Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking With Your Dog

kayak with dog

Want to kayak with your dog but don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place.

Paddling with your beloved pooch is one of the best ways to get outside and enjoy yourself with your four-legged friend in tow. But kayaking with a dog requires a bit of pre-planning to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of how to kayak with your dog. We’ll discuss everything from how to determine if your pup is ready to paddle and the best kayaks for dogs to ensure that you’re ready to hit the water.

Kayaking With Your Dog: Step-by-Step Guide

Kayaking with your dog is a superb way to enjoy some quality time outside. Most adventure pups love spending time on the water, so bringing them kayaking is an excellent way to ensure that everyone has some fun in the great outdoors.

That said, going kayaking with your dog for the first time isn’t something that you should just do on a whim. Like humans, dogs can get scared of new situations, so there’s a chance that your furry friend might be a little hesitant to get onto a kayak.

Therefore, anyone looking to paddle with their pup should take the appropriate measures to prepare both themselves and their dog for their first outing. To help you out, here are 7 essential steps to get ready for your first paddling trip with your beloved canine.

1. Determine If Your Dog Is Suitable For Kayaking

First things first, before you take your would-be adventure pup out on the water for their inaugural kayak outing, it’s critical that you determine whether your dog is actually a good candidate for a paddling companion.

Like humans, every dog is unique. While some canines are eager to head out and explore the world around them, others would much rather prefer to curl up on the couch after a long day of barking at squirrels through the window.

As your dog’s trusted human, it’s your job to decide if your pup is ready to hit the water. That said, there are no hard-and-fast rules about when a dog is suitable for kayaking, so it’s up to you to evaluate their appropriateness for the sport.

Some of the many factors you ought to consider when determining whether your dog is ready to go kayaking include:

  • Age and General Health – Although the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks isn’t necessarily true, there is an ideal age range for introducing a pup to the kayaking lifestyle. As a general rule, you want to wait until your dog is about 1 year old before going kayaking for the first time. That’s because you want to ensure that your dog has all of its vaccines sorted before you go on longer adventures. However, older dogs or any canine that isn’t in good health probably isn’t a good candidate for kayaking either, especially in more remote waters.
  • Breed and Size – Dogs of any size or breed can enjoy outdoor adventures, but some particularly large and small dogs might not be suitable for kayaking. Many dogs over about 100 lbs are simply too big to fit in most kayaks (though they might be able to sit in a canoe). When it comes to small dogs, the issue you might have is that it’s challenging to find a life jacket in their size. But if your dog can fit in your kayak and you have a PFD that fits them, they’re probably okay to take with you on the water.
  • Temperament and Personality – As we’ve mentioned, every dog is different, and not every pup has the right temperament and personality for kayaking. If your dog is more of a homebody than an adventurous canine, it might not be a great idea to take them paddling. However, the most important thing is that your dog has a relatively calm personality and an adventurous spirit. Any dog that you take paddling should also be able to reliably listen to commands and stay in one place without darting after every little distraction that they might encounter. Otherwise, they could be a danger to you and themselves on the water.

2. Refine Your Kayaking Skills Before Taking Your Dog

Once you decide that your dog is ready to go paddling, it’s time to refine your own kayaking skills before you take your pup with you out on the water.

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely already familiar with how to kayak and with basic kayaking strokes. But when you take your dog kayaking, it’s important to remember that both you and your faithful canine are relying on your paddling skills to get around on the water safely.

As a result of this extra responsibility, your paddling skill set must be as fine-tuned as possible. 

Even if you’re familiar with the basics of how to paddle a kayak, you’ll also need to be able to do so with extra weight in your boat. Dogs tend to fidget and shift their weight around a lot when sitting in a kayak, too, so you also need to be comfortable with paddling in less than ideal circumstances.

At a minimum, it’s worth going out for a practice session and reviewing some standard paddling strokes before you take your dog out for a day on the water. 

Being able to paddle forward, backward, and side to side at a moment’s notice is an essential skill for kayaking with your dog. You may also want to brush up on your high and low braces so you can prevent yourself from capsizing if your dog shifts around quickly in your kayak.

