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What is the ideal canoe dog for a solo canoeist?

Glenn MacGrady

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I know many of you are in love with and likely biased toward YOUR present or past canine companions, but I'm looking for an objective evaluation of an ideal breed, size, weight, temperament, hair type, bear and critter-scaring, water loving or not, dog for a solo canoeist's first canoe dog.

I've had dogs all my life until the past six years when my last German Shepard died, but I never took any on overnight canoe trips. As an aging codger with diminishing paddling companions, I'm thinking of getting another dog specifically to take canoeing. I can't decide whether a water dog would be preferable to a non-water dog. My Golden Retrievers liked water so much they were hard to keep in my canoe on short day trips. My little Lhasa Apso was a nervous, yapping PITA. My German Shepards were too heavy for a solo canoe, in my opinion, too nervous and too unfriendly with strangers.

I'd like a dog that is calm enough to be quiet in a canoe and with a temperament that won't constantly pester, much less attack, strangers or camp companions. I don't want a dog so big that it would radically tip the canoe every time it moves—in my case, I'm talking about 14'-15.5', fairly narrow solo canoes. I don't want a dog that hates and avoids water, but I'm not sure I want a constant swimmer either. Don't want a constant barker, but would like one brave enough to scare away small critters and serve as a bear alarm and deterrent.

Recommendations?
 
I have a border collie/flat coat retriever. As a young dog she just had too much energy for anything more than 30 min in the canoe. She is almost 12 now and would rather nap and give chipmunks dirty looks at home. At 60lbs was good ballast and calm, but that came with training. The biggest issue is she would chase bears and had several close calls. I am all for sounding the bear alarm for me, but a serious injury for her a couple days into a trip would be terrible. I am sure some breeds are better than others for tripping, but in my experience temperament is most important and they are all individuals.

Bob
 
I’ve never taken my dogs in a canoe. My 14-yo lab is a no-go, I’d have to carry him to the boat and he’d probably be on his toenails the entire time. I don’t know how our Frenchtons would do. They’re observant and not barky. They do have webbed toes, and are leaner than a pure French Bulldog would be. They probably still need their own life jackets. They may be too short to sit and see out of the boat, and I don’t want them standing on gunwales. 🤷‍♂️
 
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My daughter and son-in-law have a "portie" - a portuguese water dog. When he was 6 months old, we took him on a 5-day canoe trip on Little Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks. He was a highlight of the trip - he did great in their tandem canoe and took advantage of every opportunity to go for a swim with us. He was great in the campsite too - always willing to fetch a stick and then play keep-away with it. We had an island campsite for a few nights, which was ideal since he could roam freely and we didn't have to worry about him taking off into the woods.


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I think you would want a medium size dog with a good under coat for warmth and some internal fortitude. Very little prey drive (so it has very little interest in the wild animals) but a decent amount of defence drive (guarding) and lots of pack drive (wants to be close to his master). The dog has to be confident, with good nerves. The dog should be trained on dryland to lay down in the bottom of the canoe and not move unless told to before hitting the water. The right dog can be a joy on a long solo camping trip. The wrong dog could cause havoc and even worse. Both of these dogs were great canoe dogs. Della the Pudelpointer presenting a caught pike that slipped off the rock into the water and had to be retrieved. Fiona a German Shepherd who treed more than one black bear in her life.

JMHO

G.


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Nice PP, Gerald - a Duchasseur dog by any chance?

I've had German Shorthairs and most recently a Drahthaar - neither would have been my first choices for a canoe dog. I picked up a field lab this summer - AJtop's Defender of Dunbar, "Agnes". I made the switch from pointer to flusher/retriever which I think will suit my hunting style a bit better. I also specifically chose a lab to be calm when not hunting and with a mind to take her camping with me.agnes.jpg
 

scratchypants said: Nice PP, Gerald - a Duchasseur dog by any chance?​

The Pudelpointer photo was from the 1970's. The dog was bred by a friend of mine now deceased. Bodo Winterhelt. Was no fun on portages as she would quarter all the way and then go on point on grouse. I then had to put the canoe and/or packs down and put her on lead. She was a great grouse and woodcock dog, as well as a waterfowl retriever.

Yes, some labs make good canoe dogs. One dog that impresses me is Justin Barbour's Cape Shore water dog. The size of a small Lab but with a coat similar to a Chesapeake.

G.
 
A topic I can truly love. Dogs and canoes!

I like what Gerald has to say, not so much about a breed but specifics for a good canoe companion. I think many of us have seen, in person or online, dogs in canoes and the fails that can happen. Having a well trained and Confident dog will help everyone relax while on the water.

