure to pull the leash to the side and not back. Remember, the goal is to make him off-balance to snap his mind out of the unwanted behavior. And you don't need to pull hard a slight tug should do the trick. If you pull back and too hard, you actually encourage your dog to fight against you. When giving a correction of any kind, always keep your dog's safety in mind and keep your feelings in check. Never correct a dog when you're angry or frustrated.

I love to fish, but my dog's constantly chasing the bait when I cast. How can I keep him from running circles around my fishing pole?

CM: Dogs are predators, so it's natural for them to see a movement, such as bait whizzing by, and want to chase after it. But dogs can be conditioned out of this behavior. Begin in a park or another safe environment away from the water, and use your pole without the hook. Begin the activity by exercising your dog until he's very tired. Then, move the pole a little. If your dog doesn't move, reward him with a treat or affection. Then, move the pole a little more. Again, reward your dog for remaining calm and submissive. Continue the exercise until you can cast the line without a reaction from your dog.

When we go swimming off the boat, my dog wants to jump in after us and give chase. How can I let him know that's a no-no?

CM: If your dog enjoys chasing toys in the water, you can throw one to him when he gets within 5 feet of you. He'll have to move away from you to retrieve the toy. Eventually you can make the throwing movement without the ball, and your dog will understand that you want him to go that way. You can also choose to take advantage of this instinct by getting a canine life jacket and training your dog in search and rescue techniques.

What about when we're on the boat and he needs know?

CM: I recommend creating a bathroom for your dog in an area that's out of the way like the swim platform, when you're at anchor. You can get artificial turf, newspaper or pee pads. If you have a male dog, you can create a 3-foot-by-3-foot box with a pole in the middle. Bringing the scent of another dog's urine into that area is the easiest way to get your dog to understand that it's his bathroom. That automatically invites him there.

New episodes of Dog Whisperer air Friday nights on the National Geographic Channel. Cesar Millan's third best-selling book, A Member of the Family, is also available in stores. For additional information, visit or