Paddle Boarding with your Dog – Important Need to Know Tips
When you think about it, haven’t we all seen that dog sitting on the front of a surf board while some guy is casually rolling down the face of a wave. Well whilst it may have just been a way for the old school surfers to get a little face time with their 4-legged buddies, it’s actually a thing these days and a popular one at that. Except it’s now the paddle boarders that are taking up the mantle. Not only that, there’s dog boarding accessories, training programs, tips of the trade, paddling location guides and much more.
Let’s take a look at what you should know…
Training & Preparation
Not only for our dogs, it’s also important that we too have a handle on all of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to dog SUPing. The more prepared both you and your dog are then the better the overall experience will be.
You – it may sound like a no brainer, but if you’re not comfortable on your board then you’ll likely have a bigger struggle when you add an extra 4 legs. Make sure you’re competent enough and at the very least, you’re spending more time standing on your board than in the water. SUPing doesn’t take that long to pick up so just make sure you’ve got the hang of it first.
Your Dog – is your dog a natural in the water or are they scared when it rains or comes time for a bath. If they’re a natural brilliant, but if not take the time to gradually expose them to the water. Keep it simple and make it fun. If water isn’t their thing then you may have hit your first roadblock. You also need to keep in mind that depending on your dogs body type or breed, then paddle boarding might be a genuine challenge. Trying to maintain stability and manoeuvrability with a St Bernard or large German Shepard for instance might not be the best fit unless you have a sensibility sized larger and wider board.
Land it First – getting our dogs use to the board onshore first is definitely the best approach. Whether you try it on the sand, outdoors or even indoors, take the fin off the board first (or prop your board up if the fin is not detachable), and practice having your dog get on and off the board. You do it with them as well.
Dogs are naturally curious by nature so they will likely want to explore it in any case. Similarly to when we are training our dogs in other instances, make sure you have a few treats handy. Recognition and reward will normally do the trick. You will need to repeat this routine for a few days so they get comfortable with it so if you can keep the board handy they will likely want to explore it for themselves.
With both of you on the board, rock or wobble around a little so they can get an understanding that the board moves. Once they get a feel for that then slowly introduce the paddle and do air strokes from side to side. Move around a little, rock about, paddle, chat to them and generally create a comfortable environment that they will learn to feel at home in.
It’s also a good idea to do this in a sitting and / or kneeling position as well. Good for both you and the dog to get use to and more stable as compared to standing.
Commands – this is really about basic obedience. Terms like ‘sit’ – ‘stay’ – ‘on’ – ‘off’ or similar words that you have taught your dog to understand will be really important. Being out on the water does have inherent risks so if your dog easily spooks or is mischievous and will want to bark at other dogs or chase birds then you do run the risk of falling off yourself. Practice this on land as well first so they can familiarise themselves with each command. Reward them with treats each time they follow the command properly.
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Time To Get Wet
Okay, so we’re all sorted now and it’s time to hit the water. It’s still new to both of you though so take it nice and slow.
Paws / Skin – try to keep your dogs paws clipped as this will help with grip and will also assist in avoiding scratches on your board. Some dogs can also get sun burnt just like us so apply sun screen to their belly or areas of exposed skin.
Energetic Dogs – if your dog is a pup or has ‘small dog syndrome’ like mine, then you’ll want to wear them out before they take to the board. An overexcited dog will not want to sit still so the calmer they are then the less likely you’ll both be going for a swim.
Treats – have your treats handy so you can do the command / reward thing as you start out. Only reward when merited.
Baby Steps – start out in calm flat shallow waters and practice getting on and off the board. Hold the board still in the water and let the dog get on or help if necessary. Play a little with getting on and off the board. You’ll both take a few attempts at getting it right so expect a few spills. This will also get the dog acquainted with the water if they’re not a natural. When you’re ready hop on the board yourself and start out in the kneeling position before you stand. Let the dog sit at your feet initially so you can find your rhythm paddling. As you settle in your dog can move further up the board so you can find a better balance and weight distribution.
Be Prepared – your dog will have it’s safety vest on but be prepared for them to jump or fall off at any time. Larger dogs will create a greater imbalance if they come off the board so you may be at risk of falling in as well. Make sure that you are also aware of your surroundings at all times i.e. other boards, boats, water depth etc. Help your dog back on the board and then slowly start off again if they do go in.
Take Your Time – don’t go out on marathon rides when you’re starting out. Keep your trips relatively short. You’ll have your spills together so be patient and enjoy it together.
