Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is a popular summer activity that you can actually do with your dog. It combines surfing and paddling into a full-body workout. With some patience and the right equipment, you can teach your dog to ride on the board while you push merrily along. Here’s what you need to know before getting out on the water with your dog.
Is Paddle Boarding Suited to My Dog?
“From puppies to adults, any dog that is fit enough to swim and climb back on the board with your assistance can join you,” says Nicole Ellis, Nicole Ellis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Lifestyle Expert with Rover. Because puppies are sensitive to heat and cold, you’ll need to factor in the temperature of the water along with weather conditions.
In addition to physical ability, it’s important to consider your dog’s preferences, says Ali Smith, a professional dog trainer and founder at Rebarkable. Breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, and English Setter love to swim. In comparison, “some breeds like French Bulldogs are known to sink in the water and may need special life jacket considerations.”
Another thing to note is your dog’s level of training and socialization. Since puppies have a harder time staying focused, it might be worth waiting until your dog is 18 to 24 months old to start SUP. “If you have a solid recall, there’s no reason you couldn’t go at six months [old], provided you’re willing to invest in appropriate life jacket sizing for your dog,” Smith says.
What Equipment Do I Need?
Having the following items will help ensure that SUP is a safe and fun experience for you and your dog:
- A paddle board
- A personal floatation device for you
- A life jacket for your dog, preferably with a handle
- Plenty of drinking water
- Chewable treats that won’t disintegrate when wet
Choose a wide and sturdy paddle board to support the weight of you and your dog(s). Ellis recommends getting a board that has an area with some grip, so your dog doesn’t go sliding off into the water.
How Do I Prepare to SUP?
Check that your dog’s life jacket fits properly and allow them time to get used to wearing it, Ellis advises. For safety, your dog should know basic commands such as sit, down, come, and stay.
Make sure the area you’re planning to go to permits paddle boarding. “It takes a short amount of time to check and this way you can avoid danger and fines,” Smith says. She also recommends taking a first aid course and seeing what local wildlife there is.
How Do I Introduce My Dog to The SUP Board?
Start by having the board and paddle on the ground. Give your dog treats and praise for getting on and off the board. “If your paddle board is very wobbly you may need to hold it stable till your dog builds up their confidence,” Ellis says.
You can scatter treats over the board and let your dog sniff and explore, Smith says. Use positive reinforcement to reward your dog for walking on the board, sitting, laying down, and getting used to you standing on the board with them. Once your dog is comfortable, repeat these steps with your dog wearing their life jacket.
How Do I Paddle Board with My Dog?
Next, you’re ready to try paddle boarding in shallow water. Put your board in the water and encourage your dog to hop on using luring or a cue like “Up,” Smith says. “See if you can encourage them into a down [position]. If not, don’t panic and come back to it another day. Remember, all training should be done by just stretching your dog’s comfort zone.”
Once your dog is used to riding on the board, you can transition to deeper water and get on the paddle board with them. You can sit on the board at first, then work on standing and paddling. “Smooth and steady are your keywords,” Smith emphasizes. “Use calm tones and lots of gentle encouragement.”
What Are Some Tips for Balancing on the Board?
Having four legs gives dogs an advantage over people when it comes to balancing and paddle boarding. “Dogs are also closer to the ground which means they often thrive where we struggle,” Smith says.
If you’re a beginner to SUP, you can start off by kneeling on the board. According to Ellis, this will lower your center of gravity, helping you balance easier and be closer to your dog to give some treats and head scratches. As you find your balance, you can transition to standing which makes paddling easier.
“Most people find their own groove when it comes to placement [on the board],” Smith says. “Keeping your dog in the middle of the board will help you both stay on,” Ellis says. You can have your dog between your feet or right in front of you. Additionally, there’s a lower chance of tipping over if your dog is laying down.
A large-breed dog will make the board move more than a smaller dog. “Your balance, and your dog’s balance, all comes from core strength, and if either of you is struggling, working on conditioning and core strength will help you both adjust,” Smith adds.
How Do I Keep My Dog Safe While Paddle Boarding?
Falling Off the Board
Make sure you can help your dog get back onto the board if they fall off. Your dog needs to be okay with you using the handle on their life jacket to pull them up. Practice lifting your dog first on land, then in shallow water. “Always lift by the life jacket and not by their collar,” Ellis emphasizes.
If your dog is a good swimmer or loves splashing in the water, you may find them wanting to get off the board for a dip. This may also happen if they feel a bit wobbly on the uneven surface.
“Be prepared for your dog to jump off at any time which may move the board and topple you too,” Ellis says. “Don’t get frustrated at your dog. Just help him or her back on and continue your adventure.”
Most of the time, your dog will be on the paddle board with you, so the risk of ingesting salt water is pretty low. A few gulps of salt water can cause diarrhea, but large amounts can be fatal to dogs. It’s also a good idea to have a bottle of water for them to sip from instead of the natural body of water.
“Personally, I would be avoiding saltwater with a preference for fresh every time,” Smith says. “But this is also why bringing fresh water is important.”
On the other hand, consuming too much fresh water, though rare, could lead to water intoxication. This is when the salt content in your dog’s body can become too diluted, leading to bloating, lethargy, and vomiting. Familiarize yourself with the signs of water intoxication and take your dog to the vet immediately if they show any.
Stay alert for signs of heatstroke such as heavy panting, rapid heart rate, excessive drooling, and skin that feels hot to the touch. The combination of reflective surfaces and covering of a life jacket could exacerbate the hot feeling. You can use sunscreen for dogs with pink or sensitive noses.
“Dogs with lighter skin or less fur can get sunburned, but a life jacket will help prevent that,” Ellis says.
Training your dog to ride along with you can be a great bonding experience. Be mindful of water and sun safety as you prepare to paddle board with your dog. Together, you can enjoy the feeling of gliding along the water’s surface while you’re out on your next adventure.
“Remember your patience and always wear your flotation devices,” Smith says.