Doing the Dog Paddle

Not as far fetched as you might think. Brutus loves the water, right? You love Brutus. You are a kayaker or you paddle a canoe, right? Wrong? Well, you need to master the boat before taking your lab along, and the best way to do that is to take a lesson or three from a reputable outfitter. Even on a lazy river you could run into what Lonnie Olson, founder and director of Dog Scouts of America did. Once while canoeing she hit a “fast spot” on a river and capsized. Her lab had to swim upstream against a strong current to get to back to Lonnie, but because of good training the dog dug in and made the swim. And while kayaking with Lonnie one time, the dog ran off into the woods trying to meet up with Lonnie downstream and gave her owner a fright.

Photo by Barb Campbell

Donnie Roaf often takes his yellow lab Zanzibar kayaking in Scorton Creek in Sandwich, Massachusetts. Being an engineer, he thought to build a platform on the front of his boat for Zanzibar, but as he found out, “trying to place a flat piece of plywood on an oval kayak doesn’t work.” So Zanzibar rides along in the cockpit with Donnie, sitting between his legs, and returning there all wet and happy after her adventures swimming, crabbing and “horrifying other creek goers.” Needless to say, Zanzibar gets pretty hyper when she sees Donnie loading up the kayaks for an outing.

You need the right boat if you are going to take your lab along, and according to Lisa Peterson, Communications Director of American Kennel Club, that boat is a 14-foot kayak with open cockpit. Then Chloe or Brutus can sit between your legs facing forward and can even lie down. One of those sleek model kayaks with the small cockpit and fancy portholes is fine for little Prissy the Schnauzer, but as Lisa says, “an 80 to 100 pound lab just will not fit in,” so don’t try it! Whether you choose an inexpensive plastic kayak or something more sophisticated, be sure to get the open deck model, and pretty much any canoe will work out.

Photo by Barb Campbell

If your Chloe is not trained to stay in your boat on command, she will not know which side of the kayak to exit first if she sees a duck or even another traveling pooch. And you could be in big trouble. “The Labrador Retriever is a natural at waiting for the signal to retrieve a bird, so if you just give her a “sit and stay” command in the kayak she should stay put until you give her the release signal,” says Peterson.

Get your lab a life jacket, otherwise known as a personal flotation device (PFD), and be sure to wear your own. The PFD should be a bright color, just in case the pooch goes overboard and bonks her head.  Not everyone puts a PFD on their dog, but it is a must if you are going into rough or fast water, or if the dog is a less experienced swimmer. Fast water with a dog in the boat is a no-no anyway, unless you are an expert. But maybe she likes to swim in the calm shallow river or creek like Zanzibar does and you let her do so in shallow water with you in the boat alongside. The PFD will allow her to swim longer without getting tired, and if she were to tire, you could use the harness to help her into the boat. Maybe; labs are big, remember. It’s a safety issue. Lonnie’s dog wears a harness, which Lonnie can use to help her out of the water, and a leash hooks onto this harness, NEVER to the collar.

Photo by Barb Campbell

A lab’s thoughts never stray far from food and doggie snacks and water are a necessity for most paddlers who are traveling with their dogs. Granted a lab will eat anything, but maybe it won’t be too bad if you bring along treats. Maybe he won’t wolf down a whole rabbit and be puking pieces of it up all during the next day. If you are camping overnight you need a bag of his food in an airtight container to avoid nasty incidents with wildlife.

Drinking water may be right in the lake or river where you are paddling, but then again, do you want your Tibi to get diarrhea or some other awful affliction? Tibi is an Australian Shepard, almost as good as a lab, right? She goes kayaking with her people from the Southwind Kayak Center in Irvine, California. She drinks from a soft cloth bowl and loves to roll in dead fish or an old seal carcass. Yuk, just like a lab, isn’t she? Never allow your lab to drink salt water or you will be guaranteed an unhappy dog with the runs.

Depending on where you take Zanzibar or Brutus, or Chloe, or Tibi, even Jean Claude for that matter, they all like to play, so if you are tired of playing fetch with a stick, bring along a toy for time spent on shore, especially if you are in a remote area. Don’t let the dog roam free as there could be a wildlife encounter. Barb Campbell and her husband Richard Ehrlich of Ontario Province kayak on Georgian Bay, but they do NOT take their two labs, Mocha and Tobler, on those trips. Blastomycosis, a fungus infection, is rampant along some shorelines. The dogs are probably not happy about missing the trips, but they get to go in the big canoe when Barb and Richard head elsewhere for the day. And these two get to camp overnight.

Photo by Barb Campbell

Camping is heaven for a lab, all those fresh new scents, the possibility of a nice rotten fish to roll in, chasing ducks and crabs, you name it. Lonnie’s Zanzibar loves to go crabbing, but all games have rules. And Barb, a wilderness camper, has some good suggestions for anyone thinking of taking the pooch on an overnight.

  • Check the campsite immediately for broken glass, chicken bones, shards of tin cans and other potentially dangerous trash
  • Bring something for your lab to sleep on or she will try to dig her own hole. Barb and Richard use an old sleeping bag in their tent, though Mocha and Tobler are not above sneaking onto Barb and Richard’s sleeping pad if one of the humans gets up in the night! Dogs IN the tent, you say? Well Barb brings along an old towel and wipes her babies down before they go in for the night.
  • Don’t leave Jean Claude loose at night or he may decide to duke it out with a skunk or a bear. If your dog sleeps outside the tent, tie it up.
  • Put a bell on your dog when she is roaming around during daylight hours in a campsite; the hope here is that she will warn off any wildlife and avoid trouble all around.

Things can happen on trips, even day trips, so take along a first aid kit for you and for Zanzibar. When she goes exploring she might cut a pad. And remember to include sunscreen for her. Eh, you say? Sunscreen, for any pink pigment on her face, or any bare spots on her face. Water reflects the sun’s rays on the dog just as it does to you, so be thoughtful and protect her.

Last but not least, for sure, you may want to bring along doggie poop bags, depending on where you are taking Jean Claude. “Just go deep in the woods behind a tree and let nature work at it, or if you want to be tidy, bury it off to the side” says Peterson. But some locations, islands in particular, may require you to carry out when you bring in; in that case bring zip lock bags.

Do your homework and make sure Brutus does his, and you’ll all have a good time!

This entry was posted in Features, General, Homepage Featured by Sherry Hanson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sherry Hanson

Sherry enjoys the outdoors, running, biking and kayaking, traveling, the mountains and the beach. She has published more than 600 articles, taking on anything that interests her these days. Visit her website for more information and a selection of published articles, a few photos, a mention of my poetry: After 21 years on the Maine Coast, Sherry relocated to Portland Oregon in 2013.

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