It all began at Lake Moomaw, one of my favorite places to adventure in Virginia. I left Aspen, my 5-year-old golden retriever, on the beach with a few girlfriends while I set off in my Bay Oru Kayak to take sunset pictures. Not a minute later, I turned around to witness her struggling to reach my kayak.
Mama, you forgot meeee! Or at least that’s what I imagined she was saying in a Sponge Bob-like voice. (But really, don’t you wish your dog could talk to you?!)
After returning to shore, I managed to stuff her inside the cockpit and set off. She was in heaven, and so was I. I gained my first co-captain.
Fast-forward a few years and another dog, Koa, later, and the question I most often asked is “how do you get the dog to stay in your kayak?” I’ve put together a quick “how-to” guide for starting to kayak with your dog:
Know Your Dog
The most obvious but most important advice is to know your dog and whether he/she will be happy in a kayak with you. Will he/she like being confined to a small space for a period of time? Koa loves to be my shadow but he overheats easily whereas Aspen doesn’t overheat and never wants to leave my sight. Guess which one likes to stand up and move around while the other lays down calmly and enjoys the scenery? Koa is the former, Aspen the latter.
Practice on Dry Land
Practice getting in and staying in a kayak with your dog before hitting the water. I practiced in my parents’ basement with Koa a dozen times before attempting a lake. This allowed him to get comfortable in the kayak and “understand” what to do. If your pup won’t get in the kayak initially, try luring him/her into it with a treat.
Play Time Before Launching
When you’re ready to take your practice outside, allow your pup to play a bit or walk around before placing them in the kayak. I find this helpful to not only get their “zoomies” out but also to encourage them to rest once in the kayak.
Practice in Water and Stay Close to Shore
After feeling confident your dog understands getting in and lying down in the kayak, start practicing in the water but stay close to shore. Don’t forget a few things:
Strong Sit and Stay Commands
Your dog responding to verbal (and/or non-verbal) cues to sit, lay down, and stay will be helpful for not capsizing! Koa loves to jump up from the down position and rock the boat (causing me to have a heart attack). If your dog suddenly stands up in the kayak, you’ll want him/her to listen to a “sit” or “down” command. This is the only reason Koa hasn’t tipped the kayak yet; after a bit of panicked pleas, he goes back down (and I quickly return to shore!).
Bring Treats, Lots of Them
Maybe your dog enjoys people and animal watching as much as you do but more than likely, he/she will get bored at some point. Keep them entertained by bringing rawhides, bones, or any toy that keeps them engaged. These are also helpful for getting your dog to look at your camera during a picture.
Practice Makes Perfect
Don’t expect your dog to make co-captain status on day one. It takes time and repetition for your pup to understand proper behavior in the kayak just like any trick takes time to learn. Be patient, understand your dog’s limits and respect them, and most of all, have fun!
I hope your fur baby has been promoted to co-captain once you’ve tried these tips which helped me. Nowadays, you can see me kayaking with either of my pups in our Beach Oru Kayak, which provides plenty of room for either dog (Koa being bigger at 90 pounds) and myself to explore the outdoors. It also provides ample storage space behind the seat to make treats, toys, and camera equipment easily accessible. Fur baby or not, I hope you have fun and adventure wherever your Oru takes you!