Tripping with a dog

BY: Mike Burns

I always enjoyed my solo canoe trips, but at “down” times, I get a bit lonesome. I would see other soloists with dogs and would get a bit envious. I see some dogs in the bow sitting proudly. I see dogs swimming at the campsites, and I would see dogs on the portages carrying packs. “I want that!” My older dogs at the time were never trained to go in a canoe. When they passed on, it was time for a new best friend. I put my wife on a mission to get our 2nd new dog. She picked out a female 6 months previously and our 2nd next dog, I told her, was going to be a tripping buddy. She came across a rescue organization that had a 3 month female Golden Retriever/Shepard mixed. She was last to be picked with no markings. Pure black. We picked her up with a full family introduction with her “sister” Jill.










Willow was about 6 months old when I started training her to go in a canoe, bribed with treats. I got her comfortable staying in the canoe on land. My small pond was handy to have many sessions with her in the water as well. In no time, she got used to commands “in canoe” and “out of canoe”. I would leave the shore without her. She would run around the pond getting anxious to get in. I got her hooked! My first 2 hour pre-trip test with Willow was on the Ausable River, Pinery Provincial Park. A blue foam mat in the bow gives her a target to stay on. She did great. After 15 minutes or so, she gets tired sitting up and lays down. Some geese got her attention and she rose up suddenly to see what the racket was. She looked like she was going to lunge out of my canoe. I firmly told her to stay. She looks back at me several times for assurance that all is okay. I paddle away from the flock, calmed, she lay back down in the bow. Willow passes test 1 with wild encounters very well. I was very happy. I got her a life jacket and a dog backpack. She did not mind wearing her new gear at all.

This picture of her showing off her Ruffwear Palisades pack

Later that spring, we head off to Massasauga Provincial Park for 5 nights. Using a different canoe was no problem with same blue foam mat as her “safe” place. She travels in the canoe mostly lying down in my solo canoe. She would sit up only if something of interest was going on, like talking to other trippers on route, animals and a sudden change of speed and waves. Perhaps a prospector canoe would be better so she could lay or sit on the bow seat.

Her first Loon sighting went without a hitch. The loon popped up beside the canoe and she just watched attentively. No barking and she did not stand up. I approached a cow and calf moose from afar when she popped her head up to see why I stopped. She sat up and started to shake nervously. A few growls, she got the cow moose attention enough to stop feeding. I was far enough away to not make the mom moose uneasy. I keep telling Willow to be quiet and stay.

Willow, my timid girl jumping in my canoe because of a friendly dog interrupting our launch

Massasauga Provincial Park

Massasauga Provincial Park

Massasauga Provincial Park ~ “In Canoe”

Massasauga Provincial Park

White water.

I have not done much white water with her, but when I run rapids, I always give her a command to “stay” just to make sure she knows not to move about in rough water. When I line any rapids, she just stays in the canoe if it is safe to do so. One time I was lining a lot in low water, I had her get out to stretch her legs, I thought she like that. Ten minutes later, she just decided to go back in the canoe rather then walk about the thousands of ankle breakers. Smart I thought.

Algonquin Park. Yeah, that silly fake Dragon fly gizmo does not work that well. I thought it might help with Deer flies.


Life Jacket?

She does not have much of a choice! Yes, she can swim really well, but in cold, large lakes, safety first. The life jacket also helps keep the sun and bugs off her.


Bugs in a canoe.

She can’t run away! Not good at all. She hates Deer flies as much as I do and swells up as much as well! Kind of concerned about this in future trips. Will bring Benadryl for her perhaps. Her dark coat attracts bugs. I use a bug net on her when bugs swarm in marshes. She did not mind the net over her head and I am sure she understood why she was wearing it. So, I try not to plan trips in late May or June with her. It’s not fair for her or me.

Sun in a canoe.

Not good with a black coat. I make sure we stop to allow her to go for a swim to cool down. One last swim before jumping in the canoe will keep her cool for a while. Also, a few “oops, sorry Willow, bad back stroke”, getting a fresh layer of water on her. She also sticks her nose way in the bow to get in the shade and away from any bugs. I have also thrown a wet towel or my hat on her. Some peeps like Kevin Callan suggest an umbrella, but during windy days, it does make it hard to set up and if no tail wind, hard to stay on coarse.

