You and your dog on a SUP paddling together on a gloriously sunny afternoon. What could be better? Not so fast. Your dog may have other ideas like jumping repeatedly into the water and onto other people’s boards. Investing a little time in learning how to SUP with your pup will ensure smooth sailing for you both. As you may have guessed, many dogs love to paddleboard but some may need a little convincing. Lucky for us we’ve got help from Max, agility dog extraordinaire, and his owner Shannon. Although it’s not her day job, Shannon is well-versed in the art of dog training. Together we’ve compiled some solid advice for convincing your dog to love your SUP as much as you do.
First things first
Before you and your dog friend make the jump to human & pup paddling, there are a couple of things to think about.
What’s your dog like?
The most important component in introducing a dog to SUP is their personality. A Jack Russell Terrier who is bouncing off the ceiling will react differently than a big jolly Golden Retriever. Shannon recommends tiring active dogs out with play before trying to coax them aboard. Doing so will help tone down distractions and make them more likely to stay calm while you paddle.
How well trained is your dog?
If your dog has a reasonable level of respect for you and at least basic obedience training, you’ve got a good starting point. The concept of “recall” is important here. Recall determines how likely your dog is to stick around or return to you through the training and paddling process.
Does your dog like water?
Dogs who are scared of water are not likely to enjoy paddleboarding. If you have a scaredy-dog, don’t bully them into going out with you. Instead, introduce them to the water slowly. In the dog and human utopia that is Shannon’s native Vancouver, there are special aquatic training centres for pets. If you can’t find one in your area, take your dog to the water you plan to paddle in. Wade in with them and encourage them to swim to you. Show them it’s safe and reward them with treats.
Where will you SUP?
Choose calm, flat water especially in the beginning. Try to stay within an easy swim of the shoreline for safety reasons for both you and your pup. Don’t introduce your dog to SUP in the middle of winter. They will very likely be cold and uncomfortable.
See SUP through your dog’s eyes
Just like you, your dog has a keen perception of value. In order to encourage a positive association between dog and SUP, you’ve got to show them what’s in it for them. So what does your dog value? Probably spending time with you, playing and most of all TREATS. In this instance, bribery is acceptable.
Your pup has spent most of their life on solid ground just like you. It makes sense that the floor suddenly shifting beneath their feet could be cause for alarm. As with people, this is overcome through both exposure and strength building.
To get your dog on board with the activity, familiarise them with the board first. You should also consult with your dog on their views about water. Don’t laugh! If your dog hates and fears the water, you’ve got some work to do on that front first.
Above all else, make the activity FUN for your dog. If you force a wary dog into it you will later spend ages breaking the negative association. If you take it slow and give your dog some time you’ll be a happy paddling duo much quicker.
SUP Dog Training Guide
Part 1: Training on Dry Land
1. Familiarise your dog with the board on stable ground
If you’ve got the space to lay the board down in an area where your dog hangs out, great. This may seem like overkill but hear us out. If you can teach your dog to associate the board with treats while it’s not wobbling around you will build a solid foundation for future use. Encourage your dog to step on and off, lay down and sniff around. Reward voluntarily stepping onto the board with treats and praise.
2. Let your dog know the board moves
Now that your pup is willing to spend time on this new contraption, show them that it moves. With doggy on top, try sliding the board gently around or wobbling it from side to side. They may jump off which is fine. Encourage them to come back on and repeat a few times.
3. Strengthen your dog’s core and sharpen their balance
Have you ever wobbled around weak in the knees on ice skates? Your dog’s core and legs will suffer similarly. Shannon and Max use a Bosu Ball in their training. The idea here is to encourage your pup to be at ease with the unstable footing. While you might not be able to spin your dog around on the Bosu, you’ll likely be able to get a paw or two on at a time.
Part 2: Add Water
Once your dog is willing to step on and off the sup, you are ready to take the party to the water. Be aware of your dog’s reaction to the situation and remember that your energy will influence your dog’s. That’s not new age, it’s just good training. Try to stay calm and even-keeled, if you do your dog will be more likely to follow suit. Always bring treats or toys to dole out as rewards.
