Canoeing with your Dog

by Kathryn Howell
Dog Paddling Adventures


Enjoying the great outdoors out on the lake with your favorite canine friend is the perfect way to spend the day.


Before thinking about taking your pup for a paddle, there are a few things you can do before hand to help make your experience a more positive one. First, a lifejacket may seem obvious for you to wear (as it should be), but it is also an important piece of equipment for Fido as well. It provides a huge margin of safety and security in case of a tip, emergency, or simply a long swim after a stick. It is also very helpful in the boat because of the large handle on its back which helps to control your pup while in the boat, as well as to help him in if he falls/jumps overboard. Lastly, when it is wet, it actually helps to keep your pup cool on a hot day by trapping moisture and keeping the sun away from him.

Another thing to remember is that a tired dog is a good dog, and a walk before you get into the boat is probably the best thing that you can do to ensure a good day for both of you. Although canoeing is great exercise for you, don’t forget that your pup has been watching you pack up at home with excitement, sat patiently for a long car ride, and is in a new and exciting place… to then ask her to sit still like a good pup for an hour in the boat may be too much to ask. Let her roam off leash for a while and explore the shoreline, go for a nice long swim, or play fetch before trying to get out on the water.


When your first experience begins and you put your boat in the water, trying to convince your pup that jumping into this awkward vessel is a good thing is actually easier than one might expect. I have found over the years that 90% of the time your pooch will trust you and hop right in, especially if you have a couple of choice treats to offer him as an enticement. Generally, you should get the dog in first and then you can join her while your canoe partner stabilizes the canoe at the shoreline. At this point it makes the most sense to take a few minutes to hang out, because Fido will want to explore all the corners of the canoe, and you should let him. A few practice ins and outs to let your pup realize it is quite easy sometimes helps the more anxious pups out as well. Now that everybody is familiar and cozy, you can launch you ship!

When canoeing with your dog, there are a few basic principles about paddling in general that will make your experience much more enjoyable (re: dry!). A low centre of gravity is a good thing. All of our boats are outfitted with kneepads on the hull floor in front of each seat, but a folded extra towel will work just fine. By keeping your bum on the seat and your knees on the ground, you have created three points of contact with your boat and are now as locked into your canoe as is possible without straps. This has increased the stability of your boat in an enormous way, and the first time your pup jumps onto the gunwales (the top ‘rails’ along the canoe), you will notice the difference. This stable position may become uncomfortable for your knees and/or ankles after a while, so take calm moments to rest up and sit fully on the seat and stretch out your legs. This is also a perfect time to pass around some ju-jubes.


While on the water, there seem to be a couple of spots in the canoe which dogs tend to prefer hanging out in. Many dogs (our Jessie included) seem to enjoy hanging out in the bow (front) of the canoe. This area of the boat is quite narrow, but your pup may enjoy being close to the bow paddler, and even having her backside resting in between or on your legs. The other common space is right in front of the stern (rear) paddler, this time either on a soft clothes pack, or on the floor between your legs. Either one is good, but if your dog is big (80 lbs+), the bow may become too crowded. As well, if your pup is this large and sitting up high on the packs, it will affect your stability. The floor is the best place for a large dog, at least until you become more comfortable.

Once you get out on the water, things generally begin to fall into place. The canoe might seem to your dog as a great big convertible, and she may want to lean over and take a few sips of water before simply enjoying the view. Make your first leg of the journey a reasonably short one, depending on the weather and your puppy’s performance, perhaps no more than one hour. And for the first while until you are completely comfortable in the boat together is also a good idea to stay reasonably close to shore, within a 1 minute paddle or so. If you were to experience a capsize (uncommon, but a paddling reality just the same) a one minute paddle becomes a 10 minute swim while towing the boat with you’re your clothes on. Hopefully you have chosen to paddle with another boat, and they can retrieve your loose gear, paddles, and other waterproof floatables.

One of the final ‘rules’ of going dog paddling is this: 95% of all dumps occur within 5 feet of shore. This can happen because of two simple occurrences. One, the human element becomes careless and loses focus, and ends up wet right at the mucky shoreline. Either that, or the puppy factor becomes too excited about the prospect of running in the bush, peeing, and chasing squirrels, and clumsily jumps out and takes the relaxed paddler with them. Either way, be aware of this possibility as your journey comes to an end, and you will have fewer funny stories to tell, and more dry car rides home.

Dog Paddling Adventures offers 1 day introductory canoe trips for you and your dog as well as weekend and 5 day trips all summer long. For more information visit

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