How to Choose a Kayak for Dogs

With all the options available, how do you pick the right kayak for you and your dog? Making this decision is not as easy as it sounds. To save you the trouble, we talk about what to look for and what kayak types to avoid.

So read on.

Can You Take Your Dog on a Kayak?

If you love kayaking and spending time with your dog, there’s no reason not to.

However, you can’t just wake up one day, put your pooch in the kayak and start paddling. While it is fun to share the experience with him, it can also be difficult and sometimes even dangerous.

In addition to getting the right kind of kayak, you have to properly introduce the dog to the boat. You should familiarize yourself with the appropriate safety tips too. All of these will be discussed here.

Things to Consider When Buying a Kayak for Dogs

1. Durable Material

Buying a kayak made with durable materials is important, especially when you are planning to kayak with your dog.

You should always assume that your pooch will scratch the boat. If it is cheaply made, you are going to have a problem.

With most hardshell kayaks, this is not something you have to worry about. Your dog can’t cause damage to the materials.

But with inflatable kayaks, it’s a whole different story. Some materials will tear easily. However, many blow-up boats are tough and virtually indestructible.

Whatever you opt for, inflatable or hardshell, make sure the construction is solid.

2. Stability

It is highly unlikely that your dog will sit still—more so if being out in the water excites him. But everyone gets excited while kayaking, so you can’t blame him.

And if he likes to swim, expect him to jump in the water for a quick swim every now and then.

You don’t want to be in a tippy or wobbly boat with all this movement.

The stability of a kayak is determined mainly by its size and hull design.

There is primary stability and secondary stability. Primary stability refers to how stable the kayak is when resting upright on flat water. When people talk about stability, in many cases, this is what they are talking about.

Secondary stability is the stability of a kayak when leaning onto one side. When a kayak has great secondary stability, it will not flip when leaning on its side. It glides well and resists capsizing. This is the kind of stability found in sport kayaks.

Back to the size and hull design. 

Generally, longer and wider kayaks are more stable. This is why boats designed for kayak fishing and beginners are wide. 

Unfortunately, wide kayaks don’t track well. But if you just want a canoe for leisure paddling, this won’t be an issue. If speed is important to you, find a balance between speed and stability. But prioritize stability because of the dog.

Kayak hulls are divided into four types: flat, V-shaped, rounded, and pontoon.

The V-shaped hull has a V shape and is mainly found in sea kayaks. It is great for tracking and speed. It has poor primary stability and can feel tippy for some people.

The flat hull is what you will find in most recreational kayaks.

The pontoon hull is also very stable (primary stability and some secondary stability). It is common in fishing, sit-on-top, and other kayak types that prioritize stability. The speed is not impressive, though.

Lastly, we have the round-bottomed hull. It is rounded and is designed for impressive speed and maneuverability. The secondary stability is outstanding.

So, how do you go about choosing a kayak size and hull type?

Stick to kayaks that have better primary stability. Most of the boats with good secondary stability won’t feel stable on calm water. That may make the dog uncomfortable and scared. Besides, you will probably be paddling on flatwater water. Not many dogs enjoy extreme conditions anyway.

If you have a bigger dog or intend to kayak with multiple dogs, your kayak has to be more stable. Get a wider boat, from about 30 inches (depending on the dog size) and one that is not shorter than 10 feet.

For maximum stability, fishing kayaks are amazing. They are very wide and stable. They can accommodate bigger and/or restless dogs.

3. Enough Space

Where will your dog sit?

Some dogs can sit on the paddler’s lap. But this may make paddling a little harder.

Unless your dog is small and likes to be super close to you, find a kayak that allows him to have his own space. That way, he can freely jump into the water and back on.

If it is a sit-in, the pooch can have his own seat. In the case of a sit-on-top, there are many options.

At this point, you are probably debating in your head, sit-in or sit-on-top? Well, we’ll talk about that in a moment.

As far as space is concerned, buy a kayak according to the size of your dog.

This is what your ride will look like if there is nowhere for the pooch to sit. But it won’t be this fun, more so when you are far from the shore.  

4. Weight Capacity

How heavy is your dog?

All kayaks have a weight limit. Some can handle 500+ pounds while others can only hold 300 pounds. 

