DogTrekker | August 24, 2011

Paddles and Paws

Paddles and Paws Paddle sports can be as much fun for Fido as for the humans doing the paddling—providing you can convince your canny canine to sit still and enjoy the ride. Here are some tips for harmonious paddle trips.

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Safety First

Canoeing or kayaking with your dog can be among the most joyous of shared pastimes. But few dogs, even those who love water, will feel secure at first on the unstable deck of a kayak or the floor of a tippy canoe. Instinct can prompt even the best behaved Buddy to jump out and swim toward land‚ a serious problem if you’re on a river and have current to contend with. Dogs vary in temperament and personality as much as humans, and each individual will respond differently to this new adventure. Some guidelines:

  • Whether you own a paddle craft or are renting, training is essential before Fido’s first time out. Make a game of it by rewarding your dog for getting in and out of the canoe and for sitting still while you sit in it with him and rock back and forth. Then, practice in shallow water until your dog demonstrates a psychological willingness to stay in, stay still and enjoy the ride.
  • Choose a location where motorboats aren’t allowed. A lazy river, small fishing lake or quiet cove are your best bets. Stay away from locations where wind, waves and wakes factor into the picture.
  • Choose a canoe or kayak with a low center of gravity and sufficient surface area for the dog to sit and not have to be constantly scooting and sliding around. A bath mat or scrap of artificial turf can provide welcome traction on slippery surfaces. Bear in mind that you can’t paddle efficiently with a dog on your lap. You both need elbow room to be safe on the water.
  • Make sure your dog is trained to sit and to come when called no matter what the situation. You don’t want him bolting for land and being a nuisance to others, much less getting lost in the woods.
  • If you’re new to paddling, don’t venture out farther than you can swim. Even so, you should know at least in theory what to do if you capsize.
  • Most dogs like swimming, but few like lying or sitting in water that collects in the bottom of a kayak or canoe. Use a bilge pump or sponge to keep it as dry as you can.
  • A canine flotation device with a handle on the back is a good investment even for dogs who love to swim. The flotation keeps noses safely out of the water, while the handle makes hauling a dog back into the boat a less risky proposition than having him try to claw his way aboard.¬†
  • Never leash a dog to a boat. If you feel a leash is necessary for your mutual security, hold it, sit on it or secure it under your foot. A floating leash or check cord is safer than one that could sink and get tangled on underwater obstacles.
  • A tired dog is a happy dog. Make sure yours has had had enough exercise to “take the edge off” before asking her to do something as exciting as going for a canoe or kayak ride.

Photo: "Tesla's First Kayak Ride" - Robin Grantham (CC)

Paddle A Really Big Canoe

Dog in paddle boatIt may not be the first dog-friendly group activity that springs to mind, but the sport of dragon boating, with mythic roots in ancient China, has become hugely popular in recent years.

Different clubs have different views, but the Berkeley Racing Canoe Center, home to the DragonMax team, is very welcoming to visitors and prospective members, human and canine. So much so, says spokesman Paul Kamen, that visitors are invited to drop by M-dock at Berkeley Marina during Monday and Wednesday evening practices from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

If your canine pal is well behaved and calm aboard, you can catch a ride. If it's your first visit, arrive 15 minutes early to get situated; eventually, you can become regulars!

Newbies won't be able to catch a ride, but for action and pageantry the San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival September 17-18 on Treasure Island is a great spectacle and a good way to get acquainted with the sport. Also, Kamen reports that there's a convivial scene in the team tents, and BRCC's includes people and dogs. If you're there on Saturday the 17th and want a change of pace after all the festivity, stop by and visit our friends at the very dog-friendly Treasure Island Wines, which is open for tasting from noon to 4.

Photo: "Dragon Dog" - Paul Kamen, BRCC

Outrigger Outings

Catch a Canoe
Photo: Catch a Canoe

You won’t find a more eclectic collection of canoes and kayaks than at Catch-A-Canoe, which has been outfitting paddlers on the eight-mile-long Big River estuary near Mendocino since 1972. Well behaved dogs of all makes and models are welcome to ride along and enjoy the scenery in surrounding Big River State Park.

“You can go in a standard canoe, but for stability I recommend an outrigger,” says Jeff Stanford, owner of the adjacent (and extremely dog-friendly) Stanford Inn by the Sea. “Dogs can sit on the platform across the top or in the bottom of the boat. People take dogs on them all the time.”

You won’t encounter whitewater or significant currents on the scenic Big River, but the estuary is tidal and salty and the climate often chilly, so be sure to dress warmly and bring fresh water for your pet. Photo: Catch-A-Canoe

Inflatable Fun

The stretch of Russian River between Geyserville and Guerneville and can be a floating party in summertime, but after Labor Day the crowds disappear like magic and a mellow atmosphere rules. Russian River Adventures' inflatable, custom-made SOAR canoes are stable as a rock, easy to maneuver and as much fun for your dog as for you. A standard float trip starts with a safety briefing at company headquarters in Healdsburg (coffee served while you wait) followed by launching across the road at Healdsburg Memorial Beach. A shuttle bus meets paddlers at the take-out point 8.5 miles downriver. In between is (mostly) calm water and plenty of scenery to enjoy. “We offer one of the most fun days a dog and his owner can have,” says owner Larry Laba. Need a dog-friendly place to stay? Russian River Getaways maintains an inventory of dog-friendly vacation homes for rent in the Russian River region and elsewhere in Sonoma County.

Photo: "SOAR Kayak" - Russian River Adventures

Take It To Tahoe

Dogs won't fit in just any kayak, and expecting them to balance like acrobats on a slippery bow is unrealistic if not dangerous. Tahoe City Kayak solves the problem with a line of Jackson Rec Kayaks whose cockpits are big enough to hold not just you, but Fido, too. Add a dry bag for your camera and a picnic lunch, and you're good to go exploring for the better part of a day. The dog-friendly kayaks are available only at Tahoe City Kayak's home location, but should you decide to buy one, the lake is yours and Rover's to roam.

Photo: "Tahoe City Kayak" - Tahoe City Kayaks

Berkeley East Bay Humane Society

This bright young fellow is Floyd, currently in the care of the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society while awaiting his own family.

Not much is known about this guy's life before he landed in the Contra Costa County shelter in Martinez, but fortunately for him his winning ways got him to safety. Floyd loves everyone he meets, human and canine. A 2-year-old Lab/border collie mix, he's energetic and wants to play, play, play; he's also very intelligent and quick to learn, and would be the perfect companion for an active lifestyle--he's one who'll want to come with you on your treks and outings and make them twice as great.

Funded entirely by donations, the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society has been helping dogs like Floyd, not to mention cats, rabbits, birds and other critters in need, since 1927—as well as offering an acclaimed dog training program and other services. All that seemed doomed last year when a devastating fire struck the shelter. But overwhelming support from volunteers, donors and the community, as most recently seen in July at the annual Bay to Barkers event, has enabled the organization to literally rise from the ashes and continue its lifesaving work.

Photo Credits:

"Captain Bodie" - Janet Fullwood
"Tesla's First Kayak Ride" - Robin Grantham (CC)
"Dragon Dog" - Paul Kamen, BRCC
"Woman and Dog in Canoe" - Catch-a-Canoe
"SOAR Kayak" - Russian River Adventures
"Tahoe City Kayak" - Tahoe City Kayaks
"Floyd" - Berkeley East Bay Humane Society.

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