Want to Try a Dog Adventure on the Water? Try SUP

Sharing the joy and love of being on the water stand-up paddleboarding with your dog can be fun, especially if your dog loves water. My dog and I have the best time gliding over the smooth water, my dog out in front of me taking in all the sights, smells and sounds just like I am. We take breaks to go swimming and to explore the coastline and our favorite sandbars.

Paddleboards are a great way of getting on the water with your dog: They are lighter than kayaks, easier to transport and easier to carry to the water, plus can be used sitting, kneeling and standing. Paddleboards are pretty user-friendly. The wide platform, including the length, is a great surface for a dog to enjoy feeling stable on.

Picking a Board

There are three types of stand-up paddleboards: hard-top epoxy, inflatable and soft top. Epoxy paddleboards are the traditional hard paddleboard. They are typically constructed of EPS foam and multiple layers of fiberglass and epoxy resin to prevent dings. They are agile, track better in the water and are suitable for longer trips on highways on roof racks. I personally have an 11-foot 6-inch long by 33-inch wide epoxy SUP.

Inflatable paddleboards have become popular, especially with dog owners. The majority of quality manufacturers make these out of some serious, military-grade PVC materials and bladders that are inflated to make the board rigid at each manufacturer’s PSI rating. Inflatable paddleboards are easier to transport to and from the water, and you don’t need a roof rack or a large vehicle. They are stable, handle great in the water, are durable, plus when deflated, take up less storage.

Soft-top paddleboards aren’t ideal with dogs, as they weigh a bit more, don’t handle as well and can’t handle various types of water. I’ve paddleboarded with one of my dogs on a soft-top. It’s nowhere near as fun as my hard-top and nowhere near as easy as with an inflatable paddleboard.

For paddleboarding with dogs, paddleboards that are around 11-feet, 6-inches long by 32-inches wide are a good size. I highly recommend that everyone who purchases a stand-up paddleboard purchase extra EVA foam traction pads at the same time and put them on the board when it is brand new. Covering the entire surface to the nose of the board is the single best modification you can make for your dog, ensuring she has as much traction and padding as possible.

Train at Home ­First

Set your dog up for success by introducing the paddleboard to her in the best possible way.

  1. Set the paddleboard up in the backyard or in the living room where it is flat on the ground. Inflatables don’t need to be inflated yet. If it is a hard board, take the fin off and use towels or pool noodles to balance it securely on the ground so it doesn’t move and wobble. Do this to allow your dog to gather information about this item.
  2. Next, focus on motivating your dog to go onto the board. Dogs are naturally curious and will check out something new in their environment. Let your dog investigate, and if she goes onto the board on her own, mark and reinforce that behavior. For getting onto things like a paddleboard, I use the verbal cue “load up.” When your dog gets all of her paws on the board, say, “Load up,” and reinforce her for doing so by giving her a food reward. Do this a few times until your dog understands what to do when the board is involved.
  3. Now teach your dog to stay on top of the paddleboard. Lure-base shaping is ideal for this. Use a pea-sized food reward to guide her onto the board. When she gets all four paws on the board, mark that with “Load up“ and then give her another food reward as a reinforcer.
  4. Once your dog is good at getting on the board and staying up there, climb on the board with her. She may jump off at first, which is normal. Make sure the board is stable and try again.
  5. After she gets the hang of staying on the board with you, slightly rock it back-and-forth and forward and aft. If your dog is good with this, then involve the paddle and pretend you are paddling. Encourage your dog to stay on the board while you are doing this.

If you can do all these things easily with your dog the first time out, that’s great. However, plenty of dogs learn better with short sessions on each step instead of doing all these steps one after the other. Taking a break in between each step and doing something else is a really smart way of helping every dog at her own pace.

What You’ll Need

  • Stand-up paddleboard and paddle
  • Additional EVA foam standup paddleboard deck traction pads
  • Personal flotation device/life vest for yourself and your dog
  • Dry bag to keep items dry and safe
  • Portable dog water bottle/ bowl
  • A long line for use as your dog’s leash (15 to 20 feet, ½-inch Biothane is a good material, also check cords that float)
  • Waterproof phone case
  • Whistle for an emergency signal
  • First-aid kit
  • Light source
  • Map of area

PFDs Save Dogs’ Lives

Personal flotation devices for dogs — even strong swimmers — are for when things go horribly wrong. They also help other people see your dog in the water, help you lift her out of the water, assist her while swimming and are a safe place to attach a long line to when on land and when leaving or approaching the launch site. Canine personal flotation devices should be designed to keep dogs’ heads above water, with flotation sections for the neck, belly, back and sides.

Introduce the personal flotation devices at home to get used to wearing them around the house and around the yard before heading out to the water with them. Introduce them slowly, rewarding your dog for sticking her head through the hole and buckling the new gear. The experience of wearing one can be split up over short periods of time with incremental rewarding/reinforcing and all the baby steps wearing something new involves.

First Outings

The first time you go paddleboarding with your dog should be well-thought out. Look for a partly cloudy/partly sunny day with a moderately warm temperature, when the water temperature is comfortable to be swimming in for both you and your dog and the wind speeds are under 10 mph. Allow for plenty of time to slowly get out on the water for the first time. Take the time to ensure your dog is as ready as you are.

Every time your dog gets on the board from the shoreline/launch site, hold the board so it doesn’t get pushed out onto the water by your dog jumping on it. This ensures she does not lose her balance.

If things don’t go well, cut your losses and secure your paddleboard. Have a good time by the water, just not on it this time. This doesn’t always happen, but if it does that’s OK. Pressuring your dog to do something she doesn’t want to do is going to ensure she doesn’t have fun doing it.

Being on the water with my dogs is some serious fun. I get out on the water more because of how much they love doing this with me. If you live near a body of water that you can go on with a paddleboard, it is a worthwhile investment. The technology has advanced to where the prices have gone down, and some of the packages on Amazon are perfectly suitable for beginners. I’m thinking about getting an inflatable one off of Amazon for under $400 just for friends to use so they can join my dogs and me on the water having fun.

©Paul J Kearney

Water Safety 101

  • Dogs, even strong swimmers, should always wear a flotation device.
  • Do not attach a lead to your dog’s flotation device (unless specifically required for management of the environment) when out on the water enjoying boating and paddling sports, because her legs could get tangled in them, becoming a safety hazard.
  • Always have fresh water to drink, like in a hydration pack.
  • Follow leash safety/laws at portage points.
  • Do not let your dog chase wildlife.
  • Take a human buddy: Best case is if one of you knows CPR.
  • Ideal dog for water sports: strong swimmer, with a solid and reliable recall, reliable behaviors, is a problem-solving and flexible thinker, plus is physically able.
  • Humans should manage and understand the environment and know the weather forecast (exposure to sun and heat) and tide tables.
  • Get a trainer to teach you and your dogs to have a safe and enjoyable time in, around and on the water.
  • Be vigilant and cautious of other boaters and vessels.

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