Kayaking can be insanely fun, so you might be thinking that allowing your dog to share the joy is a great idea! And while you should at least give kayaking with a dog a try since it can be an entirely new experience, there are many things that you need to consider before the trip.
Should you bring your dog on a trip with you?
Before kayaking with a dog, answer this simple question – is your dog ready for the trip?
While onboard, your pup will need to be reserved – if he gets excited by every new thing he sees, then things could end badly for you both. A larger dog could easily capsize your kayak!
It’s natural for dogs to get excited by an unseen bird or a new sound, but for his own safety, your pup needs not to give in to the temptation of jumping into the water.
With that being said, do not bring your dog along if any of these applies to him:
- Your dog is easily excitable.
- Your dog doesn’t obey commands very well.
- Your dog suffers from health conditions like vision impairment, arthritis, cardiac issues, or anything else that could impair their ability to swim to the shore in an emergency.
The former two can be relatively easily treated with training. Health issues though can be a big problem, and you should first consult a vet before deciding to bring your dog along.
Some dogs are easier to have to get used to water than others. If your dog belongs to one of these breeds, then things will be easier for you since they are considered excellent swimmers and lovers of water:
- Labrador retrievers.
- Golden retrievers.
- Chesapeake Bay retrievers.
- Brittany spaniels.
- Portuguese water dogs.
- Australian shepherds.
Preparing your dog for the trip
The most important prerequisite of a safe and enjoyable trip is that your dog stays calm and obeys commands. To ensure this, you will need to take your pup through some preparation in order to have him acquainted with the things that he may encounter while on the water.
Let’s have a look at the “lessons” that your pup should clear before coming with you on a kayaking journey.
Introduce your pup to the kayak
Kayaks can be scary for dogs. Well, what would you think if you saw a weird-looking colorful object lying in your backyard? Probably nothing positive.
Due to this, you need to first let your dog get acquainted with your vessel. Don’t put them in the kayak and expect that everything will be okay. Let your dog examine the kayak on his own. You may strategically place the kayak closer to the area in the backyard where you usually walk your dog.
Then, hop into the kayak and invite your pup in. Your dog might not agree to get in on the first try, so you may need to allow some additional acclimatization. To help your dog feel more comfortable, you may allow him to bring his toy on board, or you may alternatively set up his soft bed.
Introduce your pup to the outside world
There are many new things, sounds, and animals that your dog may see along the journey, and he may get overly excited because of it. To avoid situations where you have to restrain your dog so that they don’t do anything dangerous, you need to introduce your pup to the outside world.
It’s a good idea to gradually introduce your dog to new environments on dry land. For example, make a habit of visiting a local park with a plethora of wildlife. This will help your pup get used to things that he’s never seen.
Train your dog to obey commands
Perhaps the most important thing to do is to train your dog to obey commands even if they are excited. Of course, it’s difficult to calm down an excited dog, but training will come in handy to ensure your pup’s safety while on the water.
The most important commands for your pup to learn are “stay” or “leave it.” At home in a familiar environment, your dog will likely obey commands easily, but away from it, it may be very difficult for you to have your dog do what you are telling.
Due to this, you need to practice commands in not so familiar environments. Take your dog on hiking trails and teach them to stay by your side and obey your commands no matter what interesting object they might have seen nearby.
Only after your dog has had plenty of dry-land exposure and has shown restraint should you bring him along to your journey.
By the way, training can also be useful for pooping. Mid-journey, it can be a challenge to find time and place for your pup to take care of their needs. Good training may come in handy in this case as well, and it’s done just like with any other command.
Have your dog acquainted with swimming
Water may be the biggest challenge for your dog, and to have him get used to it, you need to start bringing him closer to it.
Start from shallow ponds and lakes where the safety risk is lower for you and your dog. Bonus points if you go with friends who have water-loving dogs – this may make it much easier for your dog to make his first steps into the water!
