Guide To Training and Paddle Boarding With Your Dog

Dogs are 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 canine companion with you.

Fortunately, stand up paddle boarding is an exception as long as you prepare in advance and work them through some basic training. We love to take our dogs out to SUP with us, so we have compiled some important tips for taking your good boy or girl on endless adventures.

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.

All dogs that are comfortable around water can be trained to take to paddle boarding and SUP. You will just need to adjust a few things based on breed and temperament and in no time your canine companion will be known as a "SUP Pup".


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

Before you really take the plunge, think about your dog's breed when deciding to paddle board with your dog. 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)

Starting in the house, the best thing you can do is to introduce your dog to your SUP board in a comfortable environment.

Use the board like a bed and start practicing simple commands, such as standing on and learning to sit or lie down on the board. 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.

Be sure to take your time to reinforce the behavior, and not rush this step. Use commands that will transfer to the water such as 'on the board' intertwined with basic training commands.

One thing to consider when training your dog to SUP 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 simple commands to stay on the board and to climb back on, as inevitably they will pop off for a 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.


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.  Be sure to carry some extra water and a folding bowl or similar that they can 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, 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's 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 durable but can become a little slippery with water. 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 an issue.

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 When Paddle Boarding With a Dog?

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 To Expect When Finishing Your Paddling Session With Your Dog

Once off the water your dog will often be wet.  Be sure to bring a spare towel to dry them and thoroughly brush off any dirt or sand. Even if your dog was not particularly active, mentally the water is out of the ordinary for them in the initial training periods, 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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