The joy and love of standing on the water with your dog can be fun, especially if your dog loves water. My dog and I have the best time gliding across the smooth water. My dog in front of me picks up all sights, smells and noises as I am. We take breaks to go swimming and explore the coast and our favorite sandbars.
Paddleboards are a great way to get on the water with your dog: they’re lighter than kayaks, easier to transport, and easier to carry to the water. They can also be used while sitting, kneeling, and standing. Paddleboards are pretty easy to use. The wide platform, including the length, is a great surface for a dog to feel stable on.
Choosing a board
There are three types of stand-up paddleboards: hard top epoxy, inflatable, and soft top. Epoxy paddleboards are the traditional hard paddleboard. They are typically made of EPS foam and several layers of fiberglass and epoxy resin to prevent dents. They are agile, track better in the water and are suitable for longer journeys on motorways on roof racks. Personally, I have an 11’6 ” long by 33 ” wide epoxy SUP.
Inflatable paddleboards have become particularly popular with dog owners. The majority of quality manufacturers make these from some serious military-grade PVC materials and bladders that are inflated to make the panel stiff at each manufacturer’s PSI rating. Inflatable paddleboards are easier to move to and from the water, and you don’t need a roof rack or large vehicle. They are stable, easy to handle in the water, have a long service life and require less storage space when empty.
Soft top paddleboards aren’t ideal for dogs because they weigh a little more, don’t work as well, and can’t handle different types of water. I paddled on a canopy with one of my dogs. It’s nowhere near as fun as my hardtop, and nowhere near as easy as it is on an inflatable paddleboard.
For dog paddling, paddleboards that are 11 feet long, 6 inches long, and 32 inches wide are a good size. I can only recommend anyone buying a stand up paddleboard to buy additional EVA foam traction pads at the same time and put those on the board when it’s brand new. Covering the entire surface up to the nose of the board is the best modification you can make for your dog to ensure he has as much traction and cushioning as possible.
Train at home first
Prepare your dog for success by showing him the paddleboard in the best possible way.
- Set up the paddleboard in the back yard or living room where it will lie flat on the floor. Inflatable boats do not need to be inflated yet. If the board is hard, take the fin off and use towels or pool noodles to securely balance it on the ground to keep it from moving and wobbling. Do this so your dog can gather information about this item.
- Next, focus on motivating your dog to get on the board. Dogs are naturally curious and will discover something new in their environment. Let your dog investigate, and if he goes on the board alone, mark and reinforce this behavior. To come up with things like a paddleboard, I use the verbal cue “Load Up”. When your dog has all paws on the board, say “load” and reinforce it by giving him a food treat. Do this a few times until your dog understands what to do when the board is involved.
- Now teach your dog to stay on the paddleboard. The bait base formation is ideal for this. Use a pea-sized food treat to guide them onto the board. When she has all four paws on the board, mark this with “loading” and give her another reward for the meal as reinforcement.
- If your dog is good at getting on the board and staying up there, climb the board with him. She can jump off what is normal first. Make sure the board is stable and try again.
- After she gets the hang of staying on the board with you, gently rock it back and forth and forwards and aft. If your dog is good at handling this, take the paddle with you and pretend you’re paddling. Encourage your dog to stay on the board while doing this.
If you can easily do all of these things with your dog the first time, that’s great. However, many dogs learn better with short sessions at each step rather than doing all of those steps in turn. Taking a break between steps and doing something else is a really clever way of helping each dog at their own pace.
What you will need
- Stand up paddleboard and paddle
- Additional EVA foam standup paddleboard deck traction pads
- Personal flotation device / life jacket for you and your dog
- Packsack to keep items dry and safe
- Portable dog water bottle / bowl
- A long leash to use as a dog leash (15 to 20 feet, ½ inch Biothane is a good material, check out floating lines too)
- Waterproof phone case
- Whistle for an emergency signal
- First aid kit
- Light source
- Map of the area
PFDs save the lives of dogs
Personal swimming aids for dogs – even strong swimmers – are designed in case something goes terribly wrong. They also help other people see your dog in the water, help you lift him out of the water, help him swim, and are a safe place to put a long line ashore when leaving the launch site or approach him. Personal flotation devices for dogs should be designed to keep dogs’ heads above water, with flotation sections for the neck, abdomen, back, and sides.
Introduce the personal flotation devices at home to get used to wearing them around the house and in the yard before taking them to the water. Slowly introduce them and reward your dog for sticking his head through the hole and buckling up the new gear. The experience of wearing one can be split over short periods of incremental reward / reinforcement, and include all of the baby steps wearing something new.
The first time you go paddling your dog should be well thought out. Look for a partly cloudy / partly sunny day with a moderately warm temperature, where the water temperature is comfortable for both you and your dog and the wind speed is less than 15 km / h. Allow enough time to be slow on the water for the first time. Take the time to make sure your dog is as ready as you are.
Every time your dog steps onto the board from the shore / launch site, hold the board so that it is not pushed onto the water by your dog jumping on it. This ensures that she doesn’t lose her balance.
When things don’t go well, cut down on your losses and secure your paddleboard. Have a good time on the water, just not on it this time. That doesn’t always happen, but if it does, that’s fine. If you pressurize your dog to do something he doesn’t want to do, it will ensure that he is not enjoying it.
Being on the water with my dogs is great fun. I go on the water more because they love doing this with me. If you live near a body of water that you can paddleboard on, this is a worthwhile investment. Technology has advanced to where prices have dropped, and some of the packages on Amazon are perfect for beginners. I’m considering buying an Amazon inflatable boat for under $ 400 for friends only so they can have fun on the water with my dogs and me.
© Paul J Kearney
Water safety 101
- Dogs, even strong swimmers, should always wear a swimming device.
- Do not attach a leash to your dog’s flotation device (unless specifically required for environmental management purposes) when boating and paddling on the water, as it can entangle their legs and pose a safety hazard.
- Always drink fresh water, just like in a hydration pack.
- Follow safety / laws on leash at portage points.
- Don’t let your dog chase wildlife.
- Take a human buddy: the best case scenario is if either of you knows about CPR.
- Ideal dog for water sports: Strong swimmer with a solid and reliable recall, reliable behavior, problem-solving and flexible thinker, and physically capable.
- Humans should manage and understand the environment and know the weather forecast (exposure to sun and heat) and the tide tables.
- Let a trainer teach you and your dogs how to have a safe and comfortable time in, around and on the water.
- Be vigilant and careful of other boaters and ships.