5 min read

How to Kayak Safely With Your Dog


By Tim Falk

Published: 11/07/2021, edited: 11/07/2021

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Love kayaking? You’ll love it even more if your dog comes along for the ride. Kayaking with your dog is a great way to get some exercise, relax and explore nature, and spend some quality time with your fur-baby.

But before you can take to the water with your pup, it’s important that you take a few simple steps to ensure that your pooch stays safe. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to do to kayak safely with your dog.

Is your dog the kayaking type?

First things first, you need to work out whether your pup is suitable for kayaking. Some dogs simply hate going anywhere near the water, and if that’s your pooch’s approach to aquatic activities, chances are they won’t be the kayaking type. Sure, you might be able to eventually encourage them to get on board with the idea of going paddling, but it’s going to take a lot of time and patience. 

Next, consider whether or not your dog can swim. If your pup is a “pawsome” doggy paddler, they’ll be much more confident in the water — and you’ll feel much more comfortable about kayaking with them. But if your fur-baby isn’t a particularly strong swimmer, you can help them stay afloat (and build more confidence in the water) with a quality doggy life jacket.

The third factor you need to consider concerns training and behavior. To kayak safely with your dog, your pup needs to be adept at following training commands, including a reliable recall and getting back onto the kayak when instructed. A “leave it” command will also come in very handy whenever you want your pooch to ignore a tempting distraction. 

There’s also the fact that some dogs simply struggle to sit still on a kayak with so many distractions around. If your pooch is likely to jump overboard at any given opportunity to chase a duck, strike out for dry land, or just frolic in the water, you’ll need to brush up on their training before you go paddling.

Getting your dog ready to go kayaking

Some dogs take to the water like ducks. Others need a little encouragement before they will feel at home, so you may need to work on training your dog to like swimming.

The next step is to introduce your dog to the kayak before taking it out on the water. You can do this by placing the kayak on the ground at home and giving your dog a chance to sniff and explore it at their own pace. You can also sprinkle a few treats on the kayak to help your pup associate this funny-looking boat with positive things. 

Reward them with praise and some cuddles too, and then practice sitting on the kayak together. Before too long, they’ll be ready to hit the water.

The other essential step you need to take is to invest in a doggy life jacket. This is an important safety device for any dog, even those that are competent swimmers, and will feature a handle on the back you can use to help your dog out of the water and back onto your kayak.

Getting started

Now it’s time to head to your favorite kayaking spot. Start somewhere you’re familiar with the conditions and what to expect, as this will give you one less thing to worry about so you can focus on your dog.

Make sure your dog has their own space on the kayak where they can get comfy and stay secure. They may have their own seat, a special non-slip mat, or just a spot where they can settle in for the adventure. If possible, it’s easiest to enter the water from a beach launching point rather than from a jetty, and make sure both you and your dog are in position before you push off.

Staying safe out on the water

Now the preparation part is over and it’s time to go paddling. These simple safety tips will help ensure that your kayaking adventure is as smooth and safe as possible.

  • Practice getting on and off close to the shore. Before you head for deeper water, practice your pup’s dismount into the water and also do some trial runs helping them back aboard again. That way, you’ll be close to shore if you encounter any problems, and once you’ve mastered the on/off process, you can do it anywhere.

  • Stick to calm waters. It goes without saying that the safest approach when kayaking with your dog is to only venture out in calm waters. So stick to calm rivers and lakes, avoid strong currents or big waves, and leave the whitewater rapids for your pup-free adventures. 

  • Watch the conditions. Even if the weather is perfect and the water is calm, keep a close eye on changing conditions. From unexpected weather changes to submerged hazards, keep your wits about you so you don’t get into trouble.

  • Supervise your dog in the water. If your pup leaps overboard for a swim, keep an eye on them. If they get into trouble or look like they’re starting to fatigue, be prepared to get them back on your kayak as quickly as possible.

  • Take a leash. There are some beautiful and secluded spots you can reach by kayak, and your dog will love exploring them with you. But to keep them safe as you explore hidden beaches, bays, and wilderness, remember to take a leash.

  • Pack other essentials too. Some of the other items you’ll probably want to take with you include plenty of fresh water, a water bowl, and some doggy treats. Dog-friendly sunscreen will also come in handy if your pup is prone to sunburn, and poop bags are always a must. Finally, don’t forget a towel to dry off when you’re finished.

Waterborne diseases

One other factor to keep in mind when kayaking with your dog is that there is the potential for your pup to come into contact with waterborne diseases. One such bacterial nasty is leptospirosis, which can cause a wide range of symptoms including:

Leptospirosis can be spread by coming into contact with infected water. Treatment commonly involves a round of antibiotics, typically doxycycline, but the exact recommended course of action varies depending on the strain of bacteria. 

Giardia is another parasite that can cause serious health issues for dogs. Your dog can come into contact with this single-celled organism by drinking infected water, and it can cause inflammatory bowel disease and a range of other digestive issues.

Giardia in dogs can be asymptomatic, but signs to keep an eye out for include:

Treatment often involves oral medication plus regular bathing, while dogs with dehydration may require hospitalization. 

But while these waterborne illnesses can be a concern, they shouldn’t put you off going kayaking with your dog. The main thing to remember is to use a little common sense — if a body of water looks stagnant or just plain unsafe for swimming, steer clear. And if your dog shows any worrying symptoms, get them to your vet as soon as possible.

Otherwise, try to focus on having a “grrreat” day out kayaking with your pup. With blue skies, crystal-clear water, and your dog by your side, there’s no better way to spend a day exploring the great outdoors.

Waterborne illnesses in dogs can be expensive to treat, costing anywhere from $300 to $4,000 on average. To ensure you're covered in case of an accident, invest in pet insurance before your kayaking trip. Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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