Canine Canoeing Capers—Tips for Dog Paddling!

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This article has some tips and hints that we have found helpful in the development of our Paddle Pups. It is designed merely as a guide, since every dog, paddler, and individual’s expectation is different. It was first published a few years ago, on the blog….I have updated it just a smidgen, since we actually use solo boats now more than the tandem canoe. However, the information in it has consistently proven helpful, so we once again offer it to those of you curious about turning your dog into the perfect paddling partner.

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“There is one thing I should warn you about before you decide to get serious about canoeing [with dogs] . You must consider the possibility of becoming totally and incurably hooked on it”.  Bill Mason,  Path of the Paddle

I made the “with dogs” addition to the Mason quote, because we have admittedly become incurably addicted to paddling with our dogs . We are avid canoeists, and advocates for safe and fun outdoor adventures with dogs. We share with you a few pointers, to help you and your dogs have a great paddling experience, one you will want to continue for many years.

No way…you put TWO dogs in your canoe with you? Oh, we’ve heard that one before. We started out with one dog, who took to canoeing like a pro. He paddled with us for a few summers as a “solo dog”. Then when we adopted a second dog, we faced new challenges. Well, yes, we were able to put 2 large lab mutts in our 16’6” canoe, and off we would go… paddling a few days every week, from mid-May to end of October. We also do multi-day canoe camping trips, day trips, picnic paddles, and love exploring new waterways. You and your dog can too!


We enjoy canoeing as a relaxing activity, which gets us out on the beautiful lakes of northern New England. We use the tandem canoe for some trips, but most of our outings now involve the use of a 13 foot solo canoe and a 12 foot kayak. One dog prefers the canoe, and the other likes his kayak, so both dogs and paddlers are happy! The tips here were used to acclimate Edgar to his kayak, and he successfully transitioned into being a kayak pup, too.

If your dog can happily ride in a car, he can be a good candidate for canoeing. Canoeing does not provide the exercise that hiking, skijoring, or running may, but we have found our dogs love the peaceful movement of the canoe. They get to see wildlife, explore islands and beaches, camp out with us, and swim to cool off.

If you are deciding which canoe to use, we suggest you start with a stable, family-suitable canoe. Aluminum canoes can get very hot and noisy, both unpleasant conditions for a dog… so we suggest avoiding them. If you are going to check out canoes prior to purchasing, we suggest you bring along your dog. It is helpful to have the pup try out the canoe for size, too…some configurations are more suitable for dogs than others. Even better, if you go for a test paddle, bring your dog along, too, wearing a life jacket, of course.

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Be sure to have a covering on the floor of the boat. Your dog will need to adjust to the movement of the canoe, and if he slips or slides, he will be uncomfortable, insecure, and will not be able to settle down. We have used yoga mats, backpacking pads, foam mats…all with varied success. We found that on many of these mats, once water gets under them, they will slide. Our preferred solution is a section of good quality indoor-outdoor carpeting. This material can be cut to fit nearly the length of our canoe, protects the interior from the dogs’ claws, and also is easy to clean, dry, and roll up for storage. Note: For the kayak, we have installed an adhesive Punt Surf traction mat, designed for SUPs. That has worked very well in the kayak interior.

Be sure that you are confident paddlers before you take your dog out in the canoe. You do not have to be expert canoeists, but even on quiet waters, you are going to have a miserable (and dangerous) time, if you and your dog are both uncertain and inexperienced. Select a quiet, calm body of water, with an easy access launch site, for your first excursions. Choose a time of day when there are fewer other boaters or dogs around; the smoother the water, and the fewer distractions, the more successful your initial trips will be.



Your dog does not have to be a good swimmer to have a safe trip. In fact, for all dogs, we suggest the use of a dog life jacket. This jacket can provide thermal protection in cool water, provides a nice handle should you need to lift your dog out of the canoe or the water, and makes your dog visible to other boaters should he end up in the water. Neither of our dogs is a skilled swimmer; should we capsize, I would prefer to deal with a guided, floating dog, than one who is struggling. We periodically have our dogs practice swimming while wearing their life jackets, so they gain confidence in the water.

