It may sound obvious, but it’s fairly important that your dog actually enjoys being in water, before you attempt this exercise – it’s not going to work if Fluffy won’t get her paws wet! Some dogs enjoy this type of thing, others prefer to mooch around the dog park or curl up on the sofa.
If your pup is new to swimming then a doggie life jacket is a good investment, to keep them afloat, just in case they fall in and / or get tired. They also have useful handles on the top, for lifting them out of the water.
If you choose not to use a doggie life jacket, they need to be wearing a strong, well-fitting harness for this exercise, (one they won’t slip out of) and you need sufficient strength to lift them into the boat, from the water, with one hand. So, the younger you teach them, and therefore the smaller they are, the better. Dick was 5 months old, tall and gangly when I first had the opportunity to introduce him to kayaking. As a result, my guns are huge (!)
Before you begin, it’s important to allow the dog to have had his exercise first, so he’s pleasantly tired, has drained his excess energy, has eliminated (pooped and peed to the likes of you and me) is calm, keen, focused – and ready to learn something new.
This applies to all training with animals. Always cater to the needs of the animal first – then introduce new things. It’s important you are not in a rush, or stressed or determined to ‘make things work’. Dogs don’t know anything about time tables or schedules and won’t follow direction from a frustrated, stressed human. If you represent calm, balanced energy to your dog, he will trust you and follow you anywhere.
Once the dog is comfortable playing in shallow water and has learned how to swim competently, I choose a hot, sunny day when it’s good to be in the water. You’ll need a still or calm stretch of water with little to no waves.
When introducing a new dog to kayaking or Stand Up Paddle boarding, I don’t train or teach putting them in (or on) the boat on dry land. They don’t like it, they don’t understand it, so I find it’s a waste of time.
Launch the kayak, get in the boat and paddle off slowly from the shallow water. The pup will naturally follow you and as the water gets deeper, their natural inclination is to get into the boat with you. You are their safe space and life is always good when they’re next to you.
Make sure you are paddling slowly enough to allow them to be running alongside, or swimming alongside you, looking at you beseechingly, because the water is getting deeper and colder – and they want to get in. Some dogs will hop into the boat themselves with no assistance, others will need help. This is where you come in, lift them up and pop them in, with some praise and reassurance.
Decide where you want them to sit in the boat, then encourage them to stay put. The next trick is teaching them to keep their movements gentle, whilst in the boat. Having a dog charging around the kayak (or two dogs in my case), is never going to end in anything other than a dunking!
You can pop them in the ‘sit’ or ask them to ‘relax’ with a slow chest massage, to calm them down, if they’re excitable or nervous. You don’t need to actually paddle anywhere and the exercise doesn’t need to be long. Just five or ten minutes pootling about, some paddling and some floating is sufficient, then take the boat back in and invite them to hop out.
Don’t panic if they fall in. Just scoop them up and prepare yourself for the inevitable dousing of water when they’re back in the boat and have a shake!
Rosie’s always falling in. She loves to perch right on the edge of the bow, checking the water ahead for glimpses of fish, diving sea birds or dolphins. This position works well in still water, but usually results in a salty bath for Rosie, when a wave comes along. She’s old hat at this kayaking lark though, and calmly swims back to the boat to be lifted in, or heads to the shore if she’s had enough.
Port Lincoln is internationally renowned for its shark cage diving industry, so I don’t really want Rosie or Dick falling in to deep water around here. We stay shallow and close to the beach, so the dogs don’t have far to swim if they do fall in and decide to head for shore.
It’s amazing what you can discover when quietly paddling about in the kayak. The dogs and I have had hundreds of encounters with dolphin pods, seals / sea lions and sting rays over the years. Thankfully, no sharks yet.
Swimming is excellent exercise for dogs and the salty water is good for any cuts or grazes they have picked up.
Feel free to post comments and photos of your own dog / kayaking adventures below!