Wilderness Canoeing with Dogs

Maddy the Goose

Maddy From MaddyTheGoose.com

I’m thinking about getting a dog to accompany me on some of my canoe trips. I got the idea by watching various videos of paddler and canine, and it just seems having a good dog along would be a perfect fit. 

Have a look at Maddy the Goose canoe trip videos and you’ll see what I mean. In those videos Springer Spaniel Maddy is so obedient that she seems to be much more fun than burden and offers no chance of running off into the wilderness after a flock or turkeys or deer. But I’ve seen dogs on canoe trips that were more of a hassel than what their owners gained from bringing them along.

Some ideas that come to mind before taking a dog canoeing is to be sure they strictly obey the stay, heel and come command without a miss. Our terrier could never make a good canoeing dog because she only obeys those commands when she wants to…when she thinks she’ll get a treat out of it.

A question I have is whether a natural water dog like a lab would make a good canoeing dog? Seems logical that she would but I once watched a lab nearly dump a canoe and her master into the water when she suddenly decided to go for a swim and jumped out of the canoe.

One of the most interesting dog-in-canoe situations I witnessed was a guy who brought his Pomeranian on a three day canoe camping trip. He had a small dog crate mounted on top of a hard cooler and inside is where the dog stayed during the first day of the trip. On the second day the dog gained courage and began to move around the canoe. On the third day it rained and the dog stayed inside the crate. It also turned out to be a cool little dog  around the campsite, but for a canoeing dog I think I’m looking for something a little different than a lap dog. Could you imagine a Pomerian following you around on the portage trails? One swoop from an Eagle and your Pom would be gone.

Maybe I can get Troy from MaddyTheGoose.com to comment in on this blog post with some suggestions and tips for canoeing with dogs.

I found a few website links on this topic –

Dog Channel

Canada’s Guide to Dogs

Born to Paddle

See more photos of Maddy.

Canoe dog image courtesy of archangelm at Flickr.

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9 Responses to Wilderness Canoeing with Dogs

  1. tom and carol heinrich says:

    Canoe dog: We canoe with Labs. Starting with one lab in 1999 and gained another lab when my parents died. Two labs in a Souris River Quetico, in the Woodland Caribou region
    of northwest Ontario. Together, they would spend a 20-25 days with us on the trips….we did
    amend routes for some portages we thought would be tough on their aging legs and naturally whitewater canoeing was out…but we did do a lot whitewater with them in our home
    state of Wisconsin…right before our first trip north in June of 2010 Rugs died so the first week of paddling in Ontario was quiet….Our experience was that Labs are great in the canoe, good learners, and great camp companions….being windbound for several days make for some interesting situations……

  2. PennPaddler says:

    I’m really liking the idea of having a dog to accompany me on some of my trips. Several of the suggestion given to me so far are the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter and Brittany Spaniel.

    I bet having two labs running around the campsite did make for some interesting situations. What do you suggest as the best campsite sleeping arrangement for a canoe dog, (or dogs in your case)? Inside or outside the tent?

  3. tom and carol heinrich says:

    PennPaddler: To answer your question about sleeping arrangements: we had the dogs
    sleep inside the tent. With one lab, it was fairly easy. As time went on, the older lab gradually slept out for bits of the night…When he was joined by the other dog, we had two
    mature labs and a bit of jealousy over space…so Rugs, the old lab, would sleep out–usually under a spruce to protect him from the bugs….during rainstorms, both curled up and slept away the day. Now, with just one lab sharing the tent space is great. The blackflies really drove both dogs into the tent. Also, we were very conscious of not letting the dogs roam from camp…and that was fairly easy after a long paddle. In the BWCA of northern Minnesota we really were alert to our dogs camp behavior as this area had a lot of other people….late in the fall/October-November we also bring a sleeping bag for the dog to curl up on…those 12 year old legs get stiff in the snow and 20 degree evening temps….starting a dog as a pup in the tent usually gives you a lot of experience in can happen when an animal passes by…and how to control the situation…..the only thing that I was disappointing is that we didn’t have a dog earlier in our canoe trips…they really are great in the canoe, on portages, and in the tent….

  4. a canoe without a dog is a very empty canoe.

