Cruising into Hackney Wick. Photo credit Albie Matthews
LocalOut & About

A dog’s life: The East End canal dogs living on Bow’s waterways

East London’s network of canals and towpaths has long been a favourite destination for dog walkers, but for some canines, the pleasures of the canals are for life, not just for a walk.

Some dogs are known for their swimming skills. The poodle, the Spanish Water dogs, for example, but this isn’t a prerequisite for dogs living on canal boats. From regal retrievers to playful terriers, you’ll find all breeds enjoying boat life along with their human companions. 

Hounds can, of course, be territorial over their floating homes, especially with the cacophony of daily runners and cyclists flashing past their windows. Some stand protectively on the decks of their homes, yapping at the traffic, some with their noses pressed up against the glass, and some are stone… 

Yes, stone. You may have noticed that the waterways along Victoria Park are guarded not only by bouncy, barking dogs but also by very still and silent marble ones. 

The Dogs of Alcibiades, two identical carvings, stand protectively over the Bonner Street entrance next to Regents Canal. Said to have been donated by a wealthy Eastender, these pair of hounds have been guarding Vicky Park picnickers since 1912. 

Life on the water isn’t without its challenges. Dogs must learn to coexist with their fellow canine neighbours, navigating the delicate balance of territorial boundaries and social hierarchies. 

Yet, in true East London spirit, the canal community often comes together, with owners forming close-knit bonds and offering support to one another as they wind along the water’s edge. Some of the dogs you’ll meet below have even made best friends with a fluffy floating pooch next door.

As the sun sets over the tranquil waters of the canal, casting a golden glow upon the ripples, it’s easy to see why dogs and their owners choose to call these unique watery arteries home. 

Meet the fluffy canines that call the canals in Bow their trotting ground.

Meet Gilbert

Gilbert the pug crossed brussels griffin on their canal boat, East London.
Gilbert hanging out at home. Photo credit Shannon

This is Gilbert, he is a two-year-old pug-crossed Brussels griffon, and he is very cheeky!

Gilbert began life in Birmingham, where he was a land-pooch-puppy. He’s been glued to his human Shannon through the whole moving onto water process and helped her through it. Gilbert has been a rock through many periods of stress and turbulence living on the water. A cuddle with Gilbert by the wood burner can make all of the worries of the world go away.

Gilbert doubles as an alarm clock on the boat, barking at everything—mainly the birds and planes going past, but also the occasional person who gets too close to his floating home (which is great for his human’s peace of mind at night). 

His favourite time of year on the boat is summer. He loves sitting on the deck and watching people go past, usually stopping by and giving him lots of pets and occasionally posing for a photo. 

Gilbert the pug crossed brussels griffin on their canal boat, East London.
Gilbert on the deck of his home. Photo credit Shannon

Gilbert, much to his dismay, has fallen into the canal twice, and because of this, now has his own tiny little life jacket, as pugs famously aren’t the best swimmers! But we think he looks quite dapper in it. 

His favourite toy is a stuffed goose (not a real one) that squawks when he plays with it. He would never get anywhere near a real one as they are far too terrifying for him; however, behind the yappy bark is a very soft-natured (or you could say wimpy!) dog. 

His favourite place to go in the east is either Hackney Marshes for a lovely walk or the Two More Years community space in a canal-side warehouse in Hackney Wick. Both are super dog-friendly, and he always makes lots of friends there. 

His human Sharron says, ‘he’s my best friend, hot water bottle and security alarm, and I couldn’t do boat life without him.’

Gilbert the pug crossed brussels griffin on their canal boat, East London.
Gilbert posing by the woodburner. Photo credit Shannon

Meet Marnie

Marnie the boat dog in a blanket on deck, East London
Marnie cruising in her blanket. Photo credit Roseanna

She is around nine or ten years old and was a stray dog roaming the streets of Romania before coming to her forever home, floating on the canals of East London. 

