Dog Paddling: Dawn LaPointe and Daisy

A Golden Retriever whose nose points to Canoe Country

Photo by Dawn LaPointe.

Photo by Dawn LaPointe.

Dawn LaPointe, her husband, Gary Fiedler, and Daisy, a 9-year-old, 50-pound, female Golden Retriever, live in Hermantown, Minnesota, which gives them enviable proximity to the canoe country of northern Minnesota and northwestern Ontario. Daisy loves wild places, wildlife, and especially, waterfowl.

LaPointe said, "She loves to see wildlife on the water – whether it's otters, beavers, turtles, etc. – but her favorite is waterfowl. She knows them all as 'duckies.' There's nothing better than a loon that pops up next to the canoe, dives and disappears, and then resurfaces somewhere else. Daisy's head is on a swivel to locate the loon again, and she gets 'happy feet' when the loons repeatedly resurface next to the canoe."

Daisy wants to be sure that her canoe companion didn't miss the magical moment.

"After we observe wildlife, she looks over at me with her golden smile. The happy expression on her face says: 'Did you see that?!' or 'Wasn't that cool?!' or 'Thanks, Mom.'…or maybe all three."

LaPointe loves to witness all of Daisy's joys, whether on the water or at camp.

"I love seeing her quiet anticipation and excitement when she's looking for 'duckies,' watching her cool off in the lake as she bites at the water surface like an alligator, seeing her savor natural scents in the air and on portage trails, sensing her eagerness to settle into her blanket in the tent at the end of the day (soon followed by puppy dreams), and appreciating her excitement at 'waking up camping' the next morning – eager for more adventures together."

Daisy and Dawn were both intently focused on a family of common mergansers on Basswood Lake.

Daisy and Dawn both intently focused on a family of common mergansers on Basswood Lake.

However, it's not all play. LaPointe and Fiedler are nature photographers and Daisy has a keen nose, ear, and eye for critters.

"Fortunately when she sees wildlife, she quietly alerts us and does not whine or bark. She is a valuable photography assistant! I love to see the joy and excitement on her face. Our special bond becomes stronger with each adventure we share and memory we create."

As Daisy spots for LaPointe, LaPointe returns the favor.

"When Daisy is sleepy and wants to nap in the canoe, I remind her that I'll wake her up if I see any 'duckies' so she won't miss them. When I quietly say, 'Daisy, there's a ducky,' she quickly sits up to find it."

LaPointe and Fiedler paddle and photograph both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park in a Souris River Quetico 17.5-foot canoe. Their trips range from weekends to two weeks or more on the water. They prefer autumn, that most generous contributor of color. Extended trips require consideration of Daisy's comfort.

"Daisy's spot in the canoe is designated with a removable, blue dense foam pad. It provides her with comfort and traction. On day trips, I also shade one section of the canoe for Daisy. Using a reflective thermal blanket/tarp, one end is clamped to the yoke and the other is clamped to a thwart. Daisy has the option to sit in the open on her blue pad or crawl under the tarp to get out of the rain or take a nap in the shade. I bring a set of her thin booties if biting flies are in season."

Equip your pal with commands too.

"I encourage you to assess your pooch's interests, temperament, and energy level. Might he/she be a good fit for your style of canoe adventures? Does your dog consistently heed your obedience commands? It's important both for safety and out of courtesy for others. Commands such as 'sit,' 'stay,' 'down,' 'come,' 'leave-it,' 'quiet,' and 'easy' are essential for wilderness tripping with a dog. Consider what your ground rules might be in canoe country and what training will be needed to prepare for safe and enjoyable paddling experiences with your dog. Determine how you will honor Leave No Trace principles when traveling with your dog as well as how you will prevent any negative impact on wildlife, the environment, and other paddlers' adventures."

However, the best-laid plans of paddlers and pooches often go awry.

"My only paddling challenge with Daisy is when we're headed toward shore to land the canoe, she gets happy feet and stands and turns different directions. This is the one canoeing behavior I have been unable to train or correct. She doesn't rock the boat, so it's not a safety problem, but it occasionally prevents me from sticking a perfect back-in landing."

Portages can be a bit problematic too.

"When I'm portaging gear, her leash is around my waist for her safety and that of wildlife. I haven't yet mastered portaging my canoe this way due to the prevalence of squirrels and chipmunks on portages. Her prey drive kicks in when they dart across the trail. Fortunately, my husband is willing to portage my canoe."

Prep your pooch for canoe and camp and you'll be rewarded with a blissful buddy.

"As most dog people know, our canine companions quickly pick up on our nonverbal clues. When we're at home, Daisy's tail starts wagging and her face lights up once I grab my camera backpack – she knows we're headed out for a shoot. In canoe country, she intently watches me load and trim the canoe. Her tail starts wagging when I walk toward her with her PFD. Daisy knows we're preparing to paddle long before I say, 'Let's go see duckies.'"

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