Kayaking With A Dog – A Practical Guide For Paddlers Turned Pet Parents

Eyes darting from side to side, soaking up the breathtaking sights and sounds, with the tongue hanging out; if paddling is that exciting for you, can you even imagine how much your dog would love it? 

Yes, you can kayak with a dog – and it can be insanely fun for everyone involved. That doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy, though, especially if this is your first attempt.

So, what do you do? How do you prepare for kayaking with a dog? 

Stick around; this guide will help you get ready for your first kayaking trip!

Is Your Dog Ready For The Water? 

Chihuahua dog wearing pink flower shirt and sunglasses on the beach.

If your dog ever accompanied you on any outdoor adventures, you know how wonderful it is to share the experience with your four-legged best friend. 

Kayaking with dogs is a slightly different story from a walk in nature, but with a little extra patience and the right approach, you can make a kayak trip safe for your pooch. 

Not without some additional considerations, though. 

For starters, you have to be realistic about whether your dog’s ready for any type of water-related activity. Your dog’s skills and training, along with temperament, maturity, and health, are vital for keeping them safe on an outing like that. 

Asking yourself the following questions – and answering them as honestly as possible – could give you some insight into the matter: 

  • Is my dog comfortable around water and knows how to swim? 
  • Is my dog is fit and well with no underlying health issues such as Arthritis
  • Will my dog tolerate wearing a dog-friendly PFD for extended periods? 
  • Does my dog show a basic level of obedience, enough to follow commands such as “Sit,” “Stay,” “Leave it,” and “Get in your spot,” and the like?
  • Can my dog remain calm and ignore possible distractions, or will they jump straight in the water and try to go after them? 

If you can – again, honestly – say “Yes” to these questions, your pooch could be an excellent candidate for the kayaking life!  

How To Kayak With a Dog 101: Tips For Training A Dog For Kayaking 

I need you to understand that this isn’t going to be some afternoon project. There’s a lot to practice, prepare, and take into account before launching your kayak into the water. 

So, the real question is: 

Do you have the willingness, time, and patience to train your dog for a day on the water?

Introduce Your Dog To The Surroundings & Being Around Water 

portrait of a purebred rottweiler on the beach standing next to a kayak

My first – and arguably most important – advice to kayakers with dogs is: 

Don’t buy into the “all dogs love water” narrative. 

It’s a common misconception and one that does more harm than good. You’re probably excited about kayaking with your dog, but you have to respect your four-legged pal’s feelings. 

Some pups will jump straight in without hesitation. But others will be content with sticking to dry land and watching you from the shore. 

If you do notice that they’re anxious – or even flat-out terrified – of water, “pushy” is the last thing you should be

Introduce them to lakes and rivers – and being near the water in general – gradually by incorporating visits to the local beach or riverbanks into your daily walks

You first want to make sure your dog is comfortable by the river or shore then, move up to day trips to the lake. 

How to Teach Your Dog to Love WATER & SWIMMING

Once your pup’s comfortable, practice swimming together. Bring a few water-friendly toys and get in there! 

Introduce Your Dog To The Kayak (On Dry Land)

Dog being trained to enter kayak

It goes without saying,  sit-on-top kayaks, rather than sit-in, are the only type of kayak suitable for dogs.  The open cockpit of a Sit-On-Top provides space for; you, your dog and any gear you wish to bring along for the trip.

But more importantly, sit-on-top kayaks are typically wider and and as a result more stable on the water. Which dramatically reduces the possibility of capsizing if you dog decided to suddenly move around.  Ideally, choose a kayak purposely designed for lakes and other flat, calm water.

However should the worst happen, sit-on-top kayaks are far easier to exit, recover and re-enter, for both you and your dog.  So, make sure you buy a SOT kayak.

I personally recommend investing in a 3-person kayak since the extra room is useful. You can easily manage with only a tandem kayak, but it might be a little cramped, especially if you and your dog are both on the larger side!

But how do you get your dog comfortable being in a kayak?

Try and understand what your kayak looks like from your dog’s perspective – a massive, brightly-colored, plastic thing that’s sitting there all strange and unfamiliar. 

It’s understandable if they feel threatened seeing one up close for the first time. 

So, take some time to familiarize your pup with the boat. The less scary the kayak appears on dry land, the more open your dog will be to going kayaking with you. 

