Dogs can be great to bring on canoe trips, even whitewater ones. I’ve brought my dog on the demanding Dog River, and even on a fly-in wilderness trip! Dogs obviously love the opportunity to run around in the woods and be outdoors just like you do! But there are several practical reasons to bringing your pooch along too. For one, it means you can go on more trips and not worry about finding a sitter. Dogs can also warn you of approaching bears, and even scare them off which can be a real asset.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you hit the water with your dog:
• Doggy paddling– First off, make sure your dog is a good swimmer, (most are). I’ve seen my dog swim down a class 4, he preformed and impressive front ferry and eddied-out at the base of a ledge with the perfection of a professional kayaker.
• Doggy PFD? – A lot of people say putting a life jacket on your dog is important. I would not advise against it, and it’s a must for dogs that aren’t good swimmers. That being said, ask any whitewater rafting guide if they’ve been in a position where they’ve had to pull off their PFD while trapped in a keeper and they’ll say yes. If you’re in a keeper, you need to swim down and enter current into that will pushes down river to escape. Dogs are not able to undue their own lifejackets, so it is possible that the extra safety precaution could be more harm than good.
• Commands – Tech your dogs the following commands as you go, but don’t start off with an overly demanding whitewater river. Your first couple trips may be a bit eventful but if you don’t throw yourself, and your dog, in there, your pup is never going to learn.
– “In the boat” and “out of the boat” (Arguably the most important of all).
– “Front of the boat”, and “back of the boat”.
– “Other side”, this is used when the dog is lying in a position that is causing the boat to be unbalanced.
– Obviously “sit,” “stay,” and “lie down” are key too, but most dogs already know these ones.
• Rapids – I run class 1 & 2 rapids with my dog standing in the canoe or on the spray deck, and I sometimes run short class threes with him on the deck. I’ve never had a dog fall off. And, my old dog even jumped from one side of the boat to the other, saving a dump! For longer rapids, let you dog out and let him run along the bank, meeting you at the end. This can take some training, and it helps if you walk the trail with your dog right to the to show them where you’ll pick them up. It’s amazing how fast they’ll figure it out, and often times, my dog is waiting at the end of the trail before we get there, How does he know where we’ll end up?
• Doggy backpack – One of the draw backs is having to carry their food. Why not let them carry it? For portages, a specially made “doggy backpack” is a good thing to bring. Your dog can help carry his own food and a few other things. Make sure the stuff inside it is waterproofed if it needs to be, and don’t leave it on your dog when he’s in the canoe.
• Bugs – Dogs get bothered buy bugs too. After bringing a Thermacell
with me on one of my trips, I noticed my dog always ended up beside it! Also available are non-toxic bug repellent sprays specially made for dogs.