Sauble River, Ontario

Algonquin Park, Lake Louisa. Hat to match the Lake.

Algonquin Park, Before P1840 into Merchant Lake from Big Trout

On portages.

Once l land on shore, I make sure to give command “out canoe”. There are times when she is eager to get out before I give the command and jumps out at not the best time, getting wet. If no one is around, I leave her off-leash. She is timid and does not leave my side very far. Provincial Parks, dogs to be on leash at all times. On portages I will leash her tied to my belt, staying in front of me. She pulls lightly helping me uphill, but when I go thru a muddy, rocky areas, it does not help me keep vertical. One portage I carried across a rocky stream, I went down with canoe and pack as she caused me to go off balance. So, after that spill she went off leash! She stays in front of me and stays on trial. If I see people coming, I call her back and will leash her up and/or ask approaching people if they mind dogs. I have met some that asked me to make sure dog is on leash. No problem. My other dog would approach strangers and try to make friends with some licks. Not good at all on portages. Willow will give a bark if someone is coming and runs back to me.

Rest break in Algonquin Park

Bugs on a portage.

Not great with a pack on! She will roll with pack on. I have to fix her load when she does this. I have carried her pack, tied to mine on buggy portages, so she can run around to rid of the little buggers.

She will roll in the sand and dirt to help get rid of the bugs…not so good before bed time!

Tent time.

She loves going in the tent. I bring her canoe pad in the tent and “try” to keep her on it. She may try to come over to see me during the night. I bring a drying towel for her in case she is wet before going in the tent.

Red Pine Bay, Algonquin Park. Wet day, waiting for tent to be set up again!

Looks like she like my sleeping bag better? Algonquin Park.

Cold sleeping.

She loves the cold. Thick coat keeps her warm. I do have a raincoat for her for those long cold wet days that she may be laying in the canoe for long periods. Maybe she does not need it, but makes me feel nicer.

Red Pine Bay, Algonquin Park. Wet day, waiting for tent to be set up again!

Pen Lake, Algonquin Park. Made use of bows from a down tree make a nice bed for her. Never cut live trees!


She is hard to find at night. If I’m out and about in the darkness, I have a LED collar that blinks with other settings. Easy to find at night. My dog is afraid of the dark anyways, not venturing far from me.


Fire time.

I make sure she has a safe place to lay beside me, away from sparks. Her tail caught fire at the end once when she decided to see me in front of the fire. No more of that! She was fine, just lost some fur at the end.

Happy Isle Lake, Algonquin Park. Feeding time.

Chipmunk and Squirrel time.

Again, I am lucky with her…She will get excited and perhaps make a short dash chasing them. I will yell and she will stop. She does help keep the rodents away from my food.

Lake Louisa, Algonquin Park

Opeongo Lake, Algonquin Park. Watching the Loons go by


I hate dogs that bark and bark and bark. It’s not nice for other campers to listen to either. She is pretty quiet. Only to bark in camp to warn me of a killer Chipmunk or a stranger on a portage, or perhaps a canoe that is going by our camp that she thinks will invade our paradise. A quick yell, she will stop in most part. In the canoe, surprisingly, she does not bark at all or seldom.


Transportation time.

I have a seat cover for pets. She gets the entire back seat of my truck. She can stretch way out and sleeps the entire time. Pee breaks are welcomed after 4 or 5 hours on the road. She can hold it better than I can, so no problem there!

Sauble River, Ontario. My custom canoe named after her.

Poop time.

Last but not least… I’m lucky with her. She likes to poop far from campsites and off trails. I go back and will take care of such movements. I carry poop bags in her pack, if for some reason she poops near or on trails and campsites.


My final thoughts of tripping with a dog.

I find it very satisfying tripping with my dog. I have enjoyed every trip we do together. I never feel lonesome and she keeps me content on “down” times. Even though it is a one-way conversation, she does listen to what I say. I hope we have many more trips to come. She will only be 4 years old in May 2021.

Thames River at Lake St. Clair, Ontario

Can I have a bit of that steak Dad?

Mike Burns

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