TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Instruction

Rooney on Mars by Forum member CathyLYK-9 Kayaking - Kayaking With Your Dog
By Lonnie Olson, Director Dog Scouts of America

NOTE: Although some photos depict dogs & owners w/o PFD's we do not advise padding without them. Also, it is not advised to paddle with your dog except in flat, calm waters.

I like to involve my dogs in everything I do, and one of the sports I enjoy is Kayaking. Of course, I can't leave my dog behind when I'm out for a fun day at the lake or river. But there are some important things to do to get ready for the trip, to make it a safe and happy one for all concerned. R: Rooney on Mars by Forum member CathyLY

Learning Boating Safety is an activity that we do at Dog Scout Camp for a merit badge, because it has a lot of important aspects for everyday use. The purpose of this training is to make your dog a safe companion on any water craft and, in this case, kayak. You can get the training information and goal oriented check-off sheets at the Dog Scout website. (See Resources below)

Getting In & Out Launching The Kayak Avoiding Trouble Kayak In Motion Equipment & Dog PFD Things To Consider
Resources, Dog Life Jackets /About the Author

Dog Scouts of America

Dog Scouts

"Our dog's lives are much shorter than ours- let's help them enjoy their time with us as much as we can." -- Dog Scout Owner's Motto

Dog Scouts of America (DSA) was established in 1995. It is a non-profit organization people who are dedicated to enriching their lives and the lives of others with dogs.

By better understanding how your dog thinks, how he learns, and what drives his behavior, and by participating in a variety of dog sports and activities, you will become a more responsible dog owner. For more information please pay them a visit.

Ann Hazard & Snugs: La Bufadora  Blow Hole Getting In & Out

The first thing you want to teach the dog is how to get in and out of a boat, from a dock, from the shore, and from in the water.

Start by holding the boat or kayak still, so that the dog won't rock it too much when he jumps in. Then, ask for an immediate sit. R-Ann Hazard & Snugs: La Bufadora Blow Hole . Click on the photo to read her tribute.

Dogs need to learn that there's no "monkey business" allowed on a boat, and that they must sit still and obey the rules, no matter how excited they are. Don't let the dog jump out of the boat until you give some sort of release word. If your dog already knows a word for getting "off" the couch or something, then you can use the same word for getting off the boat.

MaxWhen the dog will jump in the boat and sit, he needs to learn to stay in the boat on cue. Pretend you need to go back up the bank for your cooler or life jackets or something, and require that your dog stay in the boat by himself.

As with obedience training on dry land, you want to first teach the behavior in a familiar location, then add distractions, followed by duration, followed by distance. So, if your dog doesn't already know a stay, you don't want to put him in the boat to learn it for the first time. Photo: Paddling on the Weekie Wachee River Hernando County FlMax (scottie/westie mix) & my Wife-Frank, Yak Surfer Florida Guy

Launching The Kayak

Next, you'll want to launch the boat.

Slowly push it out, while your dog performs a stay in the boat. Hang onto the boat while it floats with the dog in it; or, you can get into the boat, and push it out. Santacruzmidwife & Angus

AngusYou only want to go a short distance at first. You'll gradually get the dog used to the sounds of oars bumping the side of the boat, or paddles dripping water onto him. Then, you can paddle or row around a little bit more each time, as your dog shows that he is "generalizing" or showing that he understands the command in various new contexts. As your dog learns to accept riding in the boat quietly, you can take advantage of some of the other words your dog knows, to help him feel comfortable in the boat.

In other words, you don't want to head out for a day on the water, expecting your dog to maintain a perfect sit stay, like a statue, in the boat. You could tell the dog to "settle" (relax and lie down), or get on the seat, or whatever else it's ok for him to do in the boat.

In a larger water craft, the dog could have a blanket or his own bed to lie down on. This will help reduce some of the vibration he will experience, if you are in a motor boat.

Photo by our Forum's "CalamariChris"Avoiding Trouble

A very important command for any dog to know is the "Leave it" command. This one is especially helpful around the water. There are a number of things a dog can get into while on a boat trip. Eating the fish bait (hooks included) is the first thing that comes to mind. Rolling on dead fish on the bank is another. And, you'll have to trust me on this, but the aroma of dead fish is very low on the scale of disgusting things your dog can find on the bank to roll in while on a canoe trip, for example. There is also usually abundant wildlife near the water. Ducks, frogs, and small animals call to your dog from the bank like sirens, and it is hard for a dog to resist going after them. By teaching your dog a "Leave it" command, the wildlife is safe, and your canoe or kayak will not be capsized. Photo by our Forum's "Calamari Chris" with Angel on his Ocean Kayak Cabo

SamAs with other obedience commands, you need to teach the "Leave it" on dry land first.

I use a method of teaching the dog to choose wisely. With the dog on a leash, I put food on the floor just out of his reach. He may stare at the food, but eventually --you may want to use a comfortable chair if you own a retriever-- he will give up on trying to "will" the food closer to him and will look up at you, thinking, "Yeah, that's right, Dad has those opposing thumbs and can help me out!" When the dog looks away from the food, instantly reward that choice by popping food (better food) in his mouth. ghendri w/Sam & friend in their Cobra Navigator

Those of you who have trained your dog with a clicker or other reward marker can mark the exact instant the dog takes his attention off the food by clicking or saying "yes" before giving the treat. The clicker (reward marker) helps identify the exact microsecond that your dog made the choice, which helps him to learn "what" you are rewarding, which is what will help him learn to make the correct choice in the future.

Once the Leave it command has some meaning for your dog (Look AWAY, and ignore it!), you can start using it for leaving other dogs alone. Work your way up to other pets you have around the house (that you can safely contain for use in training). The "Leave it" command teaches your dog that these other creatures are "unavailable" to him.

