Safety Tips for Canoeing With Your Dog
Canoeing With a Dog Doesn't Have to Be Stressful
Last summer when my husband and I took our annual camping trip to Algonquin Provincial Park, I was dogsitting for my brother. So his dog, Rufus, came along with us. I was terrified at the idea of taking my brother's dog out in our canoe. What if something happened to him? How on Earth could I ever tell my brother I lost his dog on a canoe trip?!
A few weeks before our trip, I read every piece of information I could find about how to train your dog to behave in a canoe, spoke to friends whose dog loves being in the water and paid many, many trips to the pet store to make sure I had everything I needed. Today, I'll share with you some tips and ideas from my experience taking Rufus on our canoe trip.
If you have any ideas, advice or experiences to share, don't be shy! You can leave them in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
In this article, we'll cover the following:
- How to Get Your Dog Comfortable on the Water
- Getting Your Dog in the Canoe for the First Time
- How to Keep Your Dog Comfortable in the Canoe
- How to Keep Your Dog Safe While out in the Canoe
- What to Pack for a Canoe Trip With Your Dog
How to Get Your Dog Comfortable on the Water
If your pooch has never been out on the water before, you first need to get him/her comfortable with their sea legs. While it is true that most dogs are natural swimmers, that doesn't necessarily mean your dog is going to immediately love being in or on the water.
If your dog is still young, exposing them to water when they're still being trained is ideal. However, if your dog is a bit on the older side, it might take a little bit more patience and perseverance to get them comfortable. Here are a few ways you can help get your dog comfortable with being in and on the water:
- Take them out in a motorboat. If your ultimate goal is to get your dog comfortable in a canoe, taking them out in a motorized boat is a great way to introduce them to life on the water. We took Rufus with us out in our fishing boat before attempting to put him in a canoe. It's a lot wider than our canoe, with much more space for him to walk around. He loved being able to hang his head over the side of the boat and watch the waves crashing behind the motor.
- Practice Voice Commands. Once we got Rufus out on the water in our fishing boat, I let him walk around a bit to wear off some of his excitement. Then I started with practising sit and stay commands. I wanted to make sure he would listen even with all that extra stimulation. If your dog is especially excitable in new environments, it might require a few short trips out in the boat before you can hold their attention long enough to practice their sit and stay commands.
- Take them for a swim. This is great to do if you don't have access to a motorized boat (or in addition to taking them out in a boat). When I took Rufus out for his first swim, he had never been out in the water before. It took a little bit of coaxing at first. I picked him up and carried him out just deep enough where his feet could still touch the bottom so he wouldn't panic. Once he realized he could float (thanks in large part to his life jacket) he lost his fear. It also helped out a great deal that we had another dog with us (Tucker, in the photo) who loved to swim. Once Rufus saw that Tucker could do it, he wanted to as well.
- Repetition will lessen anxiety. Follow as many of the above tips as you can and repeat as many times at it takes for your dog to become comfortable with the water. Some dogs might never really take to swimming because they don't like being wet and might just be happy to sit in your lap on the boat. You know your dog's personality best, so adjust any of the above activities to suit your dogs personality and comfort level. The end goal is to make them feel comfortable enough with being on the water so they don't panic when they make it to the canoe.
Getting Your Dog in the Canoe for the First Time
Now that your dog is comfortable being around the water, the next step is to familiarize them with your canoe. Your dog might be a little cautious around your canoe when they first see it, so you should start the process with both your dog and your canoe on dry land. Here's how to do it:
- Leave your canoe where your dog can find it. Take your canoe out of the garage and lay it out in the yard where your dog can find it. While you're out doing yard work or sitting outside, your dog can sniff around and get used to the sight of it. The more familiar your dog is with having the canoe around, the lower his anxiety will be when it comes time for him to get in it.
- Sit in the canoe on dry land. With the canoe still in the back yard, get in it and encourage your dog to jump in and sit on your lap. This might take a little bit of coaxing, which leads to the next point...
- If necessary, bribe them. If your dog won't hop into the canoe while you're in it, try coaxing them in with some of their favourite treats. Some pet parents live by the "Good behaviour is it's own reward" motto and choose not to train their dogs with treats. Use whatever method of rewarding your dog that works for you. If they have a toy they're especially fond of, try tossing it in the canoe and leaving it in there while you're doing your busy work in the yard. If they want the toy bad enough, eventually they'll have to hop in the canoe to get it.
- Put their bed in the canoe. You can use their bed or favourite blanket. Rufus has a fleecy blue blanket that he is especially attached to. I made sure to keep it with us while we were in the canoe because it smelled like home and he often would fall asleep with it. Try putting your dog's favourite blanket or bed in the canoe so he'll learn to associate the canoe with a safe, comfortable place. Ruff & Tuff make's a great, waterproof and durable self inflating doggy bed that you can use specifically for camping and canoeing if you don't want get their regular doggy bed wet or ruined.
- Put their life jacket on. Putting a life jacket on your dog when they're out in the boat is must. Yes, dog's can swim, but if you tip your canoe, or if your dog jumps out, you want to be able to easily grab them and put them back in the canoe. If they've never worn one before it might take a while for them to get comfortable with it on. Put the life jacket on them when they're in the house or yard so they're used to it. I left Rufus in his for 20 minutes a day for a couple of days before our trip. Giving them treats or extra attention while they're wearing it will help your dog have a positive association with their life jacket. This will help when you put it on them before they get in the canoe.
- Once again, repetition will lessen their anxiety. The more time you can give your dog to to get used to being in and around the canoe before taking them out in the water, the better. Paddling a canoe can be tricky, even for an experienced canoeist. The last thing you want is an anxious dog rocking your canoe.