Ultimately, any effort you put into developing your paddling skills will pay dividends in the long term.

3. Familiarize Your Dog With Your Kayak and Equipment

As you get ready to hit the water with your dog, one of the most important things you can do is help familiarize your dog with your kayak and all of your paddling equipment.

Like humans, many dogs get nervous in new situations, especially when large, unfamiliar objects, like a kayak, are nearby. Since the last thing you want is for your dog to panic while you’re paddling, it’s crucial that you take the time to get your pup comfortable around your gear before you head to the put-in.

Some key things that you can do to help familiarize your dog with your gear before your first paddling trip include:

  • Get Your Dog Used to Wearing a Life Jacket – Adventure pups should always wear a life jacket when paddling, but wearing a life jacket can take some getting used to when you’re a dog. Therefore, it’s important to approach the idea of wearing a life jacket as slowly as possible. Use treats or other positive reinforcement to calm your dog before putting on their life jacket for the first time. Keep it on for just a few minutes at first and then slowly work up toward having them wear it for a few hours at a time at home. That way, you’ll know that they can tolerate it for longer periods during your paddling trips.
  • Introduce Your Dog to Your Kayak – One of the best things you can do to familiarize your dog with your boat is to put your kayak on the ground in a patch of grass in your backyard and let your dog investigate it. Give your canine plenty of time to walk around and sniff your kayak while you give them positive reinforcement so that they know it’s not a threat. The more comfortable they get standing around your kayak on land, the more likely they will be calm on the water.
  • Teach Your Dog Where to Sit on a Kayak – When you paddle, you’ll need to identify a designated place for your dog to sit, either on deck with a sit-on-top boat or in your cockpit with a sit-in kayak. Ideally, your dog should know where they’re meant to sit in your kayak, but this takes some training. First, try placing a towel or blanket where you want them to sit, and then guide your dog over to their spot on your kayak. Then, try to teach your dog to head directly to their spot on your kayak with a command (“All aboard!” is a great option if you ask us) to make your life easier at the put-in.
  • Make Your Dog Comfortable With Your Paddling Motion – One of the last things you want to do before hitting the water is to ensure that your dog is comfortable with your paddling motion. Some dogs might get nervous around a paddle that’s moving through the air next to them. To help them get comfortable with a moving paddle, bring your dog outside, take a seat on the grass next to your kayak, and mimic your paddling motion while giving your dog positive reinforcement. This can help your dog realize that your paddle is a friendly object that will not hurt them.

Regardless of which approach you opt for when training your furry friend, remember that not all dogs take to new situations as quickly as you might like. Patience is key here, as is positive reinforcement. So move slowly as you acclimate your pup to the world of kayaking, and don’t forget to shower them with praise and treats in the process.

4. Practice Helpful Commands

Any dog you want to take kayaking should already be well-trained and able to listen to commands. However, you may need to teach your pup additional kayaking-specific commands that you may need to give on the water.

The specific commands that you teach to your dog are up to you. But some useful commands to add to your repertoire include:

  • All Aboard! – This command helps tell your dog that it’s time to get in their designated spot on your kayak. That way, they’re in your boat and waiting at the put-in whenever you’re ready to hit the water.
  • Lay Down – Most dogs learn this command in non-kayaking environments, but it’s helpful to use when you’re paddling, too. If you encounter choppy water or bad weather, telling your dog to lay down can reduce the chances that their weight will knock you off balance.
  • Leave It – When you’re paddling, the last thing you want is for your dog to jump out of your kayak unexpectedly to chase birds or other distractions. So it’s essential that your pup routinely listens to a ‘Leave it’ command whenever you’re on the water.
  • Get In – If you hope to let your dog go swimming while you’re kayaking, you need to have a command to tell them that it’s time to get back in your kayak. Keep your command to something short and sweet like ‘get in’ so that your communications are as clear as possible in what can often be a distracting environment.
  • Out – Finally, you need a command that tells your dog when it’s safe to get out of your kayak at the end of your day of paddling. Something brief like ‘out’ is usually ideal because you want to ensure that your dog gets the message, even at a busy boat launch.

