Tips and Etiquette for Fishing With Dogs

Having a good fishing dog is like having a good fishing buddy. They keep your spirits high regardless of the day, they keep you focused on catching fish and they entertain you despite how slow the fishing is. The bad ones spook the fish, get you in trouble on the river, and they may even eat all your snacks and  drink all the beer. Needless to say, enjoying some company on the river is usually appreciated. And getting your four-legged friend out of the house to join you on a fishing adventure can be a load of fun.

But, dogs will always be dogs and at times not all fishing trips are conducive to bringing a dog along and not all dogs are built mentally and physically to be a fishing dog. But, with some proper preparation, training, and keeping some basic etiquette in mind most dogs can enjoy time out on the river with you. Below you will find some basic tips for fishing with dogs.

Photo: Chase Krueger

Understand Your Fishing Dog and Train Accordingly:

All dogs are different, some are responsive to commands, some dogs don’t listen, some runoff when taken off the leash, some can be reactive to other dogs and some dogs get colder easier than others. Just like fly fishing, some casting practice in the yard can go a long way. Break out the fly rod and head to the park with your dog to do some casting practice and dog training.

Spend some time training your pup on the basics:

  • Commands: (Sit, Stay, Come, Heel, Drop It, Load Up, and No).
  • Establish a radius and recall for the dog. In a lot of areas along the river, you are able to have the dog off-leash. Make sure your dog is comfortable off-leash, and that you have established a recall.
  • Familiarize your dog with the fly fishing gear, the last thing you want is your dog inhaling your fly. Some simple “leave it” commands will do the trick.

Check the Regulations:

Some areas on the river do not allow dogs. This can be due to wildlife impacts like elk migrations, ground-nesting birds, or endangered wildlife that may be present. Check the regulations of the area that you are planning to go and make sure you can fish with your dog in this area.

Photo: Hunter Burnham

Choose Your Locations Wisely:

Similarly to when you may take a friend fly fishing for the first time, you want to choose your location wisely.

Here are some helpful tips to make your decision easier:

  • Choose access points that you may have to hike into. This can be a great way to exercise your dog and get away from the crowds.
  • Avoid areas with sketchy river crossings or sketchy boulders that may be challenging for your dog.
  • Choose trails that allow dogs to be off leash, many BLM and Forest Service areas allow this.
  • Avoid access points near roads or busy sidewalks/bike trails.
  • Avoid river access near residential or commercial homes or buildings.
Photo: Greg Harvey

Proper Fishing Dog Wading Etiquette:

Etiquette is an important point to keep in mind when bringing your dog fishing. Not everyone out on the water is a dog owner and not every person likes dogs. Some anglers are afraid of dogs. When bank fishing be sure to keep your dog on a leash. If you are allowed to take your dog off leash be sure that your dog is in earshot and eyeshot so a proper recall can occur.

Another important aspect to train your dog on is to not spook the fish. A lot of dogs love jumping in the water. Do some basic training to avoid your dog from crashing into the undisturbed pool only to spook all the fish. Keep your dog on a leash or by your side using commands.

Photo: JP Modderno

Proper Fishing Dog Boat Etiquette:

Your dog may be a good wading dog, but that may all change when you get into the boat. Having a designated area for your dog in the boat can help things out a lot. VVA guide Justin Carr has a spot for his dog Tess right behind the rower’s seat. Tess loads up and knows that her spot is there. Another helpful tip is to train your dog to load up and off the boat. When rowing to the bank a lot of dogs will get excited and prematurely jump off the boat into the water. Train your dog to stay until a voice command of load off or get off is made.

Photo: Justin Carr

Be sure your dog is comfortable in the boat before doing any longer or challenging whitewater floats, not all dogs like boats. And if it’s not your boat be sure that the captain is alright with you taking your dog. A different boat can be challenging for a dog to get used to.

Photo: Will Watson

Teach Your Dog Catch and Release Fishing:

A slimy fish can often be looked at as a nice snack for your dog. You can’t blame them, a fish smells pretty similar to dog treats. When you land a fish, it is probably not the best idea to let your dog get a close look at it. Some dogs react aggressively, I’ve seen an Australian Shepard bite the head off a trout before. While other dogs could care less or just want to lick the fish.