Seeing you or your family members swimming may be another strong invitation for your dog. If he sees that you are safe in the water and are having fun, it’s much more likely that he will join in.
Also, bring along your dog’s favorite toy and throw it into the water, but not too far and deep. If your dog doesn’t feel confident enough yet, you may need to go and retrieve the toy on your own though.
Remember – no matter what you are doing, make sure to introduce your dog to the water and swimming gradually. Do not throw your dog into the water or pull him after you – this may make it a stressful experience and backfire at you.
Be slow, patient, and gradual. Here, your goal is to teach your pup loving being in the water.
Start your trips gradually
Speaking of being gradual, the ultimate step in training is to take your dog kayaking with you.
For the first few times, it’s a bad idea to do your typical full trips. Instead, start shorter – don’t go too far from the shore so that you can quickly get back if your dog feels worried.
Try to have longer trips, but don’t test the patience of your dog – if the experience becomes traumatizing, you may never be able to reach this step again. Again, remember to be gradual.
Aside from that, give your dog plenty of treats along the way – positive reinforcement and encouraging can do wonders for you and your pup!
Is your kayak ready for you and your pup?
One important question is also the capability of your kayak – is it even ready to support you and your pup? Before you actually confirm that your kayak has sufficient capability, it’s pointless to start any training.
Here are the things that you will need to keep in mind:
Weight capacity: Your kayak needs to be able to carry the combined weight of you, your dog, and all the gear you have with you. If you exceed this capacity, then the kayak may just go underwater.
Size: The second thing to consider is size. Is your kayak even big enough to accommodate your dog? The bigger your dog breed, the more spacious your kayak will need to be.
Cockpit style: The style of your kayak’s cockpit is also important.
If your kayak is sit-on-top, then it probably won’t be a problem for you to provide your pup with the necessary free room. But if your kayak is a sit-in model, then things may get more difficult, unless you or your dog are small-bodied. Plus, in a sit-in kayak, you may need to remove the skirt to free up room for your dog.
Stability: Stability is especially important if you have a larger dog. If the dog goes back and forth from side to side, then a less stable kayak may just capsize. Your kayak should be stable enough not to tilt from your pup’s movement.
Equipment to have while kayaking with a dog
Just like you have a list of essentials to have on your kayaking trip, your dog also needs to have a number of items prepared for him.
Dog life vest: You should have your PFD on you all the time, and so should your dog. No matter how good of a swimmer your dog is, the stress of an emergency may make them unable to swim to the shore.
First aid kit: Bring along a first aid kit for your dog. If you are not sure what to put in it, consult your vet so that they provide you with a list of tools and treatments that you may need in an emergency. They’ll give specific tips for your dog’s condition.
Leash: Bring along a leash so that you can keep the dog close by both on the water and ashore. However, do not tie the leash to the kayak – if the kayak capsizes, your dog needs to be able to freely swim to the shore.
Safety harness: A safety harness is a good addition to a dog leash. This handy item can help you pull your dog back into the kayak should he fall out.
Sunscreen: Certain body areas on your pup are exposed to harmful UV rays, e.g. his nose or belly. Bring sunscreen to protect your dog from the sun.
Water toys: Once you get back to the shore, you may treat your dog’s behavior on the water with a play. Remember, positive reinforcement can be very effective when training your dog for kayaking.
Treats: Bring along treats for positive reinforcement and so that your pup doesn’t stay hungry while on the water!
Don’t forget about vaccinations
Your dog should be on heartworm prevention if he is spending a lot of time in and around water. Mosquitoes are a threat near water bodies, and one bite of an infected insect could end badly.
Make sure to tell your vet that you’re training your dog for a kayaking trip. They will provide you with tips and a list of tests and vaccinations that your dog will have to take. Not only that, but you may ask them for preventative medicine that can come in handy while on the water.
The tips above should be enough for safe kayaking with a dog. Remember – be gradual, don’t push things, and make sure to put your dog’s safety before anything else!