You’ve seen the epic Instagram photos of a dog looking majestic at the front of a paddleboard on a gorgeous green reservoir with our unique Utah scenery in the background. If you’re thinking about trying this with your dog, read on!
Don’t just bring your dog kayaking or Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) for their first time and hope for the best. If your dog has a bad first experience, it won’t be fun for anyone, and they may make up their minds that it wasn’t safe and never want to join you on the lake again. You can set them up for success ahead of time to increase the chances of a positive outing. There are also many important safety considerations to make sure everyone has a great day on the water. Don’t learn the hard way!
Don’t Force It
Some dogs may not enjoy this hobby. Hanging out on the water should be peaceful, but dogs who bark when they see other dogs or people will likely still do this on the water, and areas where people unload their boats and enter the water can be high-traffic with chaos that could be overwhelming. If your dog is uncomfortable with strangers or other dogs, you can try to avoid busier times or find lower-traffic areas to get in the water. Keep in mind that most of our reservoirs in Utah are increasingly popular when it’s hot out.
As TLC points out in their hit song, “Waterfalls” from the ’90s, you may want to “stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to” if your pup will be joining you. Avoid visiting a different body of water with your dog for the first time if you’re not going with someone who already knows the “lay of the land.”
Some dogs just really don’t like being wet or are afraid of water, but there are plenty of other fun activities you can do with your dog on land.
In Utah, it’s really important to check current conditions for deadly blue-green algae before you visit a reservoir or lake. Dogs are at higher risk than people because they tend to ingest the water, but harmful Algal Blooms also make it unsafe for people to recreate on affected waterways.
If your dog were to swallow a LOT of water (when fetching a toy repeatedly, for example), they could throw off their electrolyte balance and suffer from water intoxication. This isn’t common, but it’s something to be aware of because it does require veterinary attention. Make sure your dog takes breaks.
Practice on Land
If it’s your dog’s first time, start with your kayak or paddleboard in the yard on dry land and a bag of small, soft training treats.
- Reward your dog for standing, sitting, and laying down on the vessel while keeping as still as possible.
- Practice sitting in the boat with them and pretend to paddle while a helper feeds the dog treats. (Some dogs think grabbing the paddle with their mouth is fun, so watch out for that).
- Watch your dog for signs of stress, but if they’re still having a great time, you can gently let the kayak move side to side and keep those treats coming. Slowly increase the movement of the kayak.
- Move the kayak to different areas and have multiple sessions until the dog thinks the kayak is a pretty cool place to be.
If you want your dog to sit, stay, or lay down on the kayak, you have to first practice those skills at home without any distractions, then in the yard, then slowly increase distractions.
Keep in mind that even if you know how to do something, it’s hard to focus on it when you’re super excited, scared, or distracted. So give your dog a break if they have a hard time while on the water the first time.
Practice on water
Once they are comfortable in the kayak on dry land, load them up and go to a body of water, ideally on a calm/quiet day.
- Practice getting in the kayak, then having them settle in the kayak. Have a helper, “fake paddling,” on the edge of the water.
- If they’re still comfortable, remain in the kayak with them and have a helper gently push the kayak out into the water. The helper will steady the kayak. Feed your dog treats while this happens.
- If the dog is still calm and settled, then you can do a test paddle in the kayak.
- If they are still calm and settled, move out further into the water with your helper still holding onto the kayak.
- If still calm, push out a little further, and watch the dog for signs of stress.
- If still calm, do a few paddles. Feed more treats.
- Keep this first session on the water short and sweet!
You should also start getting your dog used to their lifejacket at home before you even leave the house. If your dog is used to wearing a harness, they might be fine with the lifejacket, but it is bulkier than a harness. Show them the lifejacket and give them a treat immediately afterward. Practice having your pup wear the life jacket for really short periods with treats. Slowly work up to longer time intervals. Lots of treats will help your dog associate the new safety vest with Very Good Things!
- Cut and file your dog’s nails before visiting the lake, especially if you are renting a flotation device or if you have an inflatable watercraft. Having long nails can also make it harder for them to have a good grip on the surface of a hard plastic kayak. It’s also important to make sure you don’t get scratched if your dog panics or falls in.
