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Tips For Canoeing With Your Dog

Updated on April 23, 2014
An anxious, hyper dog is not one you want in a canoe with you. Training your dog to become comfortable in a canoe takes patience and persistence.
An anxious, hyper dog is not one you want in a canoe with you. Training your dog to become comfortable in a canoe takes patience and persistence. | Source

Have You Ever Taken Your Dog Out In A Canoe?

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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 dog sitting 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


We took Rufus out for a swim to help get him used to being in the water. He was a little uncomfortable at first, but once he figured it out he swam like a pro.
We took Rufus out for a swim to help get him used to being in the water. He was a little uncomfortable at first, but once he figured it out he swam like a pro. | Source

Life Jackets are a necessity for dog's 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 Get Your Dog Comfortable On The Water

If you're 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:

Give your dog time to get used to being out on the water before undertaking a long canoe trip. We took Rufus with us out in our fishing boat a couple of times to get him used to the water before introducing him to the canoe.
Give your dog time to get used to being out on the water before undertaking a long canoe trip. We took Rufus with us out in our fishing boat a couple of times to get him used to the water before introducing him to the canoe. | Source
Practice sit and stay commands with your dog while out in the boat. You want them to pay attention to your commands, even during the excitement of being out in the canoe.
Practice sit and stay commands with your dog while out in the boat. You want them to pay attention to your commands, even during the excitement of being out in the canoe. | Source
Rufus' canoeing buddy, Tucker. Watching another dog who is already comfortable in the water can help to encourage more timid dogs to try to go for a swim.
Rufus' canoeing buddy, Tucker. Watching another dog who is already comfortable in the water can help to encourage more timid dogs to try to go for a swim. | Source
  • 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.

Familiarizing your dog with your canoe while it's still on dry land is the first step to achieving your goal of a calm dog who won't panic out on the water.
Familiarizing your dog with your canoe while it's still on dry land is the first step to achieving your goal of a calm dog who won't panic out on the water. | Source

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:

Give your dog a chance to get comfortable with your canoe while it's on dry land. This will help lessen their anxiety when it's time to paddle out.
Give your dog a chance to get comfortable with your canoe while it's on dry land. This will help lessen their anxiety when it's time to paddle out. | Source
At first, Rufus was a bit confused as to why he had to wear his life jacket around the house. It helps to get your dog comfortable wearing it before heading out in the canoe.
At first, Rufus was a bit confused as to why he had to wear his life jacket around the house. It helps to get your dog comfortable wearing it before heading out in the canoe. | Source
  • 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.

With a little bit of preparation and patience, your pooch can learn to feel comfortable in a canoe. This is myself, my husband Jason and Rufus during a canoe outing in Algonquin Provincial Park.
With a little bit of preparation and patience, your pooch can learn to feel comfortable in a canoe. This is myself, my husband Jason and Rufus during a canoe outing in Algonquin Provincial Park. | Source

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 leash your dog in a canoe

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 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.

If your dog is reluctant to get in the canoe with you, try paddling out from shore just out of reach from your dog. If your dog wants to be with you, this will help them see they need to hop in or get left behind.
If your dog is reluctant to get in the canoe with you, try paddling out from shore just out of reach from your dog. If your dog wants to be with you, this will help them see they need to hop in or get left behind. | Source

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.

Tucker going for a swim during a break in our canoe trip. Keep in mind how long your route is and plan for rest breaks for yourself and your dog to explore.
Tucker going for a swim during a break in our canoe trip. Keep in mind how long your route is and plan for rest breaks for yourself and your dog to explore. | Source
  • 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.

