So, you and your fury best friend are inseparable and you’re wondering how you can introduce them to your other love, better known as kayaking. Good news is, you came to the right place – this is our indispensable guide to kayaking with your dog. Need some reassurance? Know that your pooch is never going to complain about getting wet, they require minimal equipment and their low sense of gravity means they are totally built for boating. But before you grab Fido and go, it’s important to find the best kayaks for dogs and to read our top tips on how to introduce your two great loves to each other and how to foster a long and happy relationship – for life. Good luck!
When it comes to kayaking with your canine, know that not all breeds are created equal. Some dogs are simply built for the great outdoors, including Golden Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, Bernese Moutain Dogs, Vizlas, Australian Shepards, Collies, Portuguese Water Dogs, Rhodesian Ridgeback, German Shorthair Pointer, and Australian Cattle dog. Of course, bear in mind that it’s been proven that size does matter when it comes to kayaking since a large dog has the very real potential to capsize a canoe. Similarly, an exceptionally small dog might struggle with the whole experience since they can’t see over the sides of the kayak.
On top of the breed, some canine kayakers also suggest considering age as a factor. If your dog has reached old age and never been introduced to water sports, it’s probably not the best time to try it. Similarly, if you have a small puppy – you might find them over excitable during the wrong moment. Our advice is to ride the puppy years through and introduce your dog to the water after that, and, if your dog is middle-aged, assess their ability to adapt first. If your puppy is well through the toddler years and hasn’t been introduced to canoeing, you can still take the steps to introduce them in a confident way that will ensure they love the water as much as you.
Ultimately, use your judgment, look beyond size, age and breed to work to understand your dog’s ability to both sit still and stay calm around the water. As much as you want your pooch to enjoy your hobby, remember your dog’s comfort will impact your enjoyment.
Ok, you’ve decided that your furry friend has the perfect interest level and temperament for kayaking, so begins the training. Like every skill your dog has acquired, the result comes with the time you put in so it’s important you put the effort in before hitting the open water. This time of training is also the perfect period to introduce any would-be canine canoer to the joys of water, in case they have been previously a bit apprehensive (after all, experts insist that a dislike of water need not be a deal breaker to canine kayaking).
Of course, if you are keen kayaker, it’s best that you work to introduce your dog to the water as early as possible. Puppies are much more open to new situations and learnings than older dogs – but, as the old saying goes, ‘it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks’ so know that you can work to make any dog confident around (and even in) the water.
To desensitize your dog to water, many dog owners recommend starting out in place that has non-running water – like a pond, pool or lake. Find somewhere with a sloping bank, where the dog can access the water easily and be prepared to enter the water with the dog (taking a favorite toy might help). Once your dog enters the water, they should have a paddling motion – whereby the body is kept flat on the surface. If your dog is struggling with this, you can support their body with a hand under the belly. Look out for signs of shaking, this is a totally natural response from your dog but it is one that can lead to apprehension, particularly if they are carrying something in their mouth. When you dog shakes, remember to reward with praise and continue to motivate them to swim. Most importantly, remember to take every step slowly – never pushing your dog beyond their comfort zone.
An essential part of this training has to be establishing commands. By commands, we mean cues that can manage the dog’s expectations on what is coming next. Experts recommend a command for entering the kayak and exiting (loading and unloading), one for staying close when on land and a command for when the kayak is coming to land and the dog can have a play. We also suggest reiterating the usual dog-owner ‘sit/stay/down’ commands, whilst in the kayak, and a similar calming command for when the water gets a little rough (“it’s ok”). It’s essential that your dog has the ability to respond to basic commands immediately (1 to 2 seconds) since any non-compliance can really prove to be a safety hazard in the water.
Desensitizing Your Dog to the Kayak
Once your dog has a good grasp of the commands, start first by introducing your canine to the kayak away from the water. Remember, kayaks are big and it can all be a bit overwhelming for your pooch. Let them sit in it, move around it, sniff it. Move the kayak around a bit so they get used to movements and the sounds that come with it. Remember you are acclimatizing your dog to not just the inside of the kayak, but the outside too and all the components (such as oars) that come with it. Some experts even recommend leaving the canoe permanently where the dog can find it (when logistically possible) so that there is no increased anxiety when it is seen.
This is also a great time to work out what kayak is best for you both, a single one-man or a tandem. Remember to think carefully about your dog’s personality and mobility, will they feel confident riding up front or would they feel more snug and secure beneath your feet? Keep in mind that the more excitable the dog, the more you might want to have them in collar reach so you can grab them when needed.
If your dog seems reluctant to bond, why not put their favorite toys in the canoe or bring their bed closer? Some experts even recommend rewarding your pooch with treats! Remember, you are working to make your dog feel calm (and even happy) around the canoe.
As well as desensitizing your dog to the kayak, it’s important to get them accustomed to your Personal Flotation Device and your dog’s PFD. Remember that a PFD is as important for your dog, as it is for you. Firstly, it will give your dog buoyancy if they fall into the water, secondly, there is also a handle to be able to grip your pooch and pull them out (or, if your dog is too big you can at least pull them in the right direction). For more information on selecting the perfect PDF for your pooch, read on.
Getting In & Out/Loading and Unloading
It’s important to teach your dog how to hop in and out of the kayak on dry land, which will be easier for them than when it isn’t bopping around in the water. Of course, small dogs can be lifted in but you never know what situation you might end up in – so it’s always wise to teach every dog (no matter what size) this essential exit and entering skill.
