So, you keep seeing people paddle boarding and kayaking with their dogs on Instagram or Facebook and you want to give it a try. Here are some tips to make your first SUP experience a positive one for both you AND your dog!
While I’m no paddle boarding expert, and definitely not a dog trainer, Ringo and I have spent countless hours on a paddle board together (and now Roxie too) I’d love to share some things that have helped make this a rewarding, fun experience for both of us.
What this all comes down to is one thing. Don’t rush it!
How to SUP with your Pup
I have seen far too many people who think they can just grab their unsuspecting dog, throw them on a SUP and paddle off into the sunset. And MAYBE you have a really chill dog. MAYBE they’ll take to this wobbly thing moving around under their feet without a second thought. But most pups could really benefit from a little more structure their first time. Better to spend some extra time getting your dog acquainted with this new sport than to do it once and have it be a disaster that neither of you want to repeat.. EVER!
So where do you start?
1. Comfort around water
If your dog is a water-loving fool that has never met a body of water that they didn’t immerse themself in (be it a puddle or a moving river) and has all but grown gills, skip this step!
But, if your dog doesn’t like water or has little to no experience with it, that’s something you’re going to want to focus on before you even bring the board into the picture. If your dog is scared of water and the only thing separating him or her from it is a small, wobbly, floating board, they are bound to be terrified of your new “adventure” idea and want nothing to do with it.
Spend some time in the water with your dog, encourage them to swim and really let them get comfortable with the area where you plan to paddle. Bring treats for positive reinforcement and their favorite floating toys to make the experience fun for them, even if water isn’t their favorite thing.
Ringo HATED the water when we first adopted him. He wouldn’t even drink out of the tiniest creek. With lots of practice and endless exposure to water, he eventually got over his fears and learned that water could be fun. He began seeking out water on hikes and would wade in the water to cool off. The swimming came much later, but even before he decided that he liked swimming, we were able to start kayaking and paddle boarding because he was no longer scared of the water.
The FIRST day that Ringo spent in our house as a foster dog, he fell into our in-ground pool and almost drowned. I never left any of our dogs alone in the back yard (in fear of this exact thing happening) so I was right there and jumped in to save to him. While “all is well that ends well,” I swore that I wouldn’t let Ringo have another near death experience and about an hour later went and bought his first life jacket. Whether he wanted to or not, Ringo would learn to swim that summer.
He didn’t have to LIKE to swim, but I wanted him to be able to save himself if he ever fell in again. We went to the lake that same weekend and started “swimming lessons”. This basically meant that I spent a lot of time in the water calling him and encouraging him and looking/sounding like a crazy lady trying to get my dog to swim. But, with time and patience (and his fear of missing out/being away from mom), he learned that he could, in fact, swim in this scary wet stuff.
Whether your dog is a seasoned swimmer or not, accidents happen. You don’t want to worry about what COULD go wrong if your dog falls into the middle of the lake or a moving river. Even if your dog loves the water, being caught off guard and thrown from your SUP can be disorienting and scary. If they suddenly find themselves falling off the board and get overwhelmed or scared, their swimming instincts may take a minute to kick in. This is where a lifejacket can really make a big difference. There are plenty of companies out there that make awesome life jackets for dogs at reasonable prices. Pick one up and give both you and your dog that extra peace of mind.
Our current favorite is the Hurtta Life Savior. Read our review here.
For a more economical option, check out our review of the Alcott Mariner Life Jacket here.
As with any new experience or task that your dog faces, they look to you for reassurance and courage when they need it. Build a good foundation of trust with your dog through training and quality bonding time. If your dog knows that they can trust you and depend on you for guidance and instruction, they will take on new tasks with ease and confidence.
4. A smooth introduction
So by now, your dog is very familiar with all types of water. They have the right safety gear and you have a good foundation of trust and training… Now to the fun part!
– Bring out your board or kayak and let your dog check it out.
Let them sniff it , walk on it, get on and off of it and see what it’s all about (on land).
– All Aboard!
Bring your board down to the water, along with lots of treats. With lots of encouragement and a positive attitude, help them on the board for the first time.
– No Wake Zone
Start off somewhere easy with calm water and not a lot of boat traffic so that there is as little extra “wobbling” as possible and set out on your first adventure.
– Sit First
Start off sitting to provide extra stability while you both get our sea legs. Once you’re both comfortable sharing the board and seem pretty stable, stand up and paddle away.
– End on a good note
Enjoy the peace and calm of the lake, take a swim, and have fun! If your dog is nervous or seems to get antsy, head back to shore. A short, successful paddle is better than a longer, uneasy one any day. If your dog got a bit nervous on the way back, end your trip with a game of fetch or their favorite treat. It’s important to always end on a good note. You want the experience to be a positive one for your pooch!
Questions or comments? Leave us a note below! Hope these tips help you embark on your first of many SUP adventures together!
Also check out our PRINTABLE Dog Water Sport checklist to make sure you have all the necessities.
Thanks for reading!
Debbie & THE MUTTS