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How to Safely Make Your Dog Your First Mate

You’re on a boat, but does your dog want to be there, too?

by Andi Marie Cantele
August 10, 2022
A man paddling on the water in a canoe with his dog.
PhotoAleksey Boyko / Shutterstock

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You’ve got your friends you vacation with, your friends you have over for watch parties of your favorite trashy TV show, and you have your camping friends. These are the people who know how to tie the trash bag high enough in the tree, who bring extra sunscreen and bug spray, and who know roasting two marshmallows at once is the way to go. These folks are all great choices to keep in your circle, but your real go-to camping buddy is your dog. But are they up for all the camping adventures, such as, say, canoeing?

If you’re thinking about taking your dog along for an overnight canoeing trip, a little planning will ensure a safe and happy journey. Here are a few tips to help you plan your canoeing adventure.

Will Your Dog Like Canoeing?

First, consider whether your dog will actually enjoy going out on a canoe. The truth is that not all dogs can be chill while in and around the water. Beyond that, will they tolerate the tedium of sitting in a boat, be at ease with the rocking, and sleep soundly in a tent?

Try this: For your maiden voyage, opt for an easy day trip close to home rather than a hardcore back-country expedition. Lazy-water journeys are just right for many dogs. Most dogs will hop into a canoe out of curiosity, especially if treats are involved, but allow yours plenty of time to feel secure. Plan ahead and train your dog to be in a boat.

Five Tips for Taking Your Pup on a Canoe Adventure

1. Give your dog plenty of time to stretch.

Before launching, take a swim, roam the shoreline, or play a game of fetch. “Don’t forget that your pup has been watching you pack up at home, sat patiently for a long car ride, and is in a new and exciting place,” says Kathryn Howell, owner of Dog Paddling Adventures, a Canadian travel outfit offering wilderness excursions for people and their dogs. “To [expect] them to sit still like a good pup for an hour in the boat may be too much to ask.”

2. Follow water safety and bring a lifejacket.

Let’s face it: water is never-never land for many dogs. Many Labs would take “just one more” swim all day if you let them. That’s why a lifejacket is essential, even for bona fide water dogs, as they can be affected by fast river currents, water intoxication, cold water, or a disorienting fall out of a capsized canoe. Doggie personal flotation devices (Ruff Wear makes a great one called a K-9 Float Coat) provide security for puppies, seniors, and timid swimmers; they also keep wet dogs warm after a swim or cool by trapping moisture and blocking the sun.

3. Bring all the right gear.

You’ll need a few things to have a successful trip in addition to a lifejacket. A leash may be helpful if you plan on exploring on land, but never leash your dog to the canoe or any other boat. A few must-haves for your trip include bowls, fresh water, food, a mat, a towel, and a pair of tweezers for tick removal. It’s good practice to pack out what you pack in, which includes dog poop. So, bring plenty of poop bags.

4. Your dog should follow basic obedience cues.

When you are out on the water or camping with your dog, it’s also helpful for them to follow basic cues like stay, leave it, and, of course, have a spot-on recall. At camp, good canine manners are a must. Your pup should be well-behaved around fellow campers and mellow during quiet hours.

5. Give your dog a place to settle in.

Allow your pup time throughout the day to get their energy out. Trips usually entail wet dogs rolling in sand with tongues lolling and paws pointing skyward, but letting dogs be dogs pays off later. “By the time dusk settles in, they are fast asleep,” Howell says of her canine clientele. If you’ve brought a comfy mat for your dog to sleep on, after dinner you’ll be able to kick back by the fire and listen to owls call out and coyotes yelp in the distance while your dog takes a snooze.

Things don’t always go perfectly.

If canoe-camping with your dog isn’t postcard-perfect on the first try, don’t give up. Skip the campout, perhaps, and take a relaxing, low-key afternoon paddle together. Most dogs would rather do anything than be left behind, and with patience and time, you’ll be rewarded with a seasoned traveling companion.

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Andi Marie Cantele

Andi Marie Cantele is the author of Backroad Bicycling in Western Massachusetts and 52 Weekends in Connecticut (both from Countryman Press), among others; she lives in Connecticut.