I got very lucky with my Lab mix rescue (who was a stray in Texas for a year), she listens well, but has her own mind. When it came to the canoe, I just tried and it and set off. Didn’t really give her the chance to jump to shore. Surprisingly, she did excellent and would sit on command behind my wife. Still curious, with the occasional Lilly pad snap, but ultimately a canoe dog at heart.

I put a cheap foam pad down for her to lay on and not slip around. Especially in my glass canoe, there’s a narrow center beam from now to stern and it really bothers her. She’ll sit on either side making paddling a little more of a chore.

So my only real suggestion would be to get a cheap foam pad or use an old one inside the canoe.
 
It is impossible to be objective about dogs. I think Border Collies make great boat dogs. I use my BC to fine tune the ballast in a canoe. She sits in the canoe unless I ask her to lie down for rapids. She is a good swimmer.

She is in charge of camp security and watches over me when I sleep. She is on alert when I am working on a task. She runs critters out of camp. She gets along with all other dogs and good people. Ruby Begonia is an all-star. Her first canoe trip at 6 months was a week on the Willamette River in Oregon. She is good on rafts, drift boats and sailboats besides canoes. She has her own spot in the power boat.

Ruby has long silky fur that sheds rain and snow. She can be in the mud and be clean 45 minutes later. She needs no jackets or special accommodations in the tent. For cold conditions she sleeps on a pad.
 
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Glenn,

Gerald pretty much hit the nail on the head, excellent post. I will add my thought process for the choice of my own tripping dog.

My dog is a Vizsla. He loves to portage and explore. He works close to me, we have voice and hand signals we use in the timber on canoe trips. These dogs do vocalize, but usually only when they try to talk to their owners, they are not much for being yappers. Jake is very attentive and responsive to me. He is great in the canoe … but we started training the day after I brought him home at 8 weeks. His first trip was at 6 months, he was really excited and ready.

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So I believe the most important thing in getting a canoe dog - is the training and relationship you have with it. You two have to click. Behavior and the desire to "get it right" are important. Then all it takes it time ... and lots of it, but if the dog is your best buddy then spending time and training is a win anyway.

To my mind, a medium sized dog is ideal for canoe trim and tent space. Also, the less the dog eats means the less you have to carry to provision yourself and the dog. On longer solo trips, that weight and pack space can matter.

I used to only be able to trip in the spring, and that means unstable weather - can be cold and wet. A Vizsla loves to cuddle under the covers ( I use a blanket, no sleeping bag). His warmth by my feet is welcomed on chilly nights. SOLOBOB1-280617-083923.jpg

Further a Vizsla dries off VERY quickly, so no wet dog slime in the tent, or wet dog smell either! However, they do get cold easily especially when raining with much wind, and insects can really get to them as they do not have an under coat. Accommodations must be made with a dog like this.SOLOBOB1-280617-091433.jpgSOLOBOB1-280617-084358.jpg

All this said, I do not think I ever want to go an a trip without my best buddy Jake. We are a great team and as soon as I get my gear out - he looses his mind, he is so excited to go on another adventure. He loves fishing ...DSC02931.jpeg

... exploring new water ...qUivYsP.jpg

... portaging ...DSC02958.jpeg

... or just snoozing in the canoe on a nice day ....SOLOBOB1-200618-092019.jpg

after consideration of the size of dog you want, then I think one needs to determine the activity level of themselves and that of the dog. Once there is a match, then take your dog everywhere, build that relationship and socialize them. Day trips turn to week plus adventures ... and your time together becomes something words struggle to describe. DSC02922.jpeg

Good luck with your search.

Bob.
 
I would echo prior comments - there will be some good breeds and some bad, but individual temperament, training, and relationship all matters a lot. My mutt (63lbs, probably hound, maybe lab and/or shepherd) is in the canoe with me almost every time I'm on the water, and I have tripped with him both solo and tandem. He was decently trained when I just threw him in a canoe with me in a 2ft deep mill pond. He did great.

Pros:
>>He'll swim, but not for long and he'd rather be in the boat
>>He's game for just about anything
>>Very thick coated - doesn't seem to get cold, bugs don't bother him too much (black flies do at height of the season)
>> Silent in the woods, usually silent in the boat
>>If I ask him suspiciously 'who's there?!' he'll go on alert and bark his head off - good critter deterrent
>>He's calmed down in his old age

Cons:
>>He follows his nose, even in the boat. For a couple years, I had him in the middle of our 35" wide canoe - he would lean as far out as possible after scents. He dipped the gunnel a few times and fell out twice early on. The boat always had a serious lean and paddling wasn't much fun. Finally I figured out to put him behind me as I sit backward in the bow soloing. He can't put nearly as much lean on the boat, so we have good balance side to side. However, the other end of the boat sits way out of the water and the boat won't track or handle a headwind.
>>He's good with some dogs, which means I can't responsibly have him off leash on portage trails etc., at put-ins, etc, unless chance of running into other dogs is zero.
>>He has prey drive, and won't back down. I trained him (with shock collar) off deer, but worry what would happen in a bear or moose encounter, or porcupine or skunk for that matter.
>>Prone to getting very rowdy when a beaver or loon pops up next to the boat.
>>Very thick-coated - takes forever to dry out and smells like wet dog a lot.
 
