Touring across a lake or river on your SUP is an exhilarating experience. Taking a companion, such as your dog, creates a friendly and relaxing atmosphere for you both.
Most dogs love water, but before you attempt to stand up paddle board with a dog, you need to take the time to train them to feel comfortable on the SUP. If you take a dog out on the water without this, it could lead to a stressful, and possibly tragic outing for you both.
As with all activities, training your dog properly will reap its own rewards. Your dog needs to feel happy on the board, comfortable moving across the water and know that you are in control before you take him out on to open water.
Here are a few suggestions which will help to get your dog SUP ready.
Get them used to the SUP
The best way to get them used to being around an SUP, is to get them used to it at home. Leave the paddle board out so that they get used to seeing it. Most dogs will eventually investigate this and sniff it and even stand on it. At this stage, leave it a few days so they are fully comfortable around the board.
The more they walk on it, the more relaxed they will feel around it. If your dog seems a little reluctant to sit on the SUP, place a treat on the board. Dogs love treats and this will encourage them to get on the board and they will learn that they have nothing to fear from the board. Of course, it won’t hurt to reward your dog if it sits on the board of its own free will either.
Train them on the board
Once the dog is happy to sit on the board, you can start training him in the important commands you will need when they are out on the water with you. The two you will need most often are ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ and you will also need to find commands to get them on and off the board. They will probably be trained to sit and stay around the home, but it’s different when they are sailing down the river with you.
When they are sitting on the board at home, use a treat to get them to obey the ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ commands, then train them to get on and off the board. If you don’t rush them, they will eventually feel comfortable sitting on the board. All dogs will go at their own pace, so while you may be in a hurry to get them out on the water, always remember that you must go at their speed, not yours.
When they are comfortable sitting on the SUP, put them in their PFD and go through it again. This may feel uncomfortable for them at first, so again, reward them with a treat every time they sit quietly with it on.
The next stage is to get on the SUP with them. You may find that as soon as you get on, they jump off, or they start moving around and this is where you can practice your commands.
The first step is to sit or kneel on the board behind them to get them used to sitting on the board with you. Eventually you can start to rock the board gently to get them used to the movement. When they are happy to sit and obey your commands, move to a standing position, and make sure they understand the commands all over again.
If you find your dog is unsettled or unhappy at any stage, go back to the previous step. You can’t speed up their training – it must be done so that they are completely happy with every step.
Move to the water
When you are totally happy that your dog will sit on the SUP with you, take the board to the water.
Don’t get too excited though, as there is still a way to go before you can stand up paddle board with a dog.
It’s one thing training your dog to sit in your own home, but quite another to get them to sit with all the distractions around them down by the water. There may be children playing, ducks swimming, other dogs around and of course, there’s water to swim in. Your dog must understand and respond to your commands with everything going on around them, before you risk going in the water.
When you get to the water, put your SUP on the ground close to the edge. Don’t put it on the water yet. Go through all the stages again, until your dog responds to your commands, and will sit on the board when you tell him. You can also practice getting on and off the board at the same time.
Once you feel confident, move the SUP to shallow, calm water and sit or kneel behind them. Calmer waters will let your dog acclimatize to being on the water gradually. If you’ve kept close to the edge of the water, then they should be able to paddle if they fall or jump off. If they show too many signs of distress, move back to the edge.
As they find their SUP feet, start to rock the board gently to get them used to the movement. This is where they may jump off at first, so being in shallower water won’t worry or distress them. You can also use this as a good way to use your command to get them back on the paddle board, or even get them used to being pulled up by the handle on their PDF. As they gain confidence, you can stand up.
Now your dog is comfortable on the SUP in water, you can start to move around.
Stay kneeling, and slowly and gently move the paddle board, but only move around a few feet at first. Stay close to the edge and in shallow waters, and this will get your dog used to moving. Using treats will always help them to feel they’ve done something good, so if they stay on the board, make sure you have treats with you to reward them.
Once your dog is happy, move further out and stand up. Make sure you are still in calmer waters, but for your own safety move the SUP to slightly deeper water. Waist height is good as you can stand if you fall, and your dog should be able to swim back to the board.
If you take your time, and train your dog gradually, you will soon be able to stand up paddle board with a dog easily, and they will enjoy it as much as you. As they get more experience, you can move to faster water but always consider them before you decide where to paddle.
You must also consider their safety at all times, and here are a few things to bear in mind.
While you will automatically consider your own safety on the water, always remember that your dog relies on you to consider their safety too. Here are a few tips to help you and your dog enjoy your trip.
- Buy your dog a personal flotation device and make sure it is the right size. If it’s too tight, your dog won’t feel comfortable in it. While dogs are generally good swimmers, this will help to keep them safe in any water. If you buy one with a handle, it also makes it easy for you to get them back on the board if they fall off.
- Don’t be tempted to tie them to a leash. If the paddle board goes under the water, they could go with it and this could be very distressing. In the event of a fall, the leash could also wrap around the dog and trap him.
- If a dog gets thirsty, he may try to drink over the side of the SUP. While a little salt water won’t hurt them, you don’t want to encourage this. Take some fresh water with you and offer it to your dog regularly.
- Remember the effects of the sun. Dogs shouldn’t be exposed to unlimited sunshine so use sun block on your dog, or find a way to create a little shelter on your SUP.
- If you have been on salt water, rinse your dog as soon as you can. Salt can be irritating for your dog and can cause ear infections if they are not properly cleaned.
- If you find your dog struggles with water spray, you can buy them a pair of Doggles which will also help to keep salt water out of their eyes.
As with beginners, your dog may take a few attempts to get it right, but if they have been properly trained and you have followed safety procedures, they will enjoy being out on the water every bit as much as you do.
Here’s a little video from Samantha which will help you out even more!