Kayaking With Your Dog: How To Make It Enjoyable For Everyone


Here are some tips for taking your right-hand pooch along with you kayaking

Every dog owner looks for sports in which you can include your pup. You feel a sense of guilt, “If I am exercising, they should be too”. A day out on the lake kayaking can be improved by bringing your dog along for the ride. You will need to keep a few safety things in mind, and pack a little bit more, but bringing your pup is completely doable.

Put Your Dog In A Kayak First

Before getting too excited about a relaxing day on the water with your pooch consider your dog’s personality. Would they enjoy spending time out on the water in a boat that only has a small space for them? Would they be ok with the natural movements of the water? How strong of a swimmer are they if the boat capsizes? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before planning on your pooch being your kayak buddy.

Dogs that are very active may struggle with sitting still in the kayak. This is especially true if you paddle past a stick or another dog. You do not want to bring an overactive dog along that may increase your risk of capsizing, especially when paddling in cold waters. If you still want to bring them with you, try getting rid of some of their energy first. Take some time to throw a ball or play tug-of-war with them before embarking in the kayak.

Alternatively, dogs that are inherently nervous may not enjoy the experience. Some dogs are timid when it comes to motion. If your dog gets nervous in the car they will likely not enjoy the motion of your paddle. Some dogs hate water. If this is your dog they will likely not enjoy being stuck in the middle of a lake for the day.

Lots of dogs will enjoy a day spent with you outside on the water but that doesn’t mean all dogs will. Ultimately, you know your pup better than anyone so you are the best judge on whether or not he will enjoy being your kayak partner.

Get Your Dog Used To Your Kayak

The first time your dog sees and interacts with your kayak should not be the day you decide to go kayaking with him. It is important to realize that kayaks are often unknown for your pup. They’re big, they’re scary and the paddles may intimidate them.

Putting your kayak on the ground and letting your dog explore your kayak and get used to the look and feel of it will make him much more comfortable. If your dog is food motivated, try putting treats down on the seats of the kayak so that he positively associates it. Letting your dog take his time getting acquainted with the kayak will prove incredibly beneficial on your first paddle.

After some time has passed and your dog no longer seems nervous around this big piece of plastic, go ahead and sit inside. Do not force your dog in yet, let him take his time to figure this out. When they see you sitting in the boat they will feel more comfortable.

When it comes time to try to get your pup inside try bringing some treats, your dogs bed and maybe some toys. If possible try encouraging your dog to hop in on his own instead of putting him in.

Before Getting In The Water

Just because your dog got in the kayak and was happy to sit in it when you were in your backyard does not mean he will eagerly jump in and sit still when on the open water. Be patient with this process as training your dog for this will take time. Trust us, in the end it will be worth it.

Training your dog while on dry land will be infinitely easier than in the water. When your dog hops into his spot in the kayak (in front of you) teach him to sit down immediately. The motion of jumping in will be much different when on the open water but having him sit right away is important.

Keep in mind that this training period will vary based on your dog. A 10 lbs Chihuahua can be scooped up and put in place whereas a big golden retriever will need to learn this motion himself. Not only the loading and unloading but a moving 70lbs dog will rock your boat much more than the movement of a smaller dog.

First Time On The Water

Your first time on the water, make sure you practice loading and unloading your pup in still, shallow waters. Encouraging your pup to hop in might mean him getting in first the first couple of times but ultimately, in the end, it will be easier if you hop in first. This is because your pup might panic with the swaying when you get in and jump out. Try it both ways and see what works best for you and your pup.

Take your time when in the shallow and calm waters. Understand that your dog will likely get frightened by the initial motion of pushing away from the dock or the shore. This movement may entice him to jump from the boat. Here is where you will test the limits of your training as you will have to repeatedly remind your dog to sit and stay. Be patient, repeating this is necessary and inevitable.

Hopefully, prior to this time, you have gotten your pup well aware of your paddles so that he/she is not worried about them. Take your time gliding through the water before picking your oars up. Let your dog calm down enough to stay seated without command. Then, get ready to keep encouraging as you lift your paddle and take your first stroke. Go slow as your first stroke will likely scare your dog so give him time to calm before taking your next.

Paddle slowly through the water allowing your pup to get used to the motion. Use this time to teach your dog the importance of staying still while in the boat. This situation will likely test your dog but don’t give up right away assuming your pup won’t enjoy the experience. It is a lot to learn so don’t expect him to get the hang of it the first day.

