There’s a pretty significant amount of strategy involved in taking your dog in watercraft for the first time.  Because the size, weight, and balance is different with every craft, it takes some experimenting to discover the best location for your dog.

Here are some tips for finding the perfect spot for your dog (and staying right-side-up) in a canoe, raft, kayak, and paddleboard.  With a little practice, and a lot of balance, you and your dog can skim the water like pros.

Balancing In a Canoe

There are two things to remember when you are canoeing with your dog: traction and comfort.  Traction keeps the dog comfortable and helps them stabilize. To help with traction, we recommend using dog boots, or providing boat floor traction with the Flophouse Foam Pad, a wet towel, or a re-purposed sleeping pad.  A bed, towel or sleeping pad not only provides traction, but also helps insulate the dog from a hot or cold canoe floor, and allows them to rest when they tire from stabilizing themselves in the canoe.

Depending on your dog’s activity level and comfort inside the craft, there are two good positioning options for your dog.  If you have a rail-jumper or an active dog that likes to move around, you may opt to put them between your legs in the narrow, front part of the canoe.  This limits their ability to move around.  If you have a more relaxed dog, you may want to put them in the belly of the canoe which makes for easier paddling, balance, and turning.

canoeing with dog
The best location for your dog can depend on their energy level. The belly of the boat is best for calm dogs, but more active dogs may be better suited for the front, narrow part of the canoe.

Balancing In a Raft

In a raft or other inflatable, the location of the dog is highly dependent on the way your gear is situated and where the oarsmen are located.  You will want your dog away from the oars; either forward or aft of the oarsmen.  It is important to provide traction for the dog, and to designate a spot for your dog on the raft via a foam pad, seat pad, or wet towel atop your icebox, ammo can, rocket box, or gear box.  Also, be mindful of loose loops your dog could get tangled in if using a cargo net, and never tie your dog to the raft.

Other considerations when using a raft include using dog boots to prevent dog claw damage to the raft, and providing a nest area for your dog to “hunker down” in.  Stabilizing takes time and energy, and your dog is likely to tire from standing.  Assist their urge to nest somewhere by providing a place that feels stable and secure until they get their “sea legs.”  After a little maneuvering to find their niche, your dog is likely to wedge themselves somewhere comfortable to them amongst the gear.

A dog can tire from stabilizing on a raft. Giving them a spot to relax and "hunker down", helping them to feel secure, rested, and stabilized.

Balancing In a Kayak

Whitewater kayaks have little extra space and buoyancy to accommodate both a human and dog comfortably, so this one takes a little more maneuvering.  In white water, it’s safest for the dog to run ashore.  But at times when the dog gets cliffed-out or needs a break from running, they can sit on the back or front of the paddler, close to the cockpit.  Sitting on the back allows for easier paddling, but sitting in front of the paddler will allow the paddler to case the dog with their arms.

A good position for Class 1 and 2 rapids is the dog on the lap of the paddler (atop the skirt), cased in the paddlers arms, with the dog’s front legs and head forward, laying down.  This lowers the center of gravity and helps with balance.

In flat water, the best place for the dog is in the water!  They can swim alongside while you float!

A low center of gravity will help maintain balance and make for easier paddling on a kayak.

Balancing On a Paddleboard

Again, traction and center of gravity are key.  Let the dog find their comfort spot somewhere along the front of the paddleboard, and adjust your stance and location accordingly.  The lower the dog’s center of gravity, the easier it is to balance the board, so try to get them comfortable with laying down on the board.

Traction is also key to keeping a dog still on a paddleboard.  Soft deck paddleboards may have enough traction already, but hard deck paddleboards are slick and require additional traction gained from a wet towel or dog boots (this will also protect your board from dog nails).

Traction helps prevent your dog from moving around too much. A low center of gravity helps maintain balance.
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2 thoughts

  1. We took our Airedale Terrier bitch on a paddle trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We did some training with a loaded canoe on our lawn and a local lake. She jumped overboard once and didn’t like it. The worst she did was to drag her stubby tail in the water and we were afraid she’s catch a Northern Pike. We took her to the Current River in Arkansas and she was perfectly behaved (except for her run-in with a skunk).

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