Do not forget to wear your PFD! No matter how strong a swimmer you may be, should you need to assist your dog in the water, lack of a PFD could be detrimental to your health. According to the American Canoeing Association, 85% of canoeist who drown were not wearing PFDs. Consider that, and the fact that there would be added exertion required in trying to help your dog!





It is advisable to have your dog well versed in basic obedience commands, such as sit, stay, down, and “hup” ( or another command you may select for getting in and out of the boat ). We had each of our dogs work on these skills in the boat while on dry land before they ever went onto canoe on the water. This included having them sit, stand, and lie down while we rocked and wiggled the boat. This training has saved us from disaster more than once, as we have often encountered heavy waves. Each of our dogs began his canoeing career by sitting in the same canoe compartment with the stern paddler….the dog was secure, easy to hold, and there was less chance of unexpected motion from the dog. The dog then “graduated” into riding in his own section, once he had demonstrated reliable canoe behavior.

Be sure to practice good canoeing etiquette with your dog. We do not allow the dogs to bark while in the canoe. We paddle near some amazing wildlife, and would not want our dogs to harass the loons, beaver, herons, moose, or other animals ( or paddlers) we may see.

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We do have a standard routine for getting in and out of the boat. Dogs go in first, one at a time, upon command…then we go in. The dogs are taught that we decide when they enter and exit the boat. Upon landing, we reverse the process. Most capsizings happen within 10 feet of shore, and keeping a strict routine can help prevent this. The dogs only get in and out of the boat when we decide it is safe for all of us.

Our dogs get very excited when they see that they are going in the canoe! If your dog has trouble settling down, you may want to take him for a run, or a short exercise session first. It is also a good idea to let him take care of any potty business before he gets into the boat!

On longer paddle trips, we try to stop periodically and let the dogs out to run around a bit, to stretch and complete any unfinished “business”. Be sure to clean up after your dogs, as we are responsible for them, and for keeping our waters clean.

We like to keep short leashes on the dogs while they are canoeing, for guiding them at the launching sites (where there may be broken glass or other hazards), and in case we do go into the water in an unplanned manner! We have used traffic leads, and regular leashes coiled up with gear-ties, secured to their jackets. It is crucial you do not have any hanging lines that could cause entanglement if the boat tips, and NEVER tie your dog to the boat. We have had great success using the Ruffwear Quick Draw Leash, since it serves wonderfully as a canoeing leash. It stays wrapped over the dog’s regular collar until needed, so it is both safe,  and handy.


We always carry drinking water for our dogs in the boat, using the OllyDog Olly Bottle or the H2O4K9 bottle. It can get hot in a canoe in the summer, and it is important that we, and the dogs, keep hydrated. Yes, they can lean over the gunwales to access water…but we do not always want the dogs drinking from the water we may be paddling across. It also can become quite the “tippy-canoe or puppy, too” experience if your dog suddenly decides to drink the lake.

Our trips always have us carrying a canoe bag with essential safety gear which includes a dog first aid kit. Unfortunately, as we mentioned earlier, even in remote canoeing areas we have found bottle caps and broken glass on launching and landing sites. In this kit, we always have a few cordura musher’s booties; should we have to bandage a paw, the use of a bootie will help keep a bandage in place.

One of the most important elements to having a successful dog paddling expedition is your attitude! Have fun… remember that this activity may be a bit unsettling to your dog.  Go slowly…start with short trips, so your dogs can earn your praise while he practices his canoeing skills. Take Photos! You will want to look back some day and realize how far you and your dog have come, and laugh at your adventures (and misadventures!). Canoeing is a “lifetime activity” for our dogs. Once their skijoring and kick-sledding days are over, we know that they will continue to enjoy canoeing with us, a shared activity we all love.



Rest, Respite, and a Return to the Reservoir!