Leave the kayak on the ground, step back, and let your pooch explore. Encourage your pup by leaving some treats on deck if they don’t seem interested. 

Then, sit in the kayak to reassure your dog that there’s nothing to be afraid of – and invite them to join you. 

The goal is getting the dog to climb aboard, sniff everything out, and get used to the giant hunk of plastic. It might not happen instantly, but you’ll get there. 

Learn (Or Brush Up On) Basic Safety Commands 

Dog sitting on command

A well-behaved pooch makes all the difference between a successful kayak trip and an on-the-water nightmare. 

If your dog isn’t trained to sit, stay, and come on command – especially in distracting or stressful situations – they’re nowhere near kayak-ready. 

You’ll have to spend time training your pup on land if you’re thinking of making this whole “kayaking with your dog” thing work. Lack of training translates into safety issues for everyone involved. 

TEACHING YOUR DOG BASIC COMMANDS! | BELGIAN MALINIOS

Here are a few basic obedience commands to brush up on before you set sail

  • Get In Your Spot! – A familiar towel or blanket might help get cozy in their new spot, but once they do, you’re golden. Reinforce this with the usual “Sit!” or “Stay!” when they go to their spot.
  • Leave It! – All these new smells, other paddlers, and wildlife can be super tempting. If you catch your dog locking onto something they shouldn’t, a firm “Leave it!” should break their gaze.
  • Lay Down! – Whether something distracting is nearby or you’ve encountered rough waters, a short, no-nonsense “Lay down!” should show your dog that moving around is no longer an option. 
How to Teach a Dog to Lie Down - 5 Alternate Methods for All Dogs
  • Get In/Out! – You can get creative with this one; the point is to establish a simple command that will indicate that it’s time to enter or exit the kayak. 

Teach Your Dog To Enter & Exit The Kayak 

Dog sitting in the boat .lake

Next on the menu: 

Practicing entering and exiting the kayak, be it off a dock or from a beach. 

It’s best to figure out what works for you depending on your launching spot, but I’ll give you a few critical pointers for entry and exit with a dog, anyway: 

  • Be the first one to enter the kayak. Seeing you get in should encourage the dog to get on board, too. 
  • Don’t push off until you’re both settled in, and your pup gets in their spot. 
  • Tell your dog to lie down; it’ll make the initial launching jolt more comfortable. 
  • The feeling of floating on the water may be strange and new for your pup; praise them and reassure them that everything’s fine. 
  • Paddle around in the shallows, no more than a few feet off the shore, then return to the launch site and let your pup know that it’s okay to go. 

Oh, and be sure to provide treats and some play time. Using some water toys, let them splash around in the water afterward, so that they associate kayaking with something fun

Build Up Slowly: Do A Dry Run & Start With Short Trips 

Girl in a Old Town Kaya, paddling with her dog dressed in a life jacket

It’s best to stick with calm, flat waters for your dog’s maiden voyage. Ponds and lakes are the perfect environments for the first few outings, but you could make broad, slow-moving rivers work, too. 

The introduction to kayaking should be as gentle as possible – and whitewater rapids and choppy ocean waters are no place for a dog, anyway.

What’s more, stick to shallow waters the first few rounds. You may know your dog, but you can’t predict how they’ll react to the new environment. 

If they get spooked and jump ship, it’d be better if it happens in calm waters and near the shore, rather than a fast-moving river. 

Also, remember to start small

The goal is to give your pooch a taste of kayaking, not make them feel overwhelmed. 

It’s a good idea to take your dog on short trips of around 10 to 20 minutes, this should be more than enough to start to get them acclimatised. If all goes well, you’ll be heading for deeper waters and exploring new kayaking spots in no time! 

Safety Tips & Essential Gear For Kayaking With A Dog 

Safety Tip #1: Always Bring A Dog-Friendly Life Jacket 

Bulldog wearing a blue kayak life jacket

Yes, they make PFDs specifically designed for dogs – and yes, your dog needs to get used to wearing one. 

Some dog owners may argue that canines are natural swimmers. Sure, that’s technically true, but the debate here isn’t whether your dog can swim. Dogs should wear PFDs for the same reason you areemergencies

As harsh as this may sound, knowing how to swim doesn’t make your pooch immune to drowning – that may sound harsh but I want to highlight the importance of a dog life vest.

