Potty Training Dogs on a Sailboat


One question we get asked almost more than any other is how our dogs go pee (potty, do their business, relieve themselves, do... you know...) on a boat. Thankfully, the answer is simple and transforms life aboard with dogs from constant trips ashore to the dogs being able to comfortably and cleanly relieve themselves at their leisure.

Since we're sometimes sailing longer distances and may be away from shore for a day or two, it can be challenging and sometimes impossible to take the dogs ashore every time they need to relieve themselves. With small dogs, their potty breaks are especially frequent. After researching everything we could and making some improvements of our own to the idea, we and the pups are quite happy with their "doggy business" setup. 

How to Teach Your Dog to Pee on a Boat

Making the Doggy Business Mat for the Boat

Our main priorities in designing our setup were cleanliness and sturdiness. We want to avoid having the mess get on the deck (boats are quite rolly places after all) and of course we want to avoid the mat getting shredded from being thrown overboard to clean. Here are the tools we used to make the mat along with the steps we took to make it nice and sturdy.

Doggy Business Mat Supplies:

  • Boot Tray
  • Artificial Turf
    • We chose this one because it gives us enough artificial turf to make an inexpensive replacement once this one gets worn out. 
  • Two lengths of rope (one that is around 5-6ft long and the other just long enough to tie the corner together, so around 3-4in)
  • Grommet Kit

*We have used this grommet kit for a ton of different projects, so we also got these spare grommets to go with it.

We used artificial turf for the top layer of the mat and the boot tray for the bottom layer. The boot tray really helps contain the mess and makes it a bit more sturdy for throwing overboard (otherwise the artificial turf just kind of flaps and rolls on top of the water). To attach the artificial turf to the boot tray, we installed grommets in opposite corners of the artificial turf and drilled corresponding holes in the boot tray. We then tied a 5-6ft rope to one corner of the mat and then a 3-4in rope to the opposite corner to keep the turf from flapping around. With the added weight of the boot tray, it's quite easy to submerge the mat so it can get completely clean. We then let it hang over the edge of the boat to drip-dry before setting it back on the deck. While underway, we simply tie the rope to the cleat, so we don't have to worry about it washing away or getting blown overboard.

How We Potty Trained our Dogs on a Sailboat

Training the Dogs to Use Their Doggy Business Mat

To train the dogs to do their business on the mat, we first needed to get the "scent" on the mat. Dogs like to "go" where there is already a bit of scent, so right after they each went pee in the grass at the marina, we placed the artificial turf upside down (green side down) on the wet spot and stepped on top of the artificial turf. This helped transfer a bit of the odor, which is enough for the dogs to really take notice. 

We then put the doggy business mat on the bow of the boat and tied the long rope to the cleat. After the dogs had eaten lunch, we took them up to the bow to show them their new mat. They are accustomed to going to shore to do their business right after eating, so we knew they would be ready to go. We were excited to see that they immediately picked up on the odor transfer and were sniffing around a lot on the mat. If you already have a phrase you consistently use to ask them to do their business, this process will be even easier. As they were sniffing the mat, we would tell them to "go potty" and give them a little praise anytime they would walk onto the mat. Eventually, Mondo went pee on the mat, we gave him a TON of praise, a treat, and played fetch with him (his favorite). He was so excited and was prancing around proudly for successfully having figured out the new "trick." Penny wasn't interested in using it, so we took her to shore. We knew she would have other opportunities to give it a try. 

Getting them to go while underway was a bit more challenging since they were a bit nervous about squatting while the boat was moving. Eventually Penny walked to the bow of the boat all on her own and did her business, followed shortly by Mondo. We were so excited, and they were too. We praised them endlessly and they were thrilled to be getting treats and extra praise for using the mat. 

We did end up with an unexpected behavior from Mondo, which was that he enjoyed the praise so much that for a day or two, he would go to the front of the boat ALL THE TIME to deposit a drop or two and then run back to us all excited to get praise and treats. Lol. We slowly reduced the excitement levels for each "deposit" and they quickly returned to normal frequencies of doing their business, only this time on the mat on the bow of the boat. :)  

Now they are both total champs and have developed pretty impressively balanced squats for going while underway. They seem to quite appreciate being able to relieve themselves anytime they need or want to go while on the boat. Let us know if you create a doggy business mat for your boat dog and let us know how it goes! We hope they enjoy learning how to do their business aboard! 

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How We Potty Trained our Dogs on a Boat - Ever wondered how to train your dog to "go" on a boat? Learn how we trained our dogs so they can relieve themselves without us needing to dinghy to shore!

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