How to Kayak With a Dog: Tips, Tricks & Safety

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If you’re like many adventure-loving families, your pups go with you just about everywhere. So it seemed pretty natural to include your dog in your paddling adventures, leaving you wondering how to kayak with a dog. It’s not as easy as your friend jumping in the car and heading to the shore- you’ll need to prepare before ever hitting the water. 

Before ever heading out with your pup for a kayak adventure, it’s important to understand and remember that you’re responsible for their health and well being. Prior to adventuring out on the water you need to consider safety precautions, and plan accordingly. To help you best prepare for a day you’ll never forget, here we’ve gathered tips and essentials for taking your dog along in your kayak:

Questions and Considerations Prior to Heading Out

Most dogs, with the appropriate approach and patience, can learn to safely ride along with you in a kayak. However, that does not mean that all dogs should be brought along on your outings. The following are some issues you should consider and prepare for prior to making the decision to bring your dog kayaking:

Dog’s Maturity, Temperament and Personality

A young puppy, especially one that is still a little wild and rambunctious or may have difficulty sitting still for an extended period, should be gradually introduced to kayaking. You need to consider your dog's comfort level around water before ever expecting them to act safely around it.  

Some dogs are nervous and uncomfortable, in or near water. Do not force your dog into this type of situation. Instead, be patient and gradually introduce and train your dog to the water. Even dogs that are timid around water can often learn to enjoy kayaking with patience and understanding.

On the other hand, there are dogs that love being in and around water. The idea of jumping out of the kayak and into the water, especially if they spot another animal, may be difficult for your pup to control. In this case, taking the time and effort to properly train and teach your dog to sit and remain stable in the kayak is your first, but crucial, step.  

You should ask yourself if your dog is easily excitable or skiddish. Will your dog be comfortable, and are they capable of sitting still for extended periods of time? These are important things to consider before ever jumping in a kayak with your best four-legged friend. 

kayaking with a black lab

Dog Breed and Size

A large breed dog will require a larger, more stable kayak because of the extra weight and movement. The concern here is that a larger and stronger dog is more than capable of capsizing a kayak. Combined the larger size with a young and rambunctious, or easily excitable, dog and you have a combination for getting both you and your dog wet. This also creates a safety hazard if your dog isn’t trained well enough to swim back to you. 

It’s important to consider how practical, and how reasonable, it is to bring your dog along on your kayaking adventures. 

Dog’s Age and Health

It should go without saying, but your dogs health and wellbeing need to be factored into your decision to go kayaking. If your dog is arthritic or has other health issues, like hearing or vision loss, joint problems, heart issues, and more, you will need to give serious consideration to whether it is appropriate or not to bring them along. A kayaking adventure should be a pleasant and enjoyable experience for your dog, not a stressful or overwhelming one. 

Additionally, you should give some thought to the weather conditions (air and water temperature, wind, rain, waves, etc.) to ensure you can safely bring your pup along on the trip.  

Many dogs will be eager and excited to venture out for a ride with you in the kayak. As a result, they are highly motivated, which should make training much easier. Your efforts to help your dog learn how to manage in a kayak should be done patiently and calmly to ensure they are confident in the kayak and understand your expectations. By preparing ahead of time, you set both yourself and your dog up for ultimate success on the water. 

kayaking with a dog on lake

Train Your Adventure Buddy

Training your pup to become your adventure buddy should begin long before you ever head out on the water for an extended adventure. The following are some tips and suggestions to consider in helping your dog to learn how to kayak safely with you:

  1. Your dog will need to understand and obey the basic commands of “place”, “out”, “sit”, “down”, “wait/stay”, and “come”. (this is the order I teach these commands for kayaking).  
  2. Teach your dog to get in and out of the kayak on dry land. It’s ideal if you can do this in a familiar place that is safe and free of distractions, like in your backyard.  
  3. While training on dry ground, stabilize the kayak so it does not rock. This can be done by holding the kayak or bracing it by wedging 2x4’s underneath each side.  It also will help to have a wide, stable kayak for training sessions.
  4. Place a pad, rug or dog bed in the kayak where your pup will ride. You can also use a waterproof cooling pad or yoga mat, or there are waterproof dog beds or mats available on the market.  
  5. Let your pup explore the kayak, sniffing and looking around. Make sure your dog feels comfortable before proceeding.
  6. Begin with your first command, which is “place”. This should designate the area you want your dog positioned for kayaking.  With all commands, use your normal reinforcements, such as a treat, favorite toy, “good girl/boy”, a rub/pat, etc. to reward and acknowledge appropriate behavior.
  7. The next step is to get in the kayak, ensuring it is stable, and give your dog the command, “place”. Provide reinforcement for calm and gentle entry. You can then work on a smooth and controlled exiting of the kayak, using the command “out”. 
  8. After you have established appropriate entry and exit from the kayak, review commands of “sit”, “down”, “wait/stay”, “come” and “out” to acclimate your dog to following these commands while in the kayak.  
  9. You should now be ready to take your training to the water. Find a location that provides you with water that is calm and shallow. Additionally, you will want this to be an area with minimal opportunities for distractions. This is the time to allow your dog to get comfortable around the water and to practice entering and exiting the kayak, along with the previous commands. If you choose, a very limited and short paddle, near to shore can be attempted.
  10.  Your next progression should be a short, about 10 to 20 minutes, very relaxed paddle in shallow and calm waters. Again, try to minimize any distractions.
  11. Take additional shorter trips, judging your dog's comfort level, behavior and attention to following commands. Do not take longer trips that may challenge your dogs readiness or possibly stress your pup until you are sure they are confident and comfortable.
  12. You should now be ready for longer trips and adventures. We strongly recommend when you have your pup with you in the kayak that you and your dog wear personal flotation devices (PFDs). Whether you or your dog can swim does not matter, because inevitably something can or will happen that having a PFD on will help to avoid putting you or your pup in danger.  
dog in life jacket

Types of Kayaks to Consider

Kayaks are designed and constructed for a variety of uses, which results in a wide selection of shapes and sizes. Not all are ideal, based on your individual dog, for taking your adventure buddy along kayaking. Your kayak should be large enough to accommodate your and your dog's size to ensure, should the conditions warrant, that your pup will be safe and secure throughout the day.

