Dog Paddlin’ Hemlock Lake

This month’s blog post is written by the FLM’s very own Pat Atkinson. Licensed ACA Kayak Instructor, NYS Guide and long-time FLM volunteer, you can find Pat visiting the campus to guide paddles or stopping in to say hello to everyone with her pup, Tree. This month’s Hemlock Lake blog features helpful tips for taking your pup kayaking, complete with a photo of sweet little Tree!


My two favorite Finger Lakes to paddle are Hemlock and Canadice Lakes. Because both lakes supply water to the city of Rochester, shoreline development is prohibited and motor boats are restricted to 17ft in length with a maximum of 10HP engines. Hemlock Lake is 7 miles long and about one – half mile wide. It is surrounded by 415 acres of old growth forest of hemlock, beech, sugar maples and oak trees. The Rob’s Trail, a challenging hiking trail, connects the two lakes. This pristine environment is an ideal location for paddle sports, fishing, hiking and bird watching. So, one day last week when the weather finally cooperated, I chose Hemlock Lake for my 5 month old Black Labrador Retriever’s first paddling adventure.

Over the past 20 +years, my husband and I have raised 7 dogs, including 3 service dog candidates. Our current 5 month old puppy, we are raising for Freedom Guide Dogs. All of our dogs have accompanied us on our many paddling adventures. The most dogs we have had in a canoe at any one time is three and all of them sat calmly together in the canoe. We are frequently asked how we trained them, so I thought I would share a few training tips I have learned from our experiences.

1. Start early. If you are lucky enough to raise a pup in the summer months, the earlier you can acquaint your puppy to water, the better. My Golden Retriever was about 12 weeks old when she first sat in my kayak. Prior to her first paddling adventure, I had already introduced her to the joy of swimming by playing with her in the lake. Because retrievers possess a natural instinct to retrieve, I used that drive to entice her into the water on leash. Once she was comfortable in the water, I then introduced her to the canoe or kayak.

2. Provide a good fitting lifejacket. This will provide floatation should he jump or fall out of the boat. A lifejacket also has a handle on the top of the jacket, which makes it easier to lift the pup back into the boat. If it is a warm sunny day, wet the lifejacket before putting it on him. Or if swimming is allowed, let him swim first before getting into the boat.

3. Use the commands you have already taught your pup, such as sit/stay and down/stay. If the puppy is older or an adult, make sure he is doing a reliable sit/down/stay before attempting to put him into a boat. Don’t forget the training treats!

4. Keep paddle sessions short. Depending on the age of the pup and comfort level, 15 – 30 minutes may be long enough. If the puppy fidgets, whines or shows other signs of stress, return to shore immediately. You want puppy’s first adventure to be a positive one that he will want to repeat.

5. If using a tandem canoe, sit in the bow, keeping your puppy between your legs. Remove the leash as this could tangle or snag if puppy falls out of the boat. Let the stern paddler do the paddling and just concentrate on keeping the puppy quiet and comfortable. Hang onto the puppy’s lifejacket handle and gently squeeze him between your legs while talking to him. Be alert to what interests him, ex birds, fish, etc. Be prepared for sudden movements that could upset the boat or cause the puppy to fall out.

6. Choose a calm, flat, lake with limited boat traffic.

7. Paddle close to shore just in case! If the boat capsizes, you will be close enough to swim to shore to reenter the canoe.

8. When you return to shore, keep puppy quietly seated until you are ready to disembark. Snap on the leash before exiting the canoe. Get out first and then lift puppy out of the canoe.

I hope these tips help you and your canine companion to have a safe, enjoyable time on the water.

Happy dog paddlin’.

Pat Atkinson

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