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Embarking on a kayaking adventure with your furry companion can be a thrilling experience!
Check out some of these essential tips for a safe and enjoyable outing. From choosing the right equipment to ensuring your dog’s comfort and safety, discover how to make kayaking with a dog a memorable adventure.
25 Tips To Safely Kayak With Your Dog
1: Bring A Life Vest For Your Pooch
Most dogs instinctively know how to swim. However, that doesn’t mean they can all swim well.
Some dogs who are considered good swimmers can get into difficulties when swimming, especially if they start to panic or tire.
Currents and rough waters can make swimming much more difficult, even for a strong swimmer.
A dog life jacket or PFD (Personal Floatation Device) can help to keep your dog afloat if they fall overboard. Most dog PFDs will also have a handle on the top so that you can easily grab it to lift your dog back into the kayak.
Dog life jackets usually fit like a harness, securing around the dog’s chest.
If your dog is not used to wearing a harness or clothing, it can be worth spending a bit of time getting them used to the life jacket before you attempt to put it on them. Lay it on the ground and let them sniff it to check it out for themselves.
Here are some of the best dog life jackets.
Don’t forget to wear a life jacket yourself. You are usually required to have a life vest on board but I recommend you wear it because of the increased risk of capsizing.
2: Bring A Leash
In most locations across the United States, it’s the law for dogs to be on a leash in public. This means you will need to bring a leash with you on your kayaking trip, even if you just use it to get your dog from your car or your home to the launch site.
A floating dog leash can be a good idea, as it can be easily retrieved from the water. You might want to opt for one in a bright color for improved visibility.
Remember, never attach your dog’s leash to the kayak. If your dog is secured to the kayak and the kayak capsizes, your dog may become trapped underneath which can lead to drowning.
If your dog is on the leash while you’re boating, hold the leash in your hand so that you can easily let go in an emergency.
However, you might find it difficult to paddle and hold a leash. Alternatively, you could put the leash handle in front of you on the deck, so you can grab it if your dog decides to jump off.
3: Choose A Sit-On-Top Kayak
The best kayaks for dogs tend to be sit-on-top kayaks.
A sit-on-top kayak will have more space for your dog to sit comfortably, as there are no enclosed spaces. This means both you and your dog should have more room to spread out.
A wide sit-on-top kayak with a flat deck can be more suitable for dogs, as this offers more space for your dog to lay down and find a comfortable spot.
A tandem kayak can be a good choice, especially for larger dogs, as this can give your dog an entire seating area to stretch out in.
If you have a smaller dog, a single-person kayak might be perfectly adequate.
The main factor in choosing the right kayak is stability. This is a key feature to look for when kayaking with your dog as you want your dog to be comfortable but you also want to avoid flipping the kayak.
Wide kayaks tend to offer better primary stability for flatwater paddling. Primary or initial stability is what prevents the kayak from feeling tippy on flat water.
Find out more on hull designs.
Fishing kayaks can also offer high levels of stability as well as decent load capacities to accommodate dogs and gear.
Sit-inside kayaks can work for some dogs (for example, a small dog), generally if your sit-inside kayak has an oversized cockpit. But with most sit-inside kayaks, you’ll find there’s not enough room in the cockpit to accommodate a medium or large dog.
Medium dogs and larger dogs will likely be more comfortable in tandem kayaks or another large, stable kayak.
4: Try An Inflatable Kayak
I recommend opting for an inflatable kayak, such as those made by Sea Eagle. Inflatable dog-friendly kayaks have excellent stability. They are also incredibly durable, so they can handle dogs’ paws and claws with no problems.
For enhanced stability, performance, and comfort for your dog, a great feature to look for in an inflatable kayak is a drop-stitch floor. This type of construction tends to offer added grip for paws.
Inflatable kayaks also have the added benefit of having a more open and flat deck, with no storage compartments or molded foot wells to get in the way.
Here are some of the best kayaks for dogs.
Remember to also consider the size and weight of your dog. Check the capacity of the kayak to make sure it can handle you, your dog, and any gear you plan to take.
An inflatable dog kayak will generally have a higher capacity than a comparable hardshell kayak.
