Maybelle is not a water dog. I mean that both literally and figuratively. There is no water-loving retriever in her lineage, and she has not developed any affinity for water. When I bought her a plastic pool for cooling off in the backyard, I quickly realized it was a waste of money. When I took her to a nearby river and waded out into the middle, she stood on the bank just looking at me. Eventually she tried to join me by hopping from one slippery stone to another, fell off into the water, and returned to shore. In fact, the only time I’ve seen her approach water with anything that looked like reckless abandon was when other dogs were involved. Even then she would only wade into the water up to her chest. In general, she regards all water as a bath.
So when my friends invited us to visit their lake house over Memorial Day weekend, I started thinking about ways I might help Maybelle enjoy the water without having to execute some kind of rescue. My friends have canoes and kayaks at their house, and I have long wondered if Maybelle would make a good paddling companion. This seemed like the perfect chance to find out.
So I started researching flotation devices for dogs, which led to some YouTube videos, and a video called “Don’t Canoe with Dogs.” Of course I couldn’t resist. The poor soul in the video was canoeing with a couple of cattle dogs, who repeatedly jumped ship. Was this a bad omen? Well, over on Amazon, reviews for Ruffwear’s life jacket included user photos of people happily kayaking with their cattle dogs. I was hoping that Maybelle’s distaste for water would work for me. If she’s half as smart as I think she is, she won’t be silly enough to jump out of the dry boat into the water she hates so much.
I decided it was best not to buy a top-of-the-line flotation device. After all, it might never see the light of day again if things didn’t go well. So I bought one on sale at the local pet store and called it a day. Maybelle was not a fan.
When we arrived at the lake house on Friday afternoon, Maybelle was excited ― if not by the sight of a dock to dive off, than by my friends who adore her and by a sunny deck to lounge on. After an afternoon snack and a beer or two, we moved down to the water’s edge. Maybelle took a drink, but didn’t venture very far into the water. Soon, though, I climbed into the canoe, which was pushed up parallel to the shore. Maybelle immediately ― and clumsily ― climbed in after me. No coaxing required.
I gave her lots of praise as our host pushed us out into the water, just far enough that Maybelle could not jump ship without getting soaked. She took it well, and it looked as though she was behaving exactly as I’d hoped. She disliked the water enough not to jump out of the canoe, and the movement of the boat made her feel unsteady enough to keep her from making any sudden moves. We didn’t push our luck, though. My friend reeled us back in, Maybelle hopped out, and we went back to enjoying dry land.
It wasn’t until the next afternoon, after a long hike, that my boyfriend and I decided to go for a real paddle and take Maybelle ― and her life jacket ― along.
I was very nervous. What would I do if Maybelle flipped the canoe in the middle of the lake? Well, I still didn’t know the answer to that, but the life jacket ― which she doesn’t particularly like ― added a layer of protection in the event of any sudden, canoe-flipping maneuvers. Still, we took a quick turn around our end of the lake to make sure she wasn’t going to surprise us.
We tried to stay far enough away from shore to steer clear of barking dogs who might raise Maybelle’s ire. That was probably a good move, because even as we floated in the middle of the lake and a dog barked at a far off house, she started whining ― the same way she would at a dog walking by our house ― and then put her paws up on the edge of the canoe.
I started having flashbacks to the video of that guy in the canoe with his cattle dogs ― only we were nowhere near shore. If we flipped over, we had a long swim ahead of us. But in the end, we managed to paddle from one end of the lake to the other ― even encountering another, much closer barking dog ― without flipping the canoe or losing the dog. When we finally floated back up to shore, Maybelle even waited for me to take her life jacket off before jumping out of the canoe and doing the dog-version of kissing the ground (which, incidentally, is chomping on grass and peeing).
All in all, our first canoe trip was a success. Maybelle undoubtedly enjoyed lounging by the fire (waiting for someone to drop a snack) and running around the yard a lot more than she enjoyed her time on the boat. But she wasn’t frightened, and with a little more practice, I think she just might get her sea legs.
Have you ever taken your dog canoeing or on a boat? How did it go? Tell us in the comments!
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About the author: Theresa Cramer is a journalist and editor by trade, an NPR addict, and an avid gardener. She blogs at Writer on the Prowl, where you will find pictures of her garden, her pets, and musings about whatever is on her mind. She is working on a book about content marketing and how to make the transition from journalist to brand journalist.