Ahhh..the beginning of canoe camping season! The opening weekend of the season for Green River Reservoir State Park, our favorite local getaway for overnight camping. Poor Edgar and his Dad had not been out kayaking prior to this trip, so we chose a site not too far from the access point. In Vermont, May can bring snow, hail, wind, or stinkin’ hot temperatures, so our first trip is usually within easy reach, should we need a quick escape. Green River Reservoir is 650 acres of quiet waters…no power boats allowed, so it really is a paddler’s paradise. Less than 30 paddle-in sites exist, so weekend reservations are usually filled by early Spring. I made our reservations last fall, knowing that by opening weekend, we would be ready to begin the 2017 canoe camping season. It is a great spot to escape for a few days, getting away from the chaos that often surrounds us!

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This was also going to be fun because we had made a few snowshoe treks to this specific site during the winter…accessed via the winter- use only Catamount Trail.  The weather forecast for the weekend was temps in the 60’s, with nightime lows near 30, and light winds. We arrived a bit earlier that normal check-in time, figuring that if the site was vacant,we could drop off our gear, and paddle to an island for lunch. However, the nice Park Ranger, Ross, said to go ahead, and that the site should be vacant.  Good idea, since we saw that the wind was definitely going to be gustier that the 6-9 mph forecast had indicated. The staff at this park are tremendous, and it is no wonder that they received the Vermont Park Staff of the Year award last season!

Heading out, the sky was blue, the water cool ( but not too cold), and the wildlife was ready to greet us.  We passed an eagle perched in a tree, high above a pair of swimming loons. Pretty cool, except we know that the eagle is just waiting for some loon chicks to snatch!

Edgar was just great in his kayak…he resumed his position in the boat as if he had never been away.   The kayak led the way, as we worked our way through the increasing chop.


The dogs loved this site! Lots of grass to roll in, water easily accessible to splash in , loons and geese right off shore to provide entertainment, and a nice flat tent spot. Well, we certainly liked that,even if the dogs were not so impressed.


There were 2 issues that were less than pleasant…1) a prior site user had left a lot of watermelon rinds right on the edge of the site…perfect bait for the local bears and raccoons.  2) No black flies, but the no see-ums ( gnats) were very annoying! Our bug repellent did work, but even when they were not upon you, they were buzzing about your head. We rubbed some safe natural based repellent on the dogs’ heads, since Griff seemed to be bothered by the nasty critters.  Though Edgar appeared oblivious to the bugs, we noticed that he had been stung around his eyes! Poor pup, he had to go into the tent for a while so he could be monitored, and to escape further bites.  Thankfully, within 20-30 minutes the swelling had gone down, and he never appeared the worse for wear. Griff just enjoyed sleeping in the sun!

After having lunch and establishing our comfortable site, we went out for a windy, though enjoyable paddle exploration. My little canoe was bobbing quite a bit as we paddled downwind, but it was great fun!  One of my goals this season is to improve strength and technique needed to paddle in windier, more challenging conditions. As long as I am laughing, it is a good time!  Gryphon was very happy, also, to have Edgar once again paddling beside him…

After dinner, we made a fire in the large ring. Not the most  successful fire we have made, but it served the purpose to keep bugs away, and to provide some psychological warmth. As the sun dropped lower in the horizon off our campsite, the thermometer showed the cold was arriving.

The dogs readily went into the tent, getting snug for the evening ahead. As darkness arrived, the haunting calls of the resident loons and barred owls echoed around the campsite. So peaceful and quiet…the best way to fall asleep. Well, until one of the few neighbors to the park decided it was a good night for a long and loud fireworks event!

Gryphon has recently decided he does not like thunder, and gets very clingy and requires re-assurance when the sounds of thunder occur. So in the tent, with the booms crashing about, he decided he really needed to get very close to us…so very close, in fact, he was trying to hide in my sleeping bag. Poor dog, he did well with comforting, but he , and we, were very appreciative of the end of the fireworks.

Morning arrived with a temperature of 30 degrees; Griff and I were ambitious, and went out for a sunrise paddle in the pink and foggy morning. Edgar decided he was nice and comfy in his sleeping bag, and opted to stay with his Dad in the tent.

