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Tips for Canoeing or Kayaking with Dogs

As avid paddlers and advocates for safe and fun pet friendly outdoor adventures, my husband and I enjoy sharing our love of canoeing or kayaking with dogs. We hope that by providing some pointers, we can encourage you to try paddling with your pup. It’s a wonderful activity that you can enjoy together for many years!

Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs |

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 Can YOU Go Canoeing or Kayaking With Dogs?

No way…you put TWO dogs in your canoe with you? Oh, we’ve heard that before! We started out with Gryphon, a yellow lab mutt, who took to canoeing like a pro. He paddled with us for a few summers as a “solo dog.”

Then we adopted Edgar and, with a few adjustments, had 2 large mutts in our 16’6” canoe. Off we would go, on multi-day canoe camping trips, day trips, picnic paddles, and exploring new waterways. If we can do it, you can go canoeing or kayaking with dogs, too!

Any dog that rides happily in a car is a good candidate for paddling. Our dogs love the peaceful movement of the canoe and kayak, the opportunity to see wildlife, exploring islands and beaches, camping out, and splashing around to cool off.

A yellow lab in a life vest sitting in a canoe with a man sitting in the bow behind him

How to Choose an Appropriate Canoe or Kayak

When deciding which watercraft is best, we suggest starting with a stable, family-suitable canoe. Some configurations are more suitable for canoeing and kayaking with dogs than others, so bring your pup along to try the boats. Aluminum canoes can get very hot and noisy – both unpleasant conditions for a dog – so we suggest avoiding them. If you’re leaning toward a kayak, you should be sure that there is adequate room for you to paddle with your dog safely seated in the boat. When you’ve narrowed down the options and are ready for a test paddle, take your dog along! Just be sure he’s wearing a life jacket, of course.

We use the tandem canoe for some trips, but most of our outings now involve the use of a 13 foot solo canoe and a 12 foot kayak. One dog prefers the canoe, and the other likes his kayak, so both dogs and paddlers are happy!

Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs | Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs | Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs |

Comfort is Key When Canoeing or Kayaking with Dogs

The first step in ensuring your dog’s comfort in the boat is to cover the floor. Your dog will need to adjust to the movement of the canoe or kayak, and if he’s slipping or sliding, he won’t be able to get comfortable and settle down. We have tried yoga mats, backpacking pads, and foam mats, but all of these options slide when water gets under them.

What works best in our canoe is a quality indoor-outdoor carpet. This material can be cut to fit the length of the canoe, protects the interior from the dogs’ claws, and is easy to clean, dry, and roll up for storage. For the kayak, we like the adhesive traction mats sold for stand-up paddleboards.


Refine Your Skills Before Including Your Pet

Be sure that you are confident paddlers before you go canoeing or kayaking with dogs. You do not have to be an expert paddler, but even on quiet waters, you can still have a miserable (and dangerous) time if you and your dog are both uncertain and inexperienced. Start out on a quiet, calm bodies of water with easy access launch sites. And choose a time of day when there are fewer boaters or dogs around; the smoother the water, and the fewer distractions, the more successful your initial trips will be.

Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs |

Safety First!

Your dog does not have to be a good swimmer to have a safe trip. In fact, regardless of their swimming skills, all dogs should wear a dog life jacket when on the water. These jackets provide thermal protection in cool water, a nice handle should you need to lift your dog out of the boat or water, and make your dog visible to other boaters when he’s in the water. Neither of our dogs are skilled swimmers; should we capsize, I’d rather deal with a floating dog than one who is struggling. And we periodically have our dogs practice swimming while wearing their dog life jackets, so they gain confidence in the water.

READ MORE ⇒  Tips for Teaching Your Dog To Swim

Do not forget to wear your PFD! No matter how strong a swimmer you are, assisting your dog in the water without a PFD could be detrimental to your health. According to the American Canoeing Association, 85% of canoeist who drown were not wearing PFDs. Take that to heart, and then consider the added exertion required in trying to help your dog!

We also keep short leashes handy for use at the launching sites and anywhere leashes are required. We do not suggest using a leash on your dog while in the boat. Hanging lines could cause entanglement if the boat tips over. And NEVER tie your dog to the boat!

Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs | Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs | Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs |

Brush Up On Basic Obedience

Before taking off, it’s a good idea to work a bit on your pup’s basic obedience commands. Sit, stay, down, and “hup” (or another command you may select for getting in and out of the boat) all come in handy when canoeing or kayaking with dogs. Our dogs worked on these skills in the boat while on land before they ever went on the water. And their training has saved us from disaster more than once!

Each of our dogs began canoeing by sitting near the stern paddler. In this position he was secure, easy to hold, and less likely to cause unexpected motion. As they got more comfortable, our dogs “graduated” to choosing their preferred position in the canoe.

Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs |

Gryphon and Edgar get very excited when they see that they are going out on the water, and that’s to be expected! If your dog has trouble settling down, you may want to take him for a walk or run first. It is also a good idea to let him take care of any potty business before he gets into the boat.

Dogs can lean over the gunwales to access water, but we do not always want our dogs drinking from the water we’re paddling across. So be sure to pack plenty of drinking water for yourself and your dog. We also pack essential safety gear, which includes a dog first aid kit. In this kit, we always have a few musher’s booties, so if we have to bandage a paw, the bootie will help keep the bandage in place.

Develop a Routine

Our routine for getting in and out of the boat is: the dogs go first, one at a time, on command. Then we get in. The dogs know that we decide when they enter and exit the boat. When we land, we reverse the process.

