How To Take Your Dog Kayaking (And Enjoy It!)
Posted by on 22/06/2021
So you love to kayak, but hate leaving your best friend at home? Kayaking with your dog can be a lot of fun, but also takes practice and preparation!
Kayaking is one of the most fun, relaxing activities to do with your dog. Not only do you get to spend a day on the water, in some of the most beautiful parts of the country, you get to take your best friend with you. It is a great form of exercise and excellent opportunity to strengthen your bond. Not to mention, your dog will get invaluable opportunities to socialize with people and other animals along the way. Training your dog to kayak opens the door to longer trips, because you don’t have to rush home to let them out, and can even be a gateway to other fun outdoor activities with your pup. The key to a successful kayaking trip with your dog starts with obtaining the proper gear, and doing the training necessary to turn your dog into a paddler’s best friend.
Safety is at the core of preparing your dog to kayak. At the minimum, both you and your dog need a properly fitted life jacket. It is important to purchase a life jacket that not only fits your dog’s length and width, but is also appropriate for their weight. Dog life jacket manufacturers publish sizing charts and weight guides so be sure to read those carefully before selecting a size! The life jacket you choose should be bright in colour so your dog is easily seen. While you are out on the water in a kayak, your dog should ALWAYS have their life jacket on, as should you.
In addition to a life jacket, you will need a waterproof collar with identification and a place to clip a leash. Most life jackets come with a handle for lifting, but this is not sufficient nor strong enough to securely attach a leash or identification. It is important to fit their collar properly so it does not come off in any circumstance. If your dog prefers to wear a harness, make sure there is a secure place to attach their leash and identification and also that it fits with their lifejacket on.
The leash you choose should be non-retractable and made of a quick drying material. It is your choice to take your dog off the leash once they are safely in the kayak and out on the water; however, your dog should always be leashed while you are on the shoreline and loading/unloading your kayaks. This will reduce the risk of your dog getting lost or potentially hurt.
Some things to also consider packing: a small dog first aid kit, neosporin and an extra leash/collar. If your dog has any specific health conditions, discuss what you might need with your veterinarian before setting out for the water.
INTRODUCING THE LIFE JACKET
In order to reduce stress for you and your dog, it is recommended to introduce the dog slowly to their life jacket.
Start by putting on the life jacket in your home where your dog is most comfortable. Positively reinforce the dog with their favorite treats, playing with their favorite toys and lots of praise. Only leave the life jacket on for five minutes or less the first time you put it on. It doesn’t have to be perfectly adjusted, so don’t worry about that at first.
After your dog is comfortable with the life jacket on for five minutes, slowly increase the time they have it on, and the number of different locations they are wearing it. If they seem content in the house, take them into the backyard. Once they are calm in the backyard, take them on a short walk. You can even take them on car rides wearing their life jacket! The purpose of this process is for the dog to eventually be completely relaxed in their life jacket, regardless of where they are wearing it.
Once the dog is comfortable wearing the life jacket for longer periods of time, and in different places, you can start to introduce water.
Start with a sprinkler, a baby pool in your backyard or even a small creek. The idea is for the dog to experience wearing the life jacket while they are wet. The dog will need to learn to shake off wearing the life jacket, and for some dogs this might be stressful.
If the dog handles the wet life jacket well, then you can start practicing somewhere your dog is able to swim under supervision. Swimming pools, ponds or even swimming holes are all great options for this step!
If your dog is a naturally great swimmer, they might not need any prompting. However, if your dog is cautious with the water, never force them to swim. This process takes patience, and may take several attempts.
Once your dog is comfortable swimming in their life jacket on their own, you can introduce the kayak!
INTRODUCING YOUR DOG TO THE KAYAKJust like the life jacket, introducing your dog to the kayak should also be started on dry land.
Your first step is allowing your dog time to investigate the kayak. Set it somewhere, such as your backyard or your garage, and allow your dog to sniff and explore the kayak. To a dog, a kayak is large and unfamiliar so it is important to give them a chance to be near it before trying to put them in it.
Once your dog is relaxed around the kayak, you’ll need to teach them to sit in the kayak calmly with you. Sit in your kayak on dry land, and coax your dog to get in using treats, toys and lots of praise. Reward them every time they make an attempt, even if they don’t completely get into the kayak.
