• By Lou
  • June 25, 2015

Copyright info at end/click to enlarge photos.




Lou Racine

Author: Dog Paddling With Tiny: A GUIDE TO KAYAKING WITH A DOG


retractable leash on a dog in a kayak

Tiny on deck on the Quinebaug River, Canterbury, CT

Many people ask me, is it safe to leash a dog in a kayak? I leash my dog while he’s in my kayak; however, that doesn’t mean that you should do the same with your dog! Everyone’s situation is different and the negative aspects might actually out-way the positives!

Many people who leash a dog in a kayak do so to abide by local laws and regulations.  Other paddlers do it because they believe that they will be better able to recover their dog if it falls in.  If you don’t have local laws and regulations that require your dog be on a leash at all times, you have the option of leashing or not leashing to consider.  If there are local laws/regs that require your dog be leashed, you can still consider how the leashing will be done.

Many times people consider things like what if the dog falls in; but, their evaluation and expectation of what could happen often stops there!  They consider the dog falling in, but not what might happen if the kayak flips and both owner and dog are in the water with the kayak between them…or the dog is caught on something under the over-turned kayak.  Keeping our dogs close and protected is our first instinct; but, close isn’t always what is safe or best.

For example, I almost drowned in a kayaking incident when I was a teenager. I was not wearing a PFD, and I would not have wanted a dog attached to me during that experience because it would have likely drowned. (I only mention the PFD because without one, I sank further and more quickly than if I were wearing one; I’m not promoting or denouncing PFDs.) The initial force of my body entering the water took me way below the surface of the water and I suspect the distance back up might have been too much for a dog!  A struggling dog might have also hindered my ascent to the surface.  I continued to flounder above and below the water until I was rescued. If I had a dog with me, getting away from me would have very likely been best for that dog!

kayaking dog

Tiny lounging in my kayak on Beach Pond, Voluntown, CT

If a paddler and their dog are both wearing a PFD, I think attaching a leash to the paddler with a quick release clip might be ok (it is what I do); however, you will have to decide this for yourself based on your dog and individual situation. The quick release clip would allow me to detach the dog from me if I thought doing so would save its life. I sometimes attach the leash to my wrist; but most often, I attach the quick release clip to the front of my PFD where I’m most likely going to be able to reach it easily. If one hand it caught, injured, or otherwise out of commission, my other hand can still unclasp and release the dog.

Even a quick release clasp brings no guarantee of safety. For example,  if I were experiencing an emergency where my kayak flipped, the dog’s leash could get tangled around me and cause the dog to be caught under me in the water! The dogs leash could get around my neck and… Leashing a dog in a kayak is not a sure fire safe thing to do.  There are serious pros and cons to consider and serious consequences to both.

standard leash on a dog in a kayakI would never attach the leash directly to the kayak or paddle because if the kayak flips the leash might not be long enough for the dog to get above water. Also the kayak might pull the dog away from the paddler and into trouble before the paddler can get to it.  If there is current, the dog could be pulled through the water like a dog attached to a car bumper being pulled down the road.

Consider your own situation and dog very carefully when considering what to do with a leash in a kayak. I think it can be a dangerous situation and there may not be any great way to do it that doesn’t also offer some bad aspect along with the good. If you’re thinking about using a leash in a kayak, I think flipping a kayak with an professional kayak instructor/spotter in a safe environment might be a good place to start. The following exercise would allow you to see what could possibly happen before it has a chance to happen for real.

With a professional kayak instructor/spotter, attach something to the leash that is similar in size and weight as your dog (include the dog’s PFD if it wears one) and then attach the leash to your wrist.  See what happens when you flip your kayak.  Try a longer and shorter section of leash. Try different leash styles, keeping in mind that retractable leashes can be quickly let out or stopped; but, on the down side they are narrow and probably easier to get caught, tangled, or cause possible injury to the dog or paddler in an emergency situation.

Five Mile River

Tiny on deck on the Five Mile River in Dayville, CT

Then redo this exercise with the leash attached to the front of your PFD with a  quick release clasp.  Keep in mind that your dog will be moving, unlike the item in your exercise. Continue to experiment with this until you find what is best for you, your dog, and your individual situation.

Please abide by all local laws and regulations that apply to the areas in which you will be paddling. Beyond that, don’t let other paddlers bully you into doing it their way.  This is a very individual choice and it is going to affect yours and your dogs safety, not theirs.

For more information about kayaking with a dog, check out my $6.72 book, DOG PADDLING WITH TINY, A Guide To Kayaking With a Dog (click below or the book cover in the right hand column or go to Amazon.com.

Amazon customer review of DOG PADDLING WITH TINY:

Nancy says, “Best ‘hanging out with your dog’ book EVER! Dog parks are ok, but a guide to spending time with your dog in this environment is simply amazing! Very down to earth and includes many helpful hints on kayaking in general and interacting with animals! The perfect combo! Displays an innate understanding of animals, dogs in particular…Looking forward to whatever comes next for this author – enjoyable reading and I have discovered a new hobby!”

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should I leash my dog in a kayak

Tiny on deck on the Moosup River, Sterling, CT

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Many people ask me, is it safe to leash a dog in a kayak? I leash my dog while he's in my kayak; however, that doesn't mean that you should do the same with your dog! Everyone's situation is different and the negative aspects might actually out-way the positives! Many people who leash a dog in a kayak do so to abide by local laws...

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