Alan Bergman – Taking your pooch paddling is the perfect opportunity to reciprocate the love and loyalty bestowed upon you by man’s (and woman’s) best friend!

Look around our lakes, rivers and bays, and chances are good that you’re going to see more than a few canines enjoying the waterways with their favorite humans.  Collies in canoes, Pugs on paddleboards and Keeshonds in kayaks are out there big-time working on their tans.

This truly seems to be a growing phenomenon, which does require some planning and prudence to get it as right as possible.

IN THE BEGINNING

Before hitting the water with Fido, it’s important to do an assessment to confirm whether this is even a smart endeavor to pursue. 

What is the dog’s temperament?  Chances of success are probably far greater if the dog is calm and mellow.  If he scares easily, is nervous, anxious or high-strung, or has trouble remaining in one place, he may be better off as a land-lubber.  

If he is a senior citizen, with no boating experience, it may be best to leave him at home.  Not all old dogs can learn new tricks!

There are several up-front questions, too, that the dog-owner must ask himself.   Is the dog comfortable in the water?  Can he swim?  Does he understand simple commands, like “sit”, “stay” and “down”, all of which can prove important in a paddle-craft?

Before committing to a deep-water paddle with your dog, a few exercises together could be invaluable.  

It may appear silly, but start off by having your canine companion sit with you in the boat or on the paddleboard on dry land. Let him learn that this is a safe, non-threatening environment.  Help create a comfort zone. 

It may be helpful to also practice getting in an out of the boat on dry land.  This should become second-nature to the dog.

Give your dog the opportunity to go into the water and swim around a little.  This is a chance for both of you to gauge just how water-friendly your dog actually is. Some dogs love the water, while others may have a strong aversion to it.

Upon hitting the water in a boat or on a board, the initial paddles should be along the shoreline or in other flat, shallow water. Test the waters, so to speak, with short paddles, just a few minutes or so, and then gradually build towards longer paddles.  

BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE

Doing one’s pre-paddle due-diligence includes determining the best place for your dog to situate himself. 

With paddleboards, it is essentially a no-brainer as the dog should position himself in front of the paddler, between the center and bow of the board. 

When taking your canine in a canoe or kayak, the on-land orientation would be a good time to figure out exactly where your dog should position himself.  Ideally, your dog should remain in one spot.

In the kayak universe, sit-on-tops typically provide the most space for the dog to lounge around and be comfortable.  Decked kayaks may be more confining, although a tandem can provide a dedicated doggy seat in the bow (if you are paddling without a human partner).

Some paddlers will bring along a mat, essentially a small square of carpet or even a non-slip bathtub mat for the dog to place himself on.  This is especially important in aluminum canoes, the floors of which can become extremely hot.

SAFETY FIRST

There’s a good reason that life preservers/personal flotation devices (PFDs) are also made for the canine crowd.  It is as essential a safety tool for dogs as it is for people.  

There are four facets to purchasing a PFD for poochie:  

First and foremost, it must be the correct size and fit for your dog.  The animal’s girth and torso should be measured to help ensure the best fit.  

Try to gauge your dog’s comfort and mobility when trying on different sizes.

It is important to purchase a PFD with strong handles, which are necessary for pulling the dog back on-board should a rescue be required.

The PFD must provide the proper amount of buoyancy, as determined by the dog’s weight.  Canine PFDs provide varying amounts of built-in flotation; obviously the more, the better.

As with human life preservers, visibility is key. Bright colors and/or reflective tape can only help enhance the dog’s visibility in the water.

DOGGIE GEAR

The old cliché of “water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” may be apropos for your pooch, too, in many paddling locales. Definitely have fresh water available for your dog; and, if possible, have a bowl on board for him to imbibe from. 

Have his leash with you, but not attached. Leashing a dog on a paddle craft can be extremely dangerous should the boat capsize and the leash becomes tangled. The leash is exclusively for trips ashore.

Bring plenty of treats.  Having treats on board in a dry bag may be the key to keeping your dog calm and obedient.

Poop bags are absolutely essential gear.  Should doggie have an accident at sea, the poop belongs in a bag to be properly disposed of, and not tossed overboard into the water.  Our waterways are fouled enough without the unnecessary addition of dog excrement.

A towel can serve multiple purposes, from serving as something for him to lie on to drying him off.

PADDLING PALS

The bottom-line to transforming your four-legged companion into the perfect paddling pal is to take it slowly and have plenty of patience.  Remember, your dog is accustomed to terra-firma, and a solid footing.  This is an entirely new environment for him.  

Be certain that taking your dog out in your paddle-craft is actually a good, comfortable fit for you both.  If it is . . . fantastic!