Life jackets are a necessity for dogs too. Though they are natural swimmers, not all dogs will immediately feel comfortable in water. A life jacket can help provide the extra buoyancy they need to help lessen their anxiety in the water.
How to Keep Your Dog Comfortable in the Canoe
Now that you've given your dog ample time to get used to being around the water and they seem comfortable being in and around your canoe, it's time to attempt your first paddle with them! Here are a few things you can do to help keep your dog calm and comfortable during your canoe trip:
Never ever tie your dog's leash to the canoe or to your person. If your canoe tips and your dog is tied to the canoe, he will drown.
Never Leash Your Dog in a Canoe
Never have a leash on your dog when in a canoe or any other water craft. Bring the leash with you if you plan on exploring on shore and don't want them to take off, but always take the leash off of them when you get back into your canoe.
If you're concerned your dog won't stay in a canoe without tying them to you, then leave them at home.
How to Launch Your Canoe With Your Dog in It
Launching the canoe with your dog for the first time can be tricky. Here are a few pointer's to help make your first paddle out successful:
- Get in the canoe before your dog. This will not only help your dog feel less anxious but your weight will help stabilize the canoe before the dog jumps in.
- Have a seating plan in mind before you get in the canoe. Discuss with your partner who will sit where and where the dog's designated sitting area will be. This will lessen the need for moving around in the canoe once you're on the water, which can be tricky. My husband always sits at the back (the stern) because he steers the canoe, and I sit at the front (the bow). Rufus' area in the canoe was at the bow, sitting between my feet.
- Take them for a long walk. Before you take your dog out in a canoe for the first time, take them for an extra long walk to help burn off some of their energy. This will help them feel more relaxed and they might even fall asleep once they're in the canoe. Make sure they've relieved themselves before they get in the canoe.
- Keep your first trip short. Try and keep your first trip out in the canoe short and close to shore. If your dog decides that this isn't the activity for them and won't calm down, it'll be easier for you to paddle back and drop them off. If they get overly excited and decide to jump out, you want them to be a safe distance from the shore so they can swim back.
- Try launching the canoe without them. If your dog is reluctant to get into the canoe with you, try having your partner stay on shore with your dog, while you paddle away from them. Only do this if you're certain you can handle a canoe on your own. There's no need to paddle far. Just far enough so your dog can't reach you. This might encourage your dog to get into the canoe when you come back to shore because he wants to be wherever you are.
- A dog's nails make it hard to stand in a canoe. Canoe's are slippery. They're wet and they're isn't a flat surface for your dog to get their footing. Having a mat for your dog to stand on will give them a surface their nails can grip into. This will help give them more sure footing and lessen their anxiety. There's no need to go out and purchase anything expensive for this. I used a bath mat I purchased at the dollar store.
- Keep food and water easily accessible. Collapsible doggy water bowls are fantastic for canoe trips. I kept one folded in my pocket for quick access. Have a bottle of water handy so you can give your pooch a drink when they need it. I also kept a few dog treats in a Ziploc bag in my pocket. This is especially handy if you're canoeing by wildlife your dog might want to jump out and chase. We happened upon a beaver during our last trip. I put a couple of treats down on the floor to distract Rufus and he was none the wiser. I'm not sure Rufus would've won a battle between him and a beaver.
- Keep your dog dry. They key to keeping your dog calm in the canoe is making sure they're comfortable. When you're paddling a canoe, water will inevitably get inside the canoe. You don't want your dog to have to lay down or sit for an extended period of time in a puddle of water. Keep a towel handy to wipe them down when they get too wet.
- Take breaks. If your canoe route is longer, make sure you plan for rest breaks so both you and your dog can explore. It'll help prevent them from getting too restless while on the water. Make sure you also include time for bathroom breaks.
Items You'll Need During Your Trip
Preparation is key to a successful canoe excursion with your dog. Here's a list of items you'll want to take with you to help keep your dog comfortable and safe during your canoe trip.
What to Bring on a Canoe Trip With Your Dog
- Doggy Life Jacket
- A mat for them to lay on (bath mats from the Dollar Store work great)
- Doggy poop bags
- Collapsible water & food bowl
- Dog treats
- Bottle of water
- Dog food
- Dog leash (Only for when on shore. NEVER leash your dog in a canoe.)
What Does "Portage" Mean?
To carry a boat (or canoe) between two bodies of water.
A Quick Note on Portaging With a Puppy
Portaging with a canoe is a lot of work. Trying to carry a canoe through the woods while maintaining control of your dog can be incredibly stressful.
Look at the photo above. Could you imagine carrying your canoe like that while also trying to control a dog?
We attempted a short portage while with Rufus over a damn. Even though the distance we had to travel with the canoe was short (less than a kilometre) I grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to carry a canoe uphill and through the woods while also holding Rufus on his leash.
If your canoe route will require you to do some portaging, be honest with yourself and seriously contemplate whether your dog is well trained enough to handle such an excursion. Unless your dog is extremely well trained and you're a highly experienced canoeist who's portaged before, it isn't advisable to take your dog with you for a portage trip.
Thanks for Stopping By!
I hope you've found this article informative and helpful. If you have any further questions or concerns about taking your dog out with you in a canoe, please feel free to ask them below.
If you have any extra advice, tips or experiences you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them! You can also post those in the comments section below.
If you'd like information about any of the canoe routes in my preferred canoeing/camping destination of choice, Algonquin Provincial Park, you can check out The Friends of Algonquin Park website for more information.
Have You Ever Taken Your Dog out in a Canoe?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.