So, you’ve decided to take to the stormy waters with your canine companion? Fantastic! As long as your pup is a fan of swimming and not afraid to get wet, you’ll both have a brilliant time. However - you need to be as safe as possible.
Kayaking can be dangerous as it is, never mind adding a boatmate who doesn’t understand the phrase “Stop moving or we’re going to capsize!” - when you’re inviting a furry friend into your vessel, it’s imperative to do so appropriately.
Don’t freak out, it’s not as stressful as it sounds. Just read our quick guide to kayaking with your pooch below, and make sure you’re equipped with absolutely everything you need before you embark.
First Things First - Know Your Dog
So long as your pup is properly obedience trained, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have tonnes of fun. However, if your dog is unwilling to follow basic commands or feel at ease around the water, kayaking is not a good idea.
Likewise, if they won’t wear a dog-suitable lifejacket or an appropriate flotation device - or if they chew at it, even when you successfully manage to put it on - then you’ll have a lot of trouble safely kayaking and ensuring they don’t come to harm.
You need to be very confident that your pooch will not only follow instructions like “sit” and “stay” but also won’t be easily distracted by potentially exciting objects in the water, and potentially jump overboard to chase them.
Introduce Your Pooch And Kayak
Throwing your dog in at the deep end by attempting to get them out on the water without even letting them explore the kayak on dry land first is asking for trouble. Allowing them to “meet” your kayak in a neutral area at home is the best idea.
Of course, if you’re still rocking a kayak on the small side, you might need to upgrade to a tandem model. It depends on the size of your dog! If there’s enough room for you to both fit comfortably and successfully paddle, you’ll be fine.
Once you’re ready, take it out in your yard or in an open space away from distractions like other humans and people. Allow your pup to smell the kayak, learn it’s safe and clamber aboard - it will only take a few minutes for them to acclimatize.
You should also get them used to certain commands that will be helpful when you’re climbing aboard and disembarking, as well as whilst you’re out in the water. Teaching them to sit and stay in a certain spot is easiest as they’ll be familiar with these.
Once you’ve got that covered, practice letting them know it’s safe to come in and out of the kayak - a simple work like “okay” or “go” is best, as short and snappy phrases are the clearest way to communicate.
Guaranteeing they understand the phrase “leave it” or “drop” is also imperative, just in case they get ahold of something that piques their interest, or they spot something in the water that they fancy chasing.
Practise Makes Perfect
Again, you can’t just show up to your favorite kayaking spot and expect your dog to roll with it. Once they’ve seen a kayak, will wear a life vest and have the basics down, you’re ready to go on a trial run.
Bear in mind that even if you have a very confident dog, they might not be inclined to go kayaking when you first attempt it. It could take a few tries, or maybe they just aren’t a fan - it will be pretty obvious if they’re interested or not.
You should try practicing clambering onto and leaving the kayak from the edge of a source of water, like down at the beach or in a river that isn’t especially deep. Remember: as a responsible human, you should always be in the kayak first.
It's also incredibly important that you wait for your dog to be completely comfortable before you head out into open water - you’ll be able to reassure them, and help adjust to the feeling of floating, which can be scary at first.
You might find that the first few times, your dog jumps in the boat and jumps right back out again; when you’re afloat, it feels scary, and dogs don’t know that they’re safe in a small body of water. Do your best to reassure them however you can!
Be Prepared For Any Scenario
Sometimes, the best behaved, most impeccably trained good boys can jump overboard if they get freaked out. Unlike a human, you can’t directly communicate to your dog that they’re safe, and if they get distracted, it’s already too late.
Be ready to rescue your pup in the event that they leap out the kayak - you’ll be tempted to panic, but keep your voice level and calm as you tell them to come back to you. Paddle as close as you can get, and use their lifejacket to pull up if needed.
It’s important not to yell at your dog if they jump ship: if you were scared, you’d run away too! Dogs don’t understand the dangers of open water, so once they’re safely back on board again, praise them for returning rather than getting mad.
In the event that you flip over - which, again, happens to the most experienced of kayakers - the important thing is not to panic. Find your dog and bring them close to you, and swim back to your boat - hold on to their life jacket so you don’t separate.
It;s probably easier to get back in the boat yourself first, as your dog will be more likely to follow once you’re settled, but if you’re too worried to wait then try and encourage them to clamber back aboard by putting their paws against the kayak.
Remember - if it’s too tricky to get back into the boat, you should swim to shore! You can encourage your pup to follow you, but it’s always best to hold onto their life preserver and swim them there yourself, just in case.