As is the case with all forms of dog training, it will take time for your pup to learn to reliably listen to these commands. Therefore, take your time with the training process to ensure that your dog will always respond correctly when you tell them what to do while paddling.

5. Learn How to Launch and Exit a Kayak With Your Dog

As soon as your dog is comfortable with your paddling gear and your kayaking-specific commands, it’s time to teach them how to launch and exit a kayak.

Launching your kayak with your dog is part art, part science. There are no rules about how you have to do this, though there are some tried and tested methods for getting you and your pup into your kayak as safely as possible.

If you’re going to kayak regularly with your dog, you should know how to get them on and off your boat both at a beach and at a dock.

For a beach entry, do the following:

  1. Position your kayak so it’s only halfway in the water. 
  2. Tell your dog to get into their spot on your kayak. Note that your dog may need to jump into your kayak from the water, especially if you have a sit-inside kayak. If your dog is too small to jump in, you may need to lift them and place them in the correct position.
  3. Confirm that both you and your dog are seated and comfortable.
  4. Push off from the beach and start paddling slowly while providing your dog with positive reinforcement.
  5. Double-check that your dog is still comfortable before you start paddling far away from the beach.

To exit your kayak from the beach, you’ll do the same steps but in reverse. Slowly approach the shoreline with your kayak and stop when your boat is partly out of the water. It’s generally best to get out of the kayak first so that your dog doesn’t knock you off balance. But you can test this out to see what method is best for your needs.

Alternatively, to enter your boat at a dock, do the following:

  1. Place your kayak alongside the dock.
  2. Get inside your kayak.
  3. Tell your dog to get into their position on the kayak. Most dogs are less nervous about this step than you might think since they’re naturally inclined to get closer to you. However, it can help to have a second person on the dock stabilizing your kayak, just in case your dog is a bit harder on their landing than you expect.
  4. Direct your dog to lay down in their spot.
  5. Gently push off from the dock while giving your pup positive reinforcement.
  6. Double-check that your dog is comfortable before you start paddling further away from the shoreline.

To disembark at a dock, you’ll follow the same steps but in reverse. Unloading a dog from a kayak at a dock can seem scary at first. The key is to gently come alongside the dock and hold tightly to the dock when you tell your dog to get out. That way, the kayak doesn’t jostle around too much as your pup jumps out.

When teaching your dog to get in and out of your kayak, take things slow to ensure that your dog stays comfortable throughout the experience. Don’t go too far from shore during your first few outings until you’re confident that your four-legged friend is ready to take on bigger adventures.

6. Know What to Do if Your Dog Jumps Overboard

At this point, you’re nearly ready to take your dog on their first real kayaking trip. But before you do so, you need to be prepared for the real possibility that your dog might jump overboard.

Dogs generally love being outside, and some also love to swim. Their natural inclination might be to jump out of your kayak so that they can play or chase an animal, but other dogs might jump overboard out of fear.

Either way, if your dog jumps ship without your permission, you need to know how you can get them back onboard.

If your dog jumps out of your kayak, do the following:

  1. Stay calm and take a deep breath.
  2. Tell your dog to get in using a stern but calm voice.
  3. Paddle steadily toward your dog, but avoid pointing your bow directly at them so you don’t scare them and cause them to swim away.
  4. Once you’re next to your dog, lean over and pull them onto your kayak using the handle on their lifejacket.

Note that dogs that aren’t wearing life jackets are much more difficult to pull back into a kayak. That’s because there’s no easy way to grip them and lift them out of the water.

But should your dog end up in the water without a life jacket, you’ll want to position them so that they’re parallel to your kayak. Then wrap your arm around your dog toward the front of their body so that you have a good grip on them. Scoop your dog up and try to lift them high enough out of the water so that they can make their own way back onto your kayak.

