How to Train Your Dog to Be a SUP Dog

August 19, 2020

Modern Companion

Creating a community of stylish pets and their humans. *All Posts are curated by members of our community.

Written by: Amber Welch

Instagram: noirs.et.blancs.dalmatians

Summer is not over yet! With 35 days left of the season, there is plenty of time to train your dog to ride on a Stand-up Paddle Board (SUP), and hey, it’s the perfect social distancing activity during this crazy time. Of note, I am not a certified, professional dog trainer. The tips I am about to share are from my own personal experience.

I have two Dalmatians that live for outdoor activities and LOVE the water. My husband and I started training them to paddle board when they were 8 years old and 6 months old. With that, Bailey and Neige have very different personalities and energy levels and this technique worked well for both. In hindsight I recommend letting your dog exhaust his or her energy before training sessions. For more tips topic read Modern Companion’s prior blog posts on expending your pup’s physical and mental energy. I also recommend reading Modern Companion’s blog post on “Beating the Heat”, because paddle boarding under the sun can get pretty hot.

“Wait. Before you jump right into training, which type of SUP board is best?”.

With the SUP market expanding over the past decade, there are now a wide variety of paddle board styles and brands to choose from.  There are two main SUP categories: Rigid and Inflatable.  Get out and try paddle boarding on both an inflatable board and a rigid (epoxy) board to see how each handles.  Pick the type that you feel the most comfortable on and that suits your lifestyle.  For me, an inflatable SUP works best.  You can roll it up and stuff it into a bag, which  makes for easy packing, storing, and traveling.  A car rack is not required for ISUPs, and it is easier to take on a flight.  No, your pup will not puncture a hole into an inflatable board.  The military-grade rubber skin of most quality ISUPs is exceptionally durable.  In terms of your pup, some people recommend an inflatable over a rigid board because a rigid board can be slippery under those paws; however, you can always purchase a pup traction pad {Pup Traction Pad} to prevent slippery surfaces.

When choosing a board to accommodate your furry friend, stability is the most  important factor.  The steadier your SUP, the easier it is to balance when your pup unexpectedly moves around your board.  There are a multitude of design characteristics that effect a SUP’s stability.  Below are important factors.

  1. The width of your board is the most important factor that determines your paddleboard’s. Paddleboards range from  slim 23-inch-wide racers to 36-inch mellow cruisers.  Generally, the slimmer the board, the faster it goes.  These slim boards, however, are often harder to balance.  The wider the boards are more stable but slower.
  2. Weight and volume: The heavier your board, the less it will be affected by sudden movements and waves.  A heavier board means slower acceleration.
  3. Thickness: A thicker board, while more stable, increases drag and bulk, which ultimately results in a slower board.
  4. Tailfin structure: Tailfins come in all shapes and sizes.  Tailfins not only keep you board traveling straight, but they also reduce the side-to-side roll of the SUP as you paddle.  A tailfin with more surface yields more stability, but generally decreases maneuverability.
  5. Length: All things being equal, a longer paddleboard is more stable.

Considering these factors, and if you have your dog in mind, I recommend a paddle board that emphasizes stability.  An example of an excellent paddleboard for dogs is the iRocker Blackfin.  At 35 inches wide, 6 inches thick, 10’6” long, and paired with an extra wide tailfin, this SUP is a floating tank able to handle the rowdiest dogs.

SUP Training

Proper training is vital to your dog’s safety and comfort while paddling. If your pup is unfamiliar with SUPs and other water vessels, he or she could be suspicious at first. Because of this, a gradual approach must be taken to familiarize your dog with the paddleboard. Below are the steps I took to build my Dogs’ comfort and confidence on the board. During this process I found it easiest to train Neige and Bailey separately.

  1. Inflation desensitization: New sounds could be frightening or threatening to your pooch. To Start training, I familiarized Neige and Bailey with the obnoxious sound of inflating and deflating the board. Living in an apartment, it was difficult to inflate the board without them in close proximity. To familiarize them I simply inflated and deflated the SUP while giving the dogs treats. Sniffing and standing on the SUP during inflation was always encouraged with positive reinforcement. Cultivating active curiosity from them was key.

     

  2.  Indoor familiarization: Once the dogs were comfortable around the SUP during inflation, we practiced mounting the board on a stable surface. To convince Neige and Bailey to mount the SUP, I simply placed a couple of treats on the board and they did the rest. After the dogs were comfortable sitting, we worked on a couple “up-down” commands, stay and release commands, and performing other tricks all while sitting or standing on the board. Plenty of treats are helpful during this step. I did these drills every night for about two weeks.

     

  3. Water Simulation: Once the dogs were fully comfortable standing, sitting, mounting and dismounting the board, I progressed to water-borne simulations. That is, simulating the rocking motion of the board while floating. While facing the Neige and Bailey, I used my foot to bounce the nose of the SUP with varying degrees of pressure. While doing this, I continued to give Bailey and Neige treats. In the end, we made a game of this step. Both dogs became determined to maintain their balance, catch treats in the air, all while I bounced the SUP in different directions. Given that I lived in an apartment without a fenced backyard, indoor training provided an unrestrained, but distraction-free environment. You may choose to skip the indoor familiarization and go straight to outdoor familiarization.

    4. Outdoor familiarization: Once they felt comfortable on the board, we progressed training to a public grassy area repeating the step above

5. Water training (from the shore): Finally, the fun part. Water Training (wearing lifejackets of course)! Once I felt Bailey and Neige were ready for the real deal, we headed to a secluded, pet-friendly beach to work on “up-down” commands from shallow water. For this step, I kept the SUP and dogs at elbow depth water. This shallow depth kept the dogs feeling safe and allowed me to control the situation. First, we practice mounting the board using the same dryland technique. Again, I simply placed treats on the board and encouraged the dogs to jump on to the board. After the Neige and Bailey were comfortable sitting or standing