Kayak In Motion

HyakHaving taught your dog to get in, get out, and sit still in the boat, and to pay attention to you and ignore wildlife, tempting goodies, or interesting smells on your cue, he is ready to start thinking about kayaking. Kayaking is similar to boating in that all of the other safety concerns apply. But it is trickier to do with your dog, and you must have good control to keep you both safe. Left: Our forum's "hyak" family in Feathercraft Gemini

There are several different types of Kayaks. There are tandem kayaks for two people, there are solo, single seat kayaks, then there are sit-on-top and sit-in-side designs. All offer different options for taking a dog with you. I use a simple, short, molded plastic sport kayak. My "cockpit" is wide enough for my dog (a 50 pound Husky mix) to sit between my legs, if I flop my legs over the outside of the kayak, like we do when we're paddling down the river on a lazy afternoon.

MaggieIf you prefer to keep your feet on the foot pegs inside the kayak, then the dog would need to squeeze between your legs (which my friend's 35 pound cattle dog can do), or teach the dog to balance on the top of the kayak. Tandem kayaks and sit-on-tops with cargo wells offer additional space for dogs. Right: "CattleDogKayaker" & Maggie - Necky Cruiser II

When a friend first mentioned kayaking with dogs, years ago, I almost couldn't believe it. She has several dogs, and they all go along. She made a special, non-slip, rubber surface for them to stand on either in front of the seat opening or behind it (or both). If you strap, tape or glue this type of non-slippery surface to your kayak, it will make the dog feel more comfortable about riding up there. The balancing is not a problem. We've all seen circus dogs balance on a rope. Dogs have good balance, if they can feel safe, and have something to get their toenails into. Remember, though, your dog should be under very good verbal control if he is to ride atop the kayak.


petsWhat equipment do you take along? I always take along:

  • a leash
  • harness
  • dog life jacket
  • doggie snacks and water
  • dog water toys
  • sunscreen
  • first aid kit (in a dry bag)
  • zip lock poop baggies, of course

I never tie the leash to the kayak. If it were to turn over or get lodged under a fallen tree on the river, the dog could be drowned. I use a waist leash (so the dog is tied to me), and I don't snap it onto the dog unless I'm trying to make her swim near the kayak (like when we're passing fishermen), or when we get onshore. The waist leash has a shock bungee and two quick-release snaps (one near the end snap and one near my waist), if I need to separate us quickly. (available at Sparky's Boutique and Outfitters, the Dog Scout Camp Store online). Photo: Beth & Kaddi

The dog wears a harness, so that I could help lift her out of the water by the harness, if I had to. I always only hook the leash to the harness--never to the collar. As always, my dog wears identification tags, in case there is a mishap. I also take along her doggie life jacket. This is a must if you're going on rough or fast water, or if your dog is a less experienced swimmer. The life jacket is a high-visibility neon color, has a handle at the top, and adjustable buckle straps.

When we take our dogs on the river, they like to get out and swim during parts of the trip. You never know what's around the next bend, and you'll need a calm, shallow spot for getting the dog back into/onto the kayak before he gets too tired. Sometimes it's all muck, or deep water right up to the shore with so many trees that you can't pull your kayak next to the shore. Your dog will tire out, and he may try to climb up into the kayak to "save" himself. A lifejacket makes it easier on the dog to swim for extended periods.

The toys and dog snacks are to make the trip fun for the dog. Your dog will probably try to drink the water you're boating in, but its best if you bring some fresh water from home to offer him.

Sunscreen is good for you and the dog. If your dog has any pink pigment on his face, or bare spots on his skin, you should protect these with sunscreen. The water reflects the sun's rays, magnifying its impact on our skin. The first aid kit is always a good idea. Some people throw bottles into the river, and there's a very real possibility that your dog could cut a pad on something sharp. You should check your dog's pads regularly, if he is getting out of the kayak and spending any time wading.

The poop baggies are to pack out anything my dog leaves behind. It's easier than carrying a shovel. We try to "leave no trace" where ever we go.

CallieThings To Consider

Needless to say, you must have some excellent training on your dog to take him along on a kayaking trip. My experience in kayaking with my dog has been mostly on a lazy river. I have been in a canoe that capsized at a "fast" spot and my dog had to swim upstream against strong current to get back to me. Would your dog swim upstream in a strong current to obey a command to come? I've also had my dog get tired of swimming, and go to shore, where she ran into the woods, trying to meet up with the kayak downstream, which she did, but she gave me a fright. Would your dog come back to you if he got off into the woods? Would your dog stay quietly in the kayak while a family of ducks paddle just a few feet ahead? What about if you paddle past homes with other dogs charging out at you? Can you keep your dog safe and under control at all times? Your dog should stay in your sight at all times, and you need to respect leash laws, the environment, and people's private property. Photo: Jill & Callie

I hope this article helps bring you and your dog closer together, as kayaking buddies. Once again, I am not picturing white water, helmets, and scary adventures. I am talking about kayaking on relatively flat water with your best friend.

Author Lonnie Olson is the founder and Director of DOG SCOUTS of AMERICA www.dogscouts.com. Lonnie is a freelance writer and lecturer. She has presented camps and seminars all over the United States, as well as Japan and Australia on the topics of operant conditioning, water rescue, and flyball training. She is a published author, having written two books on flyball and co-authored NADOI's "Good Puppy Handbook," which won the Maxwell award for best educational training pamphlet in 1996. She and her dogs have dabbled in every type of training imaginable, and she uses operant conditioning to teach it all.

Related article: Kayaking With Kids detailed, informative article by John Enomoto


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