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You can SUP with a Dog? Yeah, you can! And it’s super fun.
Paddle boarding is one of my favorite warm weather activities to do with my dog. It is a very special sport to me because it was the last adventure we did with Sora before she died. And, because it requires zero exertion on the part of your dog, it is a fantastic activity for senior dogs.
I first gave it a try during a trip to Bend, OR and was immediately hooked.
I also love exploring a place from the water. Everything looks completely different than it does from the land and because you’re traveling so slowly on a paddleboard, you see so much that you would otherwise miss than if you were on a motorized boat.
Learning how to SUP with a dog is easy, it just takes some land practice beforehand.
Teaching Your Dog to Use the Paddleboard
Whenever I paddle with Sitka, inevitably someone will ask me how I get him to relax on the board. When we SUP, Sitka lies down in the front of my board, and stays there calmly. I owe all of this to two things: Place training and practicing on dry land before hitting the water.
If you want to SUP with a dog who doesn’t constantly move, whine, or threaten your balance, then you’ll be grateful for taking the time to do this step before you ever hit the water.
Teach your dog the place command before introducing them to the paddle board. They should have this command down solid before asking them to perform on a strange new object.
Put them in place in your garage, living room, or backyard while you pump up the paddle board (or if you have a hard one, then just skip to step 3). You want them to watch the entire process from start to finish, so they know what to expect.
Make sure to take out the paddle, the pump, and blow it up with the car pump if that’s what you plan to do when you are at the water.
They should remain calmly in place as you set up the board.
Place the board on a flat surface 10 or so feet in front of the place board and put your dog on a leash. You’re going to play the “place game!” Take the leash, ask for a “come” and then as soon as they reach you, ask for place on the paddle board. Repeat with their place board and continue the game back and forth for several minutes until they understand.
Ask for place on the paddle board and go through some of the same motions you did when you first taught your dog place.
Once they seem comfortable on the board, gently rock it back and forth with your foot or your hand so they understand the motion. Paddle boards bob up and down in the water, so this exercise will get them used to that feeling of movement.
Make sure they stay in a down position during the time and offer lots of praise and reward.
Get your paddle and step onto the board with them, just like you would if you were in the water. Use your body to rock the board from side to side and make the motion of paddling with your paddle.
Once your dog has got the land portion of the paddle board down, it’s time to introduce them to the water.
I like using a flat lake shore or river bank opposed to a boat ramp for this exercise. Boat ramps tend to have a lot of activity and can be distracting. Ask your dog to sit while you place the board in the water.
Keep it as close to the shore as you can so your dog can walk on easily without too much movement from the board. Make sure to maintain a good grip on it so it doesn’t jut out from under them when they hop on.
Show them where you want them to lie down and move the board back and forth in the water, slowly. Reward and praise for staying in place.
While your dog is in place on the paddle board, play with putting your pressure on the board, like you’re going to climb on. Start with your hands alone, then maybe kneel onto the board, and finally, when your dog seems comfortable, get fully on the board.
Once they understand how this all works, you can start to paddle!
Choosing a Dog-friendly Paddle Board
If you plan to SUP with a dog, then there are several factors to consider when choosing the right board. Keep in mind that the weight of your dog will require some or no adjustment to the tips below.
Stability – Look for a wider and longer board, these offer more stability. Ideally, the board should be smaller than 10’ long by 32 inches wide. Those with larger dogs will want to go for a longer board.
Surface Grip – Get a paddle board with a grip that covers most, if not all of the surface. This helps your dog (and you!) feel more stable during the ride. If you already have a board that does not include a full deck grip, you can get creative and use something like an old yoga mat.
Hard paddle boards vs Inflatable paddle boards
There are two different types of paddle boards to choose from: hard, or rigid, and inflatable. Rigid paddle boards are also referred to as epoxy, non-inflatable, and fiberglass boards. Both have advantages and disadvantages depending on your lifestyle.
If space is an issue, Inflatable paddle boards take up less space than rigid boards. They can fold up and store into a large suitcase-sized case.
If you decide on a rigid board, then you’ll need to figure out a place to store the board when it’s not in use.