Don't forget to put a life jacket on your dog before heading out in the canoe. Rufus (right) and Tucker (left) getting comfortable in their life jackets before our paddle.
Don't forget to put a life jacket on your dog before heading out in the canoe. Rufus (right) and Tucker (left) getting comfortable in their life jackets before our paddle. | Source

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
Towel
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)

Por-tage

To carry a boat (or canoe) between two bodies of water

A group of canoeist's heading out for a portage in Algonquin Provincial Park. Unless your dog is extremely well trained & used to being in the woods, it isn't advisable to take your dog with you for a long portage trip.
A group of canoeist's heading out for a portage in Algonquin Provincial Park. Unless your dog is extremely well trained & used to being in the woods, it isn't advisable to take your dog with you for a long portage trip. | Source

A Quick Note On Portaging With 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 to the right. 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.

Using the tips in this article will help you have a successful canoe trip with your dog. Rufus is hiding in this photo. He was sound asleep at my feet in the bow of the canoe.
Using the tips in this article will help you have a successful canoe trip with your dog. Rufus is hiding in this photo. He was sound asleep at my feet in the bow of the canoe. | Source
Me (JessBraz) getting ready to paddle out in "Old Yeller" my yellow fibre glass canoe.
Me (JessBraz) getting ready to paddle out in "Old Yeller" my yellow fibre glass canoe. | Source

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 web-site for more information.

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    • JessBraz profile image
      Author

      JessBraz 2 months ago from Canada

      @ Alyssa R- Thanks so much for reading! Algonquin Park is one of my favourite places on Earth as well. :) Rufus and I will be making another trip there in 2 weeks!! :D I've never stayed at the Rock Lake campground (we usually stay at Mew or Pog) but i've been through it, and it looks beautiful.. I hope you and your puppy have a wonderful trip!

    • profile image

      Alyssa R 2 months ago

      I love love LOVE Algonquin Park! My family has been going there for multi-generations and its one of my favorite places on earth. This year I am taking my puppy (a 5 month of yellow lab) up for a week, so I am so glad to have found your post! Rock Lake here we come!!!

    • profile image

      Kathryne 13 months ago

      My brother and I took my dog (husk/Bernese mountain dog) on his first canoe trip (no portaging). We had such a tippy canoe that we almost tipped multiple times with him! He did not like being in the middle of the canoe and being with multiple canoes riding beside us made it harder! He jumped out and my brother had to grab him. I swore I would never take him again after that trip, but then my boyfriend and I were invited to a portage trip. He really wanted to bring him even after I told him what happened on the other trip. We got a different canoe that is almost inpossible to tip which helped soooo much! I also learned that Bowser (my dog) liked being at the front of the canoe in between my legs. He also liked having our canoe leading the rest of the canoes. While we portaged we would let him off on his own and he usually stuck around us or the other that we were with and his recall is pretty good but does need work. After that trip he bonded to us so much! He never used to be a cuddly dog and now he sleeps with us every night and loves cuddling. We are going on our next portage trip this weekend. I do have one question though, how do you keep the dog cool while wearing his life jacket? I would put water on bowser and let him have water of course but it still is very hot. Any ideas? Thanks!

    • GiftsByDiana profile image

      Diana Burrell-Shipton 2 years ago from Hubbard, Ohio, USA

      What fun !

      Rufus and Tucker are so cute and seem to be having a blast with you :)

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      I really admire americans, canoeing is not popular here, so most pet dog lovers bring their dogs for a motorbike rides

    • Maggie Bonham profile image

      Maggie Bonham 2 years ago from Missoula, Montana

      Great information! Voted up!

    • Cool Rare Animals profile image

      Cool Rare Animals 2 years ago

      Great Tips, I will try it :)

    • Philip Burt profile image

      Philip Burt 3 years ago

      What an excellent article idea! Very well done!