If you can, it’s worth practicing this process near shore a few times before you venture further out onto the water. The more comfortable your dog is with getting back into your kayak, the easier it will be to do in a pinch.

7. Have a Plan for What to Do if You Tip Over

Last but not least, it’s imperative that you have a plan for what you’ll do if you capsize while paddling with your dog.

Capsizing isn’t fun when you’re on your own, and it’s even more challenging to recover from when you’re with your pup. That said, it’s critical that you know how to recover from tipping over so that you and your dog can get back out of the water with minimal hassle.

If you capsize while kayaking with your dog:

  1. Grab hold of your kayak and your paddle.
  2. Flip your kayak back upright and do your best to try to empty it of water. If you can, place your paddle back into your kayak.
  3. Find your dog and swim toward them with your kayak and paddle in hand.
  4. Place your dog’s paws on your kayak and help push them back into their place on your boat.
  5. Pull yourself into your kayak. Note that this can be very challenging to do independently, so a bit of practice here is beneficial. If you can’t get yourself back into your boat, keep your dog on your kayak and pull it as you swim back to shore.

Remember that this process is much easier if you and your dog are wearing life jackets. It’s also much easier to pull off if you have a friend with you on the water. Therefore, whenever possible, try to practice this process near shore with a friend nearby before you set off on a long solo kayaking outing.

Kayaking Gear You’ll Need for Your Dog

woman kayaking with her dog

Paddling is a gear-intensive sport in its own right. Kayaking with your dog requires even more gear to ensure that your four-legged padding companion is safe and comfortable on the water.

In addition to all of the equipment you’d usually bring on the water, consider packing the following items when you have your furry friend in tow:

  • Dog Life Jacket – As is the case with us humans, dogs shouldn’t head out onto the water without a life jacket. Even if your pup is a skilled swimmer, a doggy life jacket is essential as the handles on them make it easier for you to help your dog back into your kayak should they go for a swim.
  • Leash and Harness – A leash and a harness is a must for any kayaking trip with your dog as you’ll want to have an easy way to keep your pup near you whenever you’re on land, such as at the put-in. That said, it’s dangerous to keep your dog on a leash while you’re paddling, so only use it when you’re walking around before or after your outing.
  • Dog Treats – Every dog loves to nibble on treats, so bringing a collection of your dog’s favorite snacks is a great idea when you’re on the water. Treats help train your dog and reinforce good behaviors, so they’re a great thing to have for any adventure pup.
  • Water and a Bowl – Regardless of whether you’re paddling on fresh or saltwater, it’s important to bring clean water and a bowl for your dog while kayaking. The freshwater in lakes can contain harmful pathogens that can make your dog sick, so it’s best to bring clean water for them whenever you head outside.
  • Food If You’re Out for the Day – If you’re planning on paddling for more than a few hours, it’s worth packing some kibble for your dog to munch on. Even if your dog normally only eats two meals in a day, the extra activity involved with kayaking might make them more hungry than usual.
  • Something Comfy for Your Dog to Sit On – The hard plastic found in most kayaks isn’t exactly a comfortable thing to sit on for most dogs. So, it’s worth packing a towel, blanket, or even a kayak dog seat for them to cozy up on as you paddle.
  • Dog Toys – One of the best ways to get your dog excited about paddling is to remind them that they’re outside to have fun, too! It’s worth bringing a set of water-friendly dog toys if your pup likes to swim. Or, if you’d rather they didn’t jump in the water, consider bringing a toy that they can entertain themselves with while they lounge on your kayak.
  • Towel – Unless you particularly enjoy having a wet dog in the back of your car after a day of paddling (we certainly don’t), then a towel is an essential piece of gear for any kayak outing. Be sure to bring a dedicated towel for your dog so you can dry them before you head home.
  • Dog Sunscreen – Although most people don’t realize it, dogs can get sunburned. However, human sunscreen isn’t appropriate for canine use, so be sure to invest in some dog-friendly sunscreen before you take your puppy out for a day of paddling in the sunshine.
  • First Aid Kit – A first aid kit is a vital piece of gear for any paddling trip. If you’re going kayaking with your dog, be sure to bring a first aid kit that also includes some supplies for taking care of canine injuries.
  • Poop Bags – Poop bags are a must-have accessory whenever you take your dog on an adventure, and kayaking is no exception. These bags are most useful for cleaning up after your pooch at the put-in and take-out, though dogs have been known to do their business on kayaks, too, from time to time. Moral of the story: Always come prepared!