- It’s always important to have dogs microchipped and ensure they wear a collar with updated ID tags in case you get separated.
- The plan is always that the watercraft will stay upright, but especially if you have a large dog, make sure you’re prepared to fall in or tip over. Don’t bring any items you’d be devastated to lose.
Make sure you have a well-fitting life jacket for your dog and yourself. In Utah, you are required to have a coastguard-approved lifejacket for each person on your vessel, and this includes kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. DNR has patrol boats, and they will ticket you if you don’t have one. On rivers, you must be physically wearing your life jacket.
Your dog may be a great swimmer but may become fatigued or disoriented, so just don’t risk it.
Some dog lifejackets have a clip for a leash, and some less expensive ones do not. You don’t want to “reel” your dog in by his neck while he’s trying to swim, so attaching the leash to a collar isn’t as ideal as a clip on the securely fitted lifejacket. We also recommend your dog have a lifejacket with a handle on the back in case you need to lift your dog back onto the boat.
Additionally, you should bring poop bags and a sealed container like an empty plastic jar or smell-proof pet waste pack-out pouch so that you’re not contaminating the water when your dog inevitably poops. It’s also the law to pick up after your dog and pack out any waste. Plus, rain brings all that poo into the water we’re splashing around in. Remember that reservoirs also store most of our drinking water!
Also… the excitement or the stress can affect your dog’s bowels, so be sure to give them a potty break before hitting the water. If they get restless while you’re paddling, they may need to go back to shore for another potty break.
Bring a waterproof treat pouch with high-value soft treats to make sure you’re more exciting than any ducks, fish, or other dogs/people floating by and to reward the behavior you want to see more of. Always Bring Treats! You can go above and beyond by bringing a stuffed kong or a bully stick to help your dog settle.
Sunscreen and probably a sun hat that can get wet. Some dogs are also susceptible to sunburn, so be mindful of that when the hot Utah sun is burning down, and there’s no shade to be found. You may need to avoid the middle of the day.
Plenty of clean, fresh water for you and your dog– Stay hydrated and avoid a trip to the vet to treat your dog’s upset tummy afterward due to potential giardia in the water.
That leads us to the final tip. Keep your distance from wildlife and keep your dog on a leash so they can’t chase. Wild animals expend a lot of energy running, swimming, or flying away and might not be able to find enough food to replenish those energy stores when they need it. Also, stress can kill even if your dog doesn’t catch them. There’s a fatal condition that can affect wild animals called “capture myopathy,” which is caused by intense exertion or stress.
Mat for your dog – If you’re using a hard plastic kayak or SUP, you may want to cut up an old yoga mat to place it in the area where your dog will be standing. The slick surface can be stressful for dogs, so having a grippy mat will make them more comfortable and secure. If your dog is mat-trained, it can be helpful to bring that, provided you don’t mind it getting soggy.
Dry bag for your phone that goes around your neck that you keep tucked into your lifejacket. If you do use a drybag, it’s a good idea to have a float attached so that it won’t fall to the bottom of the lake if you tip. If you want to be extra safe, just leave the phone in the car. Or bring an old phone for taking photos and leave your expensive new phone in the car.
Sunglasses or eyeglasses retainer so your cool shades don’t sink to the bottom of the lake.
Float for your car keys, which will also drop to the bottom of a lake before you have time to react. Or seal them in a zippered pocket on your life jacket or shorts.
Water shoes or secure sandals other than flip-flops – Flip-flops float away.
Backseat Cover and Towels – Be ready for a soggy doggy!
We hope these tips and pack lists make a splash on your next adventure with your dog on Utah’s reservoirs. But remember, you don’t have to bring your dog if they won’t realistically enjoy this. It’s okay to just enjoy nature with your two-legged friends/family if bringing a dog will make it hard to relax.
Kayaking or SUP with your Dog-Pack List
- Lifejackets for everyone!
- Collar with tags
- Poop Bags
- Sunscreen, Sunhat
- Treats and Treat Pouch
- Water Bottle and Water Dish
- Grippy Mat for your dog
- Dry bags
- Sunglasses retainers
- Water shoes
- Backseat Cover and Towels
Don’t forget to check water quality conditions before you go.