Even if your dog feels right at home in the water, and seems to be an excellent swimmer, a life vest for dogs should be non-negotiable. They need one as much as you do!

Safety Tip #2: Never Tie Your Dog To The Kayak 

Happy dog pug breed wearing life jacket and standing on kayak feeling so happiness and fun vacations on the beach

Never – and I cannot stress this enough – tie your dog to the kayak! 

Having a leash at hand may be useful in some scenarios, but will turn into a real safety hazard when used onboard a kayak. 

Once you reach the shore, use the leash to keep your canine companion close, prevent them from jumping on other paddlers, and the like. 

You know, the usual dog-owner-at-the-beach stuff. 

But while you’re out on the water, leashing is the worst possible thing you could do. If you capsize with your dog’s leash tied to the kayak, it could get caught under the boat or wrap around the dog’s neck. 

Either way, leashing your dog on the water is a dangerous business; keep the leash for the on-land portion of your trip. 

Safety Tip #3: Pack Essentials For A Day On The Water (Besides A Doggie PFD) 

Woman enjoying the ride on kayak with dog and her husband

If you won’t be out on the water for longer than an hour, there’s no need to overdo it. A Ziploc bag filled with doggy treats, a bowl, and plenty of fresh drinking water for the two of you – and you’re good to go. 

Anything longer than that, and you should start thinking about what your dog will need during the kayak outing

Here’s what I’d pack for a day on the water with a dog: 

  • Fresh Water & Drinking Bowl – Be sure to have enough fresh drinking water for the day and the dog’s water bowl at hand. Letting them drink lake water – let alone saltwater – is never a good idea! 
  • Food – If you get to have lunch on the go, your dog deserves a small meal, too. And remember to pack their food bowl
  • Treats – A bag of dog treats, whether in a Ziploc bag or a watertight container, could come in handy as a reward for good behavior and reassuring, or even as a distraction for your furry friend. 
  • Harness & Leash – The leash should only be used on the shore, but a harness can be useful as a safety measure. It’s easier to grab hold of your dog and pull them back if they leap out of the kayak. 
  • Water-Friendly Toys – Toys are an excellent way to occupy and entertain your dog while the kayak is underway, especially if they get bored quickly. Bonus points for bringing water-friendly toys! 
  • Towel Or Mat – It can be a little mat, a blanket, or a towel; anything that makes your dog more comfortable will work. Plus, it gives them an idea of where to stay when given the command. 
  • Doggie Bags – Nature will call, and it’s best to be prepared when it does. 
  • Sunscreen & Other Sun ProtectionDogs can get sunburned, with their noses, ears, and bellies being the most sensitive areas. A child-safe sunscreen with an SPF 30 to 50 will do in a pinch, but it’s best to look into dog-specific formulas. 
  • First Aid Kit – Add a few essentials to your regular first aid kit, including Benadryl, Neosporin, and peroxide, in case of insect bites or minor injuries. 

Safety Tip #4: Know What To Do If Things Go South 

Kayaker with dog within in the water next to them

One moment, you’re enjoying a calm afternoon with your pooch. The next, you’re blindsided by a wave, your dog is freaking out, you’re over-correcting – and before you know it, both of you are overboard. 

The same can happen as you’re trying to pull your dog back onto the kayak, and you lean to the side more than intended. Dogs can get distracted and jump in the water without permission; it happens. 

It might not be your first time taking an unexpected dive, but your dog may not feel the same way. 

Locate your dog, stay near, and reassure them that everything’s fine as you return on board. 

Don’t give your pup a hard time about what happened, even if they went in the water without permission. Keep your voice calm but firm. 

Final Thoughts On How To Kayak With A Dog 

women on yellow kayak out at sea with a dog

Prepare, plan, practice – and then prepare some more! 

Seriously, this piece of advice is as good as any if you’re wondering how to kayak with a dog onboard. 

If you did the necessary preparations, took the time to introduce your dog to the kayak and water environments, and showed them that there’s nothing to be scared about, you’re already half-way there. 

Remember: 

Kayaking together is a big deal for both of you; a little patience goes a long way! 

I’d say you’re ready to head out on the water with your four-legged best friend and create memories that will last a lifetime. 

I hope you have fun kayaking with your dog.

Let me know how it goes!