We have always loved different ways of exploring the great outdoors and paddling has always been a wonderful option and complement to all the hiking and camping we do. Over her life, Whiskey has been on paddleboards, canoes of all types, kayaks, and rafts, as well as motorized boats and if you’re wanting to introduce your own pup to watercraft, I hope this gives you a couple tricks and tips we’ve learned!
Choose a Location and Watercraft
Although normally the goal is to stay dry, it’s a good idea to start in an area where the consequences of falling in are not going to be traumatizing or dangerous. If possible find a smaller lake or pool where the water isn’t too cold, on a day without much wind. Beach access is normally easier than docks for getting in and out (especially while holding a dog) and of course it helps if the location is dog-friendly! It also helps if you choose an area with very little distractions (no people, noises, wildlife) so your dog is already calm before adding in a boat.
Paddleboards and rafts are the most stable, and hardest to flip while also being easier to lift a swimming dog back in and load up. If you’re using a canoe or kayak, try to aim for one that’s as large and wide as possible for stability.
Because Whiskey loves her comforts, it helps our princess to always have plenty of soft blankets for her to lie on. Start on land, just asking your pup to sit in the watercraft and lie down with treats on hand and lots of praise. I always bring treats when we try something new, and I don’t skimp on them at all! It also really helps to have a calm tired dog, like after a long walk.
Start with small sessions and with each success, take a break, enjoy the sun, and then try for a longer one if all is going well (and there is no stress). If you feel like it was a bit of a challenge, then call it a day and end with a success.
Keep everyone involved calm, even bored acting when you launch. It can also help if you have a friend hold your pup until you’re settled before bringing the dog with you on the watercraft.
If you’re using a paddleboard, sit or kneel so you’re closest to your dog. If your watercraft is large enough and you can fit two people, see if one person can have 100% of their attention on the dog.
Once your dog is doing well, move away from the shore or dock to discourage them trying to jump back out (Whiskey sometimes jumps onto shore if we are too close, and then will hop back in at her leisure which makes everything wet and tippy for the humans!).
Be aware that if your family is spread between different boats, your dog might try to get to the other people, so keep the boats further apart until everyone is comfortable. Whiskey is much calmer when I’m the only one out, but if dad is on shore, or in another boat, she constantly wants to say hi and will stand up and wander around.
With puppies you will have less control so it’s really essential that they are tired! It’s really great to introduce your puppy before they’ve developed fears so just watch your puppy and go at their comfort level and pace. Treats and commands aren’t usually as effective with puppies, so make sure they can be comfortable and keep everything positive and happy, even if you end up in the water!
Dog Training commands that help in boats
–Sit/Stay prevent premature exits
–Lie down/Stay during distractions and to make life easy
–Leave it for distractions on the water including birds, seals, other boaters
–In/Out (release command) so you can get into the boat first comfortably
For calm water, smaller lakes, and paddles close to shore we don’t normally use a life jacket (I’m a long distance swimmer, and Whiskey has no problem swimming distances). However, we do have a lifejacket for ocean paddles, or trickier situations. We use an Outward Hound Standley Sport Life Jacket with Whiskey but other brands should also work well (we see alot people happy with the Ruffwear version). The main thing to look for is that the jacket has a handle so you can easily lift your dog back into the watercraft (or keep your dog from jumping out), a place to clip on a leash, sufficient padding, and a good fit. If you have a dog that might take off swimming after a duck, keep a long leash on them just in case!