Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | October 4, 2011

Paws Aboard

N 18° 18.40′ W 65° 18.02′

Palmas del Mar


Cruising with pets was not part of the initial plan. When we got the Mar Azul and started thinking about future adventures the dogs were 9 and 10. Even with long, healthy lives we did not expect them to be with us when we retired. But life changed. When we moved up our cruising timeframe there was no question that the four-legged members of the family would come along too.

Bandit was adopted first, a sweet and gentle creature who got lost on the streets at a young age. We found her on death row at the county animal shelter and brought her home. Other than a strong instinct to escape and explore that has made off-leash outings impossible, she is an ideal companion. She has attributes of the Basenji mixed with who knows what else. She is quiet, graceful, polite, affectionate, independent and cat-like at times. She loved playing with the neighbors dogs and seemed depressed when she didn’t get enough canine contact. We thought – why not get two dogs? Certainly two can’t be much more trouble ?

Lady is a rescue dog from the SPCA. We like to refer to her as rescued to perhaps absolve us of some responsibility for her bad habits. We should have taken better note that she had been re-homed several times. “Apartment too small”, “had to move unexpectedly”, “not enough time for the dog”, “too high energy” were the notes in her growing file. She was mostly black lab, and Bob had always wanted a lab.

Lady was uncharacteristically quiet the afternoon we visited the SPCA during an all-day adoption event and probably exhausted after barking at the morning visitors who had passed her by. Her name was either someone’s wish for her or a marketing tactic. She is anything but a “Lady” – she drools, slurps, burps, growls and chews among other habits that do not define ladies. She is excitable, overreacts and bosses. She has separation anxiety and leaving her behind can be a struggle. Although she has never made good on a threat, she is not above baring her teeth when she is so inclined. In the plus column she is a loyal companion who loves to be with her people – especially Bob – at all costs. In the 20 minutes it took me to fill out the adoption paperwork she and Bob formed a permanent and heart-warming bond. She is a natural security guard and her presence was a comfort to me with Bob’s past travels.

Very quickly after Lady’s arrival we realized that it was going to be a daily battle for the humans to remain in charge. We were determined not to give up on her since she had likely worn out her welcome at the SPCA. This was probably her last chance. I took her to obedience school, read dozens of books and articles on dog training, and consulted with an animal behaviorist. I tried to follow Cesar Milan’s advice on pack leadership and providing lots of exercise and discipline before giving affection. Lady performed well with obedience school drills, but carry-over to home situations was poor. According to Cesar we are to blame for Lady’s poor behavior.

With our work schedules I often needed help with the dogs and was lucky to have the assistance of Elizabeth, a lovely senior lady and dog-sitting pro. While I worried at first that Elizabeth would not be strong enough to manage Lady it was the classic “brains over brawn”. Elizabeth won Lady over and could always find a way to outwit her and gain her cooperation. Bob & I still struggle to manage Lady after 10 years, and there are many days when I wonder how Elizabeth would handle a particular situation.

Both dogs had done some boating with us in the past, mostly day trips on smaller boats. They enjoy the water and don’t seem to mind the heat. But living aboard was a whole new experience. We started with happy hours and then overnights on the boat at dock before taking them on longer trips. The first night aboard both pups were scared at lights out and whimpered in the main salon, their new sleeping quarters. But they quickly adapted and seem to enjoy the slow moving, quiet and larger trawler to a fast and noisy power boat.

Using the stairs was one of their more difficult new learning tasks. The Defever 44 is designed like a split-level house with groups of three to six steps between the various decks. This is nice since it avoids needing ladders, except to get to the swim platform. The dogs easily caught on to navigating three and four steps, and with practice became competent with five steps. They don’t need to get to the guest cabin or engine room and will rarely try the flight of six. To get them to the swim platform and into the dinghy Bob built a folding platform that can be deployed and attached to a set of portable sea stairs. The contraption looks a little strange, but it works great and the dogs love nothing better than scampering down to the dinghy for a ride to shore.

