Kayaking with your dog can be a great experience. Dogs love long lazy days on the lake or being your budding fishing companion. Some even enjoy the ripples and rapids of a river.
Before you can think about taking your dog out with you, you need to know they’re going to stay safe. This starts with having a kayak that is right for your chosen environment, but which is also going to fit your dog.
In this article, we take a look at some models that we believe are the best kayaks for dogs. There’s also a comprehensive buying guide to help you find the optimal kayak for your four-legged friend.
How to Choose a Dog-Friendly Kayak
First, you need to determine the combined weight of yourself, your dog, and all of your gear.
There’s a simple rule with kayaks to make sure you don’t overload them. Whatever the manufacturer says the maximum capacity is, don’t load your kayak above 70% of that. If your kayak has a maximum capacity of 500 lbs., you should stay under 350 lbs. to give yourself the best and most stable ride.
For more on that, check out our article on kayak weight limits.
A kayak’s stability comes from its length, width, and hull shape. Weight distribution is also important. When your ballast is on four legs and likes to walk around, it makes sense to have a wide kayak. Width means you’re less likely to tip if your dog chooses to check out the fish.
Finally, consider where on a kayak you can put your dog and how comfortable it can be there. Some dogs will sit or lay down quietly while others are more active and need space to walk around. We’ve picked some kayaks with flat, open decks that can accommodate medium-sized dogs or even some large ones.
Types of Kayaks Suited to Dogs
As well as having to consider dimensions, it’s important to think about what type of kayak you’re going to use. Every kayak has an intended use, whether it’s for long trips on the sea, recreational trips around the lake, or catching a big haul. Some kayaks are suited for dogs, while others aren’t ideal.
Sit-on-top vs sit-in kayaks for dogs
The first and maybe the most obvious difference is whether you choose a sit-on-top or a sit-in kayak.
Most people prefer a sit-on-top for paddling with a dog. The open deck usually allows for more space for your pet to walk around and make themselves comfortable. These kayaks are usually wider and often more stable, too.
There are a couple of bonuses with sit-on-top kayaks. It’s much easier to lift your dog back onto the kayak if they jump into the water. There are also drain bungs, so if the dog brings some water back on board, the water will drain out.
Sit-in kayaks can be tight for space. Your pet has to share cockpit space with you or, in a tandem kayak, have a cockpit of their own and stay quite still. This can be good if you have a nervous or small dog, who can cuddle up to you and stay warm and comfortable.
If you do choose to use a sit-in kayak with your dog, make sure they don’t inhibit your ability to exit your boat if you need to.
Kayaking with a dog: Tandem vs solo kayaks
Solo kayaks are just that. They’re designed to fit you and perhaps your equipment on board. A lot of solo kayaks will have storage space or an open deck design and may have the capacity for a companion. Always check the weight limit and make sure you don’t exceed 70% of the maximum capacity.
If you have a large dog, it’s worth looking at a tandem kayak for space. A lot of sit-on-top tandems have the option of being paddled as a solo. With a heavy dog, this won’t matter too much so long as they stay towards the front and can balance you out.
Can you put a dog in an inflatable kayak?
On the face of it, this might seem like a really obvious choice. The obvious benefits of plastic kayaks are that they can’t be punctured.
Don’t ignore good inflatable kayaks, though. These aren’t your poolside loungers. They’re made from rugged, hard-wearing PVC, designed to tackle rocky landings and beaches. So long as your dog’s nails are clipped, there should be no danger of a puncture.
The benefit of inflatables is that they are usually big, open kayaks. They usually have lots of capacity, too. Inflatable kayaks are often wider and more stable than their plastic counterparts. This is especially good if you have a large or inquisitive dog who wants to explore the water.
Kayak Fishing with a Dog
Fishing kayaks are usually wider and more stable than any other type of kayak. They are designed for you to be able to stand and move around while you fish. There will be no issue, then, if your dog wants to go for a wander.
They also usually have a large load capacity and a wide-open deck. There’s often storage space too, plenty of room for your pet to make themselves comfortable.
What to Avoid when Kayaking with Dogs
Cheap inflatable kayaks
We’ve mentioned how strong inflatables are. There are still inflatables on the market which aren’t designed to be rugged. These lightweight kayaks are often made from thinner materials that can be punctured easily.
