If canoe-camping with your dog isn’t postcard-perfect on the first try, don’t give up. Skip the campout, perhaps, and take a relaxing low-key afternoon paddle together. Most dogs would rather do anything than be left behind, and with patience and time, you’ll be rewarded with a seasoned traveling companion.
Our reasons for taking the dogs boil down to simple truisms. They love the river, anything we do is more fun when they’re around, and there are lessons to learn when we pay more attention to them than to ourselves. It’s possible, like Maggie, to be wet and muddy yet act like a lady. And, like Truman, it’s good to wag your entire body with joy now and then.
In the morning we break camp and point the bow downstream. We’ll return to witness the fiery pageant of autumn, and again when the river comes alive in spring. For now, we watch our Labs flick their tails back and forth as they drift along with the slow-moving current. As the thought crosses my mind, Brian says it aloud: “It’s a good day to be a dog.”
Here are a few tips that will help keep both you and your pooches safe and happy on your next paddling adventure:
Your dog relies on your common sense, so make sure he can swim, and tackle fast-moving water only if you’re an experienced canoeist. Swimming is far more exerting than running, so watch for signs of fatigue like trembling, heavy panting, and swimming lower in the water or slower than usual. Although capsizing is uncommon, NEVER tie a leashed dog into a canoe.
Canine self-control is vital to safety, both in the boat and at camp. “An attentive dog will look to you for guidance and permission,” says Deborah Lee Miller-Riley, director of Connecticut’s Canine Water Sports training program. Yours should understand and obey sit, come, down, stay and other basic commands.
A disgruntled pup is no fun on a paddling trip, so make the ride comfy. Most dogs hate sitting in a puddle of slimy bilge water or slipping around in a slick canoe, so define their space with a cushion (a foam sleeping pad, rubber-backed carpet, or nest of old towels all work well) to keep them dry and provide sure footing and a place to relax. Like a car trip, plan plenty of rest stops for bathroom breaks as well as exercise.
Check ahead to see if a campground is dog-friendly. Other campers will judge dogs and owners by your actions, so practice good etiquette, such as picking up after your dog and keeping him leashed. Bring plenty of food, treats and fresh water (feed your dog her regular diet to avoid bellyaches), a first-aid kit, and identification tags with home and vacation contact information.
Doggie adventure gear runs the gamut, from sleeping pads and booties to nutrition bars. Ruff Wear specializes in camping products and apparel (think backpacks, collapsible food and water bowls, and tents) especially for pooches. Planet Dog carries water-resistant kibble bags as well as a fast-drying, highly absorbent camp towel perfect for wiping wet fur and muddy paws. Quantum Herbal Products offers pets an all-natural flea and tick repellant that doubles as a coat conditioner.
This article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 31, Summer 2005