Is your pooch a born swimmer? Next time you break out your kayak, take him along for the ride. You'll row your boat, and your pup can alternate between sitting pretty in the kayak and paddling alongside it. Together, you'll explore sights unseen -- and get in a little bayside bonding to boot. Many inlets and lakes in the D.C. area offer ultra-calm waters perfect for dog kayaking. Here's what you need to do to make a splash.
1Pick a place
Set your sights on a quiet waterway where it'll be just you, your mutt and Mother Nature. The Patuxent River Water Trail, Jug Bay in Prince George's County and Little Seneca Lake at Black Hills Regional Park in Montgomery County are all good options. (See www.dnr.state.md.us/outdoors/boating.html for other suggestions.) Steer clear of noisy or boat-busy waterways, which could spook your pup and might also prove dangerous. (Don't ever take your dog white-water kayaking -- it's far too risky).
2Invest in a vest
To make your adventure fun and anxiety-free, a dog life-vest is a must. John Landry of Nature's Way K-9 Service in Temple Hills (301-752-6401) has taught dog kayaking for five years (he even offers a sleep-away kayaking/obedience camp for dogs; it costs $600 and lasts one week). An owner of five pooches himself, he never takes even his most experienced water-dogs swimming without a vest. "It cuts down on everyone's stress," Landry says, "plus the dogs don't get tired as quickly." His recommendations? The Outward Hound (www.livestocksupply.com) and Ruffwear (www.ruffwear.com) models. For extra safety ("like training wheels," he says), Landry also suggests attaching one end of a line to the dog and the other to the boat to teach him to stay near the kayak.
Don't just get in your boat and expect your pooch to know what to do. Even if your dog is comfortable in the water, it may take him time to get used to sitting in a moving kayak. Be sure to set him up where he'll be most comfortable. Small dogs (under 10 pounds) might enjoy perching on the hood, while bigger dogs (10 to 80 pounds) will probably do better in the kayak's well, at your feet. If your dog weighs more than 80 pounds, he may require a cargo canoe (a large canoe just for your dog that stands up by itself); otherwise, there's the risk that he'll tip the kayak over.
4Take puppy steps
Begin by kayaking to an embankment with a beachy slope, then park and let your pooch out so he can sniff around. Next, get back in the kayak without him. Sound mean? It isn't: More likely than not, he'll wade into the water and follow you, because instinctively he wants to remain with the pack -- in this case, you. (Be prepared to jump out and swim alongside him, though, if he's at all reluctant). Let your pup paddle for two or three minutes, keeping a close eye on his energy level. Then let him take a break (and a shake) on the shoreline. Next, try again, for about five minutes this time. Build up to the point where he can go for 10 minutes without fatiguing.
5Help him have fun
If your pooch scrambles out of the water or starts shaking in the kayak, it's time to adjust your expectations. "Some dogs take to it naturally; others don't," says Eric Johnson, a doctor at Falls Road Veterinary Hospital who has kayaked
with his dogs for about 10 years. His advice? "Make it comfortable and fun: vocal encouragement, a good ball, a treat." We all need incentives.
Cari Shane Parven