How to Canoe and Kayak with Your Dog

dog in canoe
Gryphon ready for his next canoe excursion (photo courtesy of Vermont Paddle Pups)

7-minute read

Do you have a furry best friend you want to bring kayaking or canoeing with you? Some of our readers gave us their best tips for how they trained their dog(s) as paddle partners.

13 Tips for Canoeing with Your Dog (Vermont Paddle Pups)

Sheila and Duncan Goss paddle with their two dogs often—up to 130 days a year in northern New England where they live. They started their blog Vermont Paddle Pups to chronicle their adventures with their dogs. They love the quality time they get every time they're on the water—both together and with their pups.

As Bending Branches canoe paddle users, they've often shared their photos with us. And they kindly offered us their take on the most important things they've learned from their own blog post "Canine Canoeing: Our Tips for Successful Dog Paddling." Here is our synopsis of their tips, along with a few further comments:

1. A dog that happily rides in a car will likely be a good candidate for paddling. 

And the reverse: an anxious dog in the car will take more training and patience before it's happy in a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. A great way to start getting your dog used to your boat is while you're all on solid ground. Have it jump in and out. Have it sit and lie down, giving it positive reinforcement each time.

2. Start with a stable, family-friendly canoe. 

A non-aluminum boat is best since aluminum is both noisy and can get very hot. Either a solo or tandem canoe offers plenty of room. If you're a kayaker, the size of your dog matters. A sit-in kayak with a large cockpit—like a recreational kayak—should offer enough room for a medium or smaller dog.

With a large dog, the best option is probably a tandem kayak or a sit-on-top model. Do you have a stand-up paddle board? That gives ample space, too—either a solid or inflatable model. The key is stable. Your dog's comfort level is important.

3. Lay a covering down on the floor so your dog feels stable. 

A good idea is to lay down a piece of outdoor carpeting or a yoga mat on the bottom of the canoe. The Goss's like to use the adhesive “Punt Surf” traction mat. It's designed to be used in both kayaks and on paddle boards, and will work in canoes as well.

SUP boards almost always already have some kind of traction pad on them. Your dog will feel much more comfortable if it isn't slipping every time it moves.

Sheila Goss with her canoe partner, Edgar
Sheila Goss with her canoe partner, Edgar

4. Be confident with your own paddling skills before you get your dog kayaking or canoeing.

You don't want to struggle with your boat at the same time you're struggling with your dog! Choose quiet, calm water with an easy launch site for your maiden voyage, especially—and even for your first few trips out on the water. Consider staying on shallow water at first, in case your dog insists on jumping overboard.

5. In the beginning, the fewer the distractions from other people, boats and dogs, the better!

Choose a time of day and location when fewer people will be at the launch and out on the water. This will help you be able to focus on your dog, and your dog focus on you.

6. Even if your dog is a good swimmer, have it wear a dog life jacket.

Also known as a PFD, or "personal flotation device," it accomplishes three things:
  • It helps provide warmth in cold water
  • It has a handle to help you lift your dog out of the water and back onto your boat
  • It's brightly colored so other boaters will see your dog when it's swimming in the water

7. Train your dog well first.

It needs to know and obey the basic commands of come, sit, stay and down. Work on these skills in the boat on dry land before you launch on the water. The Goss’s start their dogs by having them sit in the back just in front of the stern paddler for better control. Once they had the idea, they “graduated” to their own spot in the boat.

8. Practice paddling etiquette—don’t allow your dog to bark! 

Not only will barking annoy other boaters, but it’ll also harass any local wildlife. Again, basic obedience commands are key for happy paddling. And we don't want to give dog owners a bad reputation!

Speaking of wildlife, train your dog well to leave any animals you encounter alone—whether ducks, geese and other water birds or animals along the shore.

9. Have a standard routine for your dog when getting in and out of the boat.

Don't allow your dog to get in or out before you tell it to. Routine will increase your dog's comfort level, especially in new situations like a different boat or a new launch site.

Duncan Goss and Edgar in the kayak
Duncan Goss and Edgar in the kayak

10. Keep a short leash with you.

You'll use the leash both for getting to your launch site and while in the boat—although preferably don't leash your dog to the boat for safety reasons. The Goss’s like the Ruffwear Quick Draw Leash

11. Bring drinking water and bowls for your pups in the boat. 

Your dog drinking lake water from the boat can be hazardous for your stability!

12. Keep First Aid supplies for your dog in your own First Aid kit.

It's not usual to come across broken glass and other hazards on the shore. Be ready for any accidents with basic supplies in a dry bag.

13. Start with short trips 

You can move up to longer excursions as your dog acclimates to the paddling experience. A little extra preparation goes a long way to ensuring everyone has a good time!

The Goss Family out in the canoe
The Goss Family out in the canoe

(Thanks to Sheila and Duncan for their tips and great photos! You can read their full article here)

Tips from Our Instagram Followers

Many of our Instagram followers were generous with their advice, too. Here’s what they had to say about paddling with your dog(s):

Many of our Instagram followers were generous with their advice, too. Here’s what they had to say about paddling with your dog(s):

Matt Vaughn kayaks with his pooch, Camille. His advice is:

  • Have patience. It can take time for dogs to get used to the new experience of being on the water.
  • Have a spot that's theirs. Just like in your house they have a spot that they can go to be comfortable, give them the same consideration in a kayak or canoe.
  • Start on calm water. Most animals don't enjoy rapid changes to their environment. Avoid heavy rapids—they won't enjoy it, which in turn means you won't enjoy it.
  • Give your dog a life jacket or "boat coat” just like you would for your children and yourself.
  • A snack for your pet is always a good way to distract them, give positive reinforcement and help get them used to floating.
Matt Vaughn and Camille on a Missouri river
Matt Vaughn and Camille on a Missouri river

Damian Privitera canoes with his dog, Miley, in Connecticut. His top tips include:

  • If you have an extra-active dog, try to tire it out first, either with a trip to a dog park or a brisk walk. (You know your own dog's temperament best!)
  • Get your dog comfortable in the boat on land before trying to go out on the water.
damien privitera canoeing with his dog Miley
Damian Privitera and Miley canoeing in Connecticut (photo courtesy of Evan Perkoski)

Ryan Bryer canoes with his dog, Rambo. Ryan’s advice is to bring a towel for the boat so your dog has his spot. And an umbrella makes shade available for it on hot sunny days.

Caleb Proctor paddles with two dogs, Belle and Bailey. He also had some great tips:

  • Have a towel for your pup to lay on, kayaks get hot.
  • Always have clean water and a water bowl in your kayak or canoe.
  • Never leash them to the kayak. It’s best for the dog to have freedom to move and it’s much safer for them if something happens.
  • If you fish, be extra mindful of what you and your dog are doing, especially when landing a fish. I've taken a couple baths from both my dog and me leaning too hard in one direction!
  • And finally just remember to have fun. It can be a stressful situation when you first get your pet used to being in a kayak. But with patience, you’ll have a faithful paddling buddy in no time.

We sure appreciate everyone’s tips on paddling with your dog! Thanks to all of you who contributed.

Do you have paddle questions for our helpful Customer Service team? They’d love to answer them for you! Contact them today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

More for you…