More than a few years ago, I came up with the bright idea to take my cocker spaniel mix with me out on the water. It seemed doable; all dogs love water. He is on the small side as far as dogs go, other than his Napoleon complex, that is. And I would have a ready-to-go companion on paddle and hunting trips.
I loaded up the stuff that makes for a good trip and headed one of the feeder creeks to the local mill pond.
Riley was excited about the new surroundings and hanging with me. I could see the day would go down as one of those epic, “I will remember this forever” type days. Everything was put in the canoe, and Riley was ready to go. He was a little nervous, so I helped him along by picking him up and putting him in the open spot I left for him in the bow.
After we were a few dozen yards out, he began to look over the edge at the water and the passing shoreline and trees. He seemed to lose the anxiety from the initial launch.
Then, he did the unthinkable. He launched himself forward and out of the canoe, going underwater in the process. I was making decent speed while paddling, so I was almost immediately above him. I heard him clanging on the bottom of the canoe from underneath; it sounded like a football rolling across a tin roof. I was on the brink of horror, wondering if I would ever get the canoe from blocking his path to the surface and perplexed as to how he was able to constantly bounce from one end of the canoe to the other without ever moving the few inches left or right to where he could just come up and break the surface.
Needless to say, I finally saw him bob up, slapping and pawing at the water, resembling an angry, soaked feline rather than a frightened wet canine. It did become one of those remember forever-type days, just not the way I envisioned.
Bringing pets along for the paddle has gained popularity as the popularity of canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards as increased. As much as we emphasize safety for ourselves, with flotation devices, proper clothing and paddle plans, we have to look after the safety and well being of our furry friends, too.
The first time you stepped into a kayak or canoe, or stepped on a paddleboard, you wanted to get your sea legs and become familiar with the vessel before making any type of trip. Your dog needs to get that same consideration. He needs to learn that it is fine for the world around him to rock back and forth.
A good way to start is let him join you in the kayak on dry land. It will help him learn where he is allowed and where you will be. Then, when the scenery changes, he will not have a complete rush on his senses that forces him to decide whether to stay still, cower down, or leap for freedom.
Be careful of the items you use while going out. Hooks are meant for fish, not for dogs or other pets. Not only do you have to worry about the hooks during transport; dangling shiny objects and free-flowing plastics are just as enticing for dogs as they are for the creatures beneath the surface. And yes, a heavy crankbait that makes a big splash may be enough to cause Fido to fetch unless he is taught not to.
If your companion does go for a swim, there needs to be a way to get him back in. Sitting inside a standard kayak or canoe, it can be difficult to pull even a small dog over the gunwales. Even sit-on-tops can be difficult, especially if the dog constantly swims just out of arm’s reach. You can use a paddle blade to assist the animal, and paddles with small slits cut into the blade can be used to snag a dog’s collar to pull him closer to you as well.
Just because you are on the water doesn’t mean you have something to drink during a long day. If you go out, you will usually pack some type of drinks. A dog has a little more difficulty drinking from a can or bottle, so remember to bring along a small bowl or container for him. Bring along a few dog treats. Think of him as you would another person.
During the heat of summer, help keep your pet cool by pouring water on him occasionally, or take shore breaks that allow him to swim freely. When the colder weather comes, look at the different neoprene dog vests available that helps keep the animal’s core warm even when wet.
By thinking ahead and practicing with your pet, you can have a paddling partner for life.