The packability of inflatable paddle boards means that you can just toss them in the trunk and head to the water. This also means that you don’t need a roof rack for your car to transport the paddle board.
The downside is that you have to spend the time inflating it once you arrive at your destination. This can take about 10 or so minutes.
Rigid boards are grab and go, but do require transporting on a roof rack.
Contrary to what you might think, inflatable boards are more durable than rigid ones. A hard paddle board can damage easily if it’s dropped.
For dogs, I believe inflatable is the way to go, mainly for the durability and portability. I have an inflatable board, and have always used them when I paddle with dogs. Yes, the board foam will get scratched, but it doesn’t damage the board.
So if you were concerned about whether dogs can ride on an inflatable SUP, there’s your answer. Just make sure to keep their nails trimmed and teach them to use the paddle board as described above.
Additional Tips for a Successful SUP with a Dog
Now that you know which board you want to use and how to teach your dog to stay on the SUP, you can finally hit the water. Below includes a few additional tips for a successful outing with your dog.
Bring treats – It may take a few sessions before your dog feels comfortable on the board. Reward your dog plentifully over the first few outings so they associate paddling with fun.
Trim those nails – As mentioned above, keeping your dog’s nails trim will avoid any potential punctures or scratches on the board.
Finding a location – I search for boat ramps on Google to get ideas near where I live. AllTrails also has a paddling filter, though limited options pop up. Also check out any paddling books specific to your region, they’re filled with ideas.
Don’t allow your dog to jump off whenever they want – If you have taught your dog the place command, they should remain in a down until you give them direction otherwise. You don’t want a dog pacing and constantly moving on the board. It will only be a matter of time before you fall in.
If your dog wants to swim, then release them to do so. This way, you can prepare for the launch and avoid going into the water yourself.
Helping your dog back on the board – Even if your dog is a great swimmer (like Sitka), I always use a doggy PFD. It comes in handy for helping my dog back onto the board from the water.
Try to get your dog parallel to the board. Then grab the handle, push down a little to get some momentum and lift them up so they remain perpendicular. This helps avoid scratches as they struggle to get onto the board.
Paddle Boarding Gear for Dogs
You will need to invest in a few pieces of gear if you plan to SUP with your dog regularly. These items will keep them safe and protect them from sun damage.
Life Jacket – Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, you’re going to want them in a life jacket for safety. You never know where there is a current or set of rocks they might hit if they fall off.
I’m planning to publish a life jacket guide soon, but look for one with a handle, so you can easily lift your dog back up onto the board if they fall off or go for a swim.
Sunscreen – If your dog has any pink spots on their body, most commonly on the nose, around the eyes, and the ears, then use a dog-friendly sunblock (make sure it doesn’t have any zinc) so they don’t burn.
Rexspecs Dog Goggles – Like humans, dogs require eye protection in sunny conditions. The sun reflects off the water and directly into their eyes, think about how much you squint around water!. Some breeds especially are more prone to eye diseases. I personally use and love Rexspecs dog goggles and I believe that they are the best on the market.
Paddle Boarding Gear for Humans
Life Jacket – Check PFD requirements in your area. Some places require the use of life jackets, while others do not. For those paddling in calm waters like lakes and flat rivers, an inflatable PFD like the NRS Zephyr or the Astral Airbelt works great.
Repair Kit – Your paddle board will come with a repair kit. Don’t forget to bring it with you and know how to use it.
Dry Bags – Even if I just go out for a short paddle, there’s always something I need to store in a dry bag, like my phone, dog treats, or car keys. I use the Sea to Summit lightweight sacks and they do just the trick.
If you’re like me and enjoy snapping a few photos or videos from your excursion, keep your phone safe in a dry pouch like this one from Nite Ize.
GoPro – This is hands down the best way to capture your paddle boarding adventures. Go Pros are tiny, fit in your hand, can attach to your paddle, and are waterproof. You can film or take photos to your heart’s content.
For even more details and information about how to SUP with a dog, my friend Maria’s Schultz has written a short book about it. She’s been paddle boarding with her dogs for years and goes out regularly with her now three dogs! Follow her on Instagram @sup_with_pup.