How To Kayak With Dog

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While it is true that All Dogs Go To Heaven, our adventure pups might just feel like they’re in heaven right here on Earth.

We love to take them paddling at every opportunity we get, but paddling with a pup isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

How to kayak with a dog on board can be a difficult experience for a new paddler.

Even those of us who have accumulated many hours in the cockpit of our kayaks have to adapt when our dog comes along.

Some of your battle will simply be in learning what to look for in the first kayak that you plan to use with your dog. This choice can play a large role in how your “paddle-with-pup” experiences go in the future.

But in the rest of this article, we’re going to outline some important tips to help you learn how to kayak with a dog. We’ll also take some time to outline some essential gear you should pick up to make life easier for you and your furry companion on the water.

Jargon Buster

Some of these terms are relevant to kayaking in general while others are specific to kayaking with your pup. Either way, we want to make sure you’re familiar with this jargon before it confuses you later in the article.

PFD

PFD stands for ‘personal flotation device.’ This is recommended for all human paddlers, but there are also PFDs out there designed specifically for dogs of all sizes.

Dry Bag

This is a common piece of kayaking gear that is used to keep essential gear dry on the water. These bags can typically be splashed and submerged without any water leaking in, but only the best dry bags are really trusted by avid kayakers.

Sit On Top Kayak

This is one of the more common kayak designs for beginners. The contrasting design would be a sit-inside kayak, which is more frequently used for sea kayaking or longer expeditions.

Essential Gear To Kayak With Dog

We’re hoping you already have most of the essential kayak gear that you need to paddle by yourself. So, in this section, we’re going to focus on gear that has a specific purpose when you’re kayaking with your dog.

Dog PFD

While you should already have a PFD of your own, you’ll be thankful if you get one for your pup as well. A quality dog PFD gives your precious buddy extra flotation if he or she falls overboard (or decides to go for a swim on purpose).

Another benefit of a dog PFD is that they typically come with a handle that will end up somewhere along your dog’s spine. This will be extremely useful if you have to lift your dog back onto your kayak in deep water.

Dry Bag

Most kayakers already carry a dry bag or two on their kayak for their own personal use. But the risk of getting things wet when kayaking with a dog is so much higher than in any normal kayaking circumstance.

In fact, it’s nearly impossible NOT to get everything soaked when kayaking with a dog. So make sure you get an extra dry bag or two so that all of your essential gear and electronics are protected when your dog decides to shake.

Hands-Free Bungee Leash

These are commonly used by folks that love to run with their dog. But we’ve also found them to be extremely useful for kayaking with dogs, especially if you don’t trust your pup off-leash just yet.

While it’s recommended to let your pup be off-leash if you’ve developed that level of trust, one of these bungee leashes is a great fail-safe if not. It gives you the ability to stay connected to your pup while your hands can stay occupied with your kayak paddle.

Treats

This one might be a bit unexpected, but it’s always a great idea to have treats on you when kayaking with your dog, especially if you’re both relatively new to this recreational pursuit. Of course, you’ll have to keep them in a small dry bag or double Ziploc.

Reinforcing how you want your dog to behave is a big part of whether this will continue to be an activity you two can enjoy together. Always having treats on hand will allow you to reinforce good behavior so that you can build good habits moving forward.

10 Tips To Kayak With Dog

1. Refine Your Skills BEFORE Bringing Your Pup

It’s extremely important that you are very comfortable maneuvering your kayak without a dog inside of it before you ever think of bringing a pup along. For some people, this can take years of practice and perseverance.

But kayaking isn’t an overly complicated sport and the most important thing is that you feel comfortable operating your watercraft at all times. You’ll also need to know how to exit and enter your kayak safely and efficiently.

The odds are much higher than you’ll go for a swim when you have a dog on your kayak. So if you’re still struggling to re-enter your kayak when paddling without your dog, that’s a clear sign that you still need a little practice before it’s time to bring your furry friend along.

The good news is that there are many classes and instructional videos out there to help you hone your kayaking skills. The American Canoe Association is a great resource for educational materials whenever you need them.

2. Use a Sit on Top Kayak

There are plenty of people out there that bring their dogs along in a sit-inside kayak. We’re just not huge advocates of that approach for a few important reasons.

For starters, sit on top kayaks are much more stable, especially if you’re a relative novice kayaker in the first place. Having your dog on board will only add an unpredictable variable, so having a very stable kayak will make things much easier.

Secondly, sit-inside kayaks are more difficult to re-enter if you happen to capsize because your dog does something funky while you’re out on the water. We’ve heard stories of dogs jumping off kayaks in the ocean to swim after dolphins, so nothing is too far-fetched.

We recommend using a sit on top kayak for paddling with a dog because it’s safer and can lead to a more enjoyable experience. And we want to see beautiful pictures of you and your pup on new waterways instead of hearing horror stories about paddle adventures gone wrong!

3. Stick To Calm Waters

We can’t overstate how much a dog can cause your kayak to become unstable. Especially when you’re just training your pup to kayak with you, it’s really important to stick to calm bodies of water.

Running rapids or paddling in the surf with your dog simply adds a level of risk that we’re not comfortable with, at least until you have a lot more experience under your belt.

It’s really important that you and your pup establish your kayaking habits and routines before moving on to more challenging waterways. Sticking to calm waters at first will give you the time to develop those routines and get comfortable together.

In addition, calm waters are forgiving. When you or your new paddle partner make a mistake, the consequences will be less drastic and you’ll be able to better learn from your experience for the next time out.