5: Avoid Rough Waters
While you might think your dog is adventurous and brave, it’s best to stick to calm waters when kayaking with your dog. Flatwater lakes, slow-moving rivers, and calm bays can be the best places to kayak with your furry friend in tow.
Kayaking in rough waters such as whitewater rivers and ocean waves can be more dangerous as there is a higher risk of capsizing compared to flatwater kayaking.
Dogs can easily get swept away in strong currents if they fall overboard.
Some dogs will feel very unsteady on a kayak even on flat water, so you may cause anxiety and fear in your dog if you attempt to take on challenging waters. Your dog may even jump out of the kayak to escape the perceived danger.
6: Check The Weather Forecast
It’s important to check the local weather forecast before you head out kayaking with your dog.
Bad weather can affect the water conditions, for example, with stronger currents, higher water levels, floating debris, underwater hazards, and strong winds. This can make paddling difficult.
To keep yourself and your dog safe, it’s best to avoid paddling in inclement weather. If bad weather occurs while you’re out on the water, I recommend heading back to shore to seek shelter till it passes.
There are several kayaking apps that can help when kayaking with dogs, especially when it comes to weather forecasting and water level information.
Here are some of the best kayaking apps to download.
7: Use Pet-Safe Sun Protection
You might not think that your dog needs sun protection but dogs are not immune to sunburn. Some dogs might have a lot of fur or hair, and while this can offer a bit of protection, their noses, paws, and eyes can still suffer damage from UV rays.
Using a pet-safe sunscreen product on your dog’s nose and paws can give your dog extra protection against sunburn.
You can also get sunglasses (or little hats) for dogs if that’s how your dog rolls.
Alternatively, there are rash guards available for dogs that feature UPF 50+ fabric to protect your dog’s skin from sunburn. These can be worn by all dogs but they might be more beneficial to dogs with less hair or more sensitive skin.
Training Your Dog For The Water
8: Practice Basic Commands
It’s essential that your dog knows basic commands before you embark on a kayaking trip. Basic obedience commands, such as sit, stay or wait, down, leave, drop, and come, are some of the essentials that are required in day-to-day life.
If your dog doesn’t always respond to these commands then you might want to continue to practice until your dog understands and correctly responds to the command.
Your dog should also respond to their name being called.
You can gradually introduce distractions while you’re reinforcing these commands to make sure your dog will always respond to you without getting distracted by interesting things happening elsewhere.
9: Familiarize Your Dog With The Kayak
Introduce your dog to the kayak on dry land so that they can sniff around it and get comfortable with it. You could even try hiding treats on it to encourage them to get on board with the concept.
Have your dog sit in the kayak and reward them for this. Positive reinforcement is essential for encouraging good behavior, especially while they’re on the kayak.
Rewarding your dog for being on the kayak also makes the kayak seem more fun and your dog will learn to associate the kayak with treats and praise.
10: Familiarize Your Dog With The Paddling Spot
I recommend taking your dog to the location where you plan to launch your kayak. This lets your dog get used to the area so that when you’re finally ready for your kayak trip, your dog will be comfortable in those particular surroundings.
Have your dog sniff around the lakeshore or riverbank, near the launch site, if you can. This can help to get the excitement of a new location out of the way before you introduce another element: the kayak.
Checking out your preferred kayaking location also lets you get familiar with the area, for example, the types of plants and wildlife that might be around.
11: Practice Kayaking In A Pool
If you have a swimming pool, this can be one of the best ways to get your dog used to the water and the kayak. It’s also a great way for your dog to practice swimming in a safe environment.
Most dogs that are comfortable around backyard pools will likely be comfortable around other types of water.
Adding the kayak to the pool lets you see how your dog will respond to being on a somewhat tippy small boat. This can be a safer way to get your dog comfortable with the kayak than being out on open water, particularly if your dog jumps out.
You can also practice your obedience commands while kayaking in the pool. Remember to use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior.
12: Take A Short Trip In Shallow Water
Once your dog is familiar with the kayak and has had a chance to practice swimming, it’s time to head to the water and take a short trip.
