A woman and her dog paddleboarding on Dillon Reservoir near Silverthorne Colorado.

How To Go Paddling With Your Dog

Photo: Grant Ordelheide/Tandemstock

Paddling with your dog is easier than you think and can lead to a boatload of tail-wagging fun for you and your pet.

Follow these tips to make the process of bringing your canine companion a bit safer, simpler, and less stressful. 


First off, get your dog a specifically made doggie life jacket—especially if you’ll be paddling whitewater. It will provide warmth in cold water, help with loading thanks to suitcase-like top handles, plus add high visibility that makes them easier to spot in the water. Like dogs themselves, these PFDs come in all shapes and sizes. Find one that fits your dog’s body type and that doesn’t restrict motion. Some come with clips and buckles for fastening, and others rely on Velcro. Hint: Introduce your dog to the PFD before you get on the water; familiarizing them with the fit by wearing it inside, on walks and even while eating. Also, have your dog practice swimming and trying retrievals in it to gain confidence before heading out. 

Craft Choice

Depending on their size, dogs can ride in or on all manner of paddlecraft, from SUPs and sit-on-top kayaks to canoes, inflatable kayaks and rafts. Let your dog’s size and demeanor dictate the appropriateness of your craft.  


The best paddleboards for dogs should be wider and longer for stability; depending on your dog’s size, shoot for something at least 10 feet long and 32 inches wide. The larger the dog, the more unstable it will be. Also, make sure it has a full deck pad for traction. Start out on land, putting treats on the deck to encourage your dog to get on. Once you’re ready for the water, hold the board still in shallow water and allow your dog to climb aboard before you. Place your dog between or at your feet (small dogs can sit on the board’s nose). 

Kayaks and Canoes

The size of your dog and boat type will determine the best placement. Sit-on-tops have more deck space fore and aft, often allowing your dog to lie down. The front hatches of touring kayaks can also work for smaller dogs. If canoeing, start with a stable, wide-bottomed recreational canoe (ideally non-aluminum) and let them sit just in front of the stern paddler; if paddling solo, put them in front. Lay a covering down for comfort and traction (i.e., yoga mat, towel, outdoor carpeting, Ensolite pad, etc.). No matter the craft, let your dog move around and shift positions until they find where they feel most comfortable (reward with treats once they do).

A dog leans forward on a kayak with a PFD Photo: Amy

First Steps

Water Dog or Not?

Know if your dog likes water and if they’re comfortable swimming before you try to take them paddling. If so, the process will become a lot easier; if not, get your dog comfortable in water before taking them out paddling.  

Be Skilled

Make sure you’re confident with your own paddling skills before attempting to get your dog involved. They give you plenty more to think about. 

Eliminate Distractions

Until your dog is used to the boat or board, keep disruptions to a minimum, including other people, boats, and especially other dogs. Also, try to tire your dog out before going paddling, either by fetching or a quick walk. 


Make sure your dog is trained well beforehand, and knows the basic commands of how to come, sit and stay. Work on these skills in the boat on dry land before getting on the water. And once paddling, have some courtesy: Don’t let your dog bark, it annoys other boaters and harasses wildlife.

Land Ho

Introduce your dog to your paddlecraft on land first. Place it in your yard or on the beach and let them smell it, walk around it and crawl inside. (If you start with your craft on water it can rock and spook them.) Hint: Use treats as encouragement, placing them on the boat.  

Potty Time

Give your dog ample time to go to the bathroom before launching, and again when you return. 

On the Water

Shallow Trial

Place your craft in shallow water and let your dog investigate it. (Hint: Throw a toy so it lands nearby.) Do this until your dog relaxes around the craft, hops on and is ready to go.

Rover Routine

Develop a routine for your dog when getting in and out of the boat, and make sure they know you’re in charge. Also, as at home, have a spot that is theirs where they can go to be comfortable. (Hint: Put a mat, towel or yoga pad down for them to lay on.)

Keep It Short

Start with short trips. Choose calm water with an easy launch site for your first few outings, staying close to shore. Bring treats and don’t stay out too long. 

What To Bring

Keep drinking water and a bowl in the boat. Also bring treats as rewards for good behavior. Bring a leash for getting to your launch site and for when you get back to shore (take it off while in the boat and whenever they’re swimming).   


If the coast is clear, water calm and your dog is antsy to swim, let them. Pull them back in the boat with the handle on the PFD. Note: Beware of algae blooms which, if ingested, can make your dog sick, as well as other potential hazards, especially in moving water.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.