How to Take a Dog Kayaking

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While the main point of a vacation is to get away from everyday life, one of its downsides can be leaving behind any beloved pets that just aren’t suited for particular types of getaway—say, cats who might get bored touring WWII battlefields, or hamsters who might not get along with the beach. Rather than giving his precious dog a firm command to sit and stay, however, retired orthopedic surgeon David Bahnson came up with a way to indulge his love of kayaking while taking his golden retriever, Susie, along for the ride. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Susie herself came up with the idea. According to The Dodo, after Bahnson had finished constructing the craft from a standard kayak-building kit, Susie found her way into the baggage compartment, and Bahnson realized she fit perfectly into the space.

In order to make the kayak more dog-friendly, Bahnson added a section of "coaming," a raised border around the prebuilt compartment’s opening, to prevent water from splashing into Susie’s space. After that, off the pair went.

When another dog, Ginger, joined the family, Bahnson simply added another hole to the kayak, perfectly balancing the boat with one dog in front and one dog behind. It’s a preferable setup to what most kayaking dog owners, or dog-owning kayakers, use: keeping the dog in the same cockpit as the paddler makes for increased intimacy but decreased mobility. “That’s kind of awkward,” Bahnson told The Dodo. His custom-built vessel allows both Susie and Ginger to settle into their own compartments.

Bahnson’s story isn’t so unusual—plenty of pet owners choose to take their dogs out on the water with them—but the purpose-built kayak is unique. Bahnson stresses that both Susie and Ginger had previously accompanied him and his wife on other forms of transportation normally reserved for humans, including cars and planes. They were also aquatically inclined, happily accompanying him on kayaking trips (and even going windsurfing once), but there’s no guarantee all dogs will feel as comfortable. Age is one consideration, since it’s true that old dogs don’t always want to learn new tricks—especially if those tricks involve getting wet. A dog that doesn’t want to sit on land is almost guaranteed to rock the boat, and no one wants to deal with the smell of a wet dog. 

For any aspiring dog-kayakers, there’s such a thing as Dog Scout Camp, which helps pets and their owners learn various water safety skills. While it would be helpful for the dog to know how to swim, there’s something even more essential: a personal flotation device (PFD), also known as a doggy life preserver. Just as it’s important to keep safety first in mind for humans, the same goes for dogs. Plus, just think how cute your pup will look in neon orange.