  5. You made me laugh when I saw the picture of Maddy you chose. That’s her “lip stuck on her tooth” look, always makes me chuckle when she looks at me like that.

    A couple of things come to mind relating to the points you brought up.

    Concerning being worried about your canine companion jumping out of the boat, I luckily didn’t have to deal with that issue for too long. When I first started tripping with Maddy she was often anxious to leap out of the boat into the beckoning cool, blue water. It wasn’t until we were paddling through thick lily pads that she decided staying in the boat wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The lily pads we were cutting through were so thick that it must have looked like solid ground to Maddy so off she went, bounding out of the boat and quickly disappearing beneath the green trap door of lilies. Before too long she bobbed back to the surface with her eyes the size of saucers turning to me at a frantic, white-water paddle with a desperate look that spelled HELP! I picked her up by the handle on her life-jacket and tossed her back in the boat. She was no worse for the wear but happy to stay in the boat until I told her otherwise. Problem solved. As an aside, I would recommend having some kind of harness with a handle if you have a dog that you can lift – that’s why I outfit Maddy with the life-jacket. It makes it very easy to get her back into the boat or if I need to precisely place her when we’re in a difficult position getting out of the boat or even on land and lift her up over ledges. It has also proved useful in the past where we’ve encountered another aggressive dog and I could just quickly lift her up and out of reach – she’s a lover not a fighter.

    Concerning keeping your dog close to you, I like Maddy to be close enough that I can see her and she can see me. I don’t want her doing a perfect heal since I enjoy having her running around, letting off steam and having fun, I just want her “close enough”. I don’t know if this will work with all dogs but it has helped me with Maddy and you can work on this at home and on the trail. When I take her on a walk and she starts running ahead and not watching me, I quickly and quietly turn around and start walking in the other direction. Sometimes it can take her a little while to realize I’m going in the opposite direction but when she does she bounds after me. She may then immediately run on ahead and again not pay attention to where I am… again, I quickly turn and walk the other way again. I just continue doing this until she starts keeping keeping me in sight. It’s a simple technique but has worked well me.

    I really can’t recommend doing backcountry trips with a dog enough. It creates a strong bond to go through it all together and the unfaltering trust and companionship is beyond compare.

    Good luck with your decision and happy paddling…


  6. Lauren says:

    I started taking my Border Collies with me canoeing as soon as I got comfortable in the canoe myself. Now I hate when we kayak and I can’t bring them, it seems something is missing.
    That being said it does take the “right” dog. I adopted both my dogs from the local PSPCA. They were already adults(2-3yrs) and VERY loyal. They however are NOT brave. It took some treats and a helping hand getting them into the canoe and sitting down while we launch. They have become much more comfortable now and will make themselves right at home.
    As for sleeping arrangements we always keep the dogs in the tent with us or we bring a survival tent just big enough for the 2 of them. The reason behind this is last year, the night before trout season opened, I was up until 4 A.M. pulling porcupine quills by the fire. Not fun for anyone involved. I got a three person tent and its a little snug with 2 ppl and 2 dogs but it keeps us warm(we canoe/camped on Halloween this year and New Years eve! quite the feat in central PA). Once the weather warms up we usually bring their tent. Also both dogs have backpacks so when we are hiking they can help out with the load.

  7. PennPaddler says:

    Our terrier is the same way…not brave at all. I can’t even bribe her into a bath with treats and I’m sure she would not appreciate a trip in a canoe.

  8. PennPaddler says:

    Troy, that image was actually one of my favorite images of Maddy.

    I’m planning some solo tripping this year and having a dog along would be real nice, but I’m having a hard enough time training our dog to obey around the house. She even goes nuts over chipmunks and wants to chase deer while we are out walking so I’m sure she’s no type of wilderness dog.

    I’m still thinking towards a Spaniel or Retriever as my canoe dog. I’ll send you some pics when I find the right one.

  9. Can-eh-d-n says:

    Thanks for all your tips everyone. We’re taking our 7 month old GSP (pointer) with us for five days in the Killarney area of Ontario next week and can’t wait. We’ll be quite the crew with our 3 daughters aged 8-13 and my brother’s family with their 3 kids too! I’d be happy to share what goes well and what we learn from the experience.

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