Despite the fact that Deirdre was career-changed for being, well, a scaredy-cat, that hasn’t stopped her from being the best “Adventure Time Dog” when it comes to anything that doesn’t involve scary buildings and vehicles. Swimming and playing fetch at the beach and kayaking are some of her favorite activities, right up there alongside hiking and mountain biking (or mountain running, for Dierdre). Of course, kayaking took some training to achieve, especially as Deirdre learned about the beach and swimming first, then here I was telling her “No, you CAN’T just jump off the kayak and take a swim whenever you want! You’ll get run over by a boat, NOW SIT DOWN.” But here’s how she learned it.
Before kayaking with her, we needed her to learn the basics. She already had a good command of basic obedience, both on and off-leash, and a very reliable ‘come.’ Next we wanted to introduce her to the water. We were lucky enough to live not far from one of the few remaining dog beaches out there. The 2.5 mile stretch of Jupiter Beach, just north of West Palm Beach, is home to one of the best off-leash dog beaches in the state. On any given day dozens of dogs are playing, walking, and having a field day on this stretch of beach, and non-dog people are warned to go find a different spot somewhere on Florida’s 1350 miles of beach. These 2.5 miles belong to the dogs!
Going to the beach can be fun, but safety precautions should always be taken at the beach and around water. I will allow the ‘search and rescue/swift water rescue’ part of my brain to give you a bulleted list of things to consider!
- Check the water hazards at the guard station- be aware of ‘dangerous marine life’ such as the presence of jellyfish, sea lice, and sharks, or to be made aware if there are any known rip currents out there at the moment. Never leave your dog unattended (duh).
- Know your dog’s (and your own!) swimming level and don’t overdo it. Swimming for dogs and people is strenuous exercise, and a dog could easily pull or tear something. Running through sand is also hard work, make sure you don’t let a novice dog overdo it. They can tire easy, and the last thing you want is for your dog to get too tired to swim back and get overtaken by a crashing wave. Many dogs will play until they drop, so be mindful!
- The sand can be HOT, so be aware if your dog is hopping from foot to foot or showing signs of discomfort.
- If you have a light colored or shorthaired dog, take precautions to put sunscreen on areas that will be directly touched by the sun. Take it from this glow-in-the-dark Irish girl- sunburns are no fun, and can happen inside of 10 minutes (the worst sunburn of my life happened with just 20 minutes of exposure while kayaking. I ended up in the ER 5 days later because my skin was so swollen the blood couldn’t pass through the layers properly)!
- Never throw your dog in the water. Let them make the choice to go in, if they want to.
- Check for water hazards! Oh, I mentioned this already? Well, do it again! I would always check Ocearch’s shark tracker before going out- Katharine the Great White Shark likes to pay coastal Florida a visit now and then and she comes in awfully close to the beach when she visits.
- Salt and ocean water minerals can damage dog coats, so make sure to visit the shower station and rise your dog after some time in the water.
- For dogs that really like to get out there and swim, get a life jacket. It will help keep them upright when they’ve been pounded by a wave, will keep them from becoming too tired, too quickly, and can be the difference between life or death if they’re pulled out by a rip current.
Dierdre’s first trip to the beach we thought we would just walk up and down and let her play in the surf a bit, get used to the noise and the water and the fact that it will come up and touch your feet and flow back out. I didn’t want to push her fearful sensibilities. Deirdre had other ideas.
Learning to swim was second nature, but being in the ocean is a bit more than just regular swimming, so we took at least 10 trips to the beach first to get Deirdre used to the idea and to really get her some water practice and conditioning. She was nervous of the big crashing waves at first, but it only took her about 3 minutes for her to realize she was a water dog on a genetic level, and there was no turning back after that. We had to reign her in a bit, especially as she didn’t yet have a life vest. She played with Tiki for a bit, then quickly ditched her for the water, since Tiki will not go in water any deeper than her elbows. We thought we’d get one person in the water and entice her out, allowing her to venture as far toward us as she felt comfortable while the other person stayed on the beach. It only took two attempts before she was launching herself out toward the person in the water.
