How to Go Kayaking with Your Dog
In my ever-lasting quest to find more outdoor activities, especially those to do with my dog, I’ve discovered, or re-discovered, kayaking. The best way to go is kayaking with my dog!
I’ve previously kayaked a few times - with the Girl Scouts, on vacation, using a rental boat in Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. I recently did a kayaking camping trip with REI and fell back in love. Nature gliding along past me on the banks. It was so quiet and peaceful!
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After the second trip with REI in the spring, I decided I wanted a kayak of my own so I could go whenever I wanted. I did a lot of research on which kayak to buy, and I knew I would want the option of bringing my 60-lb pointer mix, Lola, with me. Here are the things I’ve learned about how to kayak with a dog. Hopefully my experience can help you enjoy this activity together, too!
How do I know if I can go kayaking with my dog?
Not all dogs are suited to kayaking. Dogs with a fear of water, that are overactive or easily excited, and dogs that don’t know or follow basic commands are not good candidates for kayaking.
If your dog has a fear of the water, it’s best to work on getting him over that first. Take him to a local dog swimming spot, let him wade in the water where he’s comfortable. Don’t force it. Let him take his time. My ex-husband threw Lola into the water before she was ready and she’s been terrified ever since. Recently, she’s gotten comfortable wading in shallow water, but it’s taken us years!
Even if your dog loves the water, protect him with a lifejacket. Lola wears hers every time we go out. The one I got for her isn’t available anymore, but REI has one option here. Make sure whichever you choose has a handle on the top. This makes it easier to get your dog into the kayak, or to pull them out of the water if they fall in. I also like the leash clip under the handle. Dog lifejackets aren’t regulated like people lifejackets, so make sure the one you choose is high-quality and durable. You don’t want to regret cheaping out on lifejacket after an accident!
How do I get my dog used to kayaking?
Once I got my kayak, I took Lola into the garage and let her inspect it. She sniffed it for a few minutes and then lost interest. I put a few treats in the front, in the area she’d be sitting in, and she leaned in and ate those. I was hoping she would climb in on her own, but she never quite got interested enough. Instead, I picked her up and placed her inside the kayak.
Once she was there, I gave her more treats and gave her the command to lie down. It took a few times of me asking - the kayak wasn’t entirely stable on the flat garage floor - but eventually she laid down.
A few articles I read recommended repeating this exercise multiple times to get your dog used to the feeling of being in the kayak. You know your dog best - if they are fearful of new situations or easily excitable, it would be a good idea to repeat this multiple times. However, Lola is pretty laid back about most things, so I figured this easy introduction was enough for her.
What kayak do I need?
The kayak you choose will depend on a few factors:
- • The kind of kayaking you plan to do. Will you be on flat water or in the ocean? On rivers or lakes? REI has a fantastic guide on choosing a kayak to fit your activities and needs.
- • The size of your vehicle. If you have a Smart Car, chances are you won’t be able to carry a giant 14-foot kayak. I drive a midsize SUV, so size didn’t really matter for me in that sense, however, weight was a HUGE concern. 99% of the time I will be loading the kayak alone, so I wanted to make sure the weight was was manageable.
- • The size of your dog. Obviously, the smaller your dog, the less room they take up in a kayak. Lola is 60 lbs, so I knew I’d need ample room for her.
Taking these factors into consideration, I went with a 12-foot sit-on-top kayak. I knew I would be paddling calm waters in lakes and rivers, and the size and openness would give me space for Lola in front.
The kayak I chose is the Wilderness Tarpon 120. It’s the same kayak REI uses for their overnight camping trips so I was able to use it several times before purchasing. It’s very stable, has lots of storage space, both wet and dry, and plenty of room between my knees for Lola to lay down.
What else do I need to go kayaking with my dog?
There are tons and tons of accessories and equipment you could buy to go kayaking. My list of items is not super basic, but it’s minimalist enough for me to feel like I’m not carting around all of REI, but I can have a safe and enjoyable time on the water.
