Guide to Adventure Kayaking with Dogs

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A day on the water with your dog can be a lot of fun but it takes some preparation ahead of time to help things go smoothly. Before you set off to paddle with your pup make sure they are ready, willing, and able to do so.

Here’s everything you need to know about inviting chaos into your life–I mean kayaking with dogs. Just kidding–but not really! Depending on how sturdy your kayak is and how much impulse control your dog has, there’s a good chance you’ll capsize at least once. Don’t worry, it’s all part of the fun!

Assessing Your Dog’s Capabilities 

Taking your dog kayaking may sound like fun but will it be fun for your dog? Not every dog loves the water or will enjoy the movement of a kayak. Some dogs may like the water but are startled by other people splashing, boat horns, or simply all the commotion of a busy waterway. Some dogs may love the water a little too much and refuse to stay in the kayak–I learned that lesson the hard way! 

Think about your dog’s personality, training, and comfort level in new settings while you assess their capabilities for a kayak outing. Also, always make sure your dog is in good health for any physical activity. Check with your veterinarian if you are not sure!

Things to consider before bringing your dog kayaking:

  • Does your dog like being around water and can they swim?
  • Does your dog know basic commands and have a good recall?
  • Does your dog get nervous, frightened, or reactive in public settings?
  • Does your dog get easily startled by loud noises?
  • Does your dog get overly excited or have a hard time sitting still?

Of course, most dogs will not be 100% perfect on all of these things. Even with much training, my own dog still gets easily distracted or overly excited at times but she loves being out on the water. I’ve learned what works best for her to have a successful kayak trip where we all stay safe, sane, and semi-dry!

You know your dog best and should be able to gauge their comfort level with all of these items and whether or not it’s a good idea to give kayaking a try. 

Getting Your Dog Ready To Kayak

Once you’ve decided your dog is a good candidate to try kayaking it’s time to get them ready! You’ll want to work with your dog to get them acclimated to the kayak and practice some commands for when you are out on the water. 

Bring your kayak out and let your dog sniff it, practice sitting in it, and getting in and out of it. Sit in the kayak with your dog and gently rock it to start getting them used to the movement. Use lots of treats and positive reinforcement as you go through these drills. 

Give your dog a designated spot in the kayak that is “theirs” and practice getting them to sit, stay, and lie down there. Many kayaks have smooth surfaces that can be slippery for paws and get hot in the sun. Give them something soft and non-slip to sit on. You can buy special foam padding made for kayaking with dogs or use a yoga mat cut in half. 

Try practicing these drills at home a few times before heading down to the water. Now is also a good time to make sure they have a properly fitted life jacket and get them used to wearing it. Use treats to create a positive association with wearing the life jacket!

Before Kayaking With Your Dog:

  • Acclimate them to the kayak and practice getting in and out of it
  • Practice commands and getting them to stay in place
  • Get a mat for them to sit on in the kayak
  • Make sure they have a life jacket and they are comfortable in it

First Time Kayaking With Your Dog

Try to find a place with calmer, less crowded water for the first time. Take some time practicing having your dog get in and out of the kayak and getting used to the movement while in the water. This will likely take a few tries. Once you feel your dog has mastered that part and seems comfortable and confident in the kayak, you can get moving. Slowly start to paddle away from your launch point but don’t stray too far. Try paddling parallel to the shore for a while so you can make a quick dash back if things turn sideways. 

If your dog is overly excited give them time to burn off some energy first whether that be taking them for a walk or letting them swim. If your dog is jonesing to get in the water and you put them in the kayak instead, they’ll likely be taking you, your kayak, and all your things with them into the water! The most important lesson I learned kayaking with my water-loving dog is–excited dog = capsized kayak! Now we have a very important “swim first” routine!

This all may take a few tries before your dog is ready for more interesting waters. Use lots of treats and be patient with your dog as they learn to navigate this new activity. Pay attention to your dog’s body language, if they seem stressed or fearful take breaks until they are back under threshold. Don’t force them into a situation they don’t want to be in. They will ultimately end up more fearful of the activity and it can even harm the bond they have with you in the long run. 

If your dog is enjoying the kayak, slowly build up to paddling further out. See how they do with the distractions of other kayakers or boaters. It may take a few shorter kayak outings before your dog is ready for a longer trip. 

Kayaking Safety For Dogs

Safety should be top priority for you and your dog while out on the water. Always keep your dog in a life jacket and make sure the water is safe for them. It also never hurts to bring a First Aid Kit and know CPR for dogs!

While we humans may have no qualms about kayaking in places we wouldn’t care to swim, with dogs, there’s a 50/50 chance they are ending up that water! Make sure whatever waters you are traversing with them are safe should they decide to jump in. Threats can include things like bacteria or toxins in the water and dangerous wildlife. 

Here in Florida, I’m always stunned to see people cruising known gator waters with their dog hanging off the kayak or even worse–swimming in that water. Dogs have unfortunately been snatched by alligators here many times so it’s best to leave them home if you are paddling in gator territory. This can include many freshwater lakes in the southeastern US. Things like leptospirosis bacteria and toxic algae blooms can also be found in lakes across the country and can be fatal to dogs. Look out for any warning signs along the shoreline.

Heatstroke can still also be a very real threat even if your dog has been cooling off in the water. Be mindful of temperatures and know the signs of heatstroke in dogs. Make sure your dog is staying cool and hydrated while out on the water. 

Although it may seem like a logical way to keep your pup in place, never leash your dog to the kayak! This can create a dangerous situation if they jump out or you hit unexpected rough waters. The kayak can capsize and your dog could become trapped or tangled underneath it. Keep their leash nearby so you can quickly clip them when you dock but keep them untethered while out on the water. If your dog does jump out most life jackets have a handle on top to help pull them back in. 

Kayaking With Dogs Checklist

  • Dog Life Jacket
  • Travel Water Bottle/Bowl
  • Treats (in a waterproof pouch)
  • Harness/Leash
  • Poop Bags
  • Pet First Aid Kit
  • Towels/Pet Wipes
  • Dog Goggles (for sunny days)

What if we capsize?

A capsize can happen to the best of us, with or without a dog aboard. Of course, our furry friends can increase that likelihood so it’s best to always be prepared. If you’ve never practiced getting back in a kayak from the water before do that a few times without your dog first. Once you’ve mastered that, try practicing with your dog while still in shallow waters near the shore. 

Some people prefer to get themselves in first to stabilize the kayak and then pull in the dog. Others find they must secure the dog first or they might keep swimming away. Do what works best for you and your dog and keeps you both safe! This is also a good time to test your dog’s recall while in the water. 

Your dog may have great recall on land but decide to completely ignore you when they are having fun in the water. My dog is notorious for this. She also forgets her name and everything we’ve ever taught her in her life when someone rings the doorbell but alas no one is perfect! Try some practice drills to teach them to swim to you so you’ll be better prepared in the event of a capsize. 

Last but not least–try to remain calm! I know, easier said than done when you’ve just flipped your kayak but it will be ok! That’s why you both are wearing life jackets. Try your best to remain calm and get yourself and your dog back in the kayak.