I know many of you are in love with and likely biased toward YOUR present or past canine companions, but I'm looking for an objective evaluation of an ideal breed, size, weight, temperament, hair type, bear and critter-scaring, water loving or not, dog for a solo canoeist's first canoe dog.

I've had dogs all my life until the past six years when my last German Shepard died, but I never took any on overnight canoe trips. As an aging codger with diminishing paddling companions, I'm thinking of getting another dog specifically to take canoeing. I can't decide whether a water dog would be preferable to a non-water dog. My Golden Retrievers liked water so much they were hard to keep in my canoe on short day trips. My little Lhasa Apso was a nervous, yapping PITA. My German Shepards were too heavy for a solo canoe, in my opinion, too nervous and too unfriendly with strangers.

I'd like a dog that is calm enough to be quiet in a canoe and with a temperament that won't constantly pester, much less attack, strangers or camp companions. I don't want a dog so big that it would radically tip the canoe every time it moves—in my case, I'm talking about 14'-15.5', fairly narrow solo canoes. I don't want a dog that hates and avoids water, but I'm not sure I want a constant swimmer either. Don't want a constant barker, but would like one brave enough to scare away small critters and serve as a bear alarm and deterrent.

Recommendations?
Cardigan Welsh Corgi: Compact, smart, friendly, member of the working breeds, great companion...

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The Pudelpointer photo was from the 1970's. The dog was bred by a friend of mine now deceased. Bodo Winterhelt. Was no fun on portages as she would quarter all the way and then go on point on grouse. I then had to put the canoe and/or packs down and put her on lead. She was a great grouse and woodcock dog, as well as a waterfowl retriever.

Yes, some labs make good canoe dogs. One dog that impresses me is Justin Barbour's Cape Shore water dog. The size of a small Lab but with a coat similar to a Chesapeake.

G.
Wow! Bodo Winterhelt? Pudelpointer royalty and North American versatile dog champion. Would have loved to meet him.
 
Keith, We used to have 2 corgis and took them on several trips. They are small and patient in the boat. They don't thrash around at all. I have taken a BC and 2 Corgis in my 18 foot Guide.

Now we have a different BC and a new Corgi. Great boat dogs.
 
You described sadie. Relatively small at just under 30lbs but long legs and lean for jumping in out of the boat and obstructions when portaging. Size is a nice blend of small enough to make it easy to bring her anywhere but not so small that she's helpless in tall grass or walking for miles.

On her own she won't get into the water above her knees to take a drink. She doesn't swim. She's not a huge fan of water but not scared of it either. If it's necessary for her to swim from shore to the canoe she'll do it (and I can easily haul her aboard). She'll also jump from the canoe and swim to shore if I tell her to. She's agile enough to gently jump in/ out of the canoe at shore, even if it's rocky. She'll swim across a stream of she has to.

Somewhat short coat is long enough to keep her warm in chilly paddling weather but short and coarse enough to dry quickly.

Her light weight doesn't affect trim too much and if she shifts weight left or right is not really noticeable.

She's interested in lots of thing but doesn't run off. She only chases things if they run away. Including bears. If something stands is ground she'll just stare at it.

She's very intelligent, which I think is important and can't necessarily be trained. In strange situations she rarely panics and you can see her trying to figure it out and explore different options.

A big thing is that I rarely go anywhere, including work, without her. As a result we each seem to know what the other is thinking and pick up on little cues.

She's a rescue so what breed, if any, I don't know. Must be lots of Brittany spaniel but she's pretty small and is not as spastic as many Brits are.

I think field bred hunting dogs make great companions on the whole. This is different than show bred, or random bred. Field bred are mated for temperament and intelligence rather than physical characteristics.

Training so they do what you tell them when you tell them can't be over rated. Some dogs make this easier than others.

Alan
 
Hates the water . A blue foam pad in the bottom and he is happy. Has a very high prey drive but a higher distaste of water. Wants a larger solo rather than a smaller. We can tell if the canoe is right if he sits and lays down. Standing and staying standing is a bad sign. The real issue is he hates wetfooting. Prima donna. Lab and Carolina Dog mix. 52 lbs
 

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I had a Golden that given a big solo like the Raven was OK. But she loved water and would if tempted really hard leave the boat in an instant. She was well trained but wave a duck in front of her and she would exit over the side; Like this.( this was from a Nakoma.. she fortunately left that little tiny 13 foot solo over the bow.) Photo by Marc Ornstein.
 

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