There is nothing better on a sunny day than hopping on a standup paddle board (also referred to as SUP) and taking a scenic tour of an ocean, river, or lake. It’s the perfect outdoor activity and one that your dog can very much enjoy doing with you. But how do you teach man’s best friend to hop on a wobbly board and weave through the water with you? We surveyed some experts to learn about how to get your pups to become standup paddle-boarding pros.
Know your dog: According to Olivier Guincetre, of Covewater, the younger the better. “A puppy is always easier to manage on the board,” he explains. And while some breeds love the water, others are not as well suited for swimming. That doesn’t mean your pup won’t make a good paddle-boarding buddy though. Guincetre takes his French Bulldog Duke out on the board with him in Santa Cruz, California. “They’re not as good of swimmers as Golden Retrievers or Labs but this one is a trooper. He always likes being with me everywhere, either in a bag pack while riding a motorcycle, or in a trailer when I ride my bicycle,” he explains. That being said, if your dog is absolutely terrified of the water, it’s best to honor that. “I would not force the dog if there is no joy for him to go out,” says Guincetre. “Unfortunately he or she will have to stay at the beach.”
Introduce your dog to the board: Before you get your dog used to the water, it’s best to introduce him to the board on land. Practice having him sit and lie down on the board on the shore and get him comfortable with that. It’s also important to choose the right size board. “A bigger board will help stability,” says Guincetre. “I would say that most average paddlers can handle their dog on their regular board if the dog is not over 25 pounds. A paddler without experience will start in general with a 10’6×32 board but if they are considering going with their dog that is 35 pounds, they will go with a board bigger with extra volume for floatation like 11’6 to 12’0 x33.”
Safety first: Before hitting the water, Maria Christina Schultz, author of How to SUP With Your Pup, suggests strapping your pup into a dog life jacket. “On paddle boards, the handle on the life jacket is so important because it gives you a way to get your dog back on the board,” she explains. “Also, dogs that love the water may exhaust themselves before they realize they are too tired to swim back to you.” She adds that if you get separated from your dog while on the water, a brightly colored jacket will help both you and other boaters spot him.
Keep your dog comfortable: Schultz has one dog with hip dysplasia and another with a bad joint in her front leg. “It makes me cringe when I see them slip on a paddle board,” she says. “Most boards, especially epoxy boards, are very slippery.” So when the SUP enthusiast takes her pups out on the water, she adds extra traction to the board. “There are a variety of options to choose from, like additional deck pads, rubber bath mats, or a Pup Deck Traction Pad.”
Hit the open water: Once your dog has mastered the board on the land, it’s time to head out to sea. For optimal balance, it’s best to have your dog in the front of your board and your weight evenly distributed in the center. “The best is to have the dog able to stay immobile and preferably in between your legs or just in front,” notes Guincetre. You can start paddling by kneeling on your board until your dog is stable enough. Then you can stand and start paddling. Once you’ve mastered this, stick close to shore and take your dog for some laps around on the board. If he appears to be comfortable with this, you can head out for a longer duration and move away from the shore.
Bring along some treats: Teaching your dog a new skill, like SUP, requires rewarding his behavior. Schultz recommends packing a few of your pup’s favorite dog treats and giving him a few when he is relaxing and having fun out on the board. “Reward your dog when he’s sitting on the board properly and being a good pup,” she explains.
Be ready for a fall: You may occasionally catch a wave or shift your weight, which could cause your dog to plop off the side of the board and into the water. Other times, dogs can get excited and can leap into the water, especially those breeds that love to swim. If this happens, calmly coax your dog back to the board, reward him with a treat, and have him climb back aboard. Take a moment to kneel down and regain your balance before attempting to paddle again.
A few other safety concerns: Slather some canine-friendly sunscreen on your dog, especially on his face and ears to avoid sunburns. Pack fresh water and a foldable bowl and make sure to keep your pup fully hydrated. And if your dog starts to get anxious on the board or tired from falling in and swimming, row over to the shore and allow him adequate time to rest. After paddle boarding in the ocean, rinse your dog off, as saltwater can dry out and irritate his fur. And most importantly, don’t forget to make the outing fun. Take some time to congratulate your pup for being so well behaved on the board and take a moment to bend down and occasionally pat his head. SUPing together is a great way to bond together on the open seas.
For a video demonstration of paddle boarding with your pup, check out Guincetre and Duke in action here.
Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, energetic Doberman, and rat terrier.