There are no specific guidelines or rules for which kayak to choose, it will depend largely on your comfort level and your dog's size, personality, temperament and health.  The following is a brief review of the various types of kayaks and few characteristics you can consider:

Sit-on-top Kayaks

A sit-on-top kayak may be preferable for a well behaved and calmer dog, as it provides freedom for your pup to move around.  A sit-on-top kayak is typically wider, providing more stability. However, this style of kayak should only be considered for calm waters, as waves or rapids while paddling with your pup could endanger you and your dog, as well as cause some anxiety for your dog.

Sit-on-tops are easier to enter and exit, are self bailing and will not sink or fill with water, staying a float if you should capsize. They are better suited for warmer weather as you are more likely to get wet.

sit on-top kayak

Sit-inside Kayaks

The sit-inside kayak is a nice alternative to the sit-on-top if you prefer a designated and more secure area for your dog. In a single sit-inside kayak your pup is placed between your legs (not ideal for a very large dog) in the cockpit.  

The advantages of a sit-inside kayak are that they shelter your body for warmer/dryer paddling, lower profile makes them easier to paddle and provides a lower center of gravity, creating more stability. The sit-inside is more difficult to get in and out of and is not self bailing for that pup that will be jumping in and out of the kayak.  

If considering a sit-inside kayak, a good option to consider is a tandem kayak, described in the following section.  

sit inside kayak

Tandem Kayaks

A sit-inside tandem kayak is a great choice if you have a puppy, an excitable dog, or want to provide a more secure and designated area for your pet. Tandem models have an additional seating area (there are also three seats kayaks for the whole family). The tandem provides a more social setting, an additional spot for your pup or the ability to have another person along for the trip. The three seater is a nice choice if you want to share the workload, enjoy some conversation and have an additional set of eyes and hands to assist with the pup.  

teenagers in tandem kayak

Inflatable or Hard Shells

Considering an inflatable kayak when you intend to bring along your dog might seem like a poor choice. The newer inflatable kayaks are designed and constructed using tough and durable materials, often of a military grade.   

These materials are strong enough to withstand a dog’s claws and come with multiple air chambers in the off chance that it is punctured. A suggestion, not only to avoid your dog damaging or scratching the kayak but also to provide better traction for your dog's safety, is to trim their nails before heading out.

The obvious benefits to an inflatable are the ease of storage and transporting.  This choice is ideal for those who may be taking extended trips where they are hiking, camping and/or exploring nature, while also kayaking.  

If you are worried about damaging your kayak and don’t have concerns with transporting or storage, a hard shell kayak is ultimately your most durable choice.  

Additional Items to Bring Along

Bringing along as little gear as possible is ideal for light packing. However, when your pup is coming along you need to be prepared. The following are some items you should or may want to consider packing with on you kayaking adventure:

  • Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs): We mentioned this previously but it’s worth mentioning again.  Even if your dog can swim (most can) things happen and conditions present themselves (think currents, tree limbs, capsized, injury).  If you care about your pup, making the extra investment and effort to avoid a tragedy is well worth it. Dog PFDs usually have a grab handle on the harness that makes pulling your pup out of the water much easier and safer.  
  • Dog’s Collar and/or Harness: We opt for a harness for the same reason as a PFD, as it is easy to grab hold of in case of an emergency.  
  • Leash: Don’t neglect to bring along your dog’s leash. Depending on your launch and landing points, a leash may be necessary. Also, should something happen where you have to land at an unintended point, a leash will be necessary.  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever tie your dog to the kayak. If your kayak flips, you will not have adequate time to quickly untie your dog. Do not, DO NOT EVER tie your dog to your kayak.
  • Sun Protection: There are several interesting shade options (hats, sunshades, screens, towels) available on the market to protect and provide some relief for pups out on the water. Just like with humans, dogs are subject to getting sunburned. There are several good options for dog sunblock that you can purchase to protect your pet.  
  • Fresh Water: Keeping yourself and your dog hydrated is important. You do not necessarily want your pup drinking the water you are paddling on, as the potential for bacteria or contaminants are very real. This is especially true if you are paddling on saltwater. Also, bring along a bowl or dog water bottle for them to drink from; there are several collapsible dog bowls that are easy to use and transport. You may also want to bring along some food or treats to keep your buddy nourished and for rewarding good behavior.  
  • First-aid Kit: At the very least you are going to want some neosporin or peroxide should your pup get injured, to help stave off any infections. Consider packing a more thorough first-aid kit for ultimate safety. 
  • Poop Bags: You may be in nature but you still need to pick up after your pets.  Opt for a great dog poop bag that is compostable and eco-friendly to do your part protecting nature. 

Final Thoughts

Heading out on the water with your adventure buddy in your kayak can be some of the most special times together. There aren’t many more things as relaxing or enjoyable than being out on the water with your best four-legged friend to enjoy some marine exploration.  

So the next time you're headed out, don’t opt for those sad eyes, get that tail started wagging and create a memory that is sure to last a lifetime. Don’t miss this opportunity, do your preparation, and let us know in the comments sections how your adventure goes!