4. Make Your Dog Comfortable

The ideal situation when kayaking with a dog is that he or she lies down and simply relaxes while you’re paddling. This keeps the dog’s center of gravity in one spot and allows you to get used to how it feels to have that extra weight in your kayak.

However, if your dog can’t find a place to get comfortable, it’s much less likely that he or she will lie down and relax. So it’s up to you, as the dog’s owner, to create a comfortable place for your pup to lie while you’re paddling.

If you live in a really warm environment and you have an old towel that you don’t mind getting wet, lying a towel down where you want your pup to lie is a great way to designate an area for your dog while also giving it a cool place to relax.

The manner in which you make your dog comfortable is really up to you. You know your dog best (as well as your own kayaking habits) but just think about this if your preference is simply to have your dog chill while you’re on the water.

5. Always Bring Treats

One of the biggest mistakes to make when you’re getting your dog used to kayaking is to forget treats at home. Treat your kayaking trip just like when you were training your dog while walking, running, or simply around the house.

Of course, you’ll need to keep your treats in a quality dry bag or at least sealed up a double Ziploc bag. There’s nothing worse than soggy dog treats lying around at the bottom of your kayak.

Treats allow you to get your pup’s attention on the water. This is really important when starting out because there are going to be a lot of distractions that your pup might not be used to overcoming.

Having treats allows you to redirect your pup’s focus back to you. In many cases, this can be the difference between keeping your dog in your kayak and chasing it across the lake.

6. Brush Up On Basic Obedience Training

Basic obedience training is a must for all new puppy owners. Of course, it can be skipped but most dog owners that go this route tend to regret it down the road.

Before bringing your dog into your kayak, it’s a really good idea to start brushing up on some of the basics of obedience training. Depending on the age of your pup, this training might be fresher than for others.

The basics of sit, stay, and lie down are really important commands to have dialed when kayaking with a dog. A command like “no-touch” or “leave it” can also come in handy when that flock of geese goes swimming past your kayak.

It’s always good to practice these commands well in advance of taking your pup out on the water. This will help you stay in control out there and can also boost your confidence that your dog is under your command if anything out of your control does occur (i.e. with another kayak or boater).

7. Reward Good Behavior

Remember those treats that we mentioned earlier? Well, those will also come in handy for rewarding good behavior when your pup obeys a command or does something that you want them to keep doing.

Rewarding good behavior is really important when you’re just starting to kayak with your dog because it shows them how you expect them to behave during this activity. Depending on your lifestyle, kayaking might be very different from your other activities.

It helps, then, to provide your dog with a physical reward for the good behavior that they exhibit on the water. This can simply be for lying down or can be for more complex behaviors like understanding not to jump out of your kayak at certain moments.

However often you decide to go into your bag of treats, just know that your dog will notice. It may (and probably should) become less over time, but rewarding good behavior is a great way to get your dog used to kayaking.

8. Get Into A Routine

Dogs like routine. That’s why they seem to know it’s time to go out for a walk before you even get your shoes on and why they get impatient when it’s past their dinner time.

Just like humans, dogs are creatures of habit, so it’s important to establish a routine that helps your dog recognize it’s time to go kayaking. There can be many elements to your routine, depending on your preference.

One of the most important elements of your routine is establishing who gets into your kayak first. It should also include your protocol for who exits the kayak first when you get back to shore.

Many first-time kayakers with dogs will capsize within 10 feet of the shore. This is typically because a routine for who enters and/or exits the kayak first hasn’t been established, so take the time to develop your routine if you want to stay dry.

9. Practice Respectful Paddle Etiquette

A healthy part of kayaking with a dog is practicing respectful paddle etiquette. This refers to the way you interact with your environment, including the other paddlers or boaters on the water.

For instance, many experienced kayakers have trained their dogs not to bark while they’re in a kayak. This provides a great measure of respect for anyone out on the water looking to enjoy quiet and serenity.

Cleaning up after your dog is also a really important part of respectful paddle etiquette. The longer that you paddle with your dog, the more likely it becomes that he or she has to take a bathroom break at some point.

Do all of your fellow paddlers a favor and take the time to get out of your kayak and dispose of your dog’s waste properly. Not only will you be respecting other humans and dogs on the water, but you’ll also be caring for all of the natural wildlife that frequent your area.

10. Have Fun!

Dogs have a keen sense of their owner’s energy and emotional state. You’ve probably already noticed that your dog has an idea that you need some extra affection on days that you’re not quite feeling your best.

So if you’re not having fun while kayaking, there’s a good chance that your dog isn’t having fun either. Make sure that you’re not forcing it and going out simply because you need a great photo for social media.

This is our last tip because it just might be the most important! Kayaking with your dog should always be fun, adventurous, and give you a great excuse to explore new places and meet new people.

Final Recommendation

Our final recommendation for kayaking with your pup is EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED! You just never quite know when your furry friend is going to need to cool off (and try to take you along for a swim!).

Even the most well-trained pups on land can take some time to adjust to the feel of a kayak. Be patient with your buddy and pack yourself an extra pair of dry clothes for your first few trips.

At the very least, leave a towel and a pair of dry clothes easily accessible in your vehicle for your return. You’ll thank us when you aren’t driving home wet and uncomfortable wondering why you ever thought kayaking with your dog was a good idea because it is!

You just need to be prepared and roll with the punches. That’s one of the most beautiful parts of being a dog owner anyway because sometimes amazing and fun things happen when you least expect them!

 

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