Bringing your dog on a canoe trip is awesome for so many reasons. Like seeing all the seemingly minor details that are infinitely exciting for a dog, like lily pads and frogs. Or having an unconditionally loving ball of fur to snuggle with inside the tent when temperatures dip. Or always having someone to finish the last of the chili or Shepard’s pie.
Some dogs will take naturally to riding in a canoe and living in the backcountry for a few days, but the vast majority of dogs need some help along the way. Read on to find out how to turn your dog into a great paddling buddy.
Make sure your dog has decent recall
Recall is the ability to have your dog return to you on command. It can be a difficult thing to teach, and for many puppies and younger dogs it is an ongoing process. Recall is important in the backcountry because it means that if you encounter wildlife or your dog picks up a scent, they will return to you before the situation escalates. This can help minimize harm to you, your dog and other wildlife.
If your dog doesn’t have great recall, it doesn’t mean they can’t go canoeing. You will just need to be more aware of what they are doing. On portages they will need to be on a leash, and at the campsite it is a good idea to have them on a long rope so they can roam the immediate area but not take off. In the canoe it is a good idea to have your dog sit in front of you with a grab loop on their PFD within reach so if it looks like they are going to jump into the water, you can react quickly.
Start on land
Throwing your dog into a canoe on a big lake for their first outing is likely to cause some canine jitters. Get your dog comfortable with a canoe by leaving it on the lawn for them to check out. Eventually you can place some toys or treats inside so they can practice getting in and out. Sit in the canoe with them. After they are calm exploring the canoe, go for a few short paddles very close to shore. Keep progressing the duration and distance from shore and gauge how your dog is doing in the canoe.
Make your dog comfortable in a canoe
If your dog hasn’t spent any time in a canoe before, it can be an uncomfortable environment for them. The slippery canoe floor and feeling of the boat moving can unnerve them. Place a dog bed, mat, piece of plywood or block in the canoe for them to sit or lie on. This will keep them dry and give their paws some extra grip. Dogs really like being able to look over the gunwales of the canoe to keep an eye on what’s going on, so if you have a small dog, make this platform the appropriate height.
Pack out poop
If you want your dog to not only be happy on canoe trips but also welcome, practice the same good owner etiquette in the backcountry you do at home. When your dog goes to the washroom, be prepared with bags and pack them all out with you.
Bring creature comforts
Pack a few of your dog’s favorite toys to keep them busy and distracted in the canoe. They may be too stimulated by the new environment to use them, but its always better to have these things on hand. A few balls or a cong you can fill with peanut butter is a good idea for the campsite.
Wear a PFD
It’s a great idea to keep your dog safe with a PFD. Even if your dog is a natural swimmer, situations can arise on canoeing trips that can seriously compromise their endurance, like big whitewater or cold temperatures. Just like your own PFD, make sure the one you put your dog in fits properly and that they don’t slip out once in the water. We like PFDs that have handles on the dog’s back in case you need to get a hold of them quickly.
Take walks to burn off energy
Giving your dog ample time to walk will likely make them calmer and more relaxed in the canoe. At the s art of the day go for a long walk, and take advantage of portages to let them run around. If there are not any portages on your paddling trip, stop at beaches or open areas for 15 minutes of exercise.
Stay hydrated and well fed
Bring collapsible bowls and make sure your dog has lots of food and water while you are in the canoe. You can also keep treats or dehydrated sweet potatoes in your pocket to dole out as needed.
Make it a positive experience
Every owner knows that negative experiences stay in dog’s memories. If you love canoeing and want your dog to do it with you, it’s important that the experience is positive. Start small, pay attention to how your dog is doing and prioritize their needs to make canoeing an activity you can keep doing together.