1. Introduce your Pup to SUP + Water
- Lay the board out onshore and be sure the center fin is protected.
- Invite your dog onto the board and reward them with a treat.
- Go through a few rounds of stepping on and off the board together, with a leash if it helps.
- Do not drag or coerce your dog, you’ll only make things harder.
2. How to get your dog on your paddleboard
- If conditions allow, put the nose of your board onshore and the tail end in the water.
- Be aware of the center fin, do not allow it to scrape or bump the bottom.
- If need be, pull the board out further until the center fin is safe.
- Invite your pup to step or hop aboard.
- If your dog is pint-sized, set them gently on board.
- At this point, you should hop on to seat yourself.
- Try to create as little motion as possible so as not to spook your dog.
- Reward your dog with a treat.
From a dock
- Step onto the board first and hold it in as close as possible to the dock.
- Invite your dog to step or hop onto the board.
- If you are boarding from a dock that is raised far above the water, you will need a hand lowering your pup down to the SUP.
- Boarding this way is more difficult and not advised for your first few trips out.
3. Your dog’s position on board
- Max’s favourite position is at the very tip of his Bluefin Cruise, toes off the edge.
- Larger dogs will do better staying closer into the centre of the board.
- Be sure neither of you is in a place where balance is compromised.
- If things get rough, straddle your board and pull your dog in close to you.
4. How to get your dog aboard from the water
- Have your dog swim alongside the board
- Get low on the board so that you don’t fall in
- Use the handle on the life jacket to help your dog up on deck
- If you don’t have a PFD, try to scoop your dog from the belly region as best you can
5. Unloading your pup onshore
- If it’s safe to do so and your dog won’t make a break for it, let your pup swim ashore.
- If your dog is tiny, carry them to shore gently.
- If your dog prefers to stay dry, bring the nose of the board as close to shore as possible and let them hop off.
View this post on Instagram
Does my dog need any SUP gear?
It’s not absolutely essential to kit your dog out for paddleboarding. That said, Fifi will look awfully cute in a matching life jacket and doggles. On a more serious note, there are a few accessories that are worthwhile.
Doggy Life vest with handle
If you buy one thing make it a PFD for your pup. Even if your dog is a super sharp swimmer, a life jacket will make things easier on you both. If your pup falls in or takes himself for a swim he’ll need to clamber back aboard. Naturally, they will not enjoy assistance in the form of yank on the snout, tail or scruff of the neck.
Doggles is fun to say sure but they’re also practical for your dog’s eye health. If you plan to make dog and SUP a habit taking precaution against cataracts is a good shout. Shannon also raised a point about doggy squinting. Your dog’s eyes are sensitive to light as are yours so UV protection will help them see better. Rex Specs are what Shannon and Max use on their own days out. Seeing more = more fun and more fun = more cooperation from your pup.
Opinions are divided on the use of a dog leash when on the water. Shannon’s take is that so long as the leash is short enough not get tangled, it’s useful to have. If the water gets rough you may need to sit to paddle and simultaneously hold your dog in close. If you approach other paddlers, the shore or a tempting seagull, a short leash will help you keep control.
Max & Shannon’s Top Tips for happy SUP & Pup
- Take your time with training. Re-training bad behaviour is harder than establishing good behaviour from the start.
- Bring treats with you to reward good behaviour AND to build a positive association with the activity.
- Work within the realm of your dog’s attention span and keep the first trips short.
- Pre-exhaust very busy dogs with play. Take breaks during your paddle and allow your dog to swim if they enjoy it.
- Don’t start in winter. Choose good weather and calm water, to begin with.
- Big dogs will require more space. Make sure your board is comfortable for both you and your dog.
- Your energy is contagious to your dog. Try to be calm, positive and encouraging.
- Make your SUP a place your dog wants to be.
View this post on Instagram
A Big Bluefin thank you
Shannon Wong, dog training enthusiast based in Vancouver BC. Shannon loves training and working with her dog Max and would never turn down a chance for SUP adventure. Max, the most stylish & agile dog we know.