Is It Safe to Canoe With a Dog?

If you love getting out on the water, you may be wondering if you can bring your pup along on your next adventure. The good news is that dogs are great paddling partners, but there is a little extra preparation to make sure that your trip will be both safe and enjoyable for everyone involved. Before you head to canoe with a dog, check out these tips and tricks.

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6 Important Canoe Safety Tips for Dogs

Teach Your Dog to Swim First

Before heading out to canoe with a dog, you should make sure that he’s comfortable in the water. You may be surprised to learn that in many cases, you will need to teach your dog to swim. Even dog breeds that are known for working in water settings may not naturally know how to swim. If your canoe capsizes, you want to be sure that he can swim to safety.

Use Life Jackets for People and Dogs

Even the strongest swimmers could end up in a dangerous situation. We have laws in place requiring life jackets for all humans on a boat, including canoes, but what about your dog? There are many different options when it comes to dog life jackets and PFDs. Take some time to research your options so that you can pick the right one for your dog.

Some jackets are designed to be more streamlined, allowing for more movement. But, to keep their size down, they don’t offer as much buoyancy. This is great for stronger swimmers that may need a little help in an emergency. For dogs that are nervous on the water or uncomfortable swimming, you may want to choose something a little bulkier that offers more flotation.

This will protect your dog if the currents are too strong if he’s injured or unconscious, if he must swim a longer distance and becomes exhausted, or if he simply panics.

Choose Locations with Safety in Mind

When planning your dog-friendly canoeing trips, take some time to consider the safety factors. This includes accounting for breaks when necessary, avoiding overly choppy or difficult waters that exceed your dog’s comfort levels, and paying attention to natural hazards like the presence of blue-green algae. Be reasonable when considering the length of time that you plan on paddling. For many dogs, sitting still for that long can be a challenge.

Watch the Weather

Leading up to your trip, pay careful attention to your favourite weather app. Watch for potential storms or questionable weather that could impact your plans or make it unsafe to head out on the water. One service that we have come to rely on is the Instant Weather Text Message Alerts. At the time of writing this, the service costs only $3.39/month and you can set 2 locations. Any special weather statements or warnings are texted to your phone, which is more reliable than hoping you will have data when you’re in the wilderness.

Never Tether Your Dog to the Canoe

It may seem like the perfect solution to prevent your dog from bolting out of the canoe but tethering your dog either to the canoe or to you could create a life-threatening drowning risk. This is why it’s so important to teach basic obedience and a reliable recall before ever heading out on the water. If your dog doesn’t listen to these basic commands, focus on addressing this before planning your next adventure.

Know Basic Wilderness First Aid

One of the most important things you can do in terms of safety when you canoe with a dog is to learn the basics of wilderness first aid both for you and your dog. We can’t predict when accidents are going to happen, that’s why they are called accidents. But we can take steps to ensure that we are armed with the knowledge and skills necessary to handle an emergency. Consider taking a pet first aid course if there is one offered in your area. Keep in mind that you will be out in the wilderness with limited supplies. Take stock of what you will have available and the different ways that they can be used. For example, a simple bandana can serve many key purposes when outdoors.

two people and 3 dogs in a canoe | Is It Safe to Canoe With a Dog?
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Can a Dog Fit in a Canoe?

Yes, your dog can absolutely fit in a canoe regardless of his size. But, if you have an extra-large or giant breed dog, you may need to select your canoe with your dog’s size in mind.

The good news is that canoes do come in a wide range of sizes. The most common canoe length is 16’, largely due to how versatile they are. At this length, a canoe provides you with the space needed for 2 people to paddle comfortably while still allowing for optimal maneuverability. They can also be handled effectively by a single person, if necessary.

If you do need more space, any canoe that is 17.5’ long or longer is classified as a ‘long canoe’. These larger options will require a second person for paddling, but they do offer extra room for the larger water-loving dogs among us as well as for any gear you may need if you are heading out on a backcountry camping adventure.

When packing, make sure there is enough room available for your dog to comfortably lie down. This could mean a larger canoe or packing your gear strategically to provide the space needed.

How Do I Get My Dog Used to a Canoe?

The first step in getting your dog used to the canoe is to introduce it on dry land. This allows him to explore the canoe without any added stress. Give him the freedom to sniff it as well as climb in to investigate. When you see that he is comfortable on the shore, you can take the next step by placing the canoe in the water.

On your first canoe trip, plan on sticking with shallow waters close to the shoreline. If your dog does become agitated or stressed out, you can easily end the trip early.

It also means that you are close to shore if your dog does tip the canoe. This is especially important if you are going to canoe with a dog that isn’t as experienced at swimming, a senior dog, a young puppy, or any of the dog breeds that struggle to keep their heads safely above water.