So add your weight to that of your dog’s. Factor in anything you plan on bringing along—snacks, water, toys, extra clothing, and anything else. Then find an appropriate boat.

Try to stay 100 pounds or so under the kayak maximum load.

If you want to go kayak fishing with the dog, know that your gear will be heavier than when recreational kayaking.

Types of Kayaks That Accommodate Dogs

Kayaks are divided into many different types. Some of them are excellent for dogs while others aren’t. 

Let’s take a look at the best kayaks for dogs.

a. Sit-On-Top and Sit-In Kayaks

One of the key decisions you will have to make when buying a kayak is: should I get a sit-in or a sit-on-top?

Sit-on-tops (SOTs) are ideal for paddling with a dog.

They are open and the pooch will not feel trapped. One can also argue that they are easier to get used to.

Because of the open design, this boat type offers ease of exit and reentry. If you have an adventurous pup that loves the water, he’ll most likely want to jump and take a swim. That won’t be difficult to do with a SOT.

Since SOTs are open, don’t expect to stay dry. Prepare to get wet.

Sit-in kayaks are not preferable for use with dogs. Not every pooch will like being in an enclosed space. It will be hard for him to jump into the water and back on the kayak.

However, a sit-in is ideal for use in colder weather because the chances of getting wet are lower.

b. Recreational Kayaks

These boats are designed for relaxed cruising, mainly on calm water. They are wide and stable but not fast.

A recreational kayak is suitable for use with a dog. It could be a sit-in or a sit-on-top.

The sit-ins have a large cockpit and Fido can sit at your legs or on your lap. For bigger dogs, you will be better off with a tandem kayak.

For a SOT recreational kayak, the dog can also sit at your legs. But if the boat has a storage well, that would be a perfect place for him to sit.

c. Tandem Kayaks

This is a kayak that has space for two paddlers. Tandem kayaks come with two cockpits. 

They are good for paddlers with big dogs. You take one seat and he can take the other one. 

d. Inflatable Kayaks

The good thing about inflatable kayaks is that they are comfortable, both for you and the dog. The material is not as hard as that of a hardshell.

Some people worry that their furry friend will tear the inflatable material. But blow-up boats are unbelievably tough—most of them are. They are even more durable than the traditional kayaks. So you have nothing to worry about. As long as you get a well-made boat.

Nonetheless, inflatable kayaks have their downsides. They are not right for rough conditions. But it is unlikely that you will be taking your dog on extreme adventures anyway.

Types of Kayaks to Avoid When Kayaking with Dogs

a. Sea Kayaks

As the name suggests, sea kayaks are meant to be used in open waters. They are long, narrow, and glide smoothly with speed.

Touring kayaks, being narrow, have small cockpits. 

The cockpit is designed to fit the kayaker nicely and allow for the attachment of a spray skirt.

A dog can hardly fit in that space with you. It is tight and paddling will be a struggle for you.

While you can get a tandem boat, the shape of sea kayaks makes them tippy. They lack good primary stability. This can scare the dog.

b. Whitewater Kayaks

This kayak type is small, short, and narrow. It is designed for use in extreme conditions such as waterfalls and rapids. Conditions like these require a kayak to be extremely maneuverable.

The kayaker fits nicely into the cockpit, allowing them to control it with their body. There is no space for a dog. And if you manage to fit a small pup, you will have a hard time controlling the kayak.

Introducing Your Dog to a Kayak

Does your dog like the water? This is the question you should ask yourself before anything else.

Some dogs love being in and around the water while others prefer to stay away. Regardless of where your pooch falls, you have work to do.

If he doesn’t like the water, you need to teach him to be comfortable around it. This means spending time around the water, letting him get used to it.

And if he loves the water, you’ll have to teach him to stay in the kayak. Bigger dogs, especially, can easily tip the boat over when they jump.

The next step is getting the dog used to the kayak. The earlier you start, the better. While still at home, bring out the canoe and let your pooch sniff it and play around it.

When you get to the shore, don’t go straight to the water. Take some time, again, to let Fido familiarize with the kayak.

From there, you can try getting on the water with him on board. But don’t go far. Paddle very close to the shore, short trips at first.

