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Wild Waters and Wagging Tails: Overnight Rafting Adventures With Dogs

With precision, I guide the raft onto a sandy shore, secure the anchor, and lay down the oars. Alberto and Shakira eagerly disembark, proceeding to play and explore the riverside island we will call home for the night. I unload supplies, set up a hitching system for the pups, and establish camp. After a beautiful day floating and fishing my favorite rocky mountain river accompanied by my two best friends, I can’t think of a better way to wrap up the evening than camping out on a secluded island on the river. 

Overnight raft trips with dogs are just plain fun. Unlike backpacking where keeping dogs close can be challenging, rafting allows me to maintain proximity while accommodating more gear for our communal comfort. As a fly fishing guide and avid river enthusiast, there isn’t anything more sacred than sharing my love for the river with my pups. Alberto, my four-year-old Aussiedoodle, relishes the vistas from the raft, while Shakira, my one-year-old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, engages all of her senses, like sniffing the fish I catch or cooling off with a swim. Through our river adventures, we have deepened our connection. Most importantly, these adventures have helped me live in the moment with my dogs, just as they naturally do with me every day.

Introduction to Rafting With Dogs

Gloria and her dog on a rafting adventure.

Photo by Caleb Stasko

Both dogs' introductions to rafting presented me with various unique challenges. I did my first float with Alberto when he was nearly two years old. Initially, he was hesitant to get into the raft and remained timid once inside. It required patience and positive reinforcement, but through repetitive short and gentle floats, he gradually acclimated to this new type of adventure. Now, he eagerly jumps into the boat and loves propping his paws on the side of the raft to look out at the views. I call him Captain Jack Berto; I think he identifies with that name as well.

I started rafting with Shakira when she was just a puppy, so she adjusted to being on the water at a very young age. As a high-energy hunting breed, she struggled at times to settle down in the boat. I had a custom-fitted dog bed welded and incorporated into the raft frame which has given her a comfortable place to feel at ease. Now, she tends to stay put and benefits from the calming effects of the river. 

Alberto and Shakira on the raft together.

The dogs both wear life jackets featuring sturdy handles so I can easily grab them if they ever need me to. That said, strong obedience training lays the groundwork for safe and enjoyable river excursions. In the dynamic environment of a river, good obedience is fundamental. I strongly discourage tethering your dogs to the raft, given the risk that the raft may flip. Instead, a gradual introduction to the river, lots of positive reinforcement, and fostering a sense of security will help acclimate your dogs to the water. This slow introduction is particularly important for more apprehensive dogs like Alberto. Done carefully and intentionally, introducing your dogs to the river should be a fun and simple process. In no time, your dogs will be wagging their tails with excitement as soon as they spot the river.

Planning For Rafting Trips

When planning pet-friendly rafting trips, thorough preparation is essential. First and foremost, I confirm the area is dog friendly and I identify suitable places to pull over. I limit our excursions to no more than Class II rapids; any more is out of my comfort zone with dogs aboard. Additionally, I research and look out for potential hazards, including wildlife encounters and environmental factors. Equipped with canine-specific gear such as life jackets, first aid supplies, ample food, and a hitching system for the campsite, I prioritize their comfort and safety throughout our journey.

Gloria, Alberto, and Shakira on the raft.

The three of us have learned and grown so much from our river adventures. I am so grateful to share these river memories with Alberto and Shakira. Being on the river with my dogs has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures. And I feel confident speaking for the dogs, that it is one of their life’s greatest treats.