Stick to shallow water and stay close to the shore. This can help your dog get used to the new mode of transportation without being too far from the safety of dry land. You might not be able to stop some dogs jumping off for a swim.
Most dog lovers will be able to tell if their dog is feeling comfortable or not. Look for signs in your dog that might suggest they’re uncomfortable or stressed. Not all dogs will react the same way to kayaking.
If your dog shows any signs that they’re distressed, head back to shore. Some signs of distress in dogs can include panting, pacing, restlessness, yawning, and shaking.
Comfort And Relaxation On The Water
13: Bring Your Dog’s Water And Food Bowls
Make sure your dog has access to fresh drinking water. Most dog owners have a travel bowl that can be easily taken on trips. I recommend a collapsible bowl as most of these can be clipped onto a backpack for easy access.
If you plan to take a long trip, you’ll need to bring your dog’s food bowl.
I know some dogs will eat and drink out of any bowl but I also know some dogs that will only eat and drink out of their own specific bowls. So, it’s a good idea to make sure your dog is familiar with eating and drinking out of the bowls you plan to take.
Having familiar bowls and other items from home can also help to comfort your dog.
For outdoor adventures, I find it’s easier to pack a separate bag for the dog so that they have all their gear in their own bag.
14: Use A Non-Slip Mat
Kayaks can be slippery for people and dogs. A kayak mat can be a good idea to add some traction to your deck. This helps your dog to stand and walk on the deck comfortably without sliding around.
You’ll probably know that dogs that slide around on a surface tend to use their claws to provide more grip, which can often lead to scrambling and panicking. Scrambling on a kayak in the water is probably not going to have a dry ending.
Deck padding can usually be added to most kayaks. It’s common on fishing kayaks as it provides grip for standing platforms and also helps to minimize noise from the deck.
Find out how to add kayak deck padding to your kayak.
Here are some other dog accessories for your kayak that you might want to consider adding.
15: Create A Dog Bed
Dogs need somewhere where they can relax, lie down, and enjoy the ride. Find a suitable spot on the deck of your kayak and place blankets or a dog bed in that spot.
A water-resistant dog bed or blanket can be a good idea because it will probably get wet during the trip.
There are plenty of outdoor-friendly dog beds to choose from, including camping mats and dog mattresses.
If you’re DIY-minded and want to go the extra mile for your dog, you could build a dog platform for your kayak. But if your kayak already has a flat deck, this is not necessary.
Video: DIY Kayak Dog Platform
Make sure your dog has enough space to stretch out and lay down comfortably in their bed.
Here are some great kayak modifications you can do for your dog.
16: Bring Tasty Treats
Always go kayaking with dog treats in your pocket and have a stash of them in your gear bag.
Treats should be used for positive reinforcement so that your dog enjoys being on the kayak with you. Reward the good behavior and use treats to encourage your dog and build their confidence.
You don’t always need to use dedicated treats for training. You can use their kibble from their meals. This can be preferable for dogs that need to stick to a particular diet.
I like to use carrots as healthy dog treats. Most dogs love them. Dried carrots can be particularly easy to carry in a ziplock bag and store on a kayak.
17: Bring Your Dog’s Favorite Toy
If your dog has a favorite toy or stuffed animal, bring it along. Familiar items from home can help your dog to relax and feel comfortable on the kayak.
Comforting toys and chew toys can be useful in easing anxiety.
Many dogs also like to play games. Floating sticks can be a great toy to bring if your dog enjoys swimming and fetching. Floating toys are ideal as you’ll be able to retrieve them if your dog decides they’ve had enough of playing fetch.
18: Pack Towels In A Dry Bag
If you take your dog on a kayaking trip, you’re almost guaranteed to have a wet dog. This means you’ll need to bring plenty of towels to dry them off. You can line your dog’s bed with a towel to help absorb some of the moisture.
A drying robe can also be a useful accessory. Dog robes or drying coats help to dry your dog and also keep them warm. They usually have Velcro fasteners (or straps) under the neck and chest so they don’t move out of place.
Drying robes can be great for in the car on the ride home.
19: Take Lots Of Breaks
You may be able to paddle for hours at a time but it’s important to take breaks frequently when you’re kayaking with your dog.
