Bringing your dog on a canoe trip can provide an added level of comfort and camaraderie—or it can lead to capsized boats and chaos. For your dog to be an asset and not a liability, it's important to invest time before, after and during their first few trips to ensure you have a dog that's not only comfortable on the water and at the campsite but is excited to go on canoe camping adventures for years to come.
Pre-Trip Preparation and Training
Choose an appropriate route for your ability and your dog’s comfort level. Consider the distances and time you’ll spend paddling as well as the water conditions (big lakes get choppy; rivers can have fast moving water and rapids). The first experience should be as positive and enjoyable as possible, so take it easy.
As with all activities, basic training is crucial before heading out on any adventure. Recall and stay commands are extremely important, especially if you run into wildlife. If used and trained properly, an electronic collar or GPS unit can add an added level of reassurance and control while in the backcountry.
This is the most critical step in training a puppy to be comfortable around boats and camping equipment. Before your trip, place a canoe on the ground and let your dog explore (if you don’t have a boat, ask a friend, visit a local marina or contact a boat club). Don’t be afraid to provide treats for all positive interactions. You want this puppy to fall in love with boats!
If things are going well, you can place your puppy into the canoe and continue the process. If for some reason it isn’t going well, try not to validate or respond to any whimpering. If your puppy isn’t having a good time, calmly and quietly remove them and try again later.
Once your dog is comfortable, you can do the same exercises with a beached canoe or a boat tied to the dock. This allows your dog to get used to the sounds of waves and the gentle bobbing of the canoe in the water. Once your dog is ready, you can begin with short paddles and gradually build the amount of time your dog is spending on the water.
A tent will be the other place your dog spends a lot of their time during your trip. Before you go, set up your tent and open all the doors. Let your dog explore it at their own pace. Let them see how comfortable you are inside the tent, and they will understand that it's a safe place for them too. The more positive experiences you can provide your puppy, the better prepared they will be.
Even if your dog loves swimming, never overlook water safety. A life jacket for your dog helps provide peace of mind during an emergency. It’s also an easy way to pull your dog in and out of the boat. Familiarize your dog with the water and the life jacket before you head out. The swimming conditions on your trip will likely be different from what your puppy has experienced at the local beach or pool. There could be hazards like rocks, logs, currents and other animals. Always keep a close eye on your dog.
In the Canoe
All dogs will inevitably move around during the canoe journey, but an uncomfortable or anxious dog might pace or move a lot more. In smaller boats like canoes, this can lead to instability and even capsizing. Having a comfortable space and mat for your dog to lay down on as well as anticipating your dog's movements will help prevent any unfortunate mishaps.
Even though we’re the ones exerting ourselves by paddling the boat, your dog can overheat, too. The sun beats down on the boat and reflects off the water. Keep your dog hydrated, provide lots of swim breaks and use an umbrella for shade.
On a Portage
Canoe trips will often involve portaging from one body of water to another. If your dog is carrying their own supplies, spend time preparing them physically beforehand. Alternatively, if it’s been a long paddle, it can be a good idea to allow your dog to have time to exercise, go to the bathroom and explore. On busy portages, it's recommended to leash your dog to keep them safe from other campers, dogs and wildlife.
At the Campsite
Before you set up camp, look around your site for anything that could be dangerous: garbage, natural hazards like steep drop offs, etc. You also want to check out the “Thunder box” or outdoor washroom, to make sure a curious puppy can’t get inside to investigate any stinky smells. While you are staying at your site, clean up after yourself and your dog. Always follow the campground rules regarding dogs.
Gear and Equipment for the Canoe and Campsite
A thin foam mat, like a yoga mat, can be stuck to the bottom of the canoe with glue or tape to help your dog feel more comfortable. Claws on plastic, metal or Kevlar will lead to your puppy sliding around and constantly being uncomfortable. Adding a mat will greatly improve the stability of your boat and enjoyment of your dog.
A bell for their collar is a great way to help quickly locate your dog on portages or around the campsite and keep away unwanted animals.
Just like us, your dog also needs protection from the sun. Doggy sunscreen can help avoid burns and blisters and keep your dog safe and comfortable. A cheap umbrella can also be attached to the boat's gunnels to provide your dog some shade and relief from the sun.
Even during late summer, the bugs in remote areas can be fierce. For dogs, repellents that contain DEET can be harmful. Veterinarians recommend using natural repellents. It’s also a good idea to keep a few tablets of Benadryl just in case your puppy has a bad reaction to the bites.