Multi-Day Rafting with Your Dog
Overnight rafting trips are one of my favorite things to do and I always want to have my dog Coco with me, so bringing her along on the river makes the trip even better. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Buy a DFD/CFD (doggy floatation device/canine flotation device)
I recommend the one from Ruff Wear, but I have other friends that love the Astral Bird Dog. If you can, take your dog to the store and try a couple different ones out. Yes your dog might be a great swimmer, but if they get tossed into a rapid they could easily tire out and it could turn dangerous.
Pro tip: My dog acted a little annoyed by the DFD at first, so before our first river trip we had her wear it for short bits around the house or at the riverfront dog park to get used to it. This way she didn’t run the other way when we tried to put it on her at put-in.
2. Bring lots of treats and chews
On Coco's first rafting trip she was pretty nervous about it, so we used her favorite treats to reward her for getting on the raft or sitting in the bottom of the raft when instructed. We also brought lots of bones and chewy treats. While we rigged the raft at put in, she happily chewed on a beef bone in the shade. In camp, chewing on favorite toys or chews helped her relax around the fire with us.
3. Start Small
For your first trip, bring your best friend on a section of river with mostly class II rapids. If you have a local day trip (vs. overnighter) for your first trip, even better. Once you get a sense for how they tolerate whitewater you can progress to harder rivers together. However even an experienced dog should have some limits— I always ask myself "would I take my parents down this section of river?" If the answer is yes (like the Grande Ronde) then I’ll bring Coco. If the answer is no (like the South Fork of the Salmon) I get a dog sitter.
4. Tips for while on the river:
- Have a water bowl handy so your pup can stay hydrated too
- A doormat or something grippy for the floor of the raft so she has a secure place to stand
- Have treats handy
- Take breaks. Not all dogs love being on a raft. Plan to make some stops for side hikes, ball throwing, and potty breaks to give your dog some time on the land.
Pro tip: My dog LOVES to play ball and frisbee. I like to spend a bit of time playing ball in the morning before being on the boats all day. As you can see in the photo above, it wears him out and he often spends the day snoozing. - Michael about his dog Tintu
5. Tips for while at camp:
- Bring a clip-on light for night-time
- Plan some extra play time before getting on the rafts
- Set up a hitch system to give your dog some space to safely roam
- Bring a tarp or blanket to protect your tent floor from dog nails
Dogs add another dimension of risk to your trip. Do your best to keep them safe from wildlife, other folks recreating in the area, and everyone else on your trip. Lights and leashes are great ways to keep track of your dog while in camp.
6. Packing list:
- Water bowl
- Food & bowl
- Poop bags (just like human waste, pack it all out)
- Toys (ball to throw in camp)
- Bed (I like this one that folds up and can also be used for backpacking trips)
- Towels to clean off a dirty dog if they’re sleeping in the tent with you
- Light on collar
- Tweezer or tick removal tool
It’s important to note that not all dogs enjoy rafting. Start with a short trip to see how it goes for your dog. A friend with a water-loving Labrador was surprised his dog wasn’t the best rafting buddy since the dog was always trying to jump out of the raft to swim, even right above rapids. But another friend has a little dachshund that is a perfect rafter.
Do you raft with your dog? We’d love to hear your input or stories of rafting with your best friend!