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Ahoy! Dog Kayak & Boating Tips for Smooth Sailing

Water Safety and Boating With Dogs

Summer is the perfect time to get out on the water with a dog kayak or any other pet-friendly watercraft! Bringing your dog along for a day of kayaking on the lake or some paddling on the river is a ton of fun!

Whether your pup is joining you on the boat, kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard, these tips will keep the tails wagging and ensure an amazing and safe time for all.

Before You EmBARK

dog on beach wearing dawson dog life jacket

If you’re heading out with your pup, it’s assumed that you yourself are comfortable in the water and confident in your own swimming and paddling abilities. If your furry friend isn’t exactly a pro paddler, make sure to properly introduce your dog to water, whether it’s in the pool, pond, or ocean. 

Have your dog practice swimming in their dog life jacket before your first boat outing to help them gain confidence in the water with their doggy gear. Not all dogs are instinctual swimmers though. Some pups take lots of practice or even swimming lessons to be comfortable going any deeper than chest height.

The best way to train your dog for kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, or boating is by exposing them on dry land first. Show them how to navigate the watercraft, practice getting in and out, and staying put when you get in or out yourself. 

Know Your Dog on an Individual Level

dog on a beach in a dog life jacket

Know your dog and its breed. Consider their age, size, and endurance level when choosing your boat.

Will they stay on a paddleboard, or would a tandem dog kayak with an extra seat be better suited? A small dog may prefer to be closer to you in the boat than bigger furry friends, in which case a single fishing kayak may have enough room.

A large dog may be more comfortable sharing a canoe with more durability and plenty of space to stand up or lay down, as opposed to a kayak where they’ll mainly have to sit.

If your dog is new to swimming or accompanying you around watercraft, ask yourself how they typically react to new experiences. Have they seemed at ease around the water in other settings? Will they have the ability to ignore exciting things that may cause them to want to jump out? If your dog is anxious, how will it handle loud, fast-moving whitewater?

This is where obedience and following voice commands come in, both of which are important traits for your dog to have down before hitting the water.

A pooch with good training will do much better staying in your kayak or keeping stable on your paddleboard. If your dog will sit, lay down, and follow your other commands, you’re likely to enjoy yourselves a lot more. 

“Leave it” is an important command to master to keep your pup from going after anything too exciting, such as ducks or fish, or even other boats. There can be plenty of distractions onshore too, so be mindful the closer you are to those, the harder it may be for your dog to keep their cool. Have a clear command that lets your dog know when it is ok to jump out.

Bonus tip: Get a pawdicure

dog paw protection

One tip you may never have thought of when it comes to boating with dogs? Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed!

When a dog’s claws are in shape it helps them keep good traction on the sometimes slippery surfaces of boats, kayaks, or paddleboards, and in turn, helps their overall balance. Some canoers line the bottom of their craft with a yoga mat or fake lawn mat. You can also get traction mats made for paddleboards, inflatable kayaks, and sit-on-top kayaks!

What to Bring 

dog by the pool in a dog life jacket

Invest in a canine life jacket for your pup and PFD (personal flotation device) for yourself. This keeps dogs safely afloat and requires much less energy to paddle than swimming on their own.

Many dog life jackets have important safety features like a grab handle on the back for pulling your pup up into the boat easily in an emergency. If not, a harness underneath is another great safety measure to quickly allow you to get your dog out of the water.

Keep a leash handy for any time you’ll spend onshore, but in the water, a leash can be a major hazard if it becomes stuck around your dog’s neck, legs, or anywhere else. The dog life vest with a handle will be a great way to grab your dog if you need to while you’re on the water.

Bring your sunscreen — not just for the humans! Dogs can get sunburnt too, especially if they have a sensitive nose or fair fur and skin. 

Exposure to sunlight can also damage a dog’s vision over time. If your best friend is more mature or you just want to add some eye protection, rocking doggy sun goggles will help reduce the glare.

Water, a bowl, and treats are essential for almost all outings.

Fresh water is especially important as the water we recreate in isn’t always great for drinking. Make sure your dog has a source of freshwater between all that exertion. Don’t encourage them to drink lake or saltwater, as it can contain bacteria or high levels of salt not good for pups. 

Bring dog treats in a sealed or water-resistant bag to have on hand in case your pup needs a little extra motivation to obey, especially if being on the water is a new experience.

A first-aid kit is important to have for both dog owners and dogs! While you hopefully won’t have any accidents at all, being prepared with a few items like gauze, non-stick tape, waterproof booties if you need to keep a paw dry, and tweezers to remove unwanted pests like ticks or leeches will be helpful if you do have such an event.

Bringing along a few water-friendly dog toys is a great way to add to the fun! If your furry first mate has a lot of energy to burn, having activities to keep them engaged is a good idea.

Fetch is also a great game to motivate dogs to swim independently, and get some good paddle practice in. Choose toys that float and are easy for your dog to spot.

Dog Boating Adventure Checklist:

  • Dog life jacket
  • Leash (for onshore only)
  • Sun protection (sunscreen, goggles)
  • Freshwater & bowl
  • Treats
  • First-aid kit
  • Water-friendly dog toys

On the Water

dog kayak

Start slowly when it’s time to get on the boat. If you’re out for the first time and your dog starts to panic in the shallow water before you even launch, consider it an exposure session and try again another day. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Swimming can take a lot out of a pup at any age, so be sure there are plenty of rest opportunities and shade. The life vest will also help support your pup if they become tired, and you can more easily assist them if they’re afloat on their own.

Safety is the number one priority for you and your dog when boating. It’s never a good idea to tie your dog to the kayak or any other boat, there are too many ways it could become dangerous. Your watercraft could capsize, the leash could become entangled, wrapped under the boat, or around your dog’s neck. 

What if your dog goes overboard?

It’s a real possibility when bringing dogs in a boat, paddleboard, or dog-friendly kayak that you could capsize or otherwise enter the water involuntarily. Even the best dog can have a moment of uncertainty and do something unexpected. 

When this happens, you have to be prepared not to panic. Your dog will be looking to you to know how to react and to come to their rescue if need be. Have a plan for dog-overboard scenarios whatever body of water or vessel you may be in, and share it with anyone who will be joining you.

With the right gear and training, you and your pooch are bound for smooth sailing, an amazing day of boating, and a tail-wagging time on the water!

boating with dogs checklist