Golden Oldies: Paddling With A Senior Pooch

Kevin Roberts
by Kevin Roberts
Don’t leave your dog out of your outdoor adventures. Even elderly dogs can enjoy an active lifestyle out on the water, as long as you’re prepared.

“Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog.” — Sydney Jeanne Seward

Truer words have never been spoken.

Old dogs are the best of friends. If you have been blessed to have shared years of adventures with an old dog, you are lucky indeed. But just because your dog has grown on in years, doesn’t mean that the fun times need to stop! It is entirely possible to still enjoy adventures with your senior dog. With a little bit of planning and preparation, your senior dog can still enjoy outdoor exploits.

Related: How to Kayak with Your Dog

River has been canoeing with me since I got her as a three-month-old puppy. That was 12 years ago. We’ve paddled together in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and everywhere else in between. We have escaped forest fires, bears, tackled white water, done the Great Lakes, played in huge waves and enjoyed beautiful sunsets together. And we aren’t done yet!

River and I still enjoy paddling together. These days, packing for a trip with her takes a little bit of planning in order to accommodate her age – here’s what I do to ensure she has a great time.

Heat and Cold Tolerance

As she has aged, River doesn’t handle the extremes in hot and cold as well as she used to. Our Canadian summers tend to be short and sweet. By August, day time temperatures can be sweltering, but night time temperatures are chilly.

To deal with the hottest part of the day, we get up early and paddle while it’s a bit cooler. If we are on a longer trip, we simply stop for swims as needed.

In her younger days, she could swim all day long and still have energy to go! These days, I’m careful with how long I let her swim. While swimming is great exercise, it can also be exhausting – so she gets a short swim, and then a rest. If it’s cold water or windy out, I’m careful to dry her off completely after the swim. I find travel towels are lightweight and fast drying. They really soak up the water, which is just what I need for a long-haired dog like River.

Related: 5 Reasons to Consider Canoeing With Your Canine

Senior Safety

River is still a capable swimmer. But as dogs age, a wise choice would be invest in a life jacket to help your pooch with buoyancy. A well-fitting life jacket will help support the dog’s body and head in the water, allowing them to swim easier and for longer periods of time. Added bonus: a life jacket can also help keep the dog warm in cold water.

Safety in the canoe also means relying on obedience commands rather than a leash to keep control over the dog. Tying a dog into the boat is dangerous – if the boat were to flip, the dog is tied to the boat with no possible escape. Dogs and humans have drowned after being tangled in the leash. The best part about taking a senior dog out paddling is that you have had years to practice their obedience commands. River is so well behaved in the canoe – the benefits of an old friend!

Boat Type

When paddling with dogs, I prefer a canoe. I have big dogs and prefer longer trips, so the canoe is perfect for me. Kayaks will work well for senior dogs as well, so long as there is plenty of room in the cockpit for the dog to stand up and turn around, while allowing the paddler to safely paddle without interference. Stand-up paddle boards (SUP) are great for dogs in their prime, but the low deck and wet surface make them unsuitable for paddling with senior pets.

Extra Padding

No matter their age, my dogs get padding on the bottom of the canoe. I use foam mats because they are comfy and water proof, but some people mount indoor outdoor carpeting or use yoga mats. Padding on the bottom of the canoe gives your senior dog a more comfy surface to rest on. It also offers some insulation from the bottom of the boat. In colder water the canoe will conduct the cold to your dog’s body. Likewise, some boats will reflect the heat onto your dog, so a generous amount of padding will go a long way on short and long trips. A solid pad also gives your senior dog a good grip to aid in loading and unloading from the boat.

Kevin Roberts
Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts lives for adventure. Together with his pack of rescue dogs and his husband, he spends as much time outdoors as possible. Kevin lives by the motto: "Get outside and play with your dogs!

More by Kevin Roberts