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1. Practice getting her in the boat/on the board. This can be a tough thing to maneuver if you’ve got a big wiggler, so here’s where your partner comes in: Starting from a solid location (secured to a dock or beached on the sand), place your dog inside or atop the vessel. Tell her to sit (or down) and stay. Offer a reward for good behavior. Repeat until calm. Have your friend help push you off the beach or dock as you continue to offer rewards for calm behavior.
2. Don’t be afraid to let your dog swim. In my experience, most larger dogs who like the water still tend to get a little anxious about jumping in. That’s OK. That is, as long as the waters are safe enough for you to swim in. Otherwise, you might want to select another location for your first few times at bat.
3. Have a plan for getting your dog back in/on the boat/board. Whether it happens or not, you should know how you’ll get your dog back in if she should happen to fall out, and it’s always best to test this under controlled circumstances. Enter your friend (again).
If your dog is small, you should be able to reach out and grab the life vest handle and pull her up handily. If she’s large, however, this may not be so doable. This can be especially problematic should she attempt to re-board in a panicky manner. Trying this out in shallow water and/or with the help of a friend is the best way to gain confidence getting your dog back aboard.
Note: Always attach the leash to the boat in an easily detachable way so that she can’t get away from you (in a strong current, for example). I use a carabiner at the end of the leash, and I attach it to one of the many handy hooks on my kayak.
4. Make the first one a short one. Keep the first time out a brief trip. Why risk a bad experience? Keep it short and sweet and she’ll be way less likely to balk at the next run.
5. Paddle with a buddy until you’re a pro. This only makes sense.
All told, Violet went out on the water five times this weekend, and each adventure was increasingly more successful than the last.
So am I confident enough to take her out on an overnight trip in the Everglades? Absolutely not! But I now know that I’ve got a great kayaking companion for an average day out on Biscayne Bay. And we’ll eventually work up to that backcountry overnighter — slowly.
What say you? Are you willing to give it a try?
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