See how he reacts. Does he get anxious? Does he love it? Does he jump?

These short trips will help the dog get used to being in the water and know that the kayak is safe. You will also be able to know his behavior before going on longer trips.

Safety Tips for Kayaking with Your Dog

Training and acclimation: other than the basic “sit and stay” commands, you need commands to make the dog get onto and off the kayak.

This may take a few tries, but it depends on your dog. Offer praise or treats when the dog obeys commands and sits quietly for reinforcement.

Use a life vest: if you care about your pooch (and we know you do), never let them on a kayak without a PFD. There are many awesome life jackets for dogs. They are comfortable and may save their life.

Not every dog will enjoy wearing one at first. So put it on him while at home and let him get used to it. He can wear it while going for walks or playing around the house. 

Use sunscreen and SPF: you are not the only one that needs sunscreen. Dogs can get sunburned too. And not only is it painful, but it can also cause more serious conditions like skin cancer. So ensure that you use the right kind of sun protection for Fido.

Do not tie your dog to the kayak: this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when kayaking with your dog. What if the boat capsizes and he is trapped under it? He won’t be able to swim to safety.

Stick to calm waters: anything else is a bad idea, especially during the initial trips. Fast-moving rivers will not be easy to paddle, more so with a big dog. And if the pooch jumps, getting him back on the kayak will be difficult.

You should also be cautious about open seas with a dog on board. First, the kayaks designed for those conditions are not suitable for dogs (as we have seen above). Another thing, the sea is unpredictable. It can change anytime and you want to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Talk to your dog’s veterinarian: you should be aware of any vaccinations and tests that have to be taken. Besides, the veterinarian can offer useful advice on how to keep your dog safe, especially if he has preexisting conditions.  

Get pet insurance: it’s not something that anyone wants to think about, but accidents happen. All you can do is follow safety precautions and get pet insurance. In case of anything, your pup will be taken care of and you won’t have to pay a huge bill by yourself.

Kayaks for Dogs Q&A

Q: Is It Safe to Kayak with a Dog?

A: Yes, as long as you do it right.

Ensure that your canine friend is properly trained and can understand (and obey) basic commands. You should be able to control him at all times.

Put a PFD on him. It will keep him afloat and you can use it to pull him out of the water if it has a handle.

Q: Can a Dog Ride in an Inflatable Kayak?

A: Yes, most inflatable kayaks are virtually indestructible. And the material is comfortable for dogs as well.

Q: What Should I Bring with Me on Our Adventure?

A: Here are a few things you shouldn’t go kayaking without.

  • A lot of fresh drinking water. If you will be paddling saltwater, you can’t prevent the dog from drinking it. And this will only make him thirstier.
  • Food. If you expect to be out for a while, carry food and a bowl.
  • Dog treats and toys. The toys will keep him entertained while the treats can help you control him.
  • A first aid kit. You should always have this in your kayak, whether you are paddling with your dog or not. Include peroxide or Neosporin.
  • Waste bags. Your pooch may want to relieve himself.

Q: How Do I Make My Kayak Dog-Friendly?

A: Other than buying a kayak that is good for use with a dog, bring a cushion. If the kayak is not a tandem with an extra seat, the pooch will require somewhere comfortable to sit. A folded towel can do too.

Q: How Can I Make My Kayak Slip Proof for a Dog

A: You can make the kayak grippier by adding DIY traction pads. Here is a good example  of such a project.

Q: Can I Get a Platform for My Dog to Sit on the Kayak?

A: Yes, you can buy one. And if you like, you can easily build your own, perfect for your dog and kayak. A simple wood platform like the one shown below will do.

Conclusion

Many dogs will enjoy a good kayaking adventure. They will love spending time with their owner and being outside. But to make the experience fun, you have to consider your dog when buying the kayak. Ensure that it is stable. Assume he will exit and reenter the boat—especially if it is a sit-on-top. Get a canoe with enough space and a place for Fido to sit and move freely.

Bring enough drinking water. Before getting in the kayak, put a PFD on your dog. This is very important and cannot be emphasized enough. You should have one on too.

Do you have any questions about the best kayak for dogs? Feel free to ask us below.

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