Finding a coconut to play fetch with just sealed the deal. We could have thrown that coconut out into shark and crocodile infested waters- Deirdre would have found a way to fetch it.
At that point she was so gung-ho about the water I decided to call it a day and come back when she had a proper life vest, before she drowned herself. Along with the Ruffwear life vest, I ordered her a chuck-it retriever bumper, and armed with these things, we returned to the beach for several sessions of swimming lessons. The first few times we wanted her to get a feel for the water, the waves, the currents, and to build some swimming endurance and confidence. Deirdre was 100% on board with that plan. The beach and the water quickly became her favorite places. We practiced recalls from the water, and even directed send-outs into the water.
Deirdre would retrieve the bumper from further and further out, and we started throwing it up current, against the waves, waiting until a big wave crashed so she’d have to jump up and over the wave- I wanted her to be completely comfortable and confident with the water before ever asking her to sit in a kayak. This was a two-person training event, and we’d always have one person on the beach and one person in the water with her, just in case. (The person in the water’s main job ended up being swimming out to get the bumper when Deirdre would loose it in the waves and it would float away from where she was searching).
A few months after starting the beach trips, we decided it was time to take her kayaking. Normally I go out with my husband in two single kayaks, but for the purpose of starting Deirdre out, we decided to rent one large tandem kayak for the day. While I personally prefer a sit-in kayak, those are exponentially more difficult for dogs, and sit-on-tops are far more common in Florida, so we rented one of those. We decided to head into the intercostal, to avoid the waves that open ocean kayaking would bounce on and possibly unseat Deirdre. Since I don’t own a tandem or a sit-on-top kayak, we weren’t able to do a lot of kayak training until that morning. First we practiced getting in and out, which was more difficult on land than in the water, as the kayak’s angled bottom makes it rock from side to side. But quickly Deirdre was hopping in and out on command, and we progressed to teaching her where her spot to sit was.
One of us had to hold the kayak steady and Deirdre never did get completely comfortable with sitting on it before we launched.
Never the less, we forged ahead with our plans. We launched the kayak into the water just until it was barely floating, then hopped in and called Deirdre to jump on. Since it was sitting in the water, she was more willing, and after realizing it was more stable, she quickly became comfortable with the idea. The plan was to kayak out to Peanut Island and let Deirdre play in the water, but it was a holiday weekend (labor day) and the channel was jam packed with boats. In addition, the moon jellies were spawning and they were everywhere. I’ll take this moment to add- I’m terrified of jellyfish. I’ll get in a body of water with a shark before I’ll get in one with jellies. I hate them. I nearly called it a day at that point. The water was so infested I could’t dip my oar in without whacking jellies everywhere.
We paddled out across the intercostal, having to stop occasionally and teach Deirdre where to stay and how to sit on the rigid plastic hull. Pulling up alongside Peanut Island, I became thankful for Deirdre’s rock-solid stay. There were tons of boats anchored up against the island, with at least a half dozen dogs playing in the surf. Deirdre was ready to jump overboard and swim to meet her brethren, across the jellyfish infested channel, but thankfully she headed my command to sit her butt down and keep it there.
As we got going, Deirdre relaxed and enjoyed the trip. She didn’t startle at the large boats and yachts in the intercostal, which was a win. We paddled through the wake of some boats, to get Deirdre a feel for staying seated while the kayak bounced about. After paddling into the lagoons on Peanut Island we let Deirdre hop out and play in the water for awhile. We practiced her jumping in and out of the kayak a few more times before heading back out to sea.
On the way back I sat in the back for picture taking opportunities and to better reward Dierdre from the treat bag since I wasn’t satisfied with the treating ratio my husband was supplying
Deirdre even managed to stay properly seated while we beached the kayak back where we launched from, although she wasn’t too happy about it becoming wobbly again. Deirdre was officially a kayaking adventure dog!