Best Kayaks for Dogs

No paddling trip with your furry companion is complete without the kayak itself. But not every kayak is the right choice for an adventure with your beloved canine. Some models simply don’t offer enough space for your dog to sit, while others can’t accommodate the weight of both you and your pup.

To help you out, we’ve hand-selected 4 of the best kayaks for dogs for you to consider. Here’s a quick look at some of the top dog-friendly kayaks on the market to check out before your first excursion on the water.

Best Overall: Perception Hi Life 11

Perception Hi Life 11

Our top choice for paddlers with adventurous canines, the Perception Hi Life 11 is a versatile option for humans and dogs alike.

The Hi Life 11 is particularly great for use with dogs because it has plenty of cushioned deck space for your pup to sit down and relax. We also like the rear swim deck on the Hi Life, which makes it easier for your dog to climb back on the kayak should they go for a swim.

Finally, this kayak has an elevated seat that’s super comfy for long days of paddling. This elevated seat also lets you easily see over your dog for better sightlines if your pup prefers to ride on the bow of your boat.

Features:

  • Cushioned deck provides comfort for your dog
  • Rear swim deck makes it easier for your pup to climb back in
  • Elevated seat for improved sightlines on the water

Best Sit-Inside With Room for a Dog: Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

If a sit-inside kayak is what you seek for paddling with your dog, the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 is an excellent choice.

While sit-in boats typically aren’t a great option for kayaking with dogs, the Pungo 120 is a solid choice. That’s because it has one of the largest cockpits on the market, so it has plenty of space for your canine to relax on the water.

The Pungo 120 is also a fan favorite because its wide width makes it super stable on the water. This boat also has a 325 lb weight capacity, so it’s suitable for most human-canine paddling duos and all their gear.

Features:

  • Large cockpit can fit both a dog and a human
  • Very stable construction
  • High weight capacity for a solo kayak

Best Tandem: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two is an uber-popular tandem kayak that can comfortably accommodate two humans and their canine companions.

With the Malibu Two, you get a relatively lightweight, yet functional and stable tandem kayak with a large, open deck. This kayak is perfect for dogs because it has a large central area that provides a comfy seating option.

Additionally, the Malibu Two comes with a set of screw-in drain plugs that help to quickly remove water from your kayak as you paddle. This feature is beneficial if you have a dog that likes to jump in and out of the water during your trips, as it helps keep your deck space as dry as possible.

Features:

  • Large open deck space with plenty of room for a dog
  • Very stable, yet lightweight construction
  • Screw-in drain plugs help keep the deck as dry as possible

Best Inflatable: Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack

Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack

One of the most impressive inflatable kayaks on the market, the Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack is a super-durable and reliable option for keen paddlers and their furry friends.

We particularly like the Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack because it can accommodate up to 635 lbs of people, pups, and gear. It’s designed for use by up to 3 paddlers, so there’s plenty of space in the kayak for multiple dogs, too.

Better yet, Sea Eagle built this boat with its rugged 1000D reinforced PVC fabric, so it’s capable of withstanding the excitement of some over-eager dogs while you paddle. Plus, unlike other inflatable kayaks, this model has a low-profile design, so it’s easier for you to pull your dog back in the boat should they go for a swim.

Features:

  • Can accommodate up to 625 lbs of people and pups
  • Low-profile design makes it easier for you to pull your dog back in
  • Super durable 1000D reinforced PVC fabric

What to Look for in a Kayak for Your Dog

Kayaking with your dog can be a fantastic experience, but it’s vital that you have the right boat for both you and your fellow canine. 