Make it fun for your dog by showing them the catch at a distance and letting them watch you release it back to the river. Many dogs will begin to figure out that you are fishing and will help and get very excited when you do catch a fish. Our old Border Collie used to bark when you would get a dry fly take, talk about a vocal fishing guide.

Photo: Pat Perry

Have the Proper Gear for your Dog:

Bringing along the proper gear for your dog when fishing can help aid in an enjoyable day on the water. It can make your dog more comfortable and safer. Here is a basic list of some of the items to bring along:

  • Life Jacket (If float fishing)
  • Dog Bowl for water
  • Treats or Dog Food
  • Leash (or long lead) and Poop Bags
  • Dog Jacket (if cold and if dog is susceptible to cold)
  • First Aid Kit

Bring A Lot of Dog Treats:

If there is one way to win a dog over it is with dog treats. Be sure to pack along a bunch of dog treats to help aid your fishing adventure. Treats can be great for reinforcing commands and recalls as well as keeping your dogs at bay when approached by other anglers, wildlife or fish.

Photo: Chase Krueger

Safety Tips to Keep In Mind:

The outdoors can be a dangerous place for a domesticated dog, there are many different hazards that we as humans may not think about. To avoid any sort of unwanted visits to the vet, here are some helpful safety tips when fishing with your dog

Debarb Your Hooks:

Unlike humans, dogs don’t get any protective eyewear or even clothing for that matter. And for some silly reason, dogs like to run right behind you making that long cast to the other side of the river. To avoid sticking your dog, debarb your hooks. It’s not only good for the fish but it might save you from having to take your dog to the vet because you got a size 4 streamer stuck in the pup’s eye. If the barbed hook is in a sensitive area like the dog’s eye, put some medical tape over it and head to the emergency vet.

Rattlesnakes and Dogs Don’t Mix:

Rattlesnakes are native to many areas where there is some great fishing. Snakes are very afraid of humans and the likelihood of getting bit is pretty low, the likelihood of your dog getting bit by one is very high. If there are rattlesnakes present be sure to keep your dog leashed, don’t bring your dog, or make sure your dog has a rattlesnake vaccine or rattlesnake training. If your dog does get bit by a rattlesnake, give the dog children’s Benedryl and rush them to the emergency vet as fast as possible. You can also carry rattlesnake anti-venom to administer to your dog.

Blue-Green Algae:

Blue-Green algae is a cyanobacteria that grows in freshwater when the weather is warm and over 75 degrees. The algae is very toxic and can poison any organism that consumes it. So most trout streams will not ever develop this as the water temperatures will never be that hot but stillwater lakes, side channels along rivers, and other slower moving bodies of water can. Dogs can get the poisoning when they drink from or even simply swim in the contaminated water. If blue-green algae is ingested, it can cause severe neurologic or liver damage. If you think your dog may be sick from this be sure to take them to the vet immediately. Many local agencies will put out alerts about “blue-green” algae warnings but these blooms can pop up sporadically and in random areas.

Human Feces:

This is a weird one but seems to be becoming more of a problem. Many dogs love to search out and find and eat human poop. Not only is this very gross, it can also be toxic to dogs. Along the Colorado River corridor, this has become more of an issue. Do your best to keep your dog in eyeshot and be vigilant for this. Earlier this year, our dog consumed human feces while on the river and a few hours later became lethargic, vomiting, and losing balance. After a trip to the vet, they said the dog consumed a toxin in the feces most likely THC, and was displaying these symptoms. Too much of a toxin and the dog’s health could be at risk.

Photo: Greg Harvey

You Don’t Always Have To Bring Your Dog:

The last tip and probably one of the more important tips is that you don’t always have to bring your dog fishing with you. While you may get some guilt when you return to the house and your dog smells the river on you. Not all access points, not all dogs, and not all fishing adventures have the need for your dog to come along. Some of your fishing buddies may not like dogs, or you may be fishing in a new area and aren’t sure how your dog will do. Air on the side of caution and don’t bring your dog along when you aren’t sure.

Photo: Dan Zaz

Bringing your dog fishing with you is an enjoyable time for you and your dog. But this comes at a cost, you have to be properly prepared, your dog properly trained and you have to be ready to sacrifice some fishing time to take care of your dog. Hopefully, these fishing with dogs tips will help bring your pup out on the water. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out our “Shop Dogs” page to meet the dogs here at the shop!

Patrick Perry, Former Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor.