Canoeing with dogs



Paddling with a dog can be amazing! But also challenging. In this post I'll share how I've trained my Finnish lapphund Peikko to be comfortable in the canoe and some how-to on longer adventures on both flat and current water. 

Practise yourself first

To bring a dog that's nit used to canoeing can be a wobbly experience, and especially if your new to canoeing yourself. Start out on your own in the canoe to see how it moves on the water. Try how far you can tilt it without water sipping in over the gunwales, or (if you're in a flat bottom canoe) when you reach that infamous "point of no return". Take it slow and methodically. if it feels better already being soaked, swim before you start testing the perimeters of the canoe. 

Tips! Sit on your knees with your bum leaned towards the seat. this way you have way more stability and contact with the canoe. A piece of plastic sleeping pad on the bottom does wonders for soar knees. 

Practise before going on a trip

I do recommend starting early, training your dog to enjoy being in a canoe. Now, not all of us are blessed with owning a canoe, but check your local community if there's someone having a canoe lying around that you can borrow for an hour every now and then to train with your dog.

I knew from the start that canoeing would be an important skill for Peikko to master. So we started training while he was still a puppy. At first i put the canoe on the ground and sprinkled some treats in it for the pup to find. Next time, he got only a few treats on the bottom of the canoe, but more out of my hand when he sat or laid down in the vessel - still ashore. By the time he was wagging his tail by the mear sight of the canoe, I put it in shallow water, put him in the canoe and repeated the first two steps.

Next time we went for our first tour around the small lake. Peikko doesn't like to swim, so he stayed put. I let him walk around in the canoe, drink some water over the gunwales. Gave him some treats every now and then. We cuddled in the canoe on a small bay. Then we paddled back to shore, and that was it. If you're dog loves to swim, it's a good idea making very short tours at first, focusing on making the canoe your dogs favorite place to be.


Since Peikko was fully grown he wears a PFD when we're paddling. He can swim, though he doesn't like it, but the PFD supports him in case of emergency. If your paddling on current water or bigger lakes, the dog should definitely wear a PFD.

What about a leash in the canoe?

I have a long leash for Peikko, that I put on when we go ashore. In the canoe he's free, I don't want him to be tied up if we're flipping over. If you need a leash to keep your dog in the canoe, work more on your training.

Where should the dog sit?

If I'm paddling solo, I like to keep the dog in front of me. Partly since the trim of the canoe gets better, but also so that I can see and be prepared when he moves. When paddling duo Peikko sits between us, wherever he likes and fits.

When we paddled Ivalojoki in northern Finland, I had the idea that Peikko should sit on a piece of plastic sleeping pad on the bottom of the canoe. Peikko disagreed. He wanted to lay on top of our gear where it was dry and comfy. The dog was right. After all, 16 kg of lapinkoira above the gunwale didn't make any difference in a canoe loaded with gear and two humans, on a total 280 kg.


Even if the dog doesn't move around that much when canoeing, there's a lot to take in, especially in the beginning. It gets to work on balance, sniff the wildlife that passed by a few hours ago and check on what you're doing. So, I give a little larger portion than back home if we're out for the weekend or longer. I pack Peikkos food in old bread bags. Their plastic is more sturdy than those little bags you by for freezing berries in. For safety i pack only 1-3 days rations in each bag, depending on how long we're out and how many bags I've got. If one bag would break, not all the dog food is wet and mushy.

Special gear:

  • PFD
  • Drying cloth for the dog, packed water proof
  • First aid kit
  • Dog treats

Paddling current water

Towing canoe with a dog

When the water is too shallow to paddle, you can jump out of the canoe and tow it. That means you tie a rope in the stern and use the rope to steer the canoe in the current on your way down stream. Often you'll need a paddle or fork (long pole) to poke the canoe out in the current.

I let Peikko go in the canoe while towing, as long as it feels good. Partly since I can't have him loose beside me ashore and the towing takes too much focus and fast moves to keep him with me on a leash. But I always keep an eye on the dog, if he's barking or showing in other ways that he wants to come ashore, then I haul him in. I'm also prepared to step out in the stream at once, if the canoe would get stuck. In other words, no phone, camera or similar in my pocket.

White waters with a dog

I only take Peikko through rapids that I'm 99% sure we'll get through without swimming. Like when it comes to all white water paddling, me and my paddle companion needs to scout the rapid. If it's a small, short and shallow one, it's usually enough to scout it standing in the canoe. If it's a bigger rapid, with more water and longer than 10 meters, we go along the shore scouting and making agreements on which turns we're gonna take once out there. It doesn't hurt scouting smaller rapids as well if you feel uncertain. If there's to many rocks, to many tricky traverse or simply to messy deep water waves - then we tow along the shore or portage (carry) past the rapid. For all I know, no one has drowned from portaging passed a rapid.

Photografer: Alma B├ągefalk

Does your dog join your canoe adventures? Do you've any hacks that I missed? Please, share in the comments or in stories and tag @tracelessintiveden so that we may share your adventures!

Paddle in peace!


Would you like to learn more about canoeing, but more hands on? Check out our tours!

Your dog can join if you book the tour as private, please contact us to do so.