At around six years old and pregnant, she was captured by the local authorities and put in a kill shelter where she had only 30 days to find someone to pay her fee, or she would have been put to sleep.  Luckily, she was rescued by a charity where she would have and nurse her puppies, get vaccinated, neutered and photographed for adoption in the UK. 

She was instantly snapped up by Roseanna, her human, and headed to East London by van. She is now the captain of the canal boat ‘Fizzgig’. She loves meeting new people outside of the boat; however, when she is on the boat, she is fierce, protecting all that is hers, small and mighty. 

Her favourite mooring spot is Three Mills, where she runs freely on the green. However, as she has tiny little legs, she has to be lifted on and off the boat. When she isn’t trotting along the towpath and rolling in greenery, she delights in laying by the fire and snoring on the floor.

Marnie the boat dog by the fire, East London
Marnie warming by the fire. Photo credit Roseanna

When it’s time for a canal cruise, Marnie sits on her bed on the boat’s roof, wrapped in a crocheted blanket, and sniffs the air as she cruises through the waters.

Marnie has a healthy appetite and loves everything except vegetables. If you have snacks and see Marnie on the towpath, don’t feed her, she’s on a diet! But she will take anything you have if Roseanna’s back is turned. Her sad eyes will get you eventually.

Marnie the boat dog in a blanket, East London
Marnie snuggled up. Photo credit Roseanna

Meet Zephyr

Zef the boat dog, hanging out at home, East London
Captain Zef. Photo credit Anna

Zef (his street name) was named after gentle westerly winds since he was born in the deepest, darkest Devon. Zef is three years old and has grown into a boisterous, excitable young lad. 

He has lived on the waterways of East London his whole life, a proper captain of the canals.  Despite Zef’s tough guy exterior, he actually just wants a cuddle all the time. Not just cuddles; Zef loves a sausage, don’t we all? 

Zef’s favourite place to float around in East London is alongside Victoria Park. The squirrels, naturally, are what he loves the most. 

Although Vicky Park is great for Zef with its leafy running spaces and many bushes to explore, he struggles with how busy the canal is around there and often prefers the wider towpaths and slower pace of life on the River Lea, from Hackney to Hertford.

Zef the boat dog, hanging out at home, East London
Zef peeking out. Photo credit Anna

Meet Murphy and Rosie

Murphy and Rosie the boat dogs, hanging out at home, East London
Murphy and Rosie on deck. Photo credit Cathy

This delightful pair, Murphy and Rosie, are both seasoned boaters. Murphy, ten years old, has spent the majority of his life bobbing around in London. Rosie, just six months old, has fitted into the crew seamlessly and has recently been getting swimming lessons from Murphy – just in case they have a dog overboard situation in the future.

They both live up to the Labrador name and happily eat anything, but pig ears, carrots, cheese, and peanut butter are firm favourites at tea time. 

Both pooches love living in East London, with their favourite mooring spots being the parks and green spaces, especially London Fields and Victoria Park. Not that they drink alcohol, but they both absolutely love visiting the pubs along the route where they get all of the attention and sneaky snacks under the table.

Murphy and Rosie’s human is Cathy, who teaches Science online from the boat; she loves having both of her furry friends onboard and enjoys working with a friendly assistant on either side of her.

Murphy and Rosie the boat dogs, hanging out at home, East London
Murphy and Rosie WFH. Photo credit Cathy

Meet Judi

Judi the dog looking out onto the canal, East London
Judi on the water. Photo credit Bea

This is Judi; she is a three-year-old border collie who lives with Bea, her human, on a wide-beam canal boat. 

Judi has many nicknames that have formed over the years, mostly often being called Boudi or Nooni. Her full name is Judi Boudi Dench, and her full full name is Judith Boudicca Denatures. 

One of her favourite treats is peanut butter and honey dog treats that get lovingly baked for her on the boat. 

Judi’s favourite area is definitely the Hackney marshes and Victoria Park; she loves the open spaces and walking around sniffing everything that she can. Her absolute favourite game of all time is fetch with tennis balls and she loves dropping them into the canal so that Bea has to fish them out with sticks along the towpath! 

