Kayaking With Dogs: A Guide to a Fun & Safe Day on the Water

Plan the perfect kayaking adventure with your dog! Our guide covers safety, gear, and training for a great day out on the water.

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 everything goes off without a hitch.

We’ll walk you through everything from determining if your pup is ready to paddle to the gear required before hitting the water.

Kayaking With Your Dog: Step-by-Step Guide

a dog riding in the back of a kayak

Most adventure pups love spending time on the water, so taking them for a paddle is an excellent way to ensure that everyone has 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, you must take the appropriate measures to prepare yourself and your dog for your first outing. To help you out, here are 7 essential steps to get you ready for your first paddling trip with your beloved canine.

1. Determine if Your Dog Is Suitable for Kayaking

Like humans, every dog is unique. While some are eager to head out and explore the world around them, others would 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 responsibility 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 kayaking. Generally, you want to wait until your dog is about 1 year old before getting on the water for the first time. That’s because you want to ensure your dog has all of its vaccines sorted before heading on longer adventures. However, older dogs or any canine that isn’t in good health is probably not a good candidate for kayaking, especially in more remote waters.
  • Breed and Size – Dogs of any size or breed can enjoy outdoor adventures. Still, some particularly large and small dogs might not be suitable for kayaking. Many dogs over 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. Your dog should also be able to reliably listen to commands and stay in one place without darting after every little distraction they might encounter.

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.

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

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 paddling 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 when sitting in a kayak, too, so you 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 taking your dog out on the water for a day.

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.

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 pup with your kayak and all your paddling equipment.

Like humans, many dogs get nervous in new situations, especially when large, unfamiliar objects, like a kayak, are nearby. The last thing you want is for your dog to panic while you’re paddling, so you must 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 a life jacket can take some time to get used to. Therefore, it’s important to approach the idea of wearing one as slowly as possible. Use treats or other positive reinforcement to calm your dog before putting it on for the first time. Keep it on for a few minutes at first, and then slowly work toward having them wear it for a few hours at home. That way, you’ll know they can tolerate it for more extended 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 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 become standing around your kayak on land, the more likely they will be calm on the water.
  • Teach Your Dog Where to Sit – 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, place a towel or blanket where you want them to sit, and then guide your dog to their spot on your kayak. Then, teach your dog to head directly to their place on your kayak with a command (“All aboard!” is an excellent option if you ask us) to make your life easier at the put-in.
  • Show Your Dog Your Paddling Motion – One of the last things you want to do before hitting the water is to ensure your dog is comfortable with your paddling motion. Some dogs might get nervous around a paddle moving through the air next to them. To help them become comfortable with this, bring your dog outside, sit next to your kayak, and mimic your paddling motion while giving your dog positive reinforcement. This can help them realize that your paddle is a friendly object that will not hurt them.

Regardless of which approach you choose 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 kayaking world, and don’t forget to shower them with praise and treats.

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 instructions that you can give on the water.

The commands that you teach to your dog are up to you. But some useful ones 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 get going.
  • Lay Down – Most dogs learn this command in non-kayaking environments, but it’s also helpful to use when paddling. 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 fish or other distractions. So it’s essential that your pup routinely listens to a ‘Leave it’ command whenever you’re on the water.
  • 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 location.

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 they always respond correctly when you tell them what to do.

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

When your dog is comfortable with your paddling gear and kayaking-specific commands, it’s time to learn how to launch and exit your kayak.

There are no rules about how to do this, though there are some tried and tested methods for getting you and your pup into your kayak as safely as possible.

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. Getting out of the kayak first is generally best so your dog doesn’t knock you off balance. But you can test this out to see the best method for you.

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 initially seem scary. The key is to gently come alongside the dock and hold tightly to it 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 they’re 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 kayaking trip. But before doing so, you need to be prepared for the 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 on board.

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 life jacket.

Note that dogs that aren’t wearing life jackets are much more difficult to pull back into a kayak.

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. Next, 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 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

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, you must 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. Climb back into your kayak.
  4. Call your dog over to you or paddle alongside them.
  5. Lean over and pull your dog onto your kayak using the handle on their life jacket.

Remember that this process is much easier if you and your dog wear 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 kayaking alone.

Kayaking Gear You Need for Your Dog

woman kayaking with her dog

Paddling is a gear-intensive sport in its own right. And kayaking with your dog requires even more gear to ensure that your four-legged 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 life jacket is essential as its handles 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 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, keeping your dog on a leash while you’re paddling is dangerous, so only use it when 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 great for any adventure pup.
  • Water and a Bowl – Regardless of whether you’re paddling on fresh or saltwater, bringing clean water and a bowl for your dog while kayaking is important. 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 usually only eats two meals 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 the most comfortable thing to sit on for 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 taking a toy they can entertain themselves with while they lounge on your kayak.
  • Towel – Unless you enjoy having a wet dog in the back of your car after a day of paddling (we certainly don’t), a towel is essential 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 dog-friendly sunscreen before you take them 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, bring a first aid kit that 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!

Frequently Asked Questions

It is generally safe to kayak with a dog, but only if 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 gear so they’re as calm as possible on the water.

There are many places where a dog can sit in a kayak. With a sit-in boat, 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. However, the stern is typically more comfortable for medium to large dogs.

Most small to medium-sized dogs can fit in a single kayak. Due to the limited space in the cockpit, you’ll have a more challenging time getting your pup to fit in a single sit-in kayak. However, a solo sit-on-top kayak’s deck area is usually 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 durable enough to resist a little bit of scratching. However, as a precaution, it’s best to trim your dog’s nails 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 happy to hang out on kayaks, while others are more cautious. The key is taking your time and acclimating your dog to kayaking before you venture out on a significant 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 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.