How to Canoe or Kayak with Your Dog

By Joyce Dierschke

If you love your dog and you love to kayak or canoe, you might want to try bringing your dog out in the boat with you. Before you do, though, you should take precautions to ensure your dog doesn’t get injured or become uncomfortable.

Before I began bringing my Beagle mix, Katie, out with me, I did a lot of research to make sure I was doing it safely. These are the things I found to be most important to keep your dog safe while canoeing.

Help Your Dog Adjust to the Canoe or Kayak

First consider your dog’s temperament and personality. Not every dog likes the water, and some dogs are afraid of it. I’d definitely start by taking your dog to a lake or river just to test the waters, so to speak, and see if he’s interested in it.

Then get your dog used to your boat. Canoes and kayaks make a lot of noise, so you just want your dog to get used to the different sounds yours makes and the motion of the paddle. It’s a good idea to do a slow introduction.

Also consider your dog’s size in relation to the boat. Canoes are wider and have some space to move around, but kayak cockpits are smaller and just designed for one.

I live in a condo, so I store my boat behind the couch. Before we went out on the water, I’d take my kayak out and stick it in the middle of the room, just as a way to get Katie accustomed to it. I would sit in the cockpit and invite her in, but I wasn’t going to force her. Soon, she was sitting in my lap in the kayak’s cockpit. Eventually, I gently pushed her out of my lap in the boat, and she would just sit in front of me.

Beyond the Canoe and Kayak: Your Dog’s Equipment Checklist

Once you’re ready for water, make sure your pup is outfitted for safety. Here’s what you need:

  • Doggie personal flotation device: Definitely invest in a personal flotation device (PFD) for dogs. This is similar to what any person would wear in a kayak. It’s great to have your dog out there swimming around, but it can be dangerous if your dog tires. The PFD fits your dog like a vest and buckles around the chest and neck. It has a little handle in the back so you can hoist your dog back into the boat after he goes swimming. Try it out to make sure it fits your dog well, just like you would with your own life vest.
  • First-aid kit: A first-aid kit is important, no matter what you’re doing outdoors. You’re going to be away from any kind of veterinary hospitals, and you never know what’s going to happen. Ruff Wear and Creative Pet Products both make good first-aid kits. I suggest the Field Guide to Dog First Aid: Emergency Care for the Outdoor Dog, which is a handy dog first-aid manual. Red Cross also has a good DVD on pet first aid.
  • Leash: You should always bring a leash, even if you don’t want to use it. It’s a good idea because you’re probably not going to be the only one there, and you need to be responsible. Never tie your dog into the boat, though. If you turn over and the boat goes down, the dog goes down with it.
  • Refreshments: I also recommend a collapsible water bowl and treats.
  • Sun protection: Zinc oxide protects your pup’s snout from sunburn.

You can tell when your dog is happy and when he’s not. A lot of times my dog wants to jump in the water and swim around. I’ll let her swim and then I’ll pull her back in the kayak when she’s done. If she starts to climb all over me or push herself against me, that’s how I know she’s done. Sometimes all she needs is a brief rest, so we just find a place to get out, walk around and come back.

I can tell Katie loves kayaking because sometimes she’ll get up and put her front paws on the deck and wag her tail.

Just remember: Kayaking with your dog is supposed to be fun! If you take your dog out and it seems like he’s not enjoying it, then maybe you should leave your dog at home. It’s not going to be for every dog, just like it’s not for every person. But to me, everything’s more fun when you have a dog with you.

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