White water kayaks are small and compact. They’re designed to perform well in an environment that you’re probably not going to be taking your dog into.
Similarly, sea kayaks are a poor choice for dogs. Both these and white water kayaks are narrow and have small cockpits. The limited space means you will be cramped up and your dog won’t have any space to move around.
Any sudden movement in these kayaks and you might find yourself upside down.
Top Tips for getting your dog used to kayaking
Once you’ve got all the gear, you want to make sure your dog actually enjoys going kayaking. There are a few things you can do to make their time on the water more enjoyable.
- Spend time on the land before you get on the water. Familiarise your dog with the kayak using treats if it helps.
- Once you get on the water, let them explore the kayak and find where they are comfortable. Let them get a feel for how stable it is and how it feels to move around on the water.
- Once they have their ‘spot’, make it comfortable if you need to with a waterproof bed.
- Don’t go straight out from the shore. Start out sheltered and make sure your dog’s comfortable and happy before you head further afield.
- Get your dog used to being in the water and practice what to do if you do capsize, or if they fall or jump in. A panicking dog in the water will often try to climb onto you and can be dangerous. Practice and make sure you’re well prepared.
Safety Considerations When Kayaking with Dogs
We spend a lot of time and often money keeping ourselves safe on the water. We need to be sure that our dogs are as safe as us and aren’t going to cause us any problems on the water.
- We wouldn’t go on the water without a PFD, so why would you take your dog? Sure, they can swim, but we all know it’s different out there. There are loads of PFDs to choose from. Be sure your dog’s PFD is the right fit and floatation for your pet.
- As we said above, practice. There’s no substitute for acclimatization and practicing what to do in the event of a capsize. Also, try lifting your dog back into your kayak. If you have a large dog or a high-sided boat, this may be more difficult.
- It might be tempting to tether your dog to your kayak. Don’t do that. A tethered dog cannot get away from the boat if it needs to. The leash can get tangled and cause a lot of issues. It’s far safer to keep your dog loose in case of a swim.
Top Rated Kayaks for Dogs
Best on a budget: Pelican Sentinel 100X EXO
The Pelican Sentinel 100X EXO is a lightweight and affordable kayak with a flat and padded deck. It features an adjustable, high back seat and a removable watertight case at the stern. This open decked, simplistic kayak is a great beginner choice and can comfortably fit small and medium dogs.
What we like: Open deck style. Affordable price point.
What we don’t like: Low seat position.
Best value for money: FeelFree Juntos
The Juntos is a wide, comfortable recreational sit-on-top. This is a kayak designed with children and pets in mind. The jump seat at the front is the perfect position for your dog to enjoy their kayaking experience. The best bit is, you can still paddle easily. Behind the seat, the Juntos has loads of storage for all your dog’s equipment.
What we like: Large open space at the bow. Plenty of storage. Towing wheel for dragging it on the land.
What we don’t like: Low seating position.
Best hunting or fishing choice: NuCanoe Unlimited
The NuCanoe Unlimited is a hunting and fishing crossover kayak with a huge payload. The capacity on this kayak is 650 lbs., so even the biggest dogs will be at home here. The large open deck design and storage space mean your dog can be comfortable while you move around to hunt.
What we like: Really high capacity. Raised, supportive seating.
What we don’t like: Heavy. A lot to move around on land, especially with a dog.
Most durable inflatable: Sea Eagle 385 fta
If you want the toughest inflatable available, the 385 fta is well worth a look. Crocodile skin foam on the floor and tubes is resistant to claws and is anti-slip. Designed for fishing, the 385 fta has a high capacity and excellent stability. It’s a great choice for large and inquisitive dogs.
What we like: Crocodile skin floor and tubes are really rugged.
What we don’t like: Higher sides can make it more difficult to lift large dogs from the water.
Best for big dogs: Crescent Crew
The Crescent Crew is a kayak capable of carrying just about everyone. This is a kayak light enough to be paddled solo, but which can take the kids and dog, too. As a wide and really stable kayak, this is a great choice if you have a big dog that likes to explore the water.
What we like: Huge capacity. Really stable. Lots of seating options for solo and tandem paddling.
What we don’t like: This is a heavy kayak. You may struggle to load and unload this kayak if you’ve just got kids and dogs with you.
