Paddling with your Dog

        We have dogs for many reasons.  The outdoor type person usually has an athletic outdoor type dog(s).  A natural extension of a walk in the woods is a paddle on a lake or down a river.  We have been bringing our dogs paddling for decades and have discovered a few things that will help.
Here is a list of things to consider:
  1. Type of Boat
  2. Dog Temperament and size
  3. Dog Training
  4. Getting a dog in and out of a boat
  5. Emergencies and practice
  6. Dog Comfort
  7. Dog PFD
  8. Dog supplies
  9. Dog First Aid Kit
Type of Boat
         You should consider whether you plan to paddle a canoe or a kayak with your dog.  Canoes have so much more room and a good choice for large dogs or active ones.   We prefer to use a canoe with a dog.  This is not a steadfast rule.  If you have a well-behaved dog and a roomy kayak, there should be no problem paddling with a dog.  Remember that kayaks often roll faster than a canoe.  When your dog moves athwartship (side to side) you will need to be ready to compensate.
Dog temperament and size
         No matter how much you want to take your dog boating, some dogs just don’t have the personality or temperaments to be your paddling buddy.   A very hyperactive dog that has a hard time sitting still might not be able to keep it together for more than a few minutes.  A very protective dog can also be trouble in a small boat with a group of canoes paddling near each other.  Most of the sporting and herding breeds are compatible with water.  The very large breeds probably should only be brought out on a large motorboat.
Dog Training
         Life is always easier with well trained dogs.  When all the basic commands are understood and obeyed, the transition to a boat is easier.  If your dog is not trained then consider a good class and extensive training before you start off on a river trip with your dog.  Dogs have a mind of their own and will surprise you when you least expect. If your dog jumps out of the boat don’t get mad. It happens!  Simply paddle to the nearest shore and collect your pup.
Getting dogs in and out of a boat
        To begin with, make sure your dog is calm and ready to listen to you.  One tactic is to wear the dog down.  Take her for a long walk or run.  Play frisbee in a large field or some other form of fetch.
          Dogs don’t do all that well learning on the job. Don’t expect to take him out in your boat and have him take to the experience like a duck to water.  You’ll have to work on training your dog to get in and out of the your boat in a variety of scenarios.
           You should start training your dog on land because he probably won’t leap into a kayak that’s bobbing around in the water.  Find a nice patch of grass and place your boat as if it was in the water.  As you teach him to hop in, have him sit in the middle of the boat immediately on command and then hand over a special treat he doesn’t typically get.  The middle is important because it avoids and unexpected roll.  Use the same technique getting out of the boat using a reward.  Practice it, making it a game with no distractions around.
          When you’ve taught him how to jump in and out of the canoe or kayak, you’ll want to move it to some shallow water that isn’t choppy. Hold the boat still so it won’t move too much when he jumps in.  Again use a reward of a treat.
        Finally, take your pooch on a ride on a pond or lake.  Make frequent stops reinforcing the well balanced entry and exit of your boat.  A wagging tale is a sure sign that your dog is having fun.
Emergencies and practicing
         Dogs don’t like surprises!   When you have gone for a few paddles on a lake, consider practicing a gentle swamping of your boat in shallow water.  (A capsize is defined as a boat rolling over onto its side or completely over; swamping typically means that a boat fills with water but remains floating.) Train your dog to get out and wait on shore while you empty the boat.  Now encourage her to get back in for a paddle.  Repeat this several times.   When a real emergency occurs, your dog should remember what needs to be done.    River dumping happens much faster.  It can be practiced but consider a lake first.

It happens to the best of us!
         Our dog Pontos had gone paddling many times.  One day we took two canoes to down the Housatonic River.  We launched at Falls Village in Connecticut.  Karen was paddling with Pontos and I was paddling alone.  A short distance after launching, in a class two rapid, Karen flipped the canoe.  By the time I got there for the rescue, Pontos had swam ashore, announced his displeasure with barks, and then headed up river to our car.  Poor doggie!  After a successful rescue of Karen and the boat, I walked a half mile to the car.  Despite his training, he was rebellious about returning to the river.  I finally got him in my canoe and he settled down for a great afternoon of paddling.
Dog Comfort
        Dogs sleep at least 14 hours a day!  It’s amazing!   They seem to sleep almost anywhere as long as you are near them.  A comfortable place to sleep is a must! Other distractions to keep them occupied are useful too.  See our short list below:

  • Treats - We use treats for positive reinforcement training with our dogs, which means we always have a treat pouch handy. This works especially well with Labradors or other food-motivated pups.
  • Bones or chew toys - We love surprising our dog with a special bone during long paddles. It buys us extra paddling time, and promotes serious tail wagging.
  • Waterproof Bed - Foam pad, indoor-outdoor carpeting, or an old towel can be a great make-shift bed in the canoe.  Our dog Zoe always liked using a PFD as a pillow.
  • A leash - Unless your dog is perfectly trained to respond to your voice commands, you’ll need a leash, at least for the on-land portion of your trip.  Consider a PFD that has a storage pocket for the leash.  That way it is always with your dog.
  • WARNING: Take the leash off your dog when the boat starts moving.  You won't want your dog to drown because the leash is tangled in the boat as it fills with water and dragged under by the water around a rock or tree.  Don't expect that you will be strong enough to fight the enormous force of moving water.

            When a canoe or kayak turns over, there is little time to consider your pooch.  The best way is to already have a plan and practice it.      Part of the plan is to make sure you don't have to worry about your dog because she is trained and is wearing a dog personal flotation device (aka life jacket).  Don't wait for the day you are paddling to have your dog wear a PFD the first time.  Take your dog to a beach and go swimming with her.  Let her get use to wearing and enjoying the floatation help.  Many dogs actually like swimming with one because they don't have to work so hard.  If your dog is resistant to swimming, consider a leash connected to the PFD.  Gently get them in the water and work them into the deep water using the leash.  Here are a few things to consider in PFD designs:
  • Convenient strong top grab handles allow easy rescue by hand or boat hook.  You can hoist your pup out of the water. Some Medium, Large and X-Large life jackets feature dual handles for easy lifting and stability.
  • Reflective accents and bright colors for high visibility.  A loop to be used with a beacon pet safety light.
  • Fully adjustable chest and neck flaps plus quick release buckles.
  • Durable and comfortable neoprene belly-band
  • A front float helps keep dog's head above water. 
  • Affordable, Light Weight, Easy to Fit, Comfortable on the dog, Durable on both land and water.
  • Pockets to store a leash. It is very dangerous to have a leash on a dog in a boat.  In an emergency, they can get tangled and drown.

Dog Supplies
        We strongly suggest you have a separate dry bag for dog stuff.  If your just playing at the beach or paddling a short distance around a lake then you can leave this at home.  Otherwise, for river trips or any other long paddle, consider a dry bag and take a sharpie and put DOG or a dog’s name on it.  It makes it so much easier to find quickly.  Inside the dry bag, use zip-lock bags for each item making organization a breeze.  Some things you might want to bring are:
  • Dog towel for drying.
  • Dog food
  • Foldable dog bowl or two for water and food.
  • Dog toys and bones.
  • A gallon of water if you are on salt water.
First-aid kit for Dogs
         Before you go off and purchase a fifty-dollar dog first aid kit, consider your own first aid kit.  Review the list below and add only those things that are dog dependent.  That is, don't duplicate!

  • Ace self-adhering athletic bandages
  • Cotton Balls or Q-tips
  • Vet rap bandage - the kind used for dressing a horse's leg
  • Sock - great for keeping a foot bandage on
  • Gauze sponges
  • Liquid Bandages - works great on patching mild cuts on pads
  • Antiseptic towelettes
  • Hydrocortisone acetate -- one percent cream
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Eye rinsing solution
  • Small container of Vaseline
  • Hydrogen peroxide - a good way to induce vomiting.
  • Benadryl 
  • Pepto Bismol tablets 
  • Buffered aspirin - Tylenol or ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, Motrin, etc.)
    is toxic to a dog's liver.
  • Kaopectate tablets 
  • Emergency ice pack
  • Ear syringe
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Bandage scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Blanket
  • Dog's health record and phone number of the dog's veterinarian.
I'm with everyone I love.  The air smells so good.  I can sleep all day if I want.  I get to travel in comfort in a canoe.