Taking a break lets your dog stretch their legs on dry land and they can enjoy sniffing around in a new location. Sniffing and exploring is good for mental stimulation to prevent unwanted behaviors and it promotes relaxation so they can stay calm on the water.
It’s important to exercise your dog during the trip, as well as before and after.
Environmental Considerations And Hazards
20: Avoid Nesting Wildlife
Before you head out with your dog, it’s important to check if there are any nesting animals in the area where you plan to paddle.
Local wildlife departments and park rangers will be able to tell you if there are any known wildlife nests in the area.
Check the route in advance, particularly if you plan to camp overnight.
Animals during their breeding and mating seasons can often be more aggressive. Many birds and mammals will see dogs as a threat and could attack.
On the other hand, dogs that are allowed to roam freely into nesting areas can destroy nests and wildlife habitats.
21: Avoid Waters With Alligators Or Sharks
Kayaking with dogs in waters where there are sharks or alligators is particularly dangerous both for you and your dog.
Kayaking with alligators is not safe if you have a dog with you.
Alligators can be more likely to approach your kayak if they smell your dog. Many dogs are the same size as an alligator’s prey and they can and do eat dogs.
Similarly, sharks can be very dangerous for dogs and humans. If your dog is likely to jump off your kayak in the ocean, it’s best to avoid taking them kayaking.
Kayak fishing with your dog can be especially dangerous in the ocean.
22: Pick Up After Your Dog
It’s important to clean up after your dog at all times when you’re out and about. This is part of the Leave No Trace principles that you should always follow when you’re in natural surroundings.
Remember to bring plenty of dog poop bags with you on your kayak trip. After you’ve used them, dispose of them in a trash can when you get back to the parking lot or take them home with you if there aren’t any trash cans.
Even biodegradable bags take years to decompose and they still destroy the landscape, leaving plastic particles in the environment. These bags also usually require specific conditions to actually degrade.
23: Vaccinate And Protect Your Dog Against Insects
I imagine that most family dogs are vaccinated as standard. If you plan to take your dog into public areas and wilderness areas, I recommend that your dog is up to date on their vaccinations.
Dog vaccinations help prevent your dog from picking up dangerous diseases, such as parvovirus, rabies, canine distemper, Lyme disease, and many others.
Failure to vaccinate your dog could invalidate or void your pet insurance policy.
In addition to vaccinations, I recommend you also keep your dog up to date with their deworming medication.
Most dewormers protect against intestinal parasites, such as roundworm and heartworm. You can get monthly tablets that protect against all of these, plus ticks, fleas, and lungworm.
Also, bodies of water are often breeding-grounds for no see ums and mosquitos and other disease-carrying insects. Your dog may benefit from vaccinations.
24: Don’t Overload Your Kayak
An overloaded kayak is an unstable kayak. If you’re kayaking with a large canine companion, make sure you check the weight limit of your kayak before you jump on board.
Balance the load of your kayak and make sure you consider that your dog might move around a little.
If you have enough space around where your dog will sit, you could secure some lighter gear around the edges to stop your dog jumping out.
Find out how to pack and balance your kayak for a camping trip
25: Check For Toxic Plants Or Algae
Before you head out on any adventure with your dog, you should check the surroundings and local information sites about the presence of toxic plants on the shoreline or algae in the water.
Freshwater algae can be particularly dangerous for both humans and dogs. Some algal blooms in fresh water can be extremely toxic and can cause fatal reactions in dogs and people.
Simply swimming in waters with harmful algal blooms or inhaling droplets from the air can be enough to result in exposure.
Don’t allow your dog to swim if you suspect there is toxic algae present.
Paws And Paddles: Wrapping Up A Dog-Friendly Kayak Journey!
Hopefully, you’ve found a few tips that might be useful on your outdoor adventures with your furry best friend.
Whether you want to paddle solo in a two-person kayak with your dog riding up front or you want to cozy up in a solo kayak with your dog at your feet, the best dog kayak will be the one that suits you both.
Practice the safety tips, grab the PFDs, and get ready for your next adventure on the water.