When I got my kayak, I went to a local outfitter and had my racks installed. I chose the Yakima JayLow Kayak Carriers. These racks are extremely sturdy, support up to 80lbs, and fold down so my car will still fit in my garage. I also got a load assist system to make it easier to get the kayak on top of my car by myself.
Guys, this load assist system is a lifesaver.
You put one end of the kayak onto the crossbar, then lift the other end off the ground and slide the whole kayak onto the cradles above the car. It makes loading a kayak by yourself actually manageable!
I also bring a step stool to help reach the roof. This goes in the backseat along with all the things I need:
- • Step stool (I think mine is the inexpensive bathroom one from Ikea)
- • Paddle (I love this one from REI - it’s lightweight and you can adjust the angle that the paddles hit the water.)
- • Load assist system (for getting the kayak back ON the car after we’re done)
- • Dry bag for bringing snacks, dog treats, poop bags (for Lola, obviously), spare phone battery, sunscreen, and Aquaphor. I love this one from Amazon because it is the perfect size for a few-hour trip, has a strap to make it easy to carry like a backpack, has a tiny front pocket for my car key, and comes with a free waterproof iPhone case.
- • Dog lifejacket and leash
- • Extra towels
- • My lifejacket (I’m plus size so I ordered a really nice plus size lifejacket from Amazon and I love it! No riding up and super comfortable. And pockets!)
- • Cycling gloves for paddling (I already had these from when I had a road bike for a hot minute. They have padding in the right places for paddling. You can also buy kayaking-specific gloves, or you don’t have to use any at all if you aren’t a wuss like me)
- • Several bottles of water (I love my Yeti knock-off from Wal-Mart)
- • Straps to tie the kayak down. My Yakima carriers came with these ones.
These are my basics that I take on every, single trip. If the trip is longer, I’ll bring more snacks (high protein since I’m expending a lot of calories). I haven’t done any trips longer than a day yet, but I hope to go kayak camping someday.
How do I actually go kayaking with my dog?
Since I live in Austin and it is quite hot in the summer, I try to get out on the water early so I’m finished before the heat of the day. I’ll either load the kayak the night before or first thing in the morning. The tailgate of my SUV doesn’t open all the way once the kayak is loaded. Lola usually rides in the back, so this can be an issue. I have two options - start the car, turn on the AC, and load Lola before the kayak, or load the kayak, and then load Lola without being able to open the tailgate all the way. Normally, I’ll opt for Lola first, just to make it a little easier. You should play around with the order of things to see what works for you.
So Lola, then the kayak on the roof.
Once I get to the put-in spot, I reverse the order. If parking is far away from put-in, I’ll take down the kayak and put everything else in the boat. Then I drive to the parking and walk back with Lola so she’s not hanging out at the boat by herself.
Once the boat is ready to go, I put it far enough into the water so it’s mostly floating. I walk Lola into the shallow water and lift her right into the boat by her lifejacket. Then we launch! It usually takes her a few minutes to settle down. She’ll stand for a few minutes, and eventually sit, and eventually she lies down and falls asleep to the motion of the boat on the water.
If it’s an especially hot day, I’ll make sure she stays wet and cool by splashing water on her periodically. If we’re out for several hours, I make sure to stop once or twice so she can get out. This gives her a chance to stretch her legs and go potty. Don’t forget your poop bag! Most dogs will drink directly from the body of water you’re in, but if yours is picky, don’t forget water and a bowl.
My routine for getting ready and getting on the water may not be your routine. I recommend trying different things and seeing what works for you.
Ready to go?
Kayaking with your dog is a great outdoor activity. My dog in particular is dog-aggressive, and kayaking allows us to get outside without worrying about other dogs coming up to her. She can hang out and relax between my knees and get some exercise and fresh air.
Now it’s your turn! If you don’t want the commitment of buying your own kayak, many rental companies will let you bring your dog (just make sure you check first!).
What other outdoor activities do you enjoy with your dog? Do you think yours would enjoy kayaking?
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