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Lola is a schnoodle, a schnauzer mixed with a poodle, however, unlike her poodle half, Lola does not care for the water and is not an especially good swimmer. Her family goes camping all the time and takes their kayaks with them, spending many hours out on the lake. Lola has to stay back at the camp in the holiday trailer. Lola loves to go camping with her family, sitting around the campfire at night, barking at the squirrels that invade “her” campsite, but she does not like being left behind when her family goes out on the lake, so Lola's owner decides it's time she learned to kayak! With a little patience and a few precautions to make the kayak more comfortable for her, Lola is soon gliding across the lake with her owner, having learned the kayak is safe and relatively dry. Trusting her mistress not to dump her in the lake, Lola is now able to participate in one of the family's favorite pastimes!
Even a very young dog can learn to travel in a kayak with their owner. You should be careful, however, of an especially rambunctious puppy, as they may have a hard time sitting still and can end up jumping out of the kayak into the water, or tipping over you and your kayak, especially if you have a large breed puppy. If this is the case, you may want to wait until your dog gets a little older. Also, you will need to identify what issue you're working with: is the dog afraid of water, and needs to become comfortable not being afraid of the water, and the kayak? Or, does your dog love water and thinks that jumping out of the kayak into the water is a perfectly good idea? If this is the case, both you and your dog are liable to get very wet, and possibly injured if the kayak tips over. You will want to teach your dog to sit quietly in the kayak, usually in front of you between your legs, although some kayaks, such as sit-on or two-seaters provide an extra spot for a dog to sit. Or, if the kayak has a storage area on the stern or bow that your small dog can sit in, this may also be an appropriate perch for your pup. Most dogs are pretty excited to be going on an adventure with their owners and are pretty motivated to come with you and your kayak. Teaching them to be calm, unafraid, and that moving about is not OK on the kayak is the challenge.
It is a good idea to train in relatively shallow water close to shore, with a stable kayak. Recreational kayaks may be best for teaching your dog to ride in a kayak. Most recreational kayaks have a large space for their passenger that will accommodate both a person and a small to medium-sized dog. A large dog may require a two-seater kayak. Because the hard plastic of a kayak can be uncomfortable, slippery, and wet for your dog, you can put down a rubber mat where you want your dog to sit to give him better traction, or a folded towel to provide comfort. Doggy life jackets are also available commercially, and a good fitting life jacket for your dog may be advisable, especially if your dog is not a strong swimmer. If you are using a life jacket you will want to get your dog used to wearing it prior to training sessions, so as not to overwhelm your dog with new sensations and experiences. Take your dog for walks with the life jacket on for several days prior to initiating his first kayak ride. It is advisable for your dog to wear a harness, and have a leash available if you need to restrain your dog or handle him on shore.
Make sure your dog does his business before launching from shore, you don't want him stuck in the kayak looking for a place to relieve himself, and never tie your dog to a kayak. If the kayak tips you want your dog to be able to swim free of the kayak. It is also a good idea for your dog to have a good grasp of off-leash commands in case of capsize.
The Gradual Introduction Method
Get in on dry land
Teach your dog to get in the kayak while on dry land. Hold the kayak still so it doesn't rock, or better yet, prop it up so it does not tip over. Give a command for 'get in' the kayak, and call your dog into the kayak with you sitting in the kayak. Give your dog a treat when he jumps into the kayak. Never drag your dog into the kayak, avoid putting him in the kayak by picking him up, unless he is too small or unable to get in by himself.
Stay in kayak
Now ask your dog to stay in the kayak. Give him treats while in the kayak and have him remain in the kayak for a few minutes.
Teach command for out
Ask your dog to stay in the kayak, while you get out. Give a command to get out of the kayak and call your dog out of the kayak, provide a treat.
Move to water
Once your dog is comfortable getting in and out of the kayak on command on dry land, move the kayak into shallow water, partially on shore, or in the water off a dock. Ask your dog to get in the kayak. Have someone hold the kayak to steady it, especially if your dog is getting in from a dock. Reward your dog for getting in.
Practice in on water
If your dog seems nervous, command him to get in and out a few times, end the session, and try again another day, repeating until the dog seems comfortable.
If your dog is comfortable getting in the kayak while in the water, carefully launch off of the shore or dock a few feet. Talk to your dog, give him praise and a treat. Keep the initial voyage short and near shore on calm water.
Gradually increase the length of trips and distance from shore, and practice in varied weather conditions as your dog gains experience.
The Capture and Shape Method
Put your kayak on dry land, propped up so it is stable. When your dog approaches the kayak to investigate, click and treat.
Reinforce in kayak
Ask your dog to get in the kayak. When your dog jumps in the kayak, click and treat or praise.
Put your kayak on the shore, half in the water but with access to the seat area you want your dog to learn to ride in. Put a folded towel or rubber mat in place for traction for your dog.
Reinforce in kayak with water
Ask the dog to jump into the kayak. Click and reward for going in the kayak.
Get in the kayak and wait for you dog to jump into his spot on the kayak, call your dog, when the dog jumps in, click and treat.
Push off from shore a little way. Hold your dog's harness to prevent him from jumping. If your dog appears nervous and wants to get out, return to shore. Having an assistant to push you back to shore while you restrain your dog is helpful. As soon as you return to shore, allow your dog to get out, go back to previous steps and repeat, then try again. If your dog sits quietly, click and reward.
Practice on water
Repeat on water, capturing calm sitting behavior with click and treats. End session if the dog appears uncomfortable or restless.
Gradually extend times out on the water and remove clicker. Continue to praise your dog for sitting quietly in his spot.
The Lure Method
Set up on dry land
Put your kayak on dry ground, propped up so it stays steady.
Lure into kayak
Put a high value treat in the kayak. When your dog jumps in the kayak or reaches over to get his food, praise him and let him have the treat.
Lure out of kayak
Repeat until the dog jumps all the way into the kayak for his treat. As soon as he is finished, put a treat on the ground outside the kayak and give him a command to get out of the kayak.
Move the kayak to the water; put it off a dock, or partly in the water on the shore. Put a high value treat in the kayak. Call your dog to get the treat.
Lure 'get in' on water
When your dog jumps in to get the treat praise him.
Lure out, add commands
When your dog is done with his treat, put a treat on the shore, or dock and give your dog a command to get out of the kayak. Let him retrieve his treat. Repeat, so your dog learns that he gets a treat for getting in and out of the kayak and associates it with a verbal command. Do not give your dog a treat if he jumps out in his own.
Remove lure, substitute rewards
Gradually start giving the treats by hand instead of luring and have your dog jump in and out of the kayak on the water on command.
With your dog in the kayak, push off from shore. Continue to praise and reward your dog if he is calm. If he moves about or is afraid, return to shore, repeat previous steps, try again another time.
When your dog is sitting quietly in the kayak on the water, you can start to move further from shore, keep initial sessions short so experience is positive, end sessions if the dog becomes agitated or restless. Continue if your dog sits calmly and happily.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 10/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021