With time, your dog will be comfortable getting into and out of the kayak on dry land, and you can then practice in some shallow water with their life jacket on. This process will likely result in you, the dog and the kayak getting very wet. However, making sure your dog is relaxed while loading and unloading is essential to a successful kayak trip. Several test runs may be necessary to master getting in and out, but never try and rush your dog into something they aren’t ready for.
If you need to, take some steps back and start from the beginning. The more fun you make the process, and the more comfortable your dog is, the more likely you’ll be to have a kayaking furry friend!
Marvelous Dogs say at the minimum, your dog should know basic commands of “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” before you take them anywhere in public and a kayaking trip is no exception. Boat launches and docks are unfamiliar places to your dog, and these commands should be rock solid in order to make sure your dog is safe at all times.
Dogs are more comfortable when they have a routine, so start practicing your commands as you introduce the kayak.
Consider having your dog “sit,” before they get in the kayak, or giving them a command to get into the kayak such as “let’s go.” Practice “stay” with your dog so they will wait calmly while you load your kayak, and constantly practice their recall.
The more practice you put in with your dog prior to getting in the water, the more successful the trip will be.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY DOG IS READY TO KAYAK?Body language is your dog’s primary form of communication!
A dog that is comfortable around water, and ready to kayak, will show very different body language than a dog who is afraid.
An excited dog will have their head up, ears alert and tail wagging. They will make direct eye contact with you. If your dog really loves to kayak they might even try and get in the kayak without you! When your dog is ready, you won’t have to drag them out of the car or force them in the kayak, they’ll go voluntarily.
An afraid dog will have their head down, their ears laid flat and their tail between their legs. They will not be jumping around, and they might even be cowering or shaking. A dog that’s afraid does not make eye contact, may avoid getting out of the car and will not voluntarily get in the kayak. An afraid dog is in more danger because they are liable to startle easily, and if they get loose they could run off and not be found. If your dog is acting like this in any way, it is not ready to kayak with you and will need more practice.
Keep in mind, some dogs just aren’t meant for the water and that is okay. If continued practice doesn’t produce a happy, confident kayaking dog then they might not be cut out for it. It is important to never force your dog to do something they are terrified of, there are lots of other outdoor activities on land that might suit your dog better!
Even out on the water, your dog still needs to be a dog!
You will need to make frequent trips to the shoreline to allow your pup to go to the bathroom and stretch their legs. Don’t forget to put their leash on before you beach your kayak, so they do not have a chance to get lost.
Shoreline breaks are also excellent times to offer your dog water. With their fur, dogs are more prone to heat stroke than humans, and they should have multiple opportunities on your trip to get a drink and stay hydrated. A collapsible bowl attached to their leash is a great option to save space and assure you’ll always have a bowl available. You can even purchase a water bottle special for dogs so they can drink in the kayak if they need to!
If you’re going for an all day trip, or an overnight trip, don’t forget to pack your dog’s meals. If you normally feed your dog on a schedule, try and keep to that schedule to reduce stress. Your dog will likely have to use the bathroom thirty minutes to an hour after a meal, so consider that in your plans!
As with any sport, accidents and emergency situations do occur. It is important to have a plan in case of such situations.
For example, what do you do if your kayak topples over? Both you and your dog should be wearing life jackets, so you’re not going to drown, but what happens next?
First, make sure your dog is out from under the kayak and swimming upright with their head above water. Next, secure your dog. Grab them by their life jacket handle, or if possible attach their leash to their collar. You do not want them to panic and swim too far away from you. If you are kayaking where there are engine powered watercraft, you do not want them to get run over. With a hold of your dog, hopefully you’ll be able to flip over your kayak, grab the paddle and move to a shoreline to load back up. Your dog might be cautious about getting back in after toppling over so be patient and allow them time to regain their comfort.
Regardless of the emergency, the best thing you can do for you and your dog is to remain calm and level headed.
Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman, or just love to be outside on the weekends, kayaking with your dog is a great way to get outside and enjoy summer together. With the proper preparation and training any dynamic duo can kayak safely and successfully! Happy paddling!