Tips for Kayaking With a Dog

Adventurous dog owners… this one’s for you.

Have you ever thought about taking your dog kayaking?

We did this with Gus a month or so ago and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s not that I was worried—I just had no idea what Gus would do, if he would jump out, if we would tip over. That sort of stuff. Dogs are a bit of a wild card. Amiright?

Before John and I met, he took Gus kayaking and said Gus loved it. That kind of surprised me because Gus has a LOT of random fears. I’m talking empty Amazon boxes… watering cans on the deck… the treadmill even when its not moving… sticky notes on the wall next to his bed (that was me teasing him). So yeah. He’s an easily spooked, Old English Bulldog. But, he’s also a pretty darn good adventure dog, and I guess kayaking doesn’t pose a threat to his life.

So, we took him out, and sure enough, he loved it. It’s like he was born to kayak. His sweet adventure spirit was a joy to watch, too!

This video shows it all 🤍

Kayaking with Gus

Have I sold you on kayaking with your dog yet? If yes, I’ve got some tips for you.

First, let me answer this question:

Is it safe to kayak with a dog?

Yes. Absolutely! With proper preparation, you and your dog can kayak together and have a grand adventure. My tips below will help!

My best tips for kayaking with your dog

Kayak without your dog first

If you’ve never kayaked before, I recommend trying it without your dog first. Make sure you like kayaking. Make sure you know what you’re doing. Make sure you have the right equipment.

And then try it with your dog. You’ll be far more prepared if you feel confident and comfortable with this activity first.

Your dog needs a life jacket, too

Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, that’s no reason not to use a doggie life jacket. If your dog does jump or fall in the water, you know they’ll be safe. The water could be rough. Your dog may get tired or disoriented. You may not be able to get to them right away. It’s best to be prepared.

If you don’t have a life vest for your dog, Google “life jackets for dogs” or “dog life vest” and you’ll see lots of options. Gus’ life jacket is older, otherwise I’d link it here. The brand is Outward Hound.

Whichever brand you choose, look for one with at least one handle! Read on to learn why.

White dog wearing an orange life jacket

Bring water for your dog

Don’t expect that your dog will be able to drink water over the side of the kayak. They may try, of course, but that may cause tipping or your dog might slip off.

Our dog, Gus, drinks from a water bottle if we pour the water out like a drinking fountain. (Watch the video below to see how he does it!) Another option would be to bring a small bowl you can set on the kayak and fill with water. Either way, don’t forget water for your dog—or yourself!

Gus drinking water from a bottle

Figure out where your dog should sit on the kayak

This means making sure your dog has enough room. If your dog is uncomfortable, they will likely shift around more and that will affect your stability—and their chance of jumping off.

Your options are: having them sit on a flatter surface of the kayak OR sit in the recessed cockpit area with you, if there’s room. A smaller dog could probably fit in close to you. A larger dog will need their own space.

John and I have a tandem kayak with flat space between the seats. For Gus, being a medium sized dog, that worked perfectly.

Woman and man on a kayak with a dog

Be prepared to get wet when you kayak with a dog

Maybe your dog loves water. Maybe you don’t know how your dog will react. And heck, there’s always risk that a kayak can flip, even without a dog. So, take precautions and plan for the worst case scenario, just in case.

Let’s assume your kayak stays upright and your pup doesn’t fall or jump into the water. Remember that you’ll both still get wet while getting in and out of the kayak. Pack some towels for the car ride home.

Have a plan if your dog jumps or falls in the water

Do you know what you would do if your dog does jump or fall in? Have an action plan, again, just in case. I asked John for help with this one since he has far more experience kayaking with Gus than I do.

  1. If your dog ends up in the water, don’t panic.
  2. Encourage your dog to stay close to the kayak.
  3. If you’re near a shoreline, make your way there and coax your dog to follow you or grab onto their life jacket while they’re still in the water. This is why having a life jacket with handles is key!
  4. If you’re not near the shore, attempt to get your dog back into the kayak without flipping.
    • Using a tandem kayak? Have one person stabilize by putting an oar in the water. Then, the other person can try to help your dog in the water.
    • Kayaking alone? Do your best to pull your dog back up into the kayak while also stabilizing the kayak in the water.
    • If your dog’s life jacket does have a handle along the back, use that to pull your dog up and help guide your dog to any recessed areas of the kayak for more leverage.
  5. Unable to get your dog in the kayak? Head toward the nearest shoreline or where you started, and have your dog follow you. If you can’t get your dog to follow those orders, or you’re concerned they’re not keeping up, try helping them along by holding onto their life jacket. Take breaks as needed.

One way or another, just stay calm, try what you can, and go with the flow.

How to get your dog to stay in the kayak

After reading the above tips, you might be thinking, “Okay, so how do I prevent my dog from jumping or falling out of the kayak?”

Valid question. Depending on your dog’s personality, they may naturally be more calm or less inclined to want to swim. If that’s not the case, here’s what I suggest:

  • Pay attention to your dog. Pet them. Talk to them. Keep ’em happy and calm.
  • Also, pay attention to your dog’s signals. Do they see something in the water? Does it look like they’re ready to launch? This could help you anticipate a potential dog overboard situation.
  • Divert their attention back to you if they seem distracted by something else.
  • Use any commands you know they usually listen to. Sit. Stay. No. Repeat as necessary.
  • Grab onto that life jacket handle so they feel resistance and maybe more stability.
  • Bring treats as a last resort.

None of these tips are foolproof, but you know your dog. Take the kayak out of the equation and do what you would normally do to keep them from running off or chasing a squirrel into the street.

Have I convinced you to take your dog kayaking?

If you’ve done this before, any tips to add to my list?

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