    • Hui (蕙) profile image

      Hui (蕙) 3 years ago

      Lovely people, lovely dog, and lovely hub, make hearts feel good after a long day work. =D

    • JessBraz profile image
      Author

      JessBraz 3 years ago from Canada

      @missirupp-

      I can't wait to get back on the water either! The snow is *finally* gone and the river is no longer frozen (I live by the St. Lawrence River) .. We're taking our canoe out for the first time this season on the weekend! I can't wait. :D

    • JessBraz profile image
      Author

      JessBraz 3 years ago from Canada

      @ swilliams- thank you so much! Rufus is super cute.. I'm happy to report i'm dog sitting him again right now. :) I missed him so much. I agree, I don't really think canoeing with a cat would be a good idea. lol. It sure would be something to see though! Thanks for reading!

      @MzyMsLizzy-

      That is a funny story. My brother's dog Rufus is good with water, but my dog Baby is a bit on the older side and not so much a fan of the water... so far as I know. I'm going to attempt to bring her out in the canoe this weekend for the first time to see how she does. :)

      Thanks for sharing your story and taking the time to read and comment. :)

      @Lisa Keating-

      Thank you for the congrats! I am SOOOOOO excited that this was picked as HOTD. This is my first HOTD :D :D :D ...Thank you so much for stopping by to read. :)

    • profile image

      LisaKeating 3 years ago

      Congrats on HOTD. Interesting article. You seemed to cover all the reader's question. Nice photos. I love including my dog in activities. Thanks for sharing.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congratulations on HOTD!

      This was most interesting and informative. I've never been canoeing myself, so I would not attempt to take a dog with me. We don't have dogs anymore, anyway, since we don't have the stamina to keep up with dogs, who are more high-maintenance than cats....;-)

      Funny story, though--we used to have a dog who hated water with a capitial "H." She did, however, enjoy sitting as co-pilot with my husband on the small cabin cruiser we used to have. We always put her life vest on as soon as we boarded, just in case.

      One day, we were on an overnight cruise with a club we belonged to then, and it was HOT, and our boat did not have a gen-set, so we were unable to run the A/C while at the primitive dock stop. We took her off the boat to go walk her on the shore, and she frigging jumped right into the water. My husband was already in the water, checking out something on the boat, and thought she had fallen in, so he hauled her up by the grab-handle on her vest, and I pulled her back to the dock, and she jumped right back in! We were both amazed! LOL

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • profile image

      missirupp 3 years ago

      This is a wonderful Hub. I can't wait to get on the water!

    • swilliams profile image

      Emunah La Paz 3 years ago from Arizona

      Super cute article! Rufus is so cute! I don't have a dog, but I do have cat and I don't think a canoe trip would work out as nice as it did with Rufus. Great article Voted up!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      I doubt I will ever go canoeing with my dog but this was still a very interesting read. Great work.

      Eddy.

    • JessBraz profile image
      Author

      JessBraz 3 years ago from Canada

      @DeborahNeyens:

      Thanks so much for reading. Your dog sounds like she was a wonderful companion. I can't imagine how tough it would be to paddle a canoe with a 90 lb dog! lol.

      @FlourishAway:

      Thanks for the lovely comment. :) Rufus really is a super cute dog, and so friendly. I have my fingers crossed that my brother will need a dog sitter in the future again. :)

      @flyfishmaine:

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. I have only managed to canoe with one dog at a time, I'm not sure I could handle much more than that. lol. You must be quite the skilled canoeist.

    • flyfishmaine profile image

      Richard Scott 3 years ago from Presque Isle, Maine

      Great info. I often have more than one dog in the canoe at the same time. Your mention of taking breaks and letting the dog out is excellent and very important. Thanks for this. Well done.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      OMG Rufus is adorable! Tucker, too! This was an awesome hub that covered everything an adventurous dog owner needs to know.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 3 years ago from Iowa

      I used to canoe with my dog (now deceased) every summer. We first took her out as a puppy on a lake. We got out into the middle and she took one look over the side of the canoe and jumped out. That's when we discovered how much she loved to swim. We then started taking her out on longer floats and half the time she would swim right alongside the canoe while we paddled. It was a great ab workout, too, trying to keep the canoe upright when a 90-lb dog decided she was going to jump out for a swim. I miss that dog.