Dog Kayaking: Tips for A Fun and Safe Paddling Trip with Your Dog

Dog standing on kayak

Yes, You Can Take Your Dog Kayaking, Canoeing, and Stand Up Paddleboarding!

Recreational paddling – that is kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding (aka SUP) – is exploding in population across the country. Of course, pet owners may be wondering, “Can I take my dog paddling?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!”  With these tips, you can take your dog kayaking, take your dog canoeing and take your dog SUPing.

First Thing to Consider: Dog Temperament

Okay, so we’re exciting that most dogs can jump in our boat or on our board and head off with us into the lake, but take a moment to really think about your dog…

Does your dog like water? Can they swim? If you don’t know, find out first. Take your dog to the lake, river, or ocean. Observe how they act around water. If they love it and jump right in, great! If they are not so sure, can you gently coax them into the water? If you can, great! If not, maybe your dog is just not that into the water. If your dog shows fear near water or just doesn’t want anything to do with it, you’re better off leaving them at home when you go paddling.

If you are determined however to take your dog kayaking, canoeing, or SUPing, be prepared to spend weeks or even months getting your dog used to the water. Never force your dog into your boat or into the water. If they are uncomfortable, leave them at home and find another activity that you can BOTH enjoy.

Another Thing to Consider: Training

How well does your dog listen to you? If you are confident that your dog will obey the basic commands: sit, stay, come, etc. Then you’ve got the green light to continue. If your dog struggles with these, then consider more training before hitting the water with them. When out on the water, you may encounter any number of distractions and unforeseen occurrences – you need to be able to control your dog verbally.

The Boat, The Board

How big is your boat or board? Is there room enough for you and your dog kayaking? What about a SUP board – can your dog sit or stand comfortably either in front or behind you? Remember that you’ll probably be out on the water for a while. You’ll both need some room to shift around and your dog might need some extra room to stand up now and then. Canoes are generally pretty roomy. Kayaks are smaller and sit-on-top style kayaks tend to be better for carrying dogs than cockpit styles.

What about weight? Most kayaks and canoes can handle a few hundred pounds, boards maybe a couple of hundred. Make sure your combined weight doesn’t exceed your craft’s specs.

Once you have your boat or board, spend some time getting your dog familiar with it. Introduce your dog to your craft in a safe place – like the backyard, or your living room. Bring out the boat and sit in it. Invite your dog to join you. Use treats if that’s what it takes. Boards will probably be easier for dogs to adjust to – either way, be patient. Leave your boat or board out so your dog can investigate it on their own too.

Water Safety Equipment for Dogs

One more important item to have for your dog is a PFD (personal floatation device) or lifejacket. There are dog-specific PFDs available at most pet stores and outdoor outfitters. You’ll size a PFD for your dog the same way you size a harness. Measure your dog’s girth just behind its front legs.

Practice with your dog’s PFD by having them wear it at home first. They may not appreciate it at first, but don’t give up. A PFD is a key to your dog’s safety on the water. Yes, dogs can swim – so can most of us. But if you’ve ever had to tread water for a period of time, you know how tiring it can be. It is the same for your dog. If they jump out of the boat or if you happen to capsize, your dog may be in the water for an unknown amount of time. A PFD will help keep them safe.

Most dog PFDs also come with a hand on the back. This will help you get your dog back in the boat or on the board.

Other Items to Bring Dog Kayaking, Canoeing, or Paddling:

  • Plenty of drinking water and collapsible water bowl
    • Try not to let your dog drink out of the lake, river, or ocean. Open water contains pollution as well as parasites that can make your dog ill. Salty ocean water will quickly dehydrate your dog and make them sick.
  • Treats
  • First Aid Kit
  • Sunscreen – make sure this is “pet-friendly” sunscreen and does NOT contain zinc oxide
  • Towels – not only to dry them off. Towels can also be used to create some shade for your dog should you find yourself far from shore with the sun beating down

On The Water

The next step is to head out to the lake, river, or ocean with your boat, board, and your dog of course! Don’t forget a short lease to control your dog while on the shore. When you’re in the boat, remove the lease. If you leave the leash on, and your dog ends up in the water it can become entangled in their legs or debris under the water and make it impossible for them to swim. Again, if you cannot control your dog verbally, don’t take them on the water. NEVER tie your dog into the boat in any way.

Start small, shallow, and still.

Dogs are great flatwater floaters. If you run into problems on the water, like your dog just won’t sit down or sit still, let them jump into the water and swim around a bit. Shallow flat water is a great training ground. This is a good time to practice getting your dog back into the boat or back onto the board.

Stay away from the shore.

That may sound counterintuitive, but the shore presents lots of distractions. You don’t want your dog to jump out of the boat and head for the shore to chase a wild animal or disrupt a picnic. Try to paddle away from distractions like other boats or paddlers. Definitely keep your distance from anyone that is fishing. Fishing lines and hooks are a danger for dogs and for you!

Keep it short.

Especially at first or on really hot days, plan for short outings. Many dogs just can’t sit still or just won’t stay in the boat for extended outings until they get used to it. Extreme heat and sun are a big danger for dogs even if some shade is available. Again, as long as it is a safe area, it is OK to let your dog get in the water and swim around. Be sure you’ve practiced getting them back on board safely.

Observe your dog.

While you’re paddling around think about how it’s going. Is your dog having fun? Are YOU having fun? If one of you is not having fun for any reason, maybe paddling with your dog is just not for you. On the other hand, you may have just discovered a phenomenal new way to enjoy time with your pup!

Have fun with your dog kayaking!

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