Reward Time – let him know he’s done well when you get back to shore. Give him a treat and make sure you rinse off afterwards particularly if in salt water as this can cause irritations on their skin. Dogs can also be prone to ear infections as well so dry then as much as possible.
Dog Boarding Accessories
Life Jacket (Buoyancy Vest) – the dog variety in this case. This is a must really. Whilst dogs can swim, getting on and off a slippery board will be difficult for the dog. Not only will the vest help them if they are struggling in difficult water conditions or become tired, it will also protect them if they are hit by floating objects. Quality jackets have a handle on top of the vest with some also having a chin float to help keep the dogs head out of the water. Like the human version, bright colours alsoassist in terms of visibility.
Deck Padding – your board will more than likely have deck padding but it’s important to ensure that it’s sufficiently long enough to cater for where your dog will be standing. If you have a hard board for instance and there is not sufficient forward deck padding, then the surface will be slippery so investing in a traction pad designed for dogs might be worth considering.
Swim Goggles – it might sound a tad silly but you can get goggles for dogs which are pretty useful in salt water conditions. You can even get polarised lens that will not only offer water protection, but also sun protection noting that the sun reflects off the water so what’s useful for us will likely also be useful for our little companions.
Hydration / Snacks – not dissimilar to humans, if you plan on spending an amount of time on the board then having dog treats and water will be important. Treats will also help in terms of reinforcing commands and instructions. Water proof or dry bags and collapsible silicon / rubber bowls are also easily available online or from pet stores.
Its also worth throwing a couple of extra towels in the car as well. Sandy wet dogs can make a mess so unless you’re keen on vacuuming then think ahead.
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Location & Conditions
Like most outdoor and particularly water activities, the weather and location will always play a part in the overall experience so some forward thinking and common sense will never hurt.
Water – pick a location where the water is flat and reasonably calm just as you would do if you were an inexperiencedpaddler. A location that has less congestion and water traffic would be best. This might be on a river, lagoon, stream, or the ocean but ensure that you have a shallow entry and exit point(s) as you set off. You’ll want the water to be deep enough once you stand up so you have sufficient depth in the event that you do fall in.
Weather – equally important, take a look at the weather conditions or the forecast to make sure that the conditions are suitable. If you are in open water or coastal areas, avoid windy conditions particularly if there is an offshore wind as this will take you away from shore which will make it more difficult when you paddle back in. Similarly, if you are paddling in water where there is a current, or tides or rips, then please factor this in particularly if you are not a strong or experienced paddler. Getting caught out could see you being carried out to sea or a long way down stream. Safety first please.
You should also keep an eye on both the air and water temperatures even if it’s not a particularly cold day. Water temperatures can get very cold as to can strong winds which can quickly drain both yours and your dogs energy. Protective and water resistant clothing can of course assist.
There are differing schools of thoughts on what is best – a hard board or an inflatable. Whether you are with your dog or not, much of the logic still holds true.
Hard Boards – as they offer greater rigidity over an iSUP, they offer better stability in terms of balance and as a paddling surface. If you have a larger dog or if you yourself are heavier, then again a more rigid board will better suit. Hard boards are also easier to paddle because of their rigidity. Some people get concerned that dog paws may damage the boards surface. The boards are quite resilient although hard boards are of course slippery so it’s important that you have ample traction padding in the area where your dog will sit.
Inflatable (iSUP) Boards – one of the obvious advantages of iSUPs is their versatility and portability as they are far easier to transport and store. Whilst they will not be as rigid as a hard board, quality iSUPs can comfortably handle weights up to 400 pounds so unless you and your dogs combined weight is really getting up there then their rigidity shouldn’t be a factor particularly as you’ll likely be paddling in flat water conditions. iSUPs also ride higher out of the water given their thickness so you and your dog will have a greater chance of staying dry. They also have a softer deck and rails which again will aid comfort, grip and cushioning.
Irrespective of what option you go for, size does matter in this case. Wider boards will give you a little more room but they are also more cumbersome to manoeuvre. If you and your dog are larger or heavier, then you’ll need a longer board so you both have sufficient room remembering that your dog might well move around. Something north of 11′ will best suit the key things being stability, balance and floatation.
Safe paddling and I look forward to seeing you out there.
As always we would love to get your feedback so please feel free to leave a comment below and we will get back to you.
Until then, stay safe and get wet…