We all decided that we would take advantage of the calm water, and pack up and head out early. There was rain in the forecast for later in the day, and we wanted to be able to hang out our gear at home before the rain began. It would also give us a chance to get breakfast at a local spot we have been frequenting for over 30 years! So after a welcome cup of hot chocolate, we loaded up and headed out, taking a circuitous route around the rez.

It was nice to see that one of the 4 pair of loons had established a nest; this particular nesting site has been productive each year. We look forward to watching the chicks emerge ( from a safe distance), and seeing them grow as the season progresses.

Our  concensus is that we had a succesful trip…no major incidents, and my husband felt comfortable paddling over the two days. The first outing can be a bit taxing on the shoulders! We enjoyed our site, and there was plently of room to enjoy the sunny day.

Of course, we had to match up some of our winter shots with spring shots! Looks a bit more green now….

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We are ever grateful to Vermont State Parks for providing such a wonderful place for day paddling and camping. I feel so strongly about this spot that I recently was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Friends of Gren River Reservoir. That is quite the honor, and am glad that I will have the opportunity to help maintain this special place. Please check out the website ( ) for more information on how you can help preserve this gem.

Gearing up, Greening up, and GOing up….

Spring is here, or so we have been told. In the past few weeks, since our return from Maine, we have been looking forward to paddling season, but only one of us ( and Gryphon) has been able to get out on the water. Hence, this a rather brief blog post about spring paddling!

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I purchased a great dry suit this season, from Mythic Gear, in order to begin the season a bit earlier, and extend it once we get into fall paddling. My husband is too tall for a Mythic suit ( a very affordable suit, no bells or whistles , but with limited size options), and we are not ready to invest in a more expensive suit. I have been able to get out paddling on only four occasions though, since our weather has been a bit rainy and snowy for most of the past month.  The water temperatures have ranged from 42 to 48 degrees, so certainly I never would have previously dared to canoe in those conditions. We have also always had a bit of concern about the dogs, should we dump…the Ruffwear Float Coat that Griff wears offers some thermal protection, but I picked up a used neoprene hunting dog vest for him to wear under his life jacket.

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So we have stayed at local lakes, remain close to shore, and have kept our outings under 2 hours in length. So far so good…in fact, one day, I was able to paddle in the morning, and  then go snowshoeing up on the mountain in the afternoon. We actually had 2 sunny days ( the only such days in the past month), and 2 overcast days for our paddles. We have seen loons, heron, osprey, ducks, and eagles. Our first canoe camping trip is in less than two weeks, so we are hoping the sun makes a re-appearance!

So this year, snowshoeing, hiking, and paddling seasons are all overlapping! We finished up snowshoeing ( 68 days) on the man-made snow up at the ski resort in our town, and entered mud season hiking…trail closures and conditions in mud season limit our options a bit, but we still try to get the dogs out nearly every day. It is a good thing they do not mind hiking in the rain!

It has become a spring tradition for us to take the dogs out on Vermont’s Green-Up Day, the first Saturday in May.  We focus on the nearby canoe access, and have actually paddled out for water clean up in past years. This year, the weather and high waters did not permit that, so we worked on a land-based clean-up. We found quite a bit of trash , and noted a lot of debris was in the area where in the winter a snowmobile tour company meets with their clients, and park their 25 or so machines. We found cowling trim pieces, as well as LOTS of used chemical hand-warmer packets.  I think that before next season, we will ask them to provide receptacles for folks to discard these packets.

We do not participate for any recognition ( lots of folks take part, and it is just what good Vermonters do), but since we advocate for responsible outdoor activities, it is a practical way for us to practice what we preach.

And, as for our GO trailer…we are revved to take it out again in a few weeks, for a few days of camping and paddling in the Northeast Kingdom. Check out our trip planning page for more info on the GO trailer, and how we are tweaking it to meet our needs.

So off we go, into May, and what lies ahead. Lots of camping trips planned, both with the GO trailer, and canoe camping trips. In 4 months we will be on our Banff trip, so planning continues for that expedition. So come on sun, return to us, and bring a bit of warm weather please!

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On one of our rare sunny day hikes!