Most boats capsize within 10 feet of shore, and keeping a strict routine can help prevent this. Your dogs should only get in and out of the boat when you decide it is safe.

Paddling Etiquette

It’s also important to practice good paddling etiquette with your dog. We do not allow the dogs to bark while in the canoe or kayak. We paddle near some amazing wildlife, and wouldn’t want our dogs harassing the loons, beaver, herons, moose, or other paddlers we see. Also be sure to clean up after your dogs. We are responsible for them, and for keeping our waters clean.

Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs | Tips for Canoeing and Kayaking with Dogs |

Have Fun Canoeing or Kayaking with Dogs

Perhaps the most important element to having a successful day canoeing or kayaking with dogs is your attitude! Have fun, and remember that this activity may be a bit unsettling to your dog. Go slowly … start with short trips, so your dogs can earn your praise while he practices his canoeing skills.

READ MORE ⇒   Canoeing Arkansas’ Buffalo National River With Dogs

And take photos! You will want to look back and realize how far you and your dog have come, and laugh at your adventures (and misadventures!). Canoeing and kayaking can be a “lifetime activity” for dogs. Once our dogs’ more active days are over, we know that they will continue to enjoy paddling with us.


About the Author: Sheila Bergin Goss lives in northern Vermont, surrounded by mountains and lakes that support her love of outdoor recreation. She and her husband are empty-nesters, who enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, bicycling, camping, and paddling, with their two paddle pups. She is active in recreational advocacy groups, promotes safe and responsible outdoor recreation with dogs, and writes the Vermont Paddle Pups blog. All photos in this post belong to Sheila.



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    Hello Dear Amy!
    So glad to have come across YOUR ARTICLE! I think it would be so awesome to take my Bernese Mountain Dog “Buster” aka “MyBustuhBaby”! You see Amy, Buster is 51/2 years old and weighs almost 200 lbs.. so my concern for him is safety.. not sure how to keep him in the boat safely.. leash i guess? I see you have a white and chocolate Labs, I grew up with labs myself.. a black lab named lady and chocolate name Kountry. GREAT DOGS! Sadly, they both passed away at a young age due to Leukemia..

    Along with his weight he has arthritis.. which is why I have been trying to find other ways to excite him because he cannot walk far for long periods of time..not sure even how he swims yet..he is just so big Do you think it is possible for me to canoe or kayak safely and if so which one would be safer..? Any other tips would be greatly appreciated as well..

    loOking for a kaycanoe lol


    • Amy at says:

      Hi Trudy! Thanks for your note and welcome. For a dog that size, a canoe will probably work better since it will provide more room and be more stable. My advice is to try a couple of rentals before making a big investment. That way you can try some different options and make sure Buster likes going for a paddle. I hope that helps and that the two of you have a wonderful time together!

  • Sheri Arndt says:

    Thanks for this great article! Can I ask what your 2 person and solo canoes are? I’m currently looking for ones to purchase and I haven’t decided if I want a solo or 2 person canoe but I do know I want to take my dogs with me! (my Dalmatians are 50-55 lbs so I want enough room for them) Thanks!

    • Amy at says:

      Hi Sheri! Thanks so much for your note. This guest post was written by Sheila Bergin Goss of Vermont Paddle pups. If you contact her through her Facebook page, and mention that you read here article here on, I’m sure she’ll be able to answer your questions about canoes. Here’s a link:
      Good luck!

  • Richard says:

    We take our Westie Lily in our 2 person canoe on local lakes. For extra safety we use pontoons that stabilize the boat more . Works great on still water and makes the trip more relaxing.

    • Amy at says:

      That sounds wonderful, Richard! Thanks so much for sharing your idea, and happy paddling to you all!

  • Martin says:

    Thank you for writing this. Lots of usful tips I hadn’t considered but will not act upon. We’ve just started taking our dog on our canoe, he sits on a piece of carpet at the front. He loves stopping at various points to explore and he gets so excited when he gets his life jacket on….
    Im in England by the way, our local river is beautiful to explore. Ive seen some amazing wildlife.

  • Cheri Payne says:

    Loved this article and of the photos in particular! Thank you so much for stressing the need for the dogs to wear a life jacket! More importantly, for suggesting owners practice their dog swimming with their lifejackets on before venturing out. It is not necessarily natural for the dog to understand how the lifejacket helps them. We spent time practicing before our adventures and thank goodness we did. Had it not been for the practice and a life jacket we likely would have lost one of our boys in an unfortunate kayaking incident. Ever since then I continuously preach these messages to dog owners!

    Thank you for promoting safety AND fun!

  • Astasia says:

    I love this! Could you tell me what kind of kayak that is? Most of what I’m finding are singular ones and it would really narrow my search! Thank you!

    • Sheila Goss says:

      The kayak is a Jackson Tripper 12. It works really well for a tall guy, his 55 lb. dog, and lots of gear. It is a heavy boat (65 lbs) and not the fastest on the water, but it is very stable and has earned its reputation as a great dog paddling kayak. Have fun!

      • Astasia says:

        Thank you! Do you think that would be suitable for a girl around 5’11 and 200lbs? And a dog around 50lbs? Or should I go smaller. I’m a little new to all this:)

        • Sheila Goss says:

          My husband is 6’5 and 250 lbs, and he fits quite nicely. I think it depends on how you are going to transport the kayak; it can be car-topped, but it is not easy for one person to get it up on the roof due to its weight. I am not the “kayak person”, I prefer a solo canoe, which might be something for you to look into. If you join the Dog Paddlin’ facebook page, there are lots of folks there that can offer suggestions. In any case, you should see if you can try out different boats before deciding.

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