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How to Train a Canoe Dawg

Meet Mango—a Northern Special canoe dog in training! Our On the Land Programs Consultant, Rachel Cluderay is an avid canoeist who’s been learning to train Mango to be the goodest canoe daog.

Here are some of her tips and tricks for making a pup feel comfortable, and at ease in the boat, from our On the Land Programs Consultant, Rachel Cluderay.

Step 1: Land Canoe Dawg

First, place your canoe on land and get someone to hold it stable.

Put your dog’s bed or blanket in the bottom of the boat to prevent paws from slipping and make them feel cozy/at home.

Encourage your pup to hop in the canoe with treats, or a favourite toy. And don’t let the boat move a single centimetre!

Once in the canoe, give lots of treats and praise! Getting your dog to associate the canoe with positive things that they love—food, toys, their bed, etc.—will make them think the canoe is a good place to be.

Try and get your dog to sit or lay down, to teach them that those are the positions they should be in while in the canoe. Give even more treats and praise in these positions!

Practice being in the canoe on land a few times before heading out on the water.

Step 2: Cozy Canoe Set-Up

Before you take your pup on the water, make sure your canoe is set up for them to be cozy and stable.

Try putting a foamy in front of the stern paddler for the dog to sit on. This gives the dog a comfy place to hang out, while also giving the stern paddler the ability to train them to stay in the same spot.

Here is an example of something you could cut or fold and use as a foamy:

This image of Muskwa shows how hard it is to control your dog from the bow.

If you own a boat, and are dedicated to having your dog with you, you can move your stern thwart forwards in the canoe to create more space for your pup. In the image below, you can see how the thwart is in the way.

Additionally, you can glue the foamy to the bottom of the boat for your dog.

Step 3: Water Canoe Dawg

The first time you get your pup in the canoe, it should not be for a trip where you need to reach a destination. It should be a short practice paddle where the person in the stern can work with the dog on proper canoe behaviour. This means they probably won’t be paddling much!

When your pup is getting in the boat on water for the first few times, make sure to keep the boat as stable as possible. Hold on to the gunwales, and don’t let that thing rock!

Again, positive reinforcement is going to make your pup love the canoe, so give them lots of treats or their favourite toy!

Keep your pup on the foamy in a sitting or lying down position. This will keep your boat the most stable and teach them how they are allowed to behave in the canoe. Give lots of positive reinforcement when they do this!

If you let them stand up and walk all over the boat, they will think that they can always do that. Try preventing this by having the stern paddler hold on to the collar and making them sit or lay down every single time they try to stand. The image below is of me paddling in the bow where I couldn’t control Mango while she’s being a bad canoe dog.

To make yourself feel more stable in the canoe, try having both paddlers sitting on their knees with their butts on the seat. The 3-points of contact position will create an incredibly stable experience.

Continue practicing with little stints on the water, making the time longer each time, until you feel ready for your first trip together.

Step 4: Treat Ideas in the Canoe

You need to give your dog high-value treats, which means treats they find exceptionally delicious. You can give them just small pieces of the treat each time instead of a whole one. (The quantity doesn’t matter as much as the quality of tastiness!)

Here are some example of treats I use:

  • Dehydrated fish and liver

  • Boiled chicken breast. Just make this at home or with any meat you have and tear it into tiny pieces!

I use these treats when a doggy’s quite anxious and needs to be distracted but still helps them associate the canoe as a good place:

  • Raw Beef Soup Bones from the grocery store

  • A licki mat with peanut butter and chicken bits spread on it and frozen

A kong stuffed with yogurt, dehydrated fish, kibble, and carrots then frozen.

Step 5: Should I let my dog jump in the water from the canoe?

If you have a dog that absolutely hates water (like Mango!), I recommend being close-ish to shore and letting them jump in. In my experience, they’ll realize how awful it is and never want to do it again.

If you have a water-loving pup, I recommend NEVER letting them jump in the water from the canoe. Don’t even let them know that is an option!! Otherwise, they might jump in whenever the heck they want which is not great on a canoe trip.

Step 6: Canoe Dawg Safety

Dog lifejackets may seem silly but if you have a dog that will jump in the water at any opportunity, including when you’re in the middle of a lake, then you should get them a lifejacket. It will make it easier and safer to pull them back into your canoe.

Additionally, if your boat ever tips far from shore, you won’t have to worry about your dog drowning (yes, dogs can drown even if they are good swimmers!), and it will make the rescue easier.

If you are paddling on rivers—even if you don’t have a water-loving dog—get them a lifejacket. If a dog accidentally falls out of a boat, a boat tips, or the dog tries to swim, the current could easily sweep them down river which can be dangerous!

This is one I’ve used in the past:

Bonus Tip: Have Fun!!!

Sometimes puppers can be brats in the canoe, but just remember that no dog is perfect (we all have flaws!) and to be patient! Eventually, you and your pup will be having a blast spending time on the land together.


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