When you can see that your dog is comfortable in a canoe, you are ready to start navigating deeper waters. This means your dog is calm and relaxed, remaining in a ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ the whole time that the canoe is on the water. Keep in mind that the larger your dog is, the easier it is for him to tip the canoe simply by readjusting where he is seated or moving about.

How Can I Make My Dog Comfortable in a Canoe?

In addition to working through the steps to get a dog used to the canoe, there are extra steps you can take to make sure that he’s comfortable.

The first thing to consider when it comes to setting up a dog-friendly canoe is where your dog is going to be seated in the canoe during your trip. Larger dogs are often comfortable sitting at the bottom of the canoe itself, but you may wish to add a yoga mat to provide better traction. This will help to reduce your dog’s stress early on in his paddling journey.

Another option is to create a padded dog seat area. This is a great way to allow smaller dogs to see over the sides of the canoe by boosting them up off the bottom. Your dog canoe seat can be made from a variety of different materials, but you will want to consider the weight, how much room it will require, and whether it’s water-safe if the canoe were to tip.

If you have a dog that is nervous in new situations or unsure of the whole idea of going out on the water, keep him closer to you. Our boy Lucifer is newer to paddling and he is quite relaxed and comfortable when he’s seated at my feet, but that comfort quickly goes out the window if we move him further away.

The best canoe for dogs is one that offers a comfortable place for both you and your pup. There is no ‘right’ way to do it, so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Just make sure not to sacrifice anyone’s safety in the process.

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Is a Canoe or a Kayak Better for Dogs?

When deciding whether to canoe with a dog or kayak with a dog, you will need to consider a few different factors. The first, obviously, is the size of the dog that you plan on paddling with. If your dog is smaller in size, he can comfortably fit just about anywhere. But it’s easier to canoe with a dog if your pup is on the larger end of the spectrum.

The same can be said for carrying gear if you plan on camping along the way. The average kayak isn’t going to offer the space needed for all your gear as well as a dog. Of course, there are exceptions. Some kayakers will build a platform on the front or back for their dog to sit comfortably.

Canoes are more stable than kayaks. This makes them a great choice for dogs that are a little unsure, newer to the paddling lifestyle, or those that like to readjust to see everything that you pass.

While our girl Daviana is well-trained to stay in the canoe either seated or laying down, she loves watching everything and anything. As a German Shepherd mix, she isn’t a small dog. She doesn’t even need to get up when shifting her weight to impact the balance of the canoe. In a kayak, that would be much more difficult to overcome.

On the other hand, kayaks are generally faster in the water and more agile when it comes to navigating waterways, avoiding rocks or stumps, and covering larger areas in a fraction of the time.  

Have you ever tried to canoe with a dog? If so, did it go smoothly, or did you encounter some challenges along the way? We invite you to share any tips or tricks you learned from your experience!  


  1. Thank you for sharing such informative tips for bringing your dog canoeing! I’ve always wanted to experience this as a summer activity. While I currently don’t have a dog, I’ll definitely keep this in mind for the future and will share this with dog owners!

  2. I had no idea you could get life jackets for dogs but that makes perfect sense. I’d imagine, once they got used to being in something that rocked, they’d really enjoy the ride. And great tip about making sure they can swim, and not just assuming that, because they’re a dog, they can!

    1. The swimming point is one that I’ve long been aware of but was REALLY reminded of this year. Our newest pup has been learning to swim, but it has been a process with me right by his side to grab him and save him if he starts to feel overwhelmed. He’s now at the point that he can keep himself up for shorter distances but he’s still quite the mess to watch haha

  3. Awh I bet it’s so much fun to canoe with a dog, providing they can swim, have the proper safety gear on and are comfortable!

  4. What great tips! I would not have tethered Louie to a canoe but I’m happy to see the rationale in your post. Thanks for the link to doggie life vests!

    1. It’s one of those little points that people don’t always consider. We’ve seen well-meaning dog owners trying to keep their dog from jumping out of the canoe which could put them in danger, but not considering the risk they could be creating.

  5. This is a great checklist! I love that you’ve included life vests for dogs as I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t know the importance of having them.

  6. Thanks for sharing all of these great tips. My dog hates the water, otherwise I would try this.

    1. If he can adjust to being near water, he may still like canoeing. I know of a few dogs that don’t like swimming but enjoy the rocking motion of the canoe. Just make sure that you are taking precautions if it were to tip, such as a lifejacket if he’s likely going to freak out about being in the water.

  7. I’m so happy to have found your blog; I adore dogs so much so reading anything about them is a joy (especially if it’s so informative like this post). Thanks for sharing!

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