Plan Your First Outing
Pushing off from shore into the gentle current of a shallow river, the wooden canoe rocks softly as Cali, our four-month-old Golden Retriever, paces from starboard to portside, peering over the sides at her reflection in the water. Confused, she puts her front paws up on the gunwale, staring over the edge calmly until a small stick floats by and it is just too much to resist—she leaps into the water and immediately disappears below the surface. I reach overboard and haul her back into the canoe, amused at the look of surprise on her face.
My wife and I expected exactly this behaviour from Cali on her first outing in a canoe, so we planned accordingly. We were paddling on a calm stretch of river in less than half a metre of water and within a few metres of shore. My wife was in the bow of the canoe, where she could maintain control of the vessel while I concentrated on training. Cali was never in danger—she could have walked to shore in the shallow water—but she already considered the canoe a safe place, so that is where she wanted to return to when she went overboard.
Start Your Training Early
Training your dog to be a good canoeing companion starts long before that your trip into the backcountry.
We first introduced Cali to the canoe in our backyard in winter. She was a little timid at first but loved trying something new. As she leaned on the gunwales, she got used to the gentle movement of the canoe. She felt safe and happy.
When spring came, we headed out for our first on-water training session. As described previously, we had planned this excursion to be in shallow, calm water, as we had anticipated that Cali would be full of wonder and excitement during this new adventure.
Cali learned quickly to be a perfect paddling companion by following a simple system. Here is how you can train your dog to canoe safely and happily with you too.
10 Tips For Teaching Your Pup To Be A Perfect Paddling Companion
- Make sure your dog knows and obeys the basic commands of sit, stay, come, lay down and go to bed. These commands will help calm and control your dog in the canoe. Be sure to bring her favourite treats as a reward for good behaviour.
- Introduce her to the canoe in a place that she is familiar with and that is free of stress.
- Now is not the time to use that sleek, narrow, solo boat. I recommend a wide, stable canoe for this training period.
- Place her pad or bed in the bottom of the canoe and give the instruction to “go to bed.” A waterproof or easy-to-clean bed works best (a closed-cell yoga mat is ideal). Give her a favourite toy or bone and encourage her to stay there, but let her explore the canoe, allowing it to rock gently side to side as she moves.
- Take a break. Return the following day and follow the same procedure. This time, get in and sit in your usual seating positions and wait for her to unwind if she gets excited. Reward her for staying calm.
- Introduce your dog to water, ideally a shallow, calm, and private location where she can frolic without interruption. This is not the time for a canoe ride; it is merely a fun introduction to a lake or river.
- Take her on her first trip in the canoe, which should be short, relaxed and in shallow and calm water, free from distractions. Cali’s first canoe trip was no longer than 15 minutes.
- Continue taking her on short canoe trips until she is completely under control. Only then should you embark on a more challenging voyage, where the added stress can undo all of your training if she is not ready for it.
- Approaching shore for disembarking can be the most difficult part of the journey. Ensure that she stays in the canoe until you give her the command to disembark. Ideally, you should be out of the canoe first in order to put her on leash if there are other people or hazards to avoid.
- Always wear a life preserver when you are paddling, especially with a pooch on board. Regardless of how well your dog can swim, it is a good idea that she wears one too.
Dog Paddling Adventures
Canoe outings should be a fun adventure for your dog, as it is for you. Cali looks forward to every outing because she never knows where we are going to end up.
Sometimes we camp and explore waterways of dog-friendly Ontario Parks but often, our trips involve day trips with overnight stay at a pet-friendly accommodation, which adds another level of excitement. With so many great places to explore in Ontario that welcome pets, why leave your dog at home?