Are you and your pup a little board of your usual summer activities? Paddle boarding with dogs in tow might just be what you’re looking for!
If you and your dog love the water, then there’s no better way to enjoy your summer together.
Learn how to launch yourself into this exciting pastime with this step-by-step guide to paddle boarding with dogs.
Step One: Planning a Successful Trip
Location, Location, Location
One major benefit of stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is that it isn’t limited to any specific body of water, unlike surfing.
Whether your local spot is the beach, a lake, a river, or even a pond, you can make paddle boarding work for you! The best location for you and your dog will depend on your confidence and level of skill, as well as how confident your dog feels on the water.
For a beginner SUP user, I would strongly recommend practicing on still water before braving any waves. A quiet, low-traffic lake is the best learning environment.
If you only have access to a busier area, like the beach, you can still easily learn to paddle board. Simply avoid windy days and high tides for your first few trips. Calmer water will make keeping your balance that little bit easier as you learn to navigate your board.
The Essential Gear
A Dog-Friendly Paddle Board
Choosing a paddle board that can properly accommodate both you and your pooch is the key to a successful trip.
What you need in a board will vary depending on a few factors. You will need to consider your abilities, the size and temperament of your dog, and your budget.
Unsure of where to start? We’ve covered exactly what to look for, and more, all in one go-to article. Check out the 21 Best Paddle Boards for Dogs 2023 here.
Doggy Flotation Device
As they say: safety first, first aid last!
Even if your dog is a confident swimmer, things can still deteriorate quickly under the wrong circumstances. A doggy flotation device will provide you with peace of mind while you’re out on the water.
A life jacket is most effective when it’s properly fitted. To be sure of a snug fit, you will want to measure your dog from the base of their neck to the base of their tail.
Lifejackets for Younger Dogs
If you’re fitting a younger dog or a puppy, keep an eye on the jacket specs as your dog ages. Many jackets are designed to suit a specific weight range, so you may need to size up or down depending on your dog’s breed and age. Bigger puppies especially move through weight ranges quite quickly.
While not always standard, a handle is also another great feature to look out for when choosing a flotation device. They are normally located on the back of the jacket. With a handle, you can quickly grab your dog and pull them back onto the board in an emergency.
I would also strongly recommend purchasing a brightly colored jacket. This means that your dog will remain visible in the water should they come off of the board. If something happens to you on the water, you’ll also want to be sure that other people are able to spot your dog, even without actively looking for them.
Step Two: Preparing Your Dog for Paddle Boarding
Getting your dog accustomed to the board can take time, but trust that the end result will be worth it.
The last thing you want is for your dog to feel scared or uncertain about your new adventure. Introducing your dog to paddle boarding in a positive way will make all of the difference.
Introducing Your Dog to the Board
Familiarize Yourself with the Paddle Board
Your pet knows you better than anyone, and if you feel nervous, it’s likely that they will too!
To keep you both anxiety free, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the basics of paddle boarding before bringing your dog along.
Sharing the board with your pooch will alter the weight distribution and change the way that it moves through the water. The simplest way to prepare yourself for this is to build your skills alone first.
Practice skills such as hopping on and off, standing, and turning the board in the water.
Once you can confidently navigate the board yourself, you can then begin introducing it to your dog.
Practice Basic Commands
Perfecting some basic obedience commands before you begin paddling will lead to a more relaxing experience for everyone involved.
To navigate the board safely, your dog will need to know the following commands at a minimum:
- Sit: To safely position themselves on the board.
- Down: This will allow your dog to get comfortable on the board for longer trips.
- Leave it: This command is possibly the most crucial. If your dog sees something of interest, you don’t want them leaping off of the board to chase it. Not only will this unbalance the board, but it could lead to a dangerous situation for your dog if you are out in deeper waters.
Keep the Board Visible
If you have the space, leaving your SUP out in the open is a great way for your dog to become accustomed to it in their own time.
Forcing your dog to hop on the board before they are ready will likely scare them. This will create a negative connotation and they’ll be far less likely to enjoy your time on the water, if they’re willing to participate at all.
Instead, allow your dog to sniff, touch, and climb on the paddle board as they choose.
Over time, you’ll begin to see your pooch growing more and more comfortable with the new addition. You can then move on to the next step: actively encouraging them to engage with the paddle board.
