Tips for managing 2 dogs in our Pocket Canyon?

My paddling partner (185 lbs. in the stern) and I (110 lbs. in the bow) like to canoe camp with our two dogs (55 lbs. each, typically on either side of the yoke). Here in PA and nearby WV, that means relatively shallow rivers with frequent riffles and the occasional Class I-II rapids. He has a reasonable amount of experience flatwater canoeing, whereas I’m a relative novice with a marginal preference for kayaks.

On paper, the Esquif Pocket Canyon seemed perfect for us: it fits on top of our little Corolla with enough space for us, our gear and the dogs. My husband can also paddle it solo when I hop in our Intex Challenger K1 for a change of pace and eventually hopes to use it as a playboat on more substantial whitewater.

And indeed, it worked like a dream last summer with the first pup. Now that he’s full grown with a second canine companion, though, the low primary stability is an increasing source of frustration on “easy” day trips (including a humiliating flip last weekend). They are both incredibly well behaved, but rock the boat when they shift positions every 10 minutes or so and make tracking a nightmare anytime my partner sets his paddle down for even a millisecond.

My own vision problems and lack of technical skills with a single blade are unquestionably part of the problem - recommendations for area instructors very welcome! - so I’m toying with whether a double-bladed paddle might help compensate with additional horsepower up front. Thoughts?

However, I suspect we may also just be too bow light and should counterbalance the dogs by adding ballast up front (or bring one of them up with me) to avoid getting tossed. This is directly at odds with my husband’s preferred solution of installing float bags at both ends to facilitate recovery (reserving the center for both dogs and gear). Or maybe we’re a rare case where the much-maligned stabilizer floats might split the difference?


Another dog to balance the load?


You might consider switching seats with your husband. That can help balance out the differential. I know of several teams where the more aggressive and experienced paddler paddles bow in moving water. Also, if you look at mixed marathon C2 boats the heavier paddler (usually male) paddles bow while the lighter (usually female) paddles stern. Some of the mixed hulls are built so that the stern seat is all the way over the stern stem.

By the way, 110 lbs in two dogs is a lot. You may just need to spend enough time (and swims) so that you both instinctively react with lower body shifts and/or braces as the dogs move around.

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Interesting suggestion - we’ll definitely try it! In that scenario, would he be able to steer from the bow while I provide double-bladed horsepower in back, or is the learning curve likely to be steeper for him to adapt existing skills vs. me starting from scratch? (Video tutorials only go so far, unfortunately, although I’m on the hunt for local instructors.)

The bow paddler can use draws, prys, and cross draws to move the bow around. The stern paddler then works to follow where the bow is heading (mostly). The bow paddler has the advantage of being 10 - 15’ farther forward and doesn’t have someone’s back blocking that rock that is just coming up. Communication, whether verbal or non-verbal, is key as the current speeds up and the rocks and waves get interesting.

Side notes: “LEFT DAMNIT” is a valid stroke. “Your OTHER LEFT” is an appropriate form of communication.


With two paddlers and two big dogs, I think the air bags would be a tight fit. Rival 51 is right, heavier paddler in the front would be better, especially for maneuvering. Personally though were it me, unless my dogs were perfectly trained not to run around in he boat I would leave them home. I have been paddling for 50 years and can count the number of dogs I would allow to ride in my canoe in class II plus rapids on one hand. None of mine for sure.

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Canoe dogs can learn to sit in a boat. For rapids they should lie down. With experience they can be taught to stay near the keel line. I trim my canoe when paddling solo with my Border Collie.

I would say the first thing to do would be to practice paddling moving water with your husband without the dogs.

Tandem paddling often requires the paddler’s to be able to react instinctively and immediately to any unexpected weight shift on the part of their partner. If you get good at this the two of you will be better able to immediately respond to any weight shifts on the part of your dogs.

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