Make sure that when your dog hops into the kayak, that they are encouraged to immediately sit, similarly when they hop out. When the have mastered getting in and out of the kayak, it’s time to try the new skill on the water. Start out in calm waters, like a lake, pond or bay and hold the kayak still for your pooch so that it doesn’t move too much as they enter. Some experts suggest rewarding your dog with a treat when they enter the kayak and immediately sit still so that they feel happy and content. This also goes a long way to reinforcing the idea that the kayak equals calm behavior (no pacing or wiggling).
Launching The Kayak
Once loaded, comes the great launch. This is where the commands you’ve taught your dog will really come into play, after all – your dog might have the instinct to jump out of the kayak as he sees you pushing it away. Tell your dog to ‘stay’ or ‘sit’ and offer them lots of reassurance that you are coming, gently push the kayak out and then jump in. Of course, if are kayaking with another person, and your dog is able to be lifted, you also have the option of having the dog passed over to you after push off.
Once pushed off, take a few seconds to assess your dog’s wellbeing before beginning to paddle – remember that the noises and sensations associated with paddling are new to your dog and might be met with surprise.
- continue to use your commands (‘stay’ ‘sit’)
- Don’t start paddling immediately after push off, take a few seconds to monitor your dog’s mood
- Do keep offering reassurance
- Do remember that dogs respond well to praise, and continue to reassure your buddy
Keeping Your Dog in the Kayak
Many experts believe that keeping your dog in the kayak starts on land! If you work to train your dog so that they stay by your side every day, you go some way to defusing the same curiosity which might see them leap out of a kayak with every passing fish, bird or canoe. Remember to be consistent across your lifestyle, don’t allow your dog to ran manically around the shore and then expect them to totally still on the kayak.
Once you’ve established a level of expectation, work to enforce it with a range of commands (“stay” and “sit”). Think about building in additional commands to counter added curiosities (like “leave it”) – in fact, anything you can think of that helps remove the novelty value and reinforces the behavior expectations of your dog whilst in the canoe.
On top of this, some experts suggest taking your dog for a long walk (and a poop break) before setting off on your kayak to help burn some of their energy.
Essential Kayaking Gear for your Dog
These tips probably have you itching to kayak with your dog, but before you do – remember to invest in some necessary safety equipment for your dog – after all, they are precious cargo.
- As we said before, a PFD (or life vest) is an essential piece of equipment for your dog. Remember, just because your dog is a natural swimmer – does not mean that they can go without a buoyancy aid.
- Remember that, just like us, dogs are susceptible to increased exposure to the sun when on the open water so animal experts recommend keeping their SPF topped up (particularly on the nose and belly).
- All that excitement and exposure to the elements is bound to make your dog thirsty, remember to bring a supply of fresh water and a dog drinking bowl (some experts recommend a folding bowl for space saving). Remember to keep offering your dog plenty of fluids to keep up their hydration levels.
- Don’t forget your leash! You might make the mistake of thinking that kayaking means roaming free, but you need to pack a leash for when you hit land (especially as your pooch might be overly excitable).
- Remember to pack some doggy treats to reward good behavior.
- Many experts suggest packing water toys for your dog so that they can have fun in the water (although others insist the water itself is a playground enough).
- A towel
- Doggy poop bags
- A mat – remember that dog’s nails make it difficult for your dog to stand on the canoe, counter this with something as simple as a mat for extra grip. One kayaking expert recommends a bath mat.
- If you are planning a long trip, bring your dog’s bed (it’s good to invest in a loaded cell foam type that can be positioned away from away water) and food supply.
As you become more frequent canoers, you might have additions to make to this list. Some experts suggest writing these down so that you remember for the next trip. In fact, it’s wise to keep a “kayak essentials” list for both you and your best friend.
As well as echoing (again!) the importance of a PFD, there are some basic safety rules that must be covered to when in the water with your pooch. First up, don’t ever tie your dog to the kayak. This is a death sentence to your pooch if the kayak were to tip. It’s ok to keep the collar on your best friend, but ensure that it can never get caught on something.
Speak With Your Veterinarian
It’s not immediately obvious, but it’s always good to have a chat with your vet before undertaking any new activities. After all, kayaking comes with a little additional risk in the form of heartworm and mosquitoes. Your vet should be able to educate on the heartworm treatment and suggest appropriate vaccines and medications to ensure your dog’s continued health.
What you want to know but were too scared to ask! (AKA POOP!)
Ok, when a dog has to go – it has to go! So how do you get around the problem of your dog needing to poop? Well, some experts agree that again it all comes down to training and a command instructing the dog on when they should go – meaning they can eliminate before boarding. If you want to pursue a command lead process of elimination, Dog Walking company Laurensleash suggest using a reward-based approach. Start by picking the words you will use for ‘peeing’ and ‘pooping’ and use these words around the usual times your dog goes to the toilet. Keep working to associate these words with your pooch going about their business and after each toilet stop bestow lots of praise or even treats. Eventually, the dog should learn to link the words you say, with the act of doing – which means you can take advantage of these cues before boarding the kayak.
Remember to always scoop and bag, or bury your dog’s waste when they get ashore for their business.
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you of the wonderful days that lie ahead of you and your pooch in the open water. Remember to take a zen approach to the introduction, allowing your dog to become familiar with all the necessary equipment and commands. Keep reiterating your expectations whilst loading/unloading and paddling and we are sure your dog will quickly start to quickly understand the great adventure ahead of him as a reward. Enjoy making many happy memories and above all, stay safe and have fun!