Kayaking with your dog is a great way to bond if you take your time and make sure your pup is having fun.

By Stacey Freed
April 26, 2021
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As the weather gets warm and you're looking for fun ways to stay active outdoors with your pet, your daily walks and occasional hikes can get a little boring. For pups that love to hang out at the lake or the beach, water sports like surfing, SUP boarding, or kayaking can be great ways to get exercise and try something new together.

You'll need a few items and a bit of training to bring your dog kayaking—but it will all be worth it when you're paddling out with your pooch by your side!

Gear You'll Need to Get Started

  • Kayak big enough to fit you and your dog
  • Dog life jacket or float coat with a handle
  • Leash that can float
  • Fresh water, bowl
  • Sunscreen rated for dog use

How to Train Your Dog to Get On a Kayak

You want to get your dog on your kayak gradually, says Tiff Shao, CPDT from Missoula, Mont., who often kayaks with her 4-year-old Dutch shepherd, Brae. "Because you'll be on the water and focused on paddling as well as your own safety, there's no room for error. It's critical to make sure your dog is completely comfortable with each step," Shao says.

  • Acclimate: Get your dog used to the kayak, maybe in your yard or garage.
  • Offer positive reinforcement: “Use treats and reward your dog for using their choice to get on this unstable object,” Shao says.
  • Have a go-to spot: “This is basic obedience,” Shao says. Teach a cue for directing your dog to settle down in a particular area, whether you’re on land or in water. Shao trained Brae to stay onboard until she gives a cue to disembark.

Once the two of you are comfortable, bring the kayak to "a predictable and safe place—a pond or still water—before getting out on open water," Shao says.

Keep in mind that even if your dog had a blast playing in the kayak on land, they may not apply their behaviors near the water. "Pause at the shoreline," Shao says and "put the boat partially in the water so you can maintain control. See if they want to play, eat treats, come onboard. Then repeat the process."

If you're going for a dock entry, make sure to pull right up close to the dock with no gap. Unless your dog hates getting wet or is fearful of water altogether—in which case you might want to find another bonding activity—Shao says, eventually, they will hop in the kayak full of excitement for their upcoming adventure.

To keep your dog on the kayak, reinforce their good stay behavior with treats and other positive reinforcement, says Beth Ogasian, CPDT and owner and trainer of Mountain Mutt Dog Training in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. "But, if you have a super active dog, you can exercise them before you get into the kayak so they're less likely to jump out and take themselves for a swim. Generally though they mostly just want to stay with you and hang out, especially if they are intermittently rewarded."

Tan pug happily stands on edge of yellow kayak while wearing orange lifejacket
Credit: Jomkwan / Getty

5 Tips to Safely Kayak With Your Dog

1. Follow your dog's lead.

With a go-to place cue, set your buddy up in a cozy and safe spot. Choosing where that is on the kayak depends on the type of kayak, your (and your dog's) personal preference, and safety; you need to remain balanced. Some dogs will sit or lie down in the well between your feet. In a two-person kayak they may take up the second seat. Or, if there's another passenger, your dog may sit or lie down in the middle on top of the kayak.

2. Learn to sit pretty.

With a go-to place cue, set your buddy up in a cozy and safe spot. Choosing where that is on the kayak depends on the type of kayak, your (and your dog's) personal preference, and safety; you need to remain balanced. Some dogs will sit or lie down in the well between your feet. In a two-person kayak they may take up the second seat. Or, if there's another passenger, your dog may sit or lie down in the middle on top of the kayak.

3. Take lots of breaks.

It can be hot on the water. Bring fresh water, especially if you're in salt water; sunscreen if your dog has lighter skin (pink noses are especially vulnerable); and make frequent stops for exercise or for potty breaks.

4. Practice, practice, practice.

Have a safety plan. If you roll over, will you pull the kayak to shore with your dog swimming alongside? Drag the boat to shallow water and flip it there? How will you get your dog back into the kayak from the water? Make these decisions beforehand and practice what to do. And, remember that even if your dog is a great swimmer, he or she should always wear some type of life jacket with a handle so you can pull them back on board if necessary.

5. Pick the right kayak.

You and your dog need to be comfortable for the best experience. While any dog of any size can be happy kayaking, there are different style boats that will make the days spent on the water more enjoyable for all. AmericanKayak.org lays out the pros and cons of different types of kayaks in general. When it comes to bringing your dog on the kayak, you want something that's large and broad enough for comfort and balance and durable enough to withstand your dog's nails.