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How To Kayak & Canoe With Your Dog, Steps For Taking Your Dog Kayaking & Canoeing

Dogs are our best friends and if possible, we should involve them in the things we love to do.

I love to kayak and I love my dog (see photo - who wouldn't love her?). Last kayaking season was the first season that I had Katie. Katie is a Beagle mix, so she is already interesting is oh so many ways. She loves the water and she hates to be excluded from anything, so I decided to take her kayaking.

Now I didn't wake up one morning, load the boat and the dog and take off...it does take a bit of effort - the type of dog you have and their individual personality and temperament will determine just how much effort it will take.

A note before I continue - I'm not a dog trainer, I just love my dog and being around my dog. These are the things I did and I think that anyone considering taking their dog kayaking or canoeing should at least do these things, plus anything else you feel is right. After all, your dog is precious. You don't want them hurt or uncomfortable or unhappy. You want to be sure that kayaking or canoeing is as much fun for your dog as it is for you.

Steps to take before the boat hits the water:

  1. Consider your dog's temperament and personality. Not every dog likes the water, and some fear it greatly. If your dog has an aversion to water, maybe this idea is not such a good one. Or you may have to spend a few weeks or months introducing your dog to the water and getting them used to being in and around rivers and lakes. If your dog just hates the water, let the kayaking go and think of something else you can do together that you'll BOTH enjoy.

  2. Consider your dog's size relative to your boat. Canoes are forgiving in this regard, as they tend to be wide and long with room to move around. Kayaks on the other hand, have less space. Kayak cockpits traditionally have just enough room for you. A tandem kayak may work, however you won't have "hands-on" control of your dog so you need to be sure he/she will respond to your verbal or visual cues. My dog is not quite medium sized, but definitely not considered a small dog either, but she can sit comfortably in the cockpit with me. Sit on top kayaks are a possibility, but they are quite a bit more unstable, which opens up a host of other issues. If you have a Great Dane...you'll need a yacht.

  3. Spend time getting your dog used to your boat. When I decided I wanted my dog to come kayaking with me, I figured I had to introduce her to my boat. Now, I store the boat in my living room behind the couch, so its not like she's never seen it before... Still I had to show her that it wasn't a piece of furniture. So I pulled it out every weekend during the winter and just left it in the center of the living room. I would sit in the cockpit and invite her in. For the first few times, she would only sniff around the boat, but not get in.

    Soon, she would get in and sit on my lap. Well that's a start but I knew she couldn't sit on my lap when we were on the water - how would I paddle? So I would gently push her off my lap and into the boat. After a couple of weekends of this, she finally would jump in and just sit in front of me. Oh, I did also entice her in with some treats...more on that later.

  4. Get your dog outfitted for safety on the water. Don't go anywhere near the water until you have the following items for your dog:
    PFD - Personal Floatation Device for dogs. They come in bright colors, many with handles so if your dog does end up in the water you can easily grab them and get them back in the boat or onto the shore. Even if your dog can swim, a PFD is a must to ensure your dog makes it out of the water safely. You can find dog PFDs by clicking below:
    Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat Ruffwear Big Eddy Float Coat Dog Lifejacket Ruffwear Headwater Dog Collar
    Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat Ruffwear Big Eddy Float Coat Dog Lifejacket Ruffwear Headwater Dog Collar

    First Aid Kit for dogs - If you have a dog you really need this in any case. These kits have items specific to dog maladies and injuries.
    Standard 5 or 6 foot leash. This is not, repeat: NOT - to tie your dog into the boat. Your dog should NEVER be tied to your boat. If you should capsize, you'll want your dog to be able to swim free of the boat. The leash is to help you maintain control of your dog while for getting in and getting out of the boat. Some cool leashes & collars can be found here:
    Pete Rickards Hunters Safety Collar
    Collapsible Water Dish. Always carry water for you and your dog. Hot days, cool days, doesn't matter - it is easy to get dehydrated. Please don't fill up your dog's collapsible bowl with lake or river water. Unfortunately, the majority of our water is polluted and may have some nasty microscopic vermin that neither you nor your dog should ingest. Carry a few bottles of water - more if you plan on being out longer - for you and your dog. The collapsible water dish folds up and is easy to carry along. Find collapsible water dishes for dogs here:
    Ruffwear Quencher Cinch Top Dog Bowl Ruffwear Bivy Dog Bowl
    Ruffwear Quencher Cinch Top Dog Bowl Ruffwear Bivy Dog Bowl

    Sunscreen. My pup has a pink snout. Extended periods in the sun mean sunburn for her schnoz. Take a look at your dog - any areas you think may get sunburned, spread a bit of dog-safe sunscreen on it - be sure to look at the ingredients of the sunscreen. If it contains zinc oxide, do not use it, as zinc oxide is toxic to dogs.
    Towels. Even in the summer a wet dog can get a chill. If your pup gets wet, towel them off.
    Treats. These come in quite handy, not just as a snack but as an enticement for your dog to do what you need them to do in order to stay safe. Remember, no matter how well trained or responsive you believe your dog to be, they are animals and therefore can act unpredictably at times. A little insurance in the form of doggie bacon never hurts.

  5. Start small, shallow and still. Now that you have your supplies, you're ready give it a shot. Don't head for white water the first time out...in fact, when you've got your dog with you, don't EVER head for white water. Always keep your dog's safety and well-being at the fore. Dogs are flatwater floaters, so leave them home when you're going for more exciting waters. I started with Katie on a small, relatively shallow lake. The water was flat, traffic was only a few fishing boats, access was an easy in and an easy out. Look for a similar environment for your first day out.

  6. Plan a short trip the first few times. Your first few trips with your dog should be on the short side. With Katie I started with a 15 minute paddle and worked up to 30 minutes. She's a Beagle mix, so 30 minutes was incredible in my book! Calmer breeds may be fine with longer trips - eventually, but newbies should start slow. While you're on the water these first few times, observe your dog. Are they enjoying this or are they huddled in the bow shivering? Are they behaving well or trying to jump out of the boat? My Katie was the latter - trying to jump out or at least ride on top of the bow - neither a good option. I had to encourage (bribe) her to sit in her spot. After a while, she got the idea but - did I mention she is part Beagle? - we usually only do short trips as her attention span is really short no matter what we're doing.

  7. Most important: Be patient with your dog. Your dog may take to the sport right off, or he/she may require some training and trying on the matter, or he/she may never cotton to it. Whichever describes your dog and situation, embrace it. Dogs are dogs and they enrich our lives in countless ways, if kayaking or canoeing is not their thing, don't force it. It will only make you both miserable. A good rule of thumb: If it ain't fun (for both of you) don't do it.