Surf's SUP, Dog! Here's the Best Way to Teach Your Dog to Surf or Stand-up Paddle Board With You
Whether you want to surf or use a stand-up paddle board (SUP), your water-loving pooch is likely to enjoy the ride and the bonding time. "Activities like these build trust that will deepen the bond as you do them together," says Judy Fridono, executive director of Puppy Prodigies, in San Diego, Calif., and owner of Ricochet, a champion golden retriever surf dog and the first-ever canine assisted surf therapy dog.
Fridono and other experts weigh in with tips for how to enjoy your days on the water with your own pup and stay safe.
Gear You'll Need to Get Started
How to Train Your Dog to Get on a Surfboard or SUP Board
Although the two boards are different, the training is similar. With both, start—on land—by getting your dog familiar with the board. "Feed them breakfast and dinner on the board and put your dog in the correct position while they're eating," Fridono says. "If they'll be surfing on their own, that's at the back of the board. You want them to have a positive association with the board." (On a SUP, the dog is usually in front of you.)
Tiff Shao, a CPDT in Missoula, Mont., who SUPs with her dog, Brae, a Dutch shepherd, likes to start training by teaching the dog to get on a wobble board or Bosu. "It's for general environmental confidence, to make sure the dog isn't afraid around large objects, and to get them comfortable on unstable surfaces," Shao says. And don't forget to use positive reinforcement!
A pool is a great way to accustom your dog to a surfboard or SUP in the water. If no pool is available, get down to the ocean (or lake) and start on the shoreline. Hold the board steady and direct your pooch to his or her spot on the board.
Hold one hand on the tail of the board and one under your dog's belly. Allow your buddy to fall in and practice getting back onto the board.
Eventually start pushing the board into small waves and allow the wave to draw them back. "As the dog progresses, they'll go further out," Fridono says. "It's natural for them to shift their weight back and forth so they won't wipe out—and they don't want to wipe out."
But don't expect Fido to ride the barrel right away. Take it slowly at every step, and you and your dog will be rewarded. As Fridono says, aside from safety, "the most important thing is to have fun with your dog."
3 Tips to Surf or Stand-Up Paddle Board With Your Dog Safely
1. Plan Ahead for Safety
Get your dog used to wearing a well-fitted life jacket with a handle (so you can pull him or her back onto the board if needed). Fridono says it's dangerous to leash your dog to a surfboard. "They could get hit with the board or come up against rocks and not be able to escape." But with a stand-up paddle board, you might want to bring one to guide your dog back on board, Shao says.
Have fresh water on hand, particularly if you're in the ocean. You don't want your thirsty pup slurping up salt water and ending up with nasty bowel movements or worse. Bring sunscreen that's suitable for pet use if your fair one is prone to sunburn.
And, while you don't even need to be able to surf to teach your dog to do so, Fridono says, "you need to be able to swim well." It should go without saying that your dog needs to be a good swimmer, as well.
2. Choose the Right Board
Pick a soft-top foam surfboard or one with a traction pad. A fiberglass board is too slippery. Your dog will have better grip and if they take a hit from the soft-top it won't hurt as much.
If you've got a large dog surfing solo or with you, Fridono suggests a board that's at least six-feet long. Smaller dogs are fine on a four-foot board.
Your SUP should be wide, stable, and have lots of traction. If you're going inflatable, make sure it's sturdy and durable enough to handle paws with claws. For sizing: weight—yours, the dog's, and any accoutrement—factor in as does your skill level.
3. Practice Falling
It's inevitable that you and your dog will tumble into the water at some point. Regardless of which personal watercraft you're on, know ahead of time how you'll get back on board. "Brae can't get back on a SUP by himself; he can't get his hind legs up. He's 78 pounds and I'm not a big person," Shao says. Since Brae loves tug-of-war "more than anything else," Shao brings a dummy retriever or other toy that Brae can grab onto. "If he falls, I hold out the toy and he grabs onto it and I haul him back."