The Most Useful of Tricks
Louie "going outside" far from shore.
You see them in weekend anchorages, and you pity them: sailors
in their fragile dinghies who brave driving rain, big waves, and "no
trespassing" signs to ferry their landlubber dogs to terra firma.
Once on shore, these cranky boaters rush their dogs through the motions
and hurry back to their boats in a foul mood, resenting their pets.
It doesn't have to be like this! Real salty dogs
aren’t slaves to the shore. Training your friend to conduct
his business aboard frees you to take longer passages, skip the dingy
rides to shore in yucky weather, and saves your poor dog from having to
"hold it" while you get your act together. Here’s
the method we used to teach Louie. It wasn’t horribly
difficult, but it does take some time and consistency is
Buy “The Mat”, something cheap that will be
designated for dog use only, and a couple of identical spares in case
the original is lost at sea. We bought a couple of IKEA welcome
mats for $1.99 each, just simple indoor/outdoor rectangles of carpet
with a rubber backing. Punching holes in the mats means you can
tie a line through and tow them overboard when they need rinsing off,
which will be often.
2. The next time you take your dog
outside, select a mat to take along with you. Brandish The Mat as
if it’s something absolutely delightful, and when your dog sniffs
it, praise him and try and convey to him that this thing is so much fun
to be around. Carry it with you while your dog does his
business. Do this for a couple of days, every time your dog goes
3. Begin flopping down The Mat beside
your dog whenever he’s peeing or pooping. Praise him
and again act as though this whole thing is a total blast.
Brian and Louie in an early tutoring session.
If your dog is a male and big on “marking” things, carry
The Mat along with you and sneak it into the stream of pee when
he’s marking a tree or a fire hydrant or what have you.
Then act like he’s absolutely brilliant for peeing on it!
Give treats, praise, off-leash time or whatever it is that your dog
loves most every time The Mat gets pee on it. Infusing it
with the gross odor of dog urine will help your dog remember what to do
next time. For girls, just sneak The Mat under them when they
start to go and then praise/treat/run them. Continue this for a
week or so until your dog is comfortable with all this.
Continue to take The Mat along whenever your dog goes outside,
except now don’t let him mark things until he's used the mat
first. Let him get near a tree, hydrant, etc, but when he starts
to go, pull him over to the mat so he's peeing on that instead.
This is easier said than done, and I suspect this is much easier with
females than with males! Nevertheless, go nuts with praise and
goodies when your dog soils the mat. Send the message that using
this mat is not only acceptable, but better than peeing on other
objects. Keep this up until the dog is voluntarily peeing on the
mat, and express your utter delight each time with rewards.
Now it’s time to really throw your dog for a loop!
Carry out your dog's usual bathroom routine - get the leash out, ask
him if he wants to go outside, etc, but instead of going to your usual
place, take your dog somewhere out of the ordinary and lay down the
mat. This can be on the dock, on deck, on the sidewalk - anywhere
your dog previously wouldn't think of going. Encourage your dog
to pee or poop on the mat in this new spot, but if he's not quite
getting it, keep things light and positive, and go to your normal area
after a few minutes. Keep trying, and at that magical
moment when your dog pees on the mat in the new, weird place, act
like he just won the lottery. Praise, big treats, partying: go
absolutely bonkers with happiness so there is no question on your
dog’s part that what just happened is fantastic and he is a
Louie finally embraces The Mat. Good boy!
7. Continue this until the dog is consistently peeing and pooping on the mat, wherever you happen to put it.
Take your dog along on a weekend cruise to somewhere
pleasant. Drop anchor and wait until you know your dog really has
to “go”. Bring out the mat, put it up on the bow or
wherever you’d like your dog to do the deed, and encourage him to
use it. DO NOT take the dog to shore until he’s used the
mat. Be strong and wait it out. Our standoff with Louie at
this stage lasted 48 hours,
but he finally acquiesced once we gave him a little privacy. Eventually, so will
your dog. When it happens, go totally apeshit with praise.
Putting The Mat in the same place each time helps to get a routine
THE SUPER ADVANCED LEVEL
Before long, you’ll get really tired of having a disgusting mat
on board that reeks of dog pee. Once you’ve firmly
established The Spot on board where your dog is to pee and poop by
consistently putting The Mat there, see what happens if you take the
mat away. It might only take a little verbal affirmation from you to
assure your dog that even though the mat is gone, The Spot is still The
Spot. When he figures it out for the first time, go completely
mad with praise as you’ve done all throughout the whole
your dog is already familiar with voice commands for going outside
(“go pee pee!”), you’re way ahead. These will
really help get your idea across faster when your dog gives you that
“you want me to do what?” look early on in the process.
cruising dog owners choose to have their dogs “go” up at
the bow, and a saltwater wash-down pump up there really helps with
cleanup. Otherwise, tying a loop on a bucket and dipping it into the sea
works just fine, too. We’ve found that a poop-scoop
designed for cleaning cat litter boxes also comes in handy.
-Leaving home will be stressful enough for your pet. Make life
easier for everyone involved and start the training process
well before your big departure date so your dog is totally
comfortable with his new trick by the time you leave.