Water Dogs: Rafting and Floating Safety

Headed out on a whitewater rafting trip?

Perhaps a multi-day float and you don’t want to leave your best friend behind? Rafting and floating with dogs is an absolute delight when they are trained and have developed river skills. However, rafting with a dog that is anxiety-ridden and restless is an absolute nightmare. Here’s how to prepare your dog for a safe and enjoyable trip down the river.

Safety Gear

A life jacket is an absolute must for your dog. Not only does it help with buoyancy in heavy water, the handle on the back adds an element of control for you. The handle provides a stable gripping point to stabilize your dog and also makes it easy to grab and lift your dog back into the raft. It really acts as a support handle for climbing back into the boat. Outside of a quality life jacket, you don’t really need anything for a dog, specifically.

Never tie an animal to the boat or leash them off. Allowing them to fall out and swim with a quality life jacket like the NRS CFD model is safer than having them tied down to the boat.

dog raft

image courtesy Zach Lazzari, Busted Oarlock

Practice Runs

Some dogs will jump right in your boat and sit down comfortably—but many are extremely uncomfortable. They will run around, interfere with the rower, and jump out at the worst possible times. Starting your dog young makes a huge difference as they become accustomed to boating much easier as a puppy.

You can work through these issues with regular, short practice runs. Choose a relatively mild stretch of river or even a lake for practice. Low-consequence waters are perfect for practice runs. Float along and work on basic commands and calming practices. Building trust and turning the focus from the boat to your connection with your dog is critical. Your commands must take precedence over their attention to the raft, the river, and their anxiety. When focused on you, they can calm down and settle into a routine. A reward system involving treats is always a good move.

dog raft

image courtesy Zach Lazzari, Busted Oarlock

Know When to Leave Your Dog Behind

Not every trip is dog-friendly, and sometimes you have to make the painful decision to leave your pal behind. I’m stubborn about this one, but there are times where it was the better move to leave my dog at home. When it’s my boat, I simply tell guests that my dog is coming. If they don’t like it, they can find a seat in a different raft or stay behind themselves. In another boat, however, you must ask for permission—and a crowded boat is not ideal for bringing a dog along.

Really big, Class V water is also not a great situation for dogs. In some cases, a very experienced river dog can make the trip comfortably, but these dogs are a rare breed. Save them the stress when you tackle a big, dangerous run. Some rivers like Montana’s Smith River require permits and staying at dedicated campsites where dogs are prohibited. Obviously, you must leave your dog behind on these trips. If the river is not regulated but dogs and heavy human traffic are clearly having an impact, consider leaving the dogs behind to minimize your impact as well.

When you head out on a casual day float or tackle a moderate multi-day, bring the dog along and enjoy the trip. Hike them hard on your lunch breaks and wear them out until they relax and use the boat as a nice bed for napping in the sun.

Meet the Author: Zach Lazzari

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