16 Tips for Canoeing With Your Dog

Being an avid canoeist for over 40 years of my life has led me to some conclusions about how to best paddle with your dog. More importantly, being an avid dog person has taught me even more about the topic and I’m eager to share my thoughts and tips.

Before we jump into the 16 recommendations, it might be helpful to answer some of the most commonly asked questions in Google searches related to this topic.

1 – Can a Dog Get in a Canoe?

Of course, the answer is yes, a dog can get into a canoe and he/she can learn to sit or lay still and actually enjoy the process. With a little training and getting your dog accustomed to the canoe gradually, both you and your dog will be thrilled with the outcome.

2 – How Do You Calm a Dog in a Canoe?

Each dog is different, but generally speaking, there are a few things that can be done to maximize a dog’s potential to relax and lay or sit quietly. Bringing a favorite chew toy is a good start. Extra food can be enough to calm a dog, and a leash that restricts unlimited movement is also a primary “calming” tactic.

3 – Where Does a Dog Sit in a Kayak?

While this article is primarily about canoeing, many tips can work equally well for kayaking. The location of a dog in a kayak will depend largely on what style of kayak is being used.

For a touring kayak, it’s nearly impossible to comfortably and safely have a dog on board unless the dog sits in an open and available cockpit. Theoretically, a very small dog could be kept in an open hatch if it was well-trained to stay there without jumping overboard.

In a fishing kayak, there is potentially room for a dog behind the angler’s seat, though that area is often filled with gear.

Still, other sit-in kayaks have one very large cockpit that can accommodate a small to medium dog but only if trained well enough to remain calm and quiet.

Top 16 Tips For Canoeing Safely With Your Dog – While Actually Having Fun!

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1 – Accustom Your Dog to Riding in a Moving Vehicle

Getting your dog used to riding in a car will make the transition to a canoe much easier, plus, you’ll have to get him used to riding in a car in order to get to the lake in the first place.

Technically, it’s best to have your dog in a carrier of some sort, but our dogs love to be held and we have a tough time letting them go.

The moving of the vehicle somewhat simulates the movement of a canoe on water and is the first step to moving them comfortably to a canoe or kayak.

2 – Bring Treats and Snacks

This might seem obvious, but it can be missed in your zeal to get out on the water with all your other priorities and items to remember.

Bribing or luring a dog into the canoe with a treat is a very useful and socially acceptable use of the actions of bribing or luring. And it works! Treats and favorite stuffy or chew toys are also not only helpful to lure, but helpful to occupy a pooch during a longer journey on the water.

3 – Bring a Blanket or Mat

If your dog has a favorite blanket with all the smells he’s used to, it can serve as a powerful incentive to get into your canoe and settle quietly on it.

You can substitute his blanket with a towel that can help keep your dog dry, while giving him a level of comfort. A towel or blanket (especially a non-slip bath mat) can provide your dog with much-needed traction on an otherwise, hard, smooth, and slippery surface.

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A non-slip blanket or mat is always a good idea for a dog in a canoe

4 – Practice Getting Your Dog In and Out of a Canoe on your Lawn

Part of canoe training your dog is to ensure he is not afraid of the canoe, while at the same time getting used to how it feels to be inside (ie. hard surface, gentle rocking, confined area, etc.).

Using a treat to get him into the canoe is a start, but be sure to have a blanket or mat if he is hesitant to enter the canoe. If he’s a small dog, it’s okay to pick him up and gently put him inside.

Once inside, let him eat the treat so he associates the inside of your canoe with “good things”.

One final note; remember that this step could be a very pivotal and crucial point in your dog’s process of determining whether or not he will like or hate the idea of getting into a canoe, so make it as pleasing and enjoyable as you can (lots of treats, rubs, scratches, praises, etc.)

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Coaxing your dog into your canoe with a treat is a great idea

5 – Let Your Dog “Run it Off” Before He Gets Into the Canoe

When you arrive at the water and you see any energy level at all in your pooch, be sure to let him run it off. Encourage him to run up and down the shore (you may need a leash depending on the environmental conditions).

The last thing you want is a dog full of energy (which will happen if you have a large dog and he’s been resting for hours during your road trip) before he gets into a canoe.

6 – Have Your Dog Wear a Personal Flotation Device

While it is true that every dog can swim to an extent, it’s also true that if you take a spill on a lake with your dog, you’ll have enough to worry about without trying to rescue a dog that may be far from shore or caught in a current.

If you’re far enough from shore, you and your dog can reduce the chance of any tragedy by wearing a life jacket. A dog’s life jacket can cost as little as $20 but will make your dog’s life much easier if he finds himself in the water – especially while you are distracted with trying to rescue your gear and get a capsized canoe to shore.

7 – Take Your Dog for a Walk BEFORE You Head to the Lake

Here’s a great tip to combine with tip #5. The more energy you can get your dog to use up, the better. A walk is never a bad thing for a dog, and taking a walk before a long car ride and then another long canoe ride is just plain common sense.

8 – Have Your Dog Develop Some Very Basic Obedience Skills

This tip is so important that it could have huge implications. When you approach the water before you begin your canoe journey OR as you are returning, it’s important to have a dog that obeys some basic commands like “come”, “stop” or “sit”.

Without this basic training, your dog can wreak havoc (especially if it’s a big breed) at the dock or beach with children, sun-bathers or anglers. In some cases it could mean getting a fine or worse!

I would suggest both obedience and a leash if you have a bigger dog.

NOTE: It’s helpful when you arrive at shore, that you are the first one out while your dog obeys your command to “STAY”. Once you’re on shore you can control the situation better with a leash other direct action to prevent chaos.