Adapting to a smaller space has taken some time for all of us, but has slowly become more comfortable. We have had a few skirmishes amongst the troops. A few growls here, snaps there, and respective new territories were claimed. Over time, we have all become used to smaller personal spaces.

Dog-related challenges while traveling include finding suitable landings and exercise locations for the dogs. Dinghy docks are not always available and regular docks can be too high to offload the dogs – and sometimes people too. Likewise, beaches are not always handy and might be rocky or have too much surf to safely land. Then, once ashore, we need to find a public place to walk. So we have lots of trial and error, and visiting new places is always an adventure.

Both dogs are trained to use the front deck as an alternate bathroom but they still prefer going ashore, especially Bandit. We try to mix up the routine to give them exercise ashore alternated with several days without land excursions so they will continue to feel comfortable using the front desk during long passages and times when we can’t get to ashore. We’ve been told not to worry, that dogs will eliminate when they need to, but Bandit continues to amaze us with the quantities a 40 pound dog can hold between shore visits.

I am always thinking about safety issues and ways the dogs can get into trouble in the marine environment. Bob & I have differing opinions on how to address this, and he gives the dogs more credit for safety awareness than I do. My rules are stricter than his. Can you imagine if we had kids?

So far the dogs have a good track record. The only fall overboard since leaving home was my fault. Bandit was timing her hop ashore and I pulled back on her leash when the boat suddenly moved away from the dock which resulted in her landing in the water. She probably would have been fine if I had let her take charge of disembarking. After a hard time hauling her out of the water we got harnesses for both dogs to wear so that we can hoist them more easily if that happens again. Doggie life jackets are part of our safety gear but they are hot to wear 24-7 and restrict mobility.

Lady’s separation anxiety has worsened with constant human companionship now that we are cruising. Leaving her behind on the boat can be an ordeal. When we are in a marina, we prefer to put the dogs below in the air conditioned cabin while we are away. Once while at Puerto Del Rey we couldn’t get Lady to go below. We were pressed for time and decided to give up the battle and let her stay on deck. We put barricades to keep her from going to the bow where she might be tempted to jump ashore. We tied the boat as far away from the dock as we could for further insurance. When we returned 7 hours later she greeted us on the dock beside the boat. She had managed to get off and spent the day trying to find us in the largest marina in the Caribbean. When she failed, she went back to the Mar Azul and waited. We can’t imagine what that jump to shore must have looked like – and gained a new appreciation for her desire to always be with her humans.

Keeping our small quarters tidy is tough with two humans. Add two dogs who shed and use the front deck as an alternate bathroom and sanitation becomes a big part of our daily chores. Rigorous pet import regulations in different countries is another issue we have to consider in planning future stops. Having the dogs along has limited our ability to fully explore destinations and take overnight inland trips. It’s not impossible, just a complication. We don’t feel like we could easily jump on a plane and return home for a visit if needed, as cruisers do on occasion. Capable boat-sitters can be arranged in some places, but with the challenges of managing our lovely Lady, a dog/boat-sitter for the Mar Azul would be a tall order. Any trips home would likely involve just one of us, and with the challenges of single-handedly managing the boat and dogs I wouldn’t want to be the person left behind.

There have been many joys in traveling with our canine pals. The dogs provide wonderful companionship and their antics always keep us smiling. They keep us moving, always eager for a walk or a ride in the dinghy. They provide a valuable measure of security as they are large enough to intimidate others who approach the boat and never hesitate to sound the alarm. Lady’s special welcome for boats that pull up along side the Mar Azul has been especially useful.  A thief would likely pass us by if there were easier targets. We give her credit for saving us from a recent random boarding by the US Customs & Border Patrol. They pulled along side, asked a few questions, and probably decided it just wasn’t going to be worth it to come aboard.

Having their humans with them almost all the time is probably the greatest part of cruising for the dogs. Most of the time it brings us great pleasure too.


Lady demonstrating down



Bandit demonstrating up



Time out


Politely requesting a trip to shore



Under way: Bandit practicing her sea legs and Lady enjoying the non-skid yoga mat


We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.” M. Facklam 




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