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Take Your Dog Kayaking | Be a Legend

Kayak Pupper
Photo courtesy of Austin Kayak

There’s a small lake about 20 minutes from my house that my friends and I went to when we first started kayak fishing. It was close, had good enough fishing, and wasn’t all that crowded. During that Summer we constantly saw this one guy. He was mid 40’s, had a tricked out green kayak, and his Beagle perched on the bow. At the time, and still to this day, we thought “Holy crap, that guy is freaking awesome”.

The idea of bringing your buddy out on the water is an appealing one. After all we’ve been hunting together since the Miocene Epoch and pupper is your best friend, right? With a little preparation and practice you and Fido can go fishing together and become the new legends of the lake.

Know your Dog

During the 90’s a Chicago swimmer adopted a Labrador Greyhound mix and named her Umbra. It turned out that Umbra not only shared his passion for swimming, but excelled at it. Umbra the dog ended up earning 4 Guinness World Records in swimming, the most famous of which for when she swam three miles in 85 minutes. For comparison the current (as of 2019) world record for a human swimming the mile is 14:31 set by Sun Yang of China in 2014. Umbra was doggy paddling at a pace of 1:34/100m, or 3.8km/hr (2.4mph for the imperial minded). That clip, at roughly 28.33 minutes for mile, puts Umbra slightly behind some of the women’s world record holders.

Now take a look at your dog. If your dog could give Umbra a run for her money then start loading the yak. If your dog looks more like the world record holder in naps than you might want to think twice before putting him on a boat. Know your dog and his personality. Small skittery dogs probably aren’t going to enjoy being confined on a small boat. Easy-going and adventurous canines are apt to be your new best fishing partner. As a good dog parent you should keep your pet’s wants and needs at the forefront of your mind. Bring on them boat only if you really think that they’ll enjoy it.

Personality and Breed

Besides personality you’ll need to think about your dog’s physical characteristics. Larger breeds such as St. Bernards, Mastiffs, and Great Dane’s really aren’t well suited for kayaks. Their bigger stature and greater weight will hinder your fishing and put you closer to your yak’s weight limit, compromising stability and maneuverability. Imagine trying to help a 120lb dog get over the gunwales and into the boat – it wouldn’t be easy. As a rule of thumb you probably shouldn’t take any dog weighing more than 100 lbs on a kayak.

Smaller and medium sized breeds make better yakking companions. Dogs specifically bred for working in the water, such as Labradors, Retrievers, and Spaniel varieties should have no problem on your rig. They were bred to love the water and if anything you may find they’re too enthusiastic about going out with you. Smaller dogs with short legs such as Dachsunds, Corgis, and Basset Hounds aren’t natural swimmers. Owners of these breeds will probably need to spend more time getting them comfortable being on and around the water before taking them out. Any medium sized dogs with long legs should have no problem coming aboard.

Consider your Kayak

Sit on top (S.O.T.) kayaks are the best option to take your dog kayaking. They offer more deck space for your dog to move around and have higher weight capacities than sit-ins. If you’re currently sans-yak and want to commission a vessel suitable for you and your dog consider looking at NuCanoe. Their models feature large open deck space and higher than average weight capacities. The NuCanoe Frontier 12 has a weight capacity of 650 lbs which can accommodate the entire wolf pack if you want.

Sit inside kayaks aren’t necessarily off-limits for dogs but they are certainly more limiting. Limited deck space means that your and your doggo will be sharing the cockpit together, which can get uncomfortable for both parties quickly. Fishing can also be severely compromised – sit in kayaks are more confined than S.O.T.s and changing tackle, casting, and landing fish could be impossible with a big pupper in your lap.

It should go without saying that putting dogs on a whitewater kayak is a really bad idea. But we’ve decided to say it anyways – keep your pup at home if you plan on going down any rapids. Bring your pet goldfish instead.


Safety on the water is just as important for your pup as it is for you. Unless you feel like explaining to the kids why Cujo isn’t coming home you need to have the following.

Dog Life Jacket

Life jackets are just as important for your four legged friend as they are for you. We’ve covered why you should wear a PFD extensively before: it will improve your odds of surviving an accident more than any other piece of equipment. A PFD for your dog is must have equipment if you plan on taking your dog kayaking, as nothing else will provide as much defense against drowning.

The extra buoyancy will help you pup stay afloat and keep him at ease in the water. The handle on top is an important feature as it’ll make kayak re-entry manageable. If your dog decides to take a dip you can easily reach out and scoop him back in. We like the RuffWear Float Coat for its tight fit and superior materials. The adjustable straps allow for a snug fit to keep your dog both safe and comfortable out on the water.

Rex Specs

Sunlight can be damaging to dogs eyes just as it is to humans. Excessive and repeated intense sun exposure can contribute to cataracts and pannus, two conditions that can lead to reduced visual acuity and even blindness. If you plan on taking your pet out on the kayak multiple times it makes sense to buy some eye protection. Rex Specs Dog Goggles are the leader in canine eye protection; Rex Specs products have been used by dogs in the military, police force, and search and rescue teams. Their lenses reduce UV light exposure and protect from debris. They also look cool AF. They aren’t cheap, but considering the average cost of dog cataract surgery is between $2,700 and $4,000, it’s a good investment.

Other Accessories

Most dog’s are pretty easy to take care of but still need some basics. Here’s a short checklist of all the other gear you’ll need to make the most of your day on the water:

• Bag of Food

• Sunscreen (for your dog’s nose)

• Fresh water (lots)

• Water bowl

• Leash

• Ball/Favorite Toy

Double the normal amount of water you bring on a trip when you bring your dog along. For a water bowl we really like collapsible silicone water bowls. They store flat, clean easy, and will double as snack cup for small children if you’re in a pinch. The last item on this list is in case your dog doesn’t always obey like they should. My own dog Molly won’t always come when I call her name, but one squeak from her chew toy and she’ll come racing. A familiar toy can be invaluable if your dog decides to do a little more exploring than you’d prefer.

Test Run

Once you’ve got your pooch prepped and kayak loaded you should plan on a short trip for your pilot run. Even if your pup is a thoroughbred water-dog you’ll still want to go somewhere easy for your first time out. Small deck space and unfamiliar settings can be distressing to a dog and may prompt a premature swim for shore. If that’s the case you’ll appreciate being on home turf rather than a few miles offshore.

The pilot run serves two important purposes. First it provides a baseline for how much you can push your dog. If your dog keeps trying to jump off the kayak, or seems to be nervous, then you’ll need to spend some more time training. It might take a few more small excursions before your dog is comfortable going out to bigger water or for longer times. Secondly the pilot run will save you from wasting time. I’m sure you’re all familiar with how hard it can be to coordinate a fishing trip between other time commitments like family and work. So when the stars align and you do have a window for guilt-free fishing the last thing you want is to cut it short because Fido is freaking out.

Pittbull dog kayaking
Give your doggo treats while boating to reinforce a positive association.

Enjoy the Rewards

After the two of you are comfortable out on the water make suret to smell the roses. You’re out on the water enjoying nature with one of your best friends, and he’ll back you up on any fishing stories you tell at home. Don’t forget to keep your friend happy with a few treats every now and then.

Finally enjoy being the new boss of the lake and bask in your newfound status. We think there’s nothing better than going kayak fishing, and having your pup with you makes it all that much better. Please consider sharing photos of you and your pupper on the yak. Email us directly or throw them up on our facebook page.