Use Treats for Encouragement
Watch your dog’s behavior closely while the paddle board is in the house.
If they have any sort of positive reaction, whether they hop on to explore or simply give it a willing sniff, then you can reward them.
This might be a yummy treat or just some extra love, depending on which will get the best response from your pet.
Avoid punishing your dog for any negative reactions. They’ll begin to associate this with the board itself, which is the opposite of what you want to happen. You don’t want your dog to link the board to stressful situations or fear. You want this to be fun!
If your pup is hesitant to climb up on the board, sit with them quietly. Offer them lots of praise while they move around it. When they seem calm, place a treat or toy in the middle of the board and encourage them to retrieve it.
Your dog will quickly realize that interacting with the SUP means that they’re in for a reward, and who can say no to that?
Get Your Dog Comfortable on Land
Balancing on the board with your dog along for the ride can be tricky at first. To avoid any unplanned dips in the water, you will want to practice a few skills on dry land first.
Fitting the Doggy Floatation Device
Doggy life jackets are often big and bulky, meaning they can throw off your dog’s center of gravity and impact their balance.
Giving your dog a chance to adjust to this change before you venture out onto the water means you’re less likely to capsize.
Getting On and Off of the Board
I recommend choosing two special commands for paddle boarding: one to signal hopping on the board, and one to signify hopping off.
We use “on the board!” and “off the board!”. I wanted something simple that could be said quickly when needed.
This step is one of the most important, in my opinion. You don’t want your dog deciding to leap on or off of the board before you’re ready. An unexpected movement can lead to the board becoming unbalanced or even tipping over. Not fun for anyone involved!
Getting these commands down pat before embarking on your first trip will make all the difference.
If your dog mounts or dismounts the board without you using the command, return them to a neutral position and try again.
When they respond correctly to your command, you can then issue them with their reward.
Joining Your Dog on the Paddle Board
Once they have perfected navigating the paddle board on their own, you will want to accustom your dog to sharing it with you.
For some dogs, this can be quite difficult at first. It is a particularly confined space, and they may shift around if they feel like they are underfoot.
Gentle pats and verbal rewards will encourage your dog to stay in place.
Step Three: Taking Your Dog Paddle Boarding
Embarking on Your First Paddle
Practice has almost made perfect, and now it’s time to test your skills on the water.
Again, you’ll want to take this slowly so as to not scare your dog.
Remain calm and avoid becoming frustrated, even if things don’t go quite as planned. This is supposed to be fun for both you and your pup!
Let your dog explore and play for a while when you arrive at your destination.
This will help them work through their initial excitement of being out and about, making it easier for you to keep their attention.
Run through the basics again while still on the shore.
Practice your on and off commands, sitting still on the board, and fitting any flotation devices that need to be worn.
You can go over these steps as many times as necessary. They will also help your dog burn off any leftover energy before they settle down to enjoy paddling.
Demonstrate to your dog that the board will be going out into the water.
You can choose to have them play alongside the board as you hold it steady near the shoreline, or go out on it alone while they wait for you on dry ground.
Remember that even if your dog is familiar with the paddle board at this point, they still don’t understand its purpose. They are likely not expecting a trip across the water.
Once your dog is comfortable with you using the board in the water, you can invite them to join you on the board.
Start slowly so that the motion of the paddle doesn’t spook your dog.
Your dog will likely jump from the board during your first paddle. While this is perfectly normal, you don’t want them to find themselves in unexpectedly deep waters. Keep the board in shallower waters until everybody has a chance to adjust.
Remember to steer clear of any hazardous areas, such as rocks or submerged logs, in case the board becomes unbalanced.
If you can, try to keep your first trip on the shorter side.
This is a completely new experience for your dog. Being on top of the water rather than in it will feel very unnatural to them.
Even if things don’t go perfectly, end the day with lots of cuddles and praise.
Your dog will be more eager to try again next time if you finish on a positive note.
Once you have finished, give your dog some time to relax.
Paddleboarding may not be physically difficult for your dog, but the experience of being on the water for the first time can be quite draining mentally.
Be sure to provide your dog with plenty of water afterwards, too, especially if you’ve been out paddling during the summer time.
Taking your dog paddle boarding is both a rewarding bonding experience and an exciting way to get outdoors. With patience, training, and a lot of treats, it’ll be smooth sailing in no time!