The Perfect Boat Dog?

This article was originally published in the July 2017 edition of Lake Norman Currents.


It seems every other dog but ours loves boating


Watching our dog, Stella, explode with energy and race towards the boat when she learns the family and I are about to spend an afternoon underway is a thing of beauty. Bounding first across the lawn as if unencumbered by gravity, she moves with a sense of purpose mixed with unbridled joy. As she transitions to the dock in full stride, her floppy ears and wildly dangling tongue shapeshift to form an aerodynamic arrow pointed squarely at the gangway. Her movements, if captured on video then played in slo-mo, would make the perfect “Running Dog” montage for any and every canine commercial.


As she nears the boat everything changes. Perhaps she becomes paralyzed by the sudden realization that she is about to leave solid ground or maybe she spots the gap between the dock and boat and decides the fear of failing to make the jump, however small, isn’t worth the risk. Who knows, but for whatever reason, she comes to a complete stop just inches away from the target.


And she won’t budge. If we try to drag her by the collar or lift her medium-size dog frame, she morphs into a four-legged, panting and whimpering version of Jabba the Hut, an amorphous blob that no man, woman, child, or rebel princess can coax, carry or otherwise cajole onboard.


Stella, I have frustratingly come to realize, is not the perfect boat dog.


To learn what makes the perfect boat dog, I did what any good writer/researcher might do. I asked our editor to put the call out to boat owners who take their dogs with them, and then I struck up conversations.



Marley is a 60-pound golden doodle that belongs to Davidson’s Phipps family. When Jessica, Andy, and their two children became boat owners during the summer of 2016, Marley took to the water literally and figuratively like a happy member of the family, albeit a big furry one who gets everyone on the boat wet when she shakes.


“Marley is a double retriever, the poodle mixed with the retriever, so she is a double water dog who has it in her wiring to be with us on the water,” Jessica Phipps explains. “She is obsessed with family, and even though she’s not the greatest swimmer, she won’t miss an opportunity to spend the day with us on the boat.”


And if she is left behind, perhaps to clear space for an extra kid or kids, Jessica says Marley isn’t the happiest of campers. She has been known to pout, get mad, and even eat a few household items in protest.


After learning about Marley, I wondered if somewhere in Stella’s mixed breed rescue mutt wiring there is a “boat on – boat off” switch that never got activated.



When Julie Baker, a Cornelius realtor, told me about how she takes her basset hound, Fred, out with her to spend afternoons relaxing on the water, I dismissed my theory that perhaps it is Stella’s breed keeping her from making the leap from the dock to the boat.


“Dogs love the lake and they love boating, especially Fred, who is an outdoor dog who hates staying in the house,” Julie Baker tells me. “You see retrievers and labs on the water, then there’s Fred. Put Fred on a raft with a life jacket and he’s fantastic.”


If a basset hound can love boating, I tell Stella, so should she. Stella isn’t buying my reasoning; she’d rather bark at airplanes, chase birds and squirrels, and try to bite waves.



Denver’s Tom Proctor has spent decades on the lake, never without whom he calls his “First Mate.” In the beginning there was Spanky, a lab retriever mix, then, after a difficult waiting period that ended this spring, Yogi, a similar mixed breed.


“I was a bit nervous at first introducing Yogi [to the water], but he took to it better than I could have imagined,” explains Proctor, a Ford Motor Company regional trainer. “When I come home from a week on the road all I want to do is go on the lake, and Yogi is right there with me. Sunrises, sunsets, whole days, I’d say he loves the boat, the lake and the water as much, if not more, than I do.”


So, Stella, with boating season here in force, and countless numbers of boat dogs in all shapes, sizes and breeds in the pack, what do you say we give the boat one more shot? It will be a blast.


Ask Marley, Fred or Yogi what you are missing if you don’t believe me.