Your first couple times out on the water you should not plan to stay out for long. Loading and unloading should be practiced thoroughly before paddling anywhere. Once you do decide to paddle, don’t stray far from the shore and keep the paddle time to about 5 minutes at a time. The idea here is to get your dog acquainted with the water not to torment him and make him too scared to ever go back.

First Trip To Open Water

So your dog is acquainted with the kayak and has been on a couple of short trip on the lake. Now, it is time to test your luck heading out for a longer paddle. Keep in mind how your dog reacted to your first exposure and use this time to see what you can do to help them. Would bringing more treats or his bed comfort him? Would spending more time getting used to oars be beneficial?

Trust that you know your dog better than anyone. It is important that before you head out to open water you consider the things you may encounter on the water. Birds, people, other dogs, fish, sticks floating through the water, are all likely to be seen. Knowing which of these may entice your dog more than others is key – then being on the lookout for these things.

You may not typically notice that stick floating by your boat, but your labrador likely will. This may entice him to jump out to get it. Seeing it first, you can monitor your dog closer and encourage him to stay, or even maneuver your kayak so he doesn’t see it.

This is a good tool to practice that can easily be done at a park or on the trail. If your dog often gets excited by other dogs, try taking him to a dog park more regularly to familiarize him so that it becomes less of a problem on the lake.

Best Kayaks for Dogs

This largely depends on the size of your dog. In most cases, a tandem kayak or a sit on top kayak is the best option as it will give your dog a large opening in which to be in. Take your pup’s personality into account when choosing the ideal one for you. In some cases getting a canoe may work best for you and your pup.  A more active dog may require a seat that is close to you so you can calm him and hold onto his collar. While a calm and lazy dog may prefer a wide bow in which he can lay on.

Regardless of the type of kayak you choose, it is important to realize that bringing your dog along requires you to pack some extra gear. This is in addition to your personal kayak gear so make sure your kayak offers enough room and storage space.

Some necessities to pack for your pup include the following:

A life jacket

Just like you have a PFD, your dog needs to be protected too. Keep in mind that putting your dog in a life vest is an adjustment in itself and will, therefore, require additional training. It is unfair to your dog to assume that you will not fall in and not pack him one. This important feature should always be worn regardless of the dog’s strength in swimming.

A leash

While your dog doesn’t need to be wearing one the whole time, be sure to pack one. This will prove beneficial if you decide to get off somewhere for lunch.

A harness

Rather than, or in addition to, a collar your dog should wear a harness. This is a safety feature that is quite important and can make your experience a lot more enjoyable. In the event that your boat capsizes you will be able to help your dog up if you have a harness to pull them up by.

A water bowl

While they can drink from the lake or river you are in, your dog will likely not be able to reach while sitting in the kayak. It is important, especially on a hot day, that your dog has constant access to water. Having a bowl to scoop the water up for him to drink from every so often is important and can add to their enjoyment.

A dog that is new to kayaking, or one that is a bit more nervous on water, may not drink water while seated in the kayak due to stress. For this reason, make sure you pull over often and encourage them to drink.


Even if you don’t plan to stay the night it never hurts to bring along a zip lock bag of dog food. Plans can change quickly so having some food on hand just in case you get home later than expected is always wise.

Water toys and/or bed

This is a completely new experience for your dog. Making it a fun one will help him to calm down and enjoy the sport. Bringing some water toys for him to play with and even a bed to make him comfortable will make him realize this is where he belongs.

This is also great for taking breaks. If you plan to pull over and take breaks with your pup swimming through the water will tire him out and help him to relax when in the water.

Common Safety Tips

As discussed above, always be sure that your dog is wearing a PFD but also ensure you are wearing a safety life jacket when kayaking with your dog. Even if you do not feel you need one for whatever reason, kayaking with a dog is a different story. In the event your boat capsizes your dog will likely be more inclined to swim to the shore rather than wait for you to flip the boat. This can be a scary experience if you are in any sort of current. As you are now responsible for both your life and your dog’s making sure this stays a fun and safe activity is as easy as wearing a life vest.

While we encouraged packing a leash as part of your day pack, ensure your dog is never wearing a leash or otherwise tied to your kayak. In the event of a capsize, or any emergent situation, your dog is now trapped in a potentially deadly way. Ensure your pup instead practices the stay command.

Before you and your pup head to the water for your first trip out, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. Depending on where you live there may be certain vaccines that are needed, such as heartworm prevention that your dog requires with all the added time near the water.

More Kayak Reviews:


  1. Heartworm Preventative, PetMD
  2. Dog Hydration, Healthy Pets

Do you have any fun stories of taking your dog kayaking with you? We would love to hear your experiences in the comment section below.

My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!