Dogs on a Boat - the Puppy Pad Chronicles

If you've been following along, you know we've been working/struggling with getting the dogs to go to the bathroom on the boat.  If you haven't been following along - well, I guess you're here specifically to read about doggy potty breaks, so I'll fill you in on what's been happening.

We bought Luna Sea about 6 months ago.  We have two wiener dogs - Libby - almost 10, and Molly - almost 9.  They are very housebroken.  Very, very housebroken.  Initially we were never on the boat/away from the dock long enough for potty breaks to be an issue.  But as we gained experience/bravery/oblivious-to-dangers-that-lurk-ness, we've gone out for over-nighters and such.  When at the dock, we just make the .29 mile trek to the grass in the boat yard.  When out over-night, we'd just take the paddle boards (later the dinghy) in to shore and let them go.  The problems arise when a: we are in a marshy area and there are no beaches (we live in Marsh-ville, so that happens a lot) or b: we go away for a longer trip.

That longer trip finally happened in December.  We headed out mid-December for a 2-3 week trek south and back.  No plan other than that.  Just to watch the weather and head home before anything nasty headed our way.  That ended up being a 2 week jaunt - and if you're new to the blog, that gives you something to backtrack and read.  (Have I mentioned we had never even been on a moving sail boat before our sea trial?)

We had to have a plan for the dogs before we left.  That's where Topanga comes in.  (You can see his blog here, and her's here.)  They stopped in our little creek overnight on their way south, and had their adorable, pig-fighting dog, Dexter with them.  Dexter uses a patch of doggy grass that attaches to the bow of the boat.
That's the adorable Dexter critiquing John's TRX skills.
I shopped around a bit, and did some more internet research and finally visited PetSmart.  While they have "grass" and a tray basically designed for our needs, the tray was WAY too big to fit on our deck.  We have windows/hatches/portholes/liferaft/stainless steel crap everywhere - with only small bits of free space.  I ended up going with a smaller tray - meant to go in a crate, and then bought the replacement "grass" pad that was cut down to fit the tray.

We chose to go with the grass from the pet store vs. astro turf because it comes "scented" to entice the dogs to use it.  They were not the least bit enticed.  We tried everything.  We caught a little of their pee and sprinkled it on the grass.  Our daughter's dog came over and pooped on the thing immediately.  But still no-go.  We could tell they knew what we wanted them to do - but they were flat out refusing.

It was eventually time to set sail, and we just had to trust that they would use the tray when they needed it.  All research (even from vets) said that they would not cause any damage by holding their bladders, and that they would eventually go.  Don't worry.  As we got underway, it was clear they would be holding their bladders.  I'm pretty certain Mark was much more stressed by this than the dogs were, and he kept trying to get them to go.  We anchored out the first night and they got beach breaks, but eventually they just had to either go or hold it.

We had safety netting around the cockpit of the boat, but none around the front of the boat - where the pad lives.  Since we had plenty of netting, calm seas and the supplies/tools to make it happen, Mark finished installing the safety netting around the entire boat.

This helped tremendously.  The dogs immediately felt more comfortable and started roaming around the deck more.  They both eventually began using the pad - Libby quite willingly and Molly with some goading.  They were given treats anytime there was a success.  The downside - occasionally they miss, and the deck has to be rinsed off.  But we'll take it!

Mark drilled holes in the pan/grass before we left and we were able to tie off the tray/grass, as well as drop it overboard for a good rinse.
Note the yellow-ness traveling up the line...  Try to tie the line somewhere that won't come in contact with the pee.  It may be impossible.
Keep treats handy!
Be patient - your stress will certainly contribute to their stress.
Remember to tie off BOTH ends securely.  We almost lost the entire contraption during a rinse in St. Augustine.
Keep a bucket handy, as you'll likely need to rinse the deck.
Be consistent - this applies to any sort of training.
If they seem skittish and you don't have safety netting up, give it a try.  I am convinced the netting made them feel safer - and it really needed to be up anyway.  Their nails are slippery!

To ensure their continued success while we are back in the condo, we've put the tray in our sunroom and now leave the door open for them to come and go to the sunroom freely.  This is a win-win, as I am currently enjoying 18hr days twice a week for school, so they can go freely if they choose.  Libby chooses, Molly refuses.

Over all, having the dogs on board is great.  This was really our only major hurdle with them.  Our next dog-friendly project will be to convert one of the cockpit hatches to a dog door with a plank for them to come and go as they please.  This one may take a while, but we'll be sure to share as soon as it's done!


  1. Fantastic to have this for others with doggie/s out on the open seas ! ! ! Great pictures.. :) candy

    1. Yes! We certainly hope to help others with this - I know we've learned a ton of stuff from other people that have shared their ideas online.

  2. What ingenuity! Must be much more enjoyable when you aren't worried about the puppies' bladders leaking or exploding!? How nice to have a doggie-needs-friendly sailboat, now. SS

    1. Yes, SSAB - exploding, leaky bladders are pretty much at the bottom of our Favorite Things on a Boat list. (heh, heh, bottom.)

  3. Glad to see the dogs are adapting - I guess that's better than exploding.

    We met a cruiser recently who taught his dog to use a coiled up rope. He used a spray from a pet store to attract the dog to the rope and much like you rewarded the successful outcomes. To clean up, he tossed the rope over the side while holding onto one end and drug it for a little while.

    I think you should add a little red fire hydrant to the tray.


    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

    1. Hey Cindy!
      Ooh, glad you brought up the spray. We tried that, too. It just left things smelling really bad and the dogs were not the least bit interested. But I do like the rolled up rope idea. The easy rinsing is imperative.


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