The Murph Training Series: Paul Fersen’s 8 Tips to Canoe-Training Your Dog

8 Tips to Canoe Training your Dog on
If your dog can’t sit still at your command, she may not be ready for canoe training, yet.
Photo by Tim Bronson

I admit to being lax for the past few weeks, but working Murph in the heat, and it has been hot, is not fun for him or me. We throttled back a bit, but now things, in Vermont anyway, are beginning to cool down and we are back at it.

What’s really fascinating is that Murph picked up right where we left off with no issues. That proves to me that instilling the foundation from six weeks to 16 weeks is money. His training is built into his brain as natural behavior and after a few weeks of just hanging out in the shade he didn’t miss a beat. In fact, he seems more attentive and focused than ever, as if to tell me “it’s about time you got off your fat butt and we got back to work.”

This week in addition to going through some refresher drills, I introduced Murph to the canoe. It will be key for him to be dead still in the canoe during duck season as a spill there is potentially life threatening—for me. He would be fine.

The first exercise is getting him used to the canoe and the safest place for that is the front yard. I pulled the canoe to a level spot, pointed to where I wanted him to sit and gave the “kennel” command. He knows that means get in wherever I’m pointing. With a bit of gentle encouragement he got in and then I got in. I gave him the sit command and then reissued the command anytime he got antsy. We spent about 10 minutes sitting there and then I got out and made him stay there for another five minutes or so.

We will continue this for a few days until he is completely comfortable and understands the need to be still. Then comes the water.

Oh by the way, I am buying an outrigger for the canoe just in case Murph makes a mistake. Not a problem in August, but a big problem in December.

 My 8 Tips for Canoe Training Your Dog.

  • All the work being steady from the time he was six weeks old pays dividends here. When I say sit, he knows to sit. The dog must be calm and steady. If your dog can’t do that, you’ve got work to do.
  • Introduce him to the canoe in a familiar place like the front yard. Put it out there, sit in it and just hang out with the dog while he plays in the yard.
  • Again the foundation training pays off with the “kennel command.” Still in the front yard, give him the kennel command and point to the place in the canoe you want him to be. If you have to, gently help him in and tell him to sit.
  • Let him get in and out a few times and once he seems comfortable, sit in the canoe with him in your respective places. If he starts to move around a bit, gently reinforced the sit command. Make sure you do all this quietly and calmly and take whatever time it takes to get him comfortable.
  • Once the two of you are comfortable in your positions, very gently rock the boat back and forth on the lawn so he gets used to the movement. This should be a nice quiet time together. Have the paddle there and handle it as if you were in the water. We want no surprises for the dog.
  • When you feel like the dog is completely at ease, find some quiet and easily accessible water with a shallow entry and shallow water and give it a try. Whatever you do, don’t get upset if he jumps out. Calm, calm, calm. That’s the way he should act in the boat and that’s the way you need to train him.
  • Get an outrigger for your canoe if you’re planning on doing this in cold water no matter how well trained he is. Hypothermia will kill you.
  • Wear a life jacket.



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