So you want to share the wonderful experience of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with your dog. I have been taking mine out on the water for a number of years. Over that stretch, I have learned that there are 3 basic steps that I recommend taking in order to help them learn to love being on the board.
How to get your dog to stand up paddleboard:
- Gradually warm the dog up to the board
- Teach your dog special commands that are used for riding the board
- Practice in short bursts
1. Warm the Dog up to the Paddle Board
To help get your pup comfortable with your SUP, leave your board out where she can smell it, walk on it, and get used to it. You want to make sure that your dog sees the board as a non-threat. One trick I used was to leave the paddleboard in the garage. On the board, I placed a mat that I intended to use for Abby to stand on. Every now and then, I would place one of her treats on the mat, just to reinforce good vibes toward the board and specifically the mat.
Abby is a bit on the skittish side, so I left the board in the garage for about a week before we took it to the water. While she was getting used to the board and learning, there was nothing to be scared of. We worked on some commands that really helped.
2. Teach Your Dog Special Commands (And Use Some Common Ones)
The standard commands that are useful are “sit,” lie down,” and “stay.”
These are commands that Abby is used to hearing daily, and when I see her exploring the paddleboard (usually looking for one of those treats), I will give her a command to sit or lie down on the board. She always gets a treat from me as a reward when she follows the command.
I only use two specific stand up paddleboard commands for Abby. They are “on” and “off,” I thought about using “swim” for jumping off the board while on the water, but “off” works just fine for going for a swim and getting off at the shore.
Abby has always been a quick learner, and I was able to teach her these commands while she was getting used to the paddleboard. Then all we had to do was hit the shore and do some practice.
3. Practice in Short Bursts
My advice is not to try to stay on the water for too long when first training your dog. Starting off with brief periods of time and working your way up to longer sessions is definitely your best bet.
Abby is no stranger to the water (not Abby above), so practice was a lot of fun, even when she didn’t stay on the board. We started on the shore practicing our “on” and “off” commands. She did great.
Once on the water, however, “stay” became a bit of an issue, especially when we were hit by wakes, and the board became a bit unstable. Instead of lying still, she would try to stand up and balance herself and would overcorrect. Several times this put both of us in the drink.
After a weekend of five 2-hour sessions, Abby would obediently follow all orders. In the last session of that weekend, I could tell that she was really getting her sea-legs. Clever Girl.
Large Dog Considerations
There are also some other considerations that you will have to think about when paddling with a large dog.
And not just any dog either, you want to bring your big dog out with you. Well, just like paddling with smaller dogs,
There is a big difference between paddling with a 10 pound Yorkie and an active 65 pound Golden Retriever. Some of you will be paddling with an even heavier furry friend. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest differences.
Special considerations for bigger dogs include:
- SUP size and stability
- Your skill and confidence on a SUP
- Getting that big dog back on the board after a fall
Stability and Buoyancy
When you are paddling with a bigger dog (over 50 pounds), you must take into account the SUP you are trying to use. Specifically, you want to make sure that your dog’s added weight doesn’t make your board unstable. And, if that big dog starts to move around, it becomes harder to handle the board and stay balanced.
Stand-up paddleboards have suggested ratings for how much weight a particular board can carry. When choosing a SUP for a big dog, pick a big one. Make sure you take the weight of your dog, yourself, and any gear that might be on your board into account.
The suggested weight rating is based on the length, width, and volume of the SUP. The longer and wider a board is, the higher the volume it will have. The higher the volume, the more stable your board will be with your big dog.
Keeping your large dog relatively still on your SUP will help keep your board stable. Of course, this goes back to her mastery of the basic commands. But, just be aware that 75 pounds shifting suddenly can have wet results for you both.
When you are just starting, it isn’t a bad idea to stay on your knees until you both get a better feel for how your stand-up paddleboard feels with both of you on it.
Your Skill and Confidence on the SUP
Your skill on a SUP can drastically improve your success when paddling with a large dog. A skilled, confident paddler will be able to handle a large, active dog even on a slightly undersized paddleboard. So, make sure you are comfortable handling wakes, wind, and current by yourself before you add an extra 100 pounds of happy pup.
How to get a Big Dog back on the SUP
This is the $64,000 question. Well, I have found that a puppy PFD (Life Jacket) with a handle on the back is very important. When a small dog falls into the water, it is pretty easy to balance and pull him out. It helps to have a PFD handle, but it can be done without one. A large dog, on the other hand, is quite different. When your big dog falls or jumps off your paddleboard just stay calm and follow these steps:
- Drop to your knees for improved balance
- Paddle to your dog so that she can approach your board from the side. (at this point, I usually give the “on” command as well)
- Grab the handle of the life jacket
- Help lift when your dog gets his front paws on the board. (keep your center of gravity low)
- Continue to hoist until all four of his feet are on board.
- Brace yourself while your dog gets re-positioned.
From here, you can continue your paddle.
By the way, here is the dog life jacket that I recommend. It comes in a variety of sizes and colors.
Can Dogs Go on Inflatable Paddle Boards?
Dogs can definitely ride on inflatable boards since they are much more durable than you might imagine. In fact, they are just about as strong as rigid boards so you don’t have to worry about their nails puncturing the board. However, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and trim their nails before you take them out.
Tips for Paddling With a Dog of any Size
- Tip 1- Make sure you have plenty of water for your dog, especially if you are paddling on saltwater. You want to make sure you have plenty of fresh water to keep your pup hydrated.
- Tip 2- Some parks and cities require you to leash your dog, and as I have found out, that also means on the water. If you are told to have a leash on your dog, don’t attach it to you or the board. I find it easiest to stand on the loose end of the leash. That way, if we both have to bail, the SUP leash I have attached to my ankle won’t tangle with Abby’s leash. Also, I attach her leash to the PFD and not her collar.
Finally, you may want to get a pad for your dog. This will give your dog a better grip than on plastic or fiberglass. It also provides a cooler place to stand or lie down if the board stays dry. However, make sure you get one that can be semi-permanently or permanently affixed to the board. Otherwise, it will likely end up getting lost if your board ever flips. Here is a good one that I recommend, found on Amazon.
Stand-up paddleboarding is always a lot of fun, but it is even more fun when I take my Abby with me. Now, whenever I start inflating my board, she gets excited because she knows a fun-filled water day lies ahead.
Thanks for reading!
I have lived near the coast most of my life and I love all types of watersports. Stand-up Paddleboarding is my favorite way to get out on the water, stay fit, and have fun. I was the founder of FitFunSUP.com