Best of the rest: Jackson YuPik
A high, supportive seat and an enormous open deck design. The YuPik is a fishing kayak that your dog will love. The deck is fully padded, for grip and comfort when you stand to cast. Your dog can move around the boat without slipping and can get comfortable just about anywhere. This boat suits big dogs or keen anglers who like to take their pet out with them.
What we like: Huge open deck design. Deck padding.
What we don’t like: With a price point like this, you’ve got to know your dog is a keen kayaker.
Old Town Vapor
This is a compact and sport kayak with surprising volume. The Vapor is a basic, sit-in recreational kayak. It has plenty of storage space and a well-defined keel line to keep you tracking straight. The large cockpit opening gives you plenty of space to share this kayak with your dog.
What we like: Large cockpit.
What we don’t like: The Vapor is the narrowest kayak on the list and may not be the best choice if your dog likes to move around a lot.
Sea Eagle 370
The 370 is a lightweight, two to three-person inflatable kayak. This larger capacity gives you space for dogs of most sizes. This might be lightweight and portable, but it’s still rugged enough to withstand having a dog on board.
What we like: Portable, for those hard-to-reach lakes. The inflatable floor is comfortable for dogs.
What we don’t like: Higher sides can make it hard to lift large dogs back in.
Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible
This sit-in inflatable has a semi-rigid frame and paddles like a plastic kayak. This is good news for kayakers who want to take their dogs on longer trips, without the hassle of storing a rigid kayak. There is plenty of internal space for most small and medium dogs. They can even get some shelter by hunkering down at the bow.
What we like: A recreational kayak capable of longer trips. Some weather protection.
What we don’t like: Not enough space at the bow for large dogs.
Liquid Logic Marvel 14.5 Tandem
The large, open cockpit of the Marvel 14.5 Tandem gives you plenty of space to take your dog out on the water. If it’s bad weather, they can get some shelter by huddling below the deck at the bow, too. This kayak is wide enough to be stable but sleek enough that you can cover a good distance in a day.
What we like: Comfortable and supportive. Seats can be adjusted for solo paddling.
What we don’t like: Difficult to haul a large dog back into.
Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135T
Wide, stable, and with plenty of internal space. The Pamlico 135T is a basic, recreational kayak that is capable of a good top speed. The covered area at the bow can provide a comfortable retreat for smaller dogs. There’s also plenty of space for larger dogs.
What we like: Really comfortable seating. Some shelter and warmth.
What we don’t like: Not ideal for dogs that like to swim a lot.
Top Tips When Paddling with a Dog
- Use Sunscreen – dogs are just as likely to burn as you out on the water, maybe more. Don’t forget sunscreen on ears and other exposed skin.
- Bring water and maybe food. It may not be safe for your dog to drink from the lake, so take a bowl and some drinking water.
- Dogs like to play too! Why not take some water-friendly toys with you and let your dog have a swim around as you paddle.
- Your dog will need to get out and answer nature’s call. Take bags and a scoop with you to clean up after them.
- When you get on and off the water, you may need a leash to keep your dog close by.
- However, don’t leash your dog while they’re in your kayak. It can cause a lot of trouble if you capsize.
Where can you take a dog kayaking?
Almost anywhere. Most people avoid taking their dogs on white water or on the sea, but otherwise anywhere. Start sheltered and close to the shore until you and your dog are comfortable enough to explore further.
How do I get my dog used to being in a kayak?
Acclimatize your dog on the land. Use treats to get them inquisitive and comfortable. Once on the water, start out close to land and in sheltered water. Let your dog explore the kayak and get comfortable before venturing further from shore.
How do I lift my dog back into my kayak?
Most dog-specific PFDs come with a carrying handle. We strongly recommend that you put your dog in a PFD before heading out on the water. Paddle alongside them, stow your paddle, and help them back into the boat. Use your body weight to keep the kayak level.
If your dog doesn’t have a PFD on, reach your arm under their front legs and lift them into the kayak.
Do you need to make a special platform for your dog?
No. Most dogs will find a comfortable spot in the kayak. If you want to make it more comfortable for them, consider a waterproof bed or some closed-cell foam.
I only have a small dog, do I still need to worry about all of this?
Yes. Smaller dogs can be easier to find a kayak for, but they should still be acclimatized and treated just as larger dogs are. They may not be able to tip the kayak like a large dog, but they can still get scared. You want kayaking to be as enjoyable for your dog as it is for you.