How To Kayak With Your Dog? Read These 10 Tips on Kayaking With a Dog

If you have a pup, you should definitely give dog kayaking a try. Whether you’ve been kayaking for a while or you’re relatively new to the sport, it’s a total bummer when you have to leave your dog behind every time you hit the water.

If you’ve been thinking he might enjoy a day in your kayak with you (like Lou does with Tiny), follow these tips to safely bring your best pal along on your next paddling outing. And to make things easier, I included a shortlist of the must have items mentioned in this guide in the table below.

Must Have Items For Your Pupper

Outward Hound Dog Life JacketA PFD (Personal Floatation Device) for your pupper.1
Chuckit! Ultra Ball
A water toy to play after. 2
Milk-Bone MaroSnacksUse as a motivator and reward.3
Dog Paddling With TinyUse it as a guide and a fun read.4
Ocean Kayak Tandem Sit-on-Top KayakI am assuming you have one, but in case you don't, this would be my top choice.5

Consider Your Dog

No matter how much you want to take your dog kayaking, some dogs just don’t have the personality or temperaments to be your kayaking buddy out on the water. 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.

The last thing you want is to be stuck out on the water pinning your dog down with one hand while you paddle with the other. Nervous dogs, especially ones with an aversion to water, might not appreciate being tucked into a boat and then paddled out into the middle of the lake.

buster ready for action

Get your pup ready before you hit the water. (image source)

Nobody will have fun if your dog doesn’t have the personality to enjoy a kayaking trip, so be fair to him before you make him your kayaking partner.

Desensitizing Your Dog to the Kayak

Kayaks are big, and they can be scary when your dog hasn’t seen one. Don’t just plop him into the kayak and expect him to be fine with it. Let your dog explore the kayak on his own terms and get used to it on his own time. You can put it inside your house or bring it out into the yard while your dog is playing.

Eventually, you can start to sit inside it and invite your dog to let you pet him while you’re in it. Soon enough, he might sit in it with you. Let him bring in his favorite toy or a soft bed so he feels comfortable. Greenies treats are always a good motivator to get him inside and settled, too.

Loading and Unloading

Dogs don’t do all that well learning on the job. Don’t expect to take him out in your kayak 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 the kayak 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. As you teach him to hop in, have him sit immediately on command and then hand over a special treat he doesn’t typically get. When you’re teaching him to jump out, have him sit again once he’s on land.

When you’ve taught him how to jump in and out of the kayak, you’ll want to move it to some shallow water that isn’t choppy. Hold the kayak still so it won’t move too much when he jumps in.

Of course, smaller dogs can be lifted in, but you won’t be able to singlehandedly drop your 80 pound Labrador into a swaying watercraft.

Once he’s in, have the treats ready and tell him to sit. He needs to learn that when he’s on the boat, he has to remain still and not pace, wiggle, or try to jump out (good luck if you have a water dog!).

This is when basic obedience is really important; your dog should have a solid sit/down/stay repertoire before joining you out on the water.

Go Slow!

canoeing the delaware water gap with sparky

No whitewaters here. Just a calm water gap in delaware. (image source)

You shouldn’t take him out onto the water the first few times you get him in the boat. Keep the first few trips confined to just working on load/sit/stay/unload commands to keep him from getting overwhelmed.

Dogs are less prone to nervousness when they have a job to focus on. Once he has perfected the loading and unloading, then you can start to work on paddling into the water for very short distances (who says kayaking with a dog is going to be easy!).

Setting Off From the Shore

This is when a solid sit/stay is incredibly important. Your dog needs to stay in the kayak as you’re pushing it away from the shore. Some dogs will want to leap out when the boat starts moving and you aren’t in it.

Keep repeating your “stay” command to reassure him. Once you’re in, you can start getting him used to the noises and motions of paddling. Some dogs are startled by the oars and he might want to jump out once you start paddling.

Keeping Your Dog in the Kayak

Stay” is an important command when you’re moving, but he may completely disregard your commands if he sees something exciting. You’re going to encounter a lot of wildlife on your kayaking trips, and some dogs just can’t handle their excitement when they see a bird, large fish, or even people on shore.

The best way to train your dog is to teach him to “leave it” when on land. Go to a busy park or hiking trails packed with wildlife. Teaching him to sit and stay by your side will go a long way towards preventing him from leaping out of the kayak and tipping you into the water with him.

Best Kayaks for Dogs

2 tandem kayaks and a wet dog

Tandems are probably the best dog kayak. Alternatively a canoe would do too. (image source)

Some kayaks aren’t suitable for dogs, so if you’re looking to upgrade or purchase your first boat, you’ll want to find one that will comfortably fit both of you. The right type will depend on the size of your dog and how much gear you take out with you.

You might want a kayak where your dog can ride proudly on the bow, or he might be more comfortable wedged by your feet. Take your dog’s personality into account when picking one, too. Excitable dogs might do better kept close so you can grab their collar if needed, while a quiet dog who likes to doze would do well sitting on the bow.

Necessary Dog Kayaking Gear

Your dog will need a few belongings in addition to your personal gear:

  • First, your dog absolutely needs a life vest (which will require additional training on land). Some people argue that dogs are natural swimmers and don’t need a vest, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to drowning. A life vest should be non-negotiable.
  • Bring your leash (and keep an extra stored in your pack).
  • Sunscreen is also important; your dog’s nose and belly are susceptible to burning.
  • Putting a harness on in addition to their collar is a safety measure. If he falls out, it’s easier to pull him back into the boat by his harness.
  • Finally, pack some water toys for him! Once you get back onto land, reward his good behavior with a romp in the water. He’s more likely to sit in the boat once he learns that good behavior earns him some water playtime.

Note: Don’t forget to bring plenty of water, a small meal (for yourself too), and treats to continue your training.

Basic Safety

small dogs can be carried

I’ve heard many sad stories of lost dogs that were eventually found drowned. Please make sure they have a PFD on. (image source)

As stated above, your dog absolutely needs a personal flotation device. It doesn’t matter how well he swims. Tragedies happen, and you don’t want your dog to be a victim of an accident that could have been prevented.

Secondly, don’t ever tie your dog to the boat! This is a veritable death sentence if the kayak tips over and you’re unable to untie him in time. Keep his collar on him at all times, but make sure it’s not going to catch on something if he decides to go overboard.

You should also offer your dog plenty of water during your trip. The sun reflecting off the water can dehydrate him very quickly. What fun is kayaking with your dog if he ends up at the veterinarian needing IV fluids?

Talk to Your Veterinarian

You might not have thought of this, but your dog should be on heartworm prevention if he’s spending a lot of time around the water. Mosquitoes thrive around large bodies of water, and you can never be too sure whether or not there are infected mosquitoes buzzing around.

Tell your veterinarian you’re training your pup for kayaking and you want to ensure they’re protected against heartworm. They will educate you on the necessary tests, vaccinations, and the best preventative medicine for your dog.

Kayaking is one of the best water sports out there, and you can include your canine friend with minimal equipment. Best of all, you only need good paddles, safety gear, some drinking water, and your sunscreen. If you’re willing to invest in the training, your trips will be relaxing, peaceful, and an incredible way to bond with your pup.

*Image Source MiamiSM