Although there are hundreds of excellent kayaks out there, not all of them are dog-friendly. Therefore, as you shop for a kayak, you need to judge whether or not any given model is the right fit for you and your furry paddling partner. 

There are three key things that you should look for in a kayak for your dog. These include:

  • Stability – Stability is a key component of any kayak, but it’s particularly important if you’re paddling with your pup. Dogs are known to move around quite a bit while they sit in a kayak, but the last thing you want is for your dog to shift its weight while you paddle and cause you to capsize. As a result, getting a boat that’s stable enough to handle a little jostling around while underway can be very helpful. Of course, it can be difficult to judge a boat’s stability before you paddle it for the first time. But as a general rule, the wider a kayak, the more stable it is on calm water.
  • Dog-Friendly Seating Area – A kayak will be of no use to you and your pup if it doesn’t have a dog-friendly seating area. Unfortunately, most kayaks aren’t specifically designed with dogs in mind, so a manufacturer might not explicitly label a boat as dog-friendly. But you can normally identify potential seating areas on a kayak for your dog just by looking at the boat. Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be more conducive to paddling with your dog since they generally have lots of space on their deck for your pup to lounge. If you’re opting for a sit-in kayak, consider a model with a large cockpit area that can comfortably fit both of you.
  • Weight Capacity – The last thing you need to consider is the weight capacity of your kayak. A kayak’s weight capacity is the maximum weight it can accommodate while underway. You generally want to avoid loading a boat beyond 80% of its stated capacity for maximum performance on the water. Dogs can be surprisingly heavy, so be sure to factor in their weight and your own when determining whether a kayak’s weight capacity is sufficient for your needs.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that tandem kayaks tend to be more practical for paddling with a dog. 

Tandem boats generally offer more space for your dog to relax, and they have higher weight capacities than their solo counterparts. Most recreational tandem kayaks are also very stable, which is a plus if your dog is new to paddling.

The other benefit of using a tandem kayak is that it means that you’ll have a human companion on the water. A second set of hands is invaluable should you end up capsizing while paddling with your dog. Having a friend with you can also make loading and unloading your dog easier.

If you don’t have someone that can reliably be your paddling partner, a tandem might not be the best choice. But if you usually plan to kayak with a buddy, it can be a good idea to opt for one tandem kayak rather than two solo kayaks when you also have a dog in the picture.

Frequently Asked Questions

It is generally safe to kayak with a dog, but only if both you and your pup are ready for your adventure. Anyone looking to paddle with their pooch should be confident in their own skills before heading out. Additionally, you should take the time to familiarize your dog with your kayak and your gear, so they’re as calm as possible on the water.

There are many places where a dog can sit in your kayak, as it all depends on your boat’s design and the size of your dog. With a sit-in kayak, your dog has little choice but to join you in the cockpit. In a sit-on-top kayak, you can generally put your pup at the front or the back of the boat, though the stern is typically more comfortable for medium to large dogs.

Most small to medium dogs can fit in a single kayak. You’ll have a harder time getting your pup to fit in a single sit-in kayak due to the limited space available in the cockpit. However, the deck area of a solo sit-on-top kayak is normally more than sufficient to accommodate an adult dog.

Dogs can go in inflatable kayaks, however, there’s always a risk that your dog’s claws will puncture the boat. The good news is that most inflatable kayaks are more than durable enough to resist a little bit of scratching from a dog’s claws. As a precaution, it’s best to trim your dog’s claws before you paddle to reduce the likelihood of an accident on the water.

The best way to make your dog comfortable on a kayak is to introduce them slowly to the idea of spending time on a small boat. Some dogs are more than happy to hang out on kayaks, while others are a bit more cautious. The key thing is that you take your time and acclimatize your dog to kayaking before you venture out on a major paddling trip with your puppy in tow.

You can kayak with two dogs, so long as you have enough space on your boat. If your dogs are relatively small, you may not have an issue with loading both onto the same kayak. But if you have larger dogs, you should double-check that your combined weight isn’t going to exceed the maximum weight capacity of your kayak.