How To Take a Multi-Day Rafting Trip With Your Dog

How To Take a Multi-Day Rafting Trip With Your Dog

  • Erin Swanson

Ruffwear Ambassador Becca Bredehoft is a professional paraglider pilot, tandem instructor, and photographer. She adopted her canine sidekick, Tala, from the Navajo Nation. One of the duo's favorite ways to explore together is on multi-day river rafting trips. Here, Becca shares the tips & tricks she's learned along the way.

Since introducing Tala to whitewater 5 years ago, she has become quite the river dog. I suppose it was inevitable in some ways – we adopted her the day after we got off a 3-week river trip through the Grand Canyon.

A multi-day river trip is one of our favorite ways to spend our free time – running rivers over the course of a few days or weeks and camping along the way. Tala has accompanied us on rivers throughout the Western US – in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.

Our first step before embarking on a trip with Tala is to do a little research. There are some river trips that are very dog-friendly, and certain permitted sections where dogs are not allowed.This can be for a variety of reasons, but often relates to the sensitive ecosystem and/or wildlife that inhabit the area.

A dog wears a Ruffwear Float Coat™ and lays down on a river raft.

Once we’ve established that Tala can join us on a trip, we have a little more planning to do:

  • Packing up her gear and making sure there’s a spot in a dry bag for it
  • Bringing enough dog food (plus a little extra for emergencies)
  • Making sure there are dog-friendly supplies in the first-aid kit (Coban™ wrap, tweezers, tick pullers, etc.)
  • Researching if there are any particular wildlife or hazards we need to keep an eye out for (some rivers are notorious for rattlesnakes or bees)

A dog sits on a river raft while her human companion paddles it.

A typical river trip starts with rigging the boats – while we’re shuffling everything around and finding a place for each piece of gear, we make sure to rig up some comfortable areas for Tala to hang out. She tends to move around on the raft some throughout the course of the day.

This might come as a surprise, but she’s not much of a water dog and prefers to be high and dry when she can be. She loves to sit on the cooler or dry box in the front of the raft, or behind the boat captain on a pile of gear.

On a river rafting trip, a dog sits on a raft while her human paddles it.

If there’s a passenger onboard she often likes to be as close as possible – sometimes even on their lap! We always make sure her Float Coat™ is properly fitted and secure before we pull away from shore and I like to fill a Bivy™ collapsible dog bowl with fresh water and set it on a flat surface so she has easy access to it all day long.

Although it can take a little coaxing, we also usually try to get her to swim after a stick or ball in the water to cool her down whenever we’re on shore. It can be pretty warm on the boat on a hot day in the sun, so we do our best to keep her temperature regulated!

A dog swims while holding sticks in her mouth.

We have eased Tala into joining us on more technical whitewater rivers as we’ve improved our skills and her comfort level has increased.

Although she does well in rapids, and has run quite a few Class IV rivers, she truly enjoys long stretches of flat water, watching the landscape drift by, spotting ducks or river otters and other wildlife, and dozing off while soaking up the sun.

A woman and her dog go river rafting together.

Our trips often involve various watercraft – rafts, catarafts, kayaks, paddle boards, packrafts, or even canoes. On the calm sections, she loves to hop from one boat to the next, visiting each member of our flotilla as we make our way towards a campsite.

A dog stands on a paddle board with her human companion.

Often the real fun for Tala begins at camp. Some of her favorite activities include playing ball or truffle pigging (Tala’s signature brand of the zoomies) on big sandy beaches, ‘vacuuming’ the kitchen for crumbs, digging sand nests, requesting belly rubs from the crew, and reminding us when it’s dinner time.

Some of our must-have gear for camp: the Kibble Kaddie™ for transporting her food, which includes a slot to carry a few collapsible bowls, the Knot-a-Hitch™ (which doubles as a perfect clothesline to dry out wet gear), and the Highlands™ Pad and Highlands™ Sleeping Bag for lounging around the campsites.

A dog wearing a Ruffwear Float Coat™ plays in the sand.

One note on etiquette – the riverine areas we frequent are often very sensitive and areas of use can be really concentrated. In addition to following general Leave No Trace principles, river runners are required to carry out all trash and human waste, and follow certain protocols with grey water. The same rules apply to our canine friends, so we scoop Tala’s waste and generally just add it to whichever river toilet system we’re utilizing on that particular trip.

We are committed to minimizing our impact on the riparian ecosystems we travel through. The Pack Out Bag™ can be a handy tool for managing daytime cleanup while the toilet is packed away. Someday, we’ll train Tala to just wait in line for the ‘groover’ just like the rest of the crew!

A group of people and a dog sit on the sand while camping and having a meal.

According to Tala, bedtime is the best time – whether we’re home or in the backcountry. She is a snuggler, so curling up with us in the tent when the world goes dark is always a highlight of her daily routine. Sometimes she likes to snuggle up between us in our double sleeping bag, but we usually set up the Highlands Pad and Sleeping Bag at our feet so she has her own space to get comfy.

Tala is an early-to-bed-early-to-rise kind of girl, so although she likes to turn in once it gets dark, she’s often one of the first ones up as the sun rises, sunbathing in the morning light, soliciting more belly rubs from the early birds while coffee is coming together, and reminding us it’s time for breakfast (in case we forgot).

A dog at a campsite eats breakfast out of her Ruffwear Quencher Cinch Top™ Dog Bowl.

After coffee and breakfast, the cycle starts all over again – breaking down camp, rigging the rafts, and setting off for our next destination down river.

This daily routine involves a lot of work: hauling heavy gear up to the beach and back down to the rafts each day, rigging and derigging, and re-rigging, pushing big gear boats into the wind, and building a home away from home each night together with our crew, but it also invites a lot of time for quiet contemplation and reflection.

A woman cuddles with her dog while paddling a river raft.

We all love watching the river miles drift by, slowly but steadily making our way downstream, awaiting what’s to come around the next bend. The rapids can provide excitement and challenge, and sometimes a bit of adrenaline.

And circling up the camp chairs in the evening to reminisce about the day’s events and enjoy a gourmet meal together is the best way to end a river day. Tala has a way of bringing the crew together and everyone loves having a furry friend along on our trips.

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