Guide To Paddle Boarding With Your Dog

Dogs can be the best companions - loyal, friendly and always happy to see you – which can make it tough to leave them behind when you are setting out on a SUP adventure. With most water sports, it’s difficult or impossible to take your pup with you. Fortunately, stand up paddle boarding is an exception, as long as you prepare properly for paddling with your best friend. We love to take our dogs out with us, so here we have compiled some important tips for taking your good boy or girl on an adventure.

Prepare Your Dog For Water

This might seem like an obvious question, but does your dog even like water? Start off playing in the bath or on the beach with a ball and test your dog in the shallows, getting them used to the water. Gradually get deeper but in a safe environment without putting your dog under any stress.

Swimming will be part of the SUP board experience for your dog, whether intended or not. Swimming can be a great form of canine exercise with many positive health results, especially for older dogs due to its low impact nature. Each dog is different, some being scared of water while others take to it immediately. Both attitudes toward water pose their own challenges so take your time to teach your dog to be calm in and around the water.


Does Your Dog Need A Canine Flotation Device? (Dog Lifejacket)

Before you really take the plunge think about your dog's breed. Some short-nosed dogs, such as bulldogs and pugs, actually don't swim very well due to their oversized heads - they float face down - while other dog breeds may just get tired quickly. Because of this we strongly recommend picking up a lifejacket for your dog. Canine PFDs are made specifically for dogs of different shapes and sizes, so you’ll need to pick one that suits yours. Be sure to choose one with a carry handle, which can be indispensable once in the water. 

Remember, your dog will need a little practice to don and wear their new lifejacket comfortably. So be prepared for a few dry runs to get them used to wearing it.


Getting Your Dog Onto a SUP (On Land)

This step is all just practice. Starting in the house, the best thing you can do is to introduce your dog to the board in a comfortable environment. Next, you can use the board like a bed and start practicing simple commands, as standing on and learning to sit or lie down on the board can be a valuable lesson before you hit the water. We found that the key to this is all about high value treats and making it into a game.  Your dog will quickly associate the board as a safe place. Just be sure to take your time and not rush this step.

One thing to watch when trying this is to never leave the dog alone with the board. Some dogs may just see a very large and exciting chew toy! Likewise, cats love to sink their claws into a soft deck pad like a scratching post. Always keep the deck pad side away from cats. We have learned this from experience. The terror that ensues from realizing you left your deck pad exposed and your cat is not in your field of vision is a feeling we would enthusiastically spare you.


Getting Your Dog Onto a SUP (On The Water)

The best way to continue training is to follow the same commands you practiced inside, but now with the board resting on the water's edge.  As your dog's confidence grows, you can push the board into the shallow water. 
 Now that you're afloat, you’ll want to try and teach your dog simple commands to stay on the board and to climb back on, as inevitably they will pop off for a doggy paddle. This is the time when the carry handle on the lifejacket is also most useful. Teach your dog that the board is a safe space and show them its stability. You’re teaching your dog practice in falling off and getting back onto the board. Practice this in shallow water and use plenty of treats to keep this whole process fun for both you and your dog!


How Long Can We Go For?

Try to keep your first paddles short and sweet, giving your four legged friend enough time to grow accustomed to the board without any undue stress. As your dog becomes more relaxed on the water, you can make your trips longer in duration. Keep in mind that, like yourself, your dog can become quickly dehydrated, especially in hot weather, so be sure to carry some extra water for them and a folding bowl or something they can comfortably drink from.


Is My Dog Too Big To SUP?

Be aware that adding any load to a board will alter how it controls. Think about where they sit to keep the board balanced and well-trimmed. If you do have a considerably larger dog, just confirm the maximum load capacity of your board, as overloading a board can make it difficult to paddle. The best option is to simply try on flat water, close to the shore, and preferably in good weather. You will soon figure out what does or doesn't work for you, your dog, and your equipment.

Most boards of adequate size will handle the weight of a dog because the added weight is being dispersed across the board not at a single point as it would a heavier person.


Will a Dog’s Claws Damage My Board?

This is a question we regularly get asked. With most dogs, it is not a problem. The large traction pad offers great stability and comfort so this is generally the best place for them, whereas the tough PVC surface of an inflatable SUP is super durable but can become a little slippery once wet. With some larger or more active dogs, it may be hard to avoid some scratch marks or divots in the deck pad, but this is usually cosmetic and won’t affect the integrity of the board. For the most part, as long as your dog doesn't get excited and scratch at the deck pad it isn't going to be a problem.

Your dog will get more dirt on the board than you are probably used to, especially in a river environment where the shoreline is often mud. This will not damage a board with a quality deck pad just remember to clean it after your session to keep it in its best aesthetic shape.


Can I Use a Leash?

We recommend that you do not leash your dog to the board other than a possible initial training measure (some dogs train better on a leash because they realize leash = instructions). Once your dog is comfortable on a SUP, has an appropriate life vest, and doesn't panic when being required to swim then a leash should never be used. In the event of a swim, the leash can easily become caught and cause entanglement. The SUP leash entanglement potential is especially dangerous in rivers and other moving water. A better and safer option when past the initial training is to train your dog to stay close and to use a canine lifejacket with a carry handle for easy recovery after a swim.

Even when training with a leash, never secure it to the board.


What About Once We Are Finished?

Once you are off the water, you will definitely need to remember you will have a very wet puppy. So treat your dog like you would a small child. Be sure to bring a spare towel to dry him off and thoroughly brush off any dirt or sand. He will likely be tired from the whole experience. Even if your dog was not particularly active, mentally the water is out of the ordinary for him, so give your pet a spot to lie down with fresh water while you deflate or load up your board.

Getting out on the water with your dog can be one of the most rewarding experiences, but don't expect it to go like clockwork the first time out. Be prepared for some hard work and a lot of training to make it an enjoyable experience for both of you. Give it a go and be sure to send us some photos of how you do!

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