Can Your Dog Paddle?

Man's best friend can be a skipper extraordinaire, but canoeing or kayaking with your pet isn't as easy as a walk in the park. You need to properly prepare your dog—and yourself—for the trip and potentially rocky waters ahead. That's why we asked Chris Puls, of the Dog Scouts of America, the do's and don'ts of taking your companion off of dry land.

Master the boat. Before you try to take on a four-legged passenger, it's essential to have a strong handle of your vessel all on your own. "Make sure you're experienced in navigating a kayak or canoe before you add the dog," Puls says. Maneuvering needs to seem like second nature since your first mate will require assistance and your attention along the way. "Having to make sure the dog doesn't jump, fall out, or rock the boat too much takes a fair amount of your concentration and adds difficulty to an already challenging activity," he says.

Start shallow. Before you dive in four feet first, remember that you should start slow. Puls recommends that you get in the boat on land first and then, once your pup is comfortable, move into shallow waters. "It's also much better to do this when you are not rushed and can help your dog over any reservations she may have, "Puls says. "Some dogs take right to it and have no issues, while others seem to think they will die if they set paw in that wobbly thing."

Map a route. This is certainly not the time to play Christopher Columbus and start charting new—potentially difficult—courses. "Start on an easy river or lake so you can learn to steer and prevent tipping, especially against a river current and easy rapids." It also helps a great deal if you have paddled on the water you plan to use for the first trip with your dog. Puls says that knowing what shoreline distractions there may be and if there are portages before you try it with a dog in-toe is extremely helpful. Plus, it's always good to look out for great dog-friendly resting or swimming spots.

Skip the tether. While leashing your canine might be the law on the land, it's definitely not what you want to do when you're in a boat. In fact, it's one of the most dangerous things you can do when taking your pup on a canoeing trip. "Never attach your dog in any way to the canoe or kayak, " says Puls. "If you tip over, the dog could be forced under water or be trapped by the canoe or kayak."

Invest in flotations. No matter if your Golden Retriever can give Michael Phelps a run for his medals, a must-have for a kayaking or canoeing trip is a life vest. "A properly fitted canine floatation vest can be one of the best investments you can make for your dog," Puls advises. Here's why: It not only provides extra security in case your dog gets tired swimming, it also provides a crucial safety net in case your pup gets whisked away in strong currents. High-quality flotation vests are available in pet stores across the country—and they typically run in the $50 price range, depending on the size of your dog.