Canoes + Canines… an equation that can work for you…
I recently received an e-mail from a woman with a lab puppy who wanted to know how to deal with dogs in canoes. That’s like asking, “how do you raise prizewinning tomatoes?” There are as many ways to deal with dogs in boats as there are dogs. Dogs’ temperaments are different, the canoes they’re in are different, and the paddling skills of their humans are at different levels. That said, there are a few things I’ve learned from having Gracie (Black Lab, 2 1/2) and Winnie (Shorthair Pointer, 9) in a sixteen-footer with a fair amount of wind. Your dog needs to be comfortable, and there are three main areas I like to address.
First, dogs appreciate sure footing.
They don’t like sliding around the bottom of a wet canoe. Many modern canoe materials are fairly slick when wet, and what isn’t wet at the beginning of the day, it will be once a dog jumps in and out a few times. Royalex canoes are especially slick, and I’ve found that bathtub tape or textured dock tape will adhere nicely to a canoe if you give it a good cleaning. The chemical agents that manufacturers use to release boats from molds are not adhesive-friendly, so be sure to scrub them good with Dawn and a greenie pad. You don’t need to cover the bottom of the boat, just the areas where your dogs like to go. (Note that this abrasive tape will wear holes in your packs if you put them on the tape and let them slide around.)
Another idea that I hear works but that I haven’t tried is one of those bathtub mats with suction cups all over the bottom. I’ve also heard of people using indoor-outdoor carpeting or, in some flat-bottomed boats, a thin piece of plywood or OSB. At any rate, it’s a good idea to give them something into which they can dig their claws.
Second, dogs don’t like laying in bilge water.
Even though your dog might be jumping in and out of the boat constantly (more on that later), they don’t like laying in a puddle of water. A little is fine, but some boats, especially those with shallow V hulls, collect significant bilge water. Dogs won’t lay down in an inch of slimy river goo.
A small platform can be called for if you have a smaller dog — they like to see over the gunwales, and it will keep them out of the bilgewater and much happier. A 1/4″ piece of plywood is plenty strong. You will want to make sure that it fits your boat, doesn’t move around, and does not pose an entrapment hazard to human or canine.
Third, dogs need PFDs, too!
I don’t care if your dog, like mine, is a natural born swimmer. Labs can be headstrong, and I’ve seen strong dogs exhaust themselves trying to swim against current, and there are hazards in rivers and lakes that are as dangerous to dogs as they are to humans — perhaps more so, because many dogs lack the judgment necessary to deal with snags and strainers. A good PFD will help your dog keep his or her nose out of the water easily, they will ride higher in the water and are therefore safer, and there is a nice handle on the back of most dog PFDs to facilitate grabbing them when you need to get them out of the water quickly.
Training your dog to like a canoe is not always an easy task. Mine was trained as a puppy, and although the dock was solid and the boat anything but, Gracie would rather do anything than be left behind.
Basic training principles apply. Small, incremental steps leading to the desired behavior need to be reinforced. Get some of the smelliest dog treats and cut them up into small pieces. On dry land, toss a few into the canoe. Encourage jumping in and out, playing around, and generally becoming familiar with the canoe. Once your dog is happy about dry land, tie your boat up to the dock and do the same thing; treats go in, dog goes in. Coax out, treat, praise. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then try sitting in the canoe (still at the dock) and lure your puppy in. Rock the canoe gently. Reward, praise. Take a little paddle. Reward, praise.
Dogs are curious, and the rule (for Labs anyway) is that if they are in, they want out, and if they are out, they want in. If they go to sleep, chances are a duck will fly over and wake them. If they spend enough time in the canoe, they will eventually figure it out and it won’t be a big deal at all.
Take all this advice with a grain of sand. It worked for me. Whatever you do, do it with a sense of humor and you will be rewarded with a travelling companion who will add a new dimension to your canoe tripping.