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Getting Your Dog Kayak Ready

dog kayak

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What better way to spend a warm, sunny afternoon than to go kayaking? There’s more to the experience than climbing into a kayak and grabbing a paddle, especially when a dog is involved. Before you and your best pal embark on your adventure, learn what it takes to get your dog kayak ready.

Is Your Dog a Good Candidate for Kayaking?

Not all dogs are suited for kayaking. Consider the following to help determine if yours is a good fit for the activity.

1. Is Your Dog Physically Fit?

Make sure your dog is in good shape for the excursion.

“Kayaks require making many small adjustments to balance, which may aggravate achy joints,” says Laura Hills, CPDT-KSA, owner of The Dogs’ Spot, a dog training center in North Kansas, Missouri.

Even if your best friend is an active, outdoorsy dog, you’ll still need to get him ready for the adventure. Pet parents should prepare dogs prior to kayaking season, says Joshua Telsey, CCRT, owner of 4 Paws Dog Rehabilitation and Exercise Inc., in Carlsbad, California.

“If they have been lazy all winter, they should start going out for longer duration walks to increase the dog’s endurance and strength,” he says.

It’s also a good idea to check with your veterinarian, especially if your dog has health issues.

2. Does Your Dog Like Swimming?

This wet activity can end up with you and your dog swimming!

“Make sure your dog is comfortable in the water before you take him on the kayak,” says Dr. Steven Friedenberg, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVECC, an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul. “It’s best to only take him on the kayak if you know he can swim.”

3. Does Your Dog Have a Calm Temperament?

“A calmer dog is going to be able to enjoy the ride more, which will help the people he is sharing the kayak with enjoy their time on the water more,” Hills says,

4. Is Your Dog Well-Trained in Obedience Commands?

Your dog should be able to follow basic commands.

“Being sure a dog is very reliable when asked to sit, lay down, settle, stay, wait and come is very important,” Hills says.

Get step-by-step instructions on teaching your dog to sit here.

Get step-by-step instructions on teaching your dog to stay here.

Practice on Land First

Familiarizing your dog with the kayak on land before hitting the water can help him get better acclimated, says Lisa Blanchard, BA, LVT, CMT, CCRP, CCFT, who owns K9 Fitness Coach LLC in Macomb County, Michigan. “Place the kayak on the ground. Let the dog sniff and explore the kayak on his own terms.

“Once the dog is comfortable, sit in the kayak with the dog,” she says. “Move the kayak from side to side so the dog will understand the unstable motion. While going through this process, be sure to praise and reward the dog to ensure a positive experience.”

It’s also good to practice, or at least think about, how to get your dog back into the kayak if he jumps or falls out.

“It may take two people depending upon the size of your dog,” Dr. Friedenberg says. “Kayaks can also be less stable than other boats, so getting your dog back inside may be tricky.”

Test out an appropriately sized dog life jacket.

“Make sure he’s comfortable wearing it on land and won’t be spending the entire ride trying to chew it off,” Dr. Friedenberg says.

What to Pack for Your Dog Kayak Trip

Bring the following essentials to make the trip more enjoyable and safer for you and your pup.

Dog Life Jacket

Even if your companion is an excellent swimmer, he always should wear a dog life jacket while in or near the water, Blanchard says.

“Good swimmers can tire, which can lead to drowning,” she says. “A personal flotation device (PFD) with a handle will aid in lifting the dog into the kayak or allow you to steer the dog as you paddle toward your destination.”

Two dog life jackets to consider are Outward Hound’s Granby RipStop and Paws Aboard’s neoprene. Both come in bold colors to easily see your dog and a variety of sizes so you can get the perfect fit for your pup.

Fresh Water

Like humans, dogs easily can get dehydrated when kayaking. Blanchard says “to carry fresh water and a collapsible water bowl.”

Highwave’s AutoDogMug is a two-in-one, BPA-free bottle and bowl combination design so you can offer cool, clean water to your dog with one hand. Squeeze the bottle to fill the attached bowl, and when he’s finished drinking, the water returns to the bottle.

Treat Rewards

Treats are a reliable way to reward your dog for good behavior or encourage a timid pup, says Jamie Popper, a professional dog trainer in Maquoketa, Iowa.

“When you start, reward your dog for just getting into the kayak,” she says. “You can also reward your pup for relaxing in the kayak.”

A system like the Gamma2 Travel-tainer offers an airtight container for treat storage and two 3-cup bowls to make travel and treating easier.

First Aid Kit

Keeping a first aid kit available for your dog makes sense, especially during outdoor dog adventures.

“A first aid kit would be helpful if you need to place a bandage on your dog’s leg, for example, if he gets cut on a rock or sharp object, Dr. Friedenberg says.

Kurgo’s Pet First Aid Kit holds a variety of essentials—including tweezers, sting relief pads, gauze pads, antiseptic towelettes and a cold pack—all in a convenient, easy-to-carry bag.

Dog-specific Sunscreen

If you have a hairless, light-haired or thin-haired breed, sunscreen application is a must.

“Although most human sunscreen may be OK for dogs, there could be ingredients such as zinc oxide that could be toxic if ingested,” Hills says. “It is better to use a sunscreen made specifically for dogs.”

For example, Epi-Pet’s sun protector is a non-greasy and non-oily spray formulated specifically to protect dogs from harmful UV rays.

Poop Bags

Be a good steward of the environment by cleaning up after your dog. Hills brings poop bags to keep areas clean for others, (as well as hand sanitizing gel to keep her hands clean.) Frisco’s set comes with 15 disposable bags in a convenient dispenser.

Keep Your Dog Swimming Safely

With the basics taken care of, you and your pup are ready for the water. Start close to the shoreline, and opt for shorter trips until you’re sure your dog is comfortable in a kayak.

“Once the dog decides he enjoys being in the kayak with us, we will take short trips away from shore to the middle of a small lake and back to the shore,” Hills says. “Eventually, when the dog is choosing to relax and enjoy the time with us, we’ll start taking longer rides with him.”

Do not tie your dog to the kayak, as this is dangerous.

“If for some reason the kayak were to flip over and your dog was tied to it, he could drown,” Blanchard says.

Give your dog intermittent shade, as it can get hot on open water, Dr. Friedenberg says.

“I would avoid taking your dog out on a very hot day,” he says. “This is especially important if your dog is snub-nosed, like a Bulldog or Pug, or has a condition known as laryngeal paralysis that makes it harder for him to move air across the windpipe.”

A dog swimming or playing in the water is at risk of water intoxication. Water intoxication can happen when you drink too much water in a short amount of time, causing sodium in the blood to drop to dangerously low levels.

“Dogs can consume a lot of water while retrieving toys in the lake, leading to water intoxication,” Popper says.

Be wary of saltwater, as well, because ingesting it leads to stomach upset and possible dehydration, Telsey says.

Exposure to water can mean increased mosquito (and thus heartworms) risk, Hills says.

“Be sure dogs are up-to-date on their heartworm preventative,” she says. “Another measure is to use a bug repellant for dogs.”

Natural Care’s flea and tick spray is formulated for dogs 12 weeks and older, and repels mosquitoes as well.

Taking your dog kayaking is a fun-filled way to spend the day. You can make it a safe and rewarding experience by planning ahead, taking precautions and packing the essential products your outdoorsy dog needs.


Paula Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer and researcher specializing in companion animal health and nutrition, and science. She’s written for clients like Prevention magazine, PetMD.com, PawCulture.com, Parrots magazine, and University of Texas-Arlington. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and feathered family members, including parrots Whit and Sweetpea.

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