Judi is incredibly good at hide-and-seek with her toys; if you hide a specific toy and ask her to find it, she will be able to very quickly. She also knows what all of her toys are called and knows which one is being asked for. Clever Judi.

Judi the dog on the towpath, East London
Judi on the towpath. Photo credit Bea

Bea, Judi’s human says ‘living on the water with Judi is fantastic; she loves watching the birds out of the window, and she’s very protective on the boat. She spends a lot of time sitting on the back of the sofa people, watching, making sure to tell anyone off who lingers outside for what she thinks is too long.’

She always makes Bea feel safe on the boat, knowing that no one is going to step foot on the boat without Judi telling her about it.

Bea, the human, is an actor who is just finishing training in London. She also works on canal boats with the Copper Quay, doing private hire parties on the scenic canal routes. She also works with Ship Shape Stove Services, helping people with their fires on board their boats and making sure that people are toasty warm during the colder months.

Meet Hilda

Hilda the dog in her boat, East London.
Hilda catching rays. Photo credit Yann and Lizzie

Hilda is a two-year-old Jack Russel mix; she was rehomed to her humans about a year and a half ago and has been living on their narrowboat ever since. 

On paper, Yann and Lizzie might be the owners of the Harvest Moon floating home, but in practice, it is Hilda’s boat; the humans just live on it. 

Hilda adapted to boat life incredibly easily, she understands how to cross a lock, she knows the drill when it’s moving day, and she recognises boats belonging to her friends and makes herself most welcome for visits. 

She loves being moored close to any kind of park, like Victoria Park or Hackney Downs, where she can take part in her favourite activity: chasing her squeaky ball and (sometimes) bringing it back. 

Her humans were moored in Mile End when they adopted her, and her first time off the lead she chased all the crows in Victoria Park. Hilda’s best friend is a chihuahua called Basil, who is another boat dog, she loves to be moored close by to Basil and her owner Charlie. 

Hilda and Basil on the deck of a boat, East London.
Hilda and Basil snoozing on deck. Photo credit Yann and Lizzie

Hilda loves her life on the cut; she knows everyone’s business and likes to sit on the bow, people-watching in good weather and sleeping by the fire when it’s cold. 

She never worries about work or bills; she just knows boats, parks and friends, and for that, we should all be jealous.

Hilda on the deck of a boat, East London.
Hilda canal cruising. Photo credit Yann and Lizzie

Meet Molly

Molly the boat dog on a blanket, East London
Molly and the sunset. Photo credit Rowan

Here’s Molly or, more formally, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Named after a Titanic survivor and philanthropist. Molly is going to be four years old in August and has lived on her 35’ narrowboat boat with her human, Rowan, since she was a little puppy.

Molly is super friendly and a relentlessly cheerful creature, and she thinks everyone came out just to see her; mostly, they did!

Molly prefers mooring somewhere with space to run, so Rowan and Molly mostly stay out east between Victoria Park and the lush spaces along the Lea Valley. 

She’s a terrible guard dog, and if someone broke into her boat with a baseball bat she’d think, ‘Great, you brought your own stick, let’s play!’ 

Molly the boat dog on a blanket, East London
Molly’s snoot. Photo credit Rowan

Her favourite food is what she gets when Rowan has run out of tinned dog food – a tin of sardines mixed with porridge, yum.

When moving the boat, Molly sits watchfully on the sliding hatch to make sure her human is doing everything correctly. 

Rowan, Molly’s human, has ​​lived on the canal for seven years and is an Army veteran; Rowan says, ‘My PTSD symptoms are much better with Molly in my life. I still have the occasional moment when something unexpected goes Bang, but Molly helps me stay calm even through fireworks now. I’m often asked if she’s a rescue; ‘no’ I’ll reply, ‘I’m the rescue.’’

Molly the canal dog on the towpath, East London
Molly relaxing on the towpath. Photo credit Rowan

If you liked reading this why not check out Meet the inexplicably cute canal cats patrolling Bow’s waterways

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