Kayaking with your dog

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.

"This is GREAT guys, why haven't we done this before?!"

“This is GREAT guys, why haven’t we done this before?!”

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.

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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.

Look guys, a coconut!!!

Look guys, a coconut!!!

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.

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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).

No matter how far out, Deirdre will fetch!

No matter how far out, Deirdre will fetch!

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.

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One of us had to hold the kayak steady and Deirdre never did get completely comfortable with sitting on it before we launched.

Uh guys? I'mont sure about this...

Uh guys? I’m not sure about this…

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 everywhereI’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.

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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.

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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 ;)

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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!

What does a pirate dog say? BAAAAARRRRRK!

What does a pirate dog say? BAAAAARRRRRK!

Wordless Wednesday PLUS: a contest!

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And now: a contest! TU had a looooooong winter and spent a lot of time waiting for spring.  Now that it’s finally (finally!) warming up again, we wanted to celebrate with all of you guys by hosting one of our annual occasional whenever-we-happen-to-think-of-it-and-have-something-cool-to-give-away photo contests! The theme for this contest is “Spring Has Sprung”: we want to see pictures of your dogs springing, leaping, jumping and otherwise getting big air in the great outdoors. Need inspiration? Check out the photos of River, Owen, Julio and Frankie above.  We’re giving you one week to take an awesome picture of your jumping dog/s: you can either submit them on the Team Unruly Facebook page (we’ll put up an official contest submission thread) or you can email them to us at teamunrulyblog@gmail.com.

Is there a prize? You bet there’s a prize! This time, we’re giving away a Flat Out Leash by Ruffwear. These leashes are light, sturdy and really well designed: you can use the handle as a regular handle or you can extend it to wear it around your waist, plus the handle comes apart so you can use it as a tether (if you’ve got to leave your dog for a second and run in for a coffee or something).  It’s got a nice hidden accessory loop for hanging poop bags or your keys, there’s a traffic handle right near the clip, and the clip itself is this great, springy, hard-core thing, very different from your average swivel snap.  Plus, they are really strong and can handle a lot of nonsense: Kelsey’s dogs are constantly dragging their Ruffwear leashes around through the water and the sand, using them for tug-of-war matches with each other, getting them wrapped around trees, etc. and not only are they still going strong, they all look brand new.  The one we have to give away is black with a handsome gray stripe: it’s suave, gender-neutral, goes with everything and will help you and your buddy enjoy the great outdoors this spring.

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Stock photo from Ruffwear.com, but this is what the winner’s leash will look like!

You have SIX DAYS from the time of this post to submit your photo to us: all photos need to be in by 5 PM MST on Tuesday, April 21st to qualify for the contest.  We’ll decide the winner and will announce it in next week’s Wordless Wednesday post, where we’ll also feature the winner’s photo. So get out there and SPRING!

Product Review: The Harness Lead

In my non-professional opinion, the single hardest thing about having a three-legged dog is finding a workable harness.  My sweet girl Nellie has some trachea damage from the same crummy early life that rendered her a tripod, which means that if she puts even a little pressure on her neck, she starts to huff.  However, she is also a pretty impressive puller and and, bless her crazy little heart, is rarely dissuaded by the fact that if she pulls, she can’t, you know, breathe. I am not proud of this, but I am as lazy as hell about teaching loose leash walking (or, I should say, about being consistent with it), and as such, I’ve been looking for a good harness solution for Nellie pretty much since I got her.

And oh, have we tried a lot of harnesses. Note that Nellie absolutely doesn’t tolerate head halters (Gentle Leader/Halti style: I promise, I have tried), so we’ve been investigating body harnesses exclusively. My favorite of all of the ones we’ve tried has been the ComfortFlex, a harness that a lot of flyball people use. The front strap on the ComfortFlex is set a little lower than most harnesses, which means it tends to sit on Nellie’s chest instead of sliding up to the neck or down to the legs.

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However, because the design really relies on the dog having two front legs to keep it in place, the Comfortflex tended to slide around and get all cattywhampus when she ran. See how it’s kind of drifting down the side of her body in this picture?

she's such a swimmer now!

We also tried a mesh Puppia harness, which was comfortable for her and dried quickly when she got it wet, but slid around way worse than the Comfortflex, sometimes to the point where it would slip up around her neck and made her get chokey when she pulled.  Again, this is nothing against the product itself; I think it’s a good one, but it’s just not made for tripod dogs.  I included this picture primarily because it’s adorable, but see how it’s starting to drift up her back and over the place where her front leg is supposed to be?

Nellie in the flowersI love Easy Walk and Sense-ation harnesses for most dogs–we use them with a lot of my dogs at work–but they are even less appropriate than the other harnesses on this list for tripods, because they really rely on the front clip staying positioned between the dog’s front legs on the chest. If there’s no leg to hold the front clip in place, the harness completely ceases to function. In this picture, Lucy’s wearing an Easy Walk that has shifted around a little bit but still works; Nellie’s….does not.

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And finally, there’s Ruffwear’s WebMaster harness, which is designed to be adaptable for tripods. I like this harness a lot, but it hasn’t been perfect for us; Nellie kind of falls between Ruffwear’s sizes, so ours is a touch big, and I also feel like it kind of restricts the natural movement in her one remaining shoulder (in fairness, this may be because we have an older version: it looks like the newer ones have been slimmed up a bit).

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However, I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think it’s possible I have solved our harness woes!  Behold, the Harness Lead!  This is not actually meant specifically for three legged dogs, but the amazing thing about it is that it works the same, regardless of how many front legs your dog has.
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