9 – Bring a Water Dish

Recent experience has taught me that a large, thirsty dog in a canoe will always try to lean over the edge for a drink. If you have a big breed, this can be problematic (as it was for me on a recent white water trip – SEE IT HERE).

Balance can be an issue with a big dog and things can go sour quickly if your dog shifts the balance of a canoe at just the wrong time or in the wrong way.

On the other hand, if you have a small (but thirsty) dog, he won’t be able to reach the water at all.

In either case, it’s helpful to have a small dish for water (just scoop it out of the lake if it’s clean enough). I use a sour cream container since I’m cheap, but you get the idea.

10 – Bring a Small Volume Dry Bag

As a matter of best practice for me, I always bring a 10L dry bag with me on short outings (less than a full day) on the water.

This ensures my snacks, extra clothing and camera gear stays dry while my (often very wet) dog ambles around the canoe or shakes water off his body after a dip.

The dry bag also protects my gear if I happen to capsize or lose my bag in some mishap. It’s also a good idea to physically separate the bag from the dog for the sake of better canoe balance and to protect the structural integrity of any items in the bag (ie. do you like squashed sandwiches or broken knobs on camera gear?)

This Pelican Dry Bag/Cooler is a perfect option for most day trips with a dog in a canoe!

11 – Introduce Your Dog to the Water Well in Advance of any Water Excursion

If you have a dog that is not a water breed or is already used to water, it’s always good to introduce them gently to the water in a controlled environment.

A swimming pool or a beach on a warm day in calm water are good conditions to work with. There’s always a chance for your dog to become afraid of the water if he’s a small breed (ie. baby Westhighland Terrier) and he is thrown into the water without a lifejacket.

Dog’s are generally smart and the same qualities that allow them to be trained are the same qualities that will potentially turn them against water for the rest of their lives if they have a traumatic water experience.

12 – Bring a Leash

A leash is sometimes necessary in order to obey the law, but even if it’s not, a leash is a good idea to help the dog remember who’s in charge.

Not only will a leash help rein in your dog while in public places, but a leash will help reduce a medium to large breed dog’s impulse to walk around the canoe.

While some might think it cruel or even dangerous to leash a dog in a canoe, experience has shown me the danger of a large dog unbalancing my canoe is greater than the likelihood of a spill where your dog will somehow drown because they are leashed.

My views on leashing a dog in a canoe have recently changed given practical experience, but in general, I would say DO NOT leash your dog in the canoe if he is quiet and obedient and not walking around. The leash only helps to limit movement on large, fidgety dogs.

13 – Stay Close to Shore

40 years of experience has shown me that there is no great reason to move far from shore on a canoe excursion except when it is necessary in order to continue a longer trip.

Staying close to shore offers countless benefits such as (but not limited to);

  • better view of more interesting things like wildlife and other items of interest like old buildings, fallen trees, clearings, people, etc.
  • allows you to reach shore quickly in case of a spill or other emergency
  • usually offers protection from wind
  • water if often calmer
  • offers better fishing for most species during warm weather (ie. bass, pike, musky, panfish, etc.)
  • makes it easier to be seen by someone on shore who can help in a rescue
  • makes it easier to be heard (yells or emergency whistle) in an emergency
  • makes it easy and quick to stop for a bathroom or lunch break

Staying anywhere from 15 – 50 feet from shore makes it easy to take advantage of all the reasons why it’s best to stay away from big, open water.

14 – Bring a Dog First Aid Kit

Some may not know these exist, but a DOG 1ST AID KIT is not only easily available, but it’s really the responsible, humane thing to do if you’re on a longer, wilderness canoe camping trip.

It’s nice to have a pet-specific kit that includes items like tick removers, emergency leash, controlled feeding tools, eye-wash items, veterinarian tape, and more.

Prices vary, but you can get a decent one for under $20 and it will offer you some peace of mind. Many kits also include a pet first aid manual.

A canine-specific first aid kit is always a good idea and provides some peace of mind while on longer trips

15 – Keep Your Canoe Well-Balanced

This might go without saying, but balancing your canoe with proper pack placement and seating will give you maximum stability and seaworthiness. This will also allow your dog to relax the most and will give everyone a higher factor of confidence and overall enjoyment.

If you overload your canoe and minimize freeboard, or if your trim is off (bow or stern too high) you’ll be endangering everyone onboard needlessly, even though your dog likely won’t understand the situation!

16 – Use the Appropriate Canoe

If you have a small dog, it won’t matter too much what canoe you use, but I wouldn’t suggest bringing a Great Dane with you in your Kevlar solo trip canoe. Solo lake tripping canoes are already tippier than tandem canoes, so you don’t need any help losing your balance!

If bringing a large dog with you on the water is an ongoing priority, I would strongly suggest a wide, flat-bottomed canoe with a keel if you’re just out for fun on the lake near the dock and you’re fishing or just puttering about.

If you’re bringing your dog on a longer canoe camping excursion, I’d suggest a 16 – 19 foot Kevlar lake tripping canoe. Short canoes are okay if you’re alone with your dog, but if there are 2 or more paddlers with a dog, an 18-foot canoe is ideal for a medium to large breed dog and 2 campers with their gear.

If you’d rather check out all these tips in my video version of this post, please feel free! You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel for weekly paddling inspiration!

Key Takeaways

Training, preparing, stocking up, strategically buying and developing patience are all activities in which you’ll have to engage, in order to ultimately experience a safe and fun canoe outing with your dog.

Some breeds will make it much easier than others for a number of reasons, but all dogs can be safe canoe companions with some planning and preparation.

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Pete Stack

After 40 years of experience canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking and climbing in the Ontario wilderness, Pete is eager to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to write. It is our hope that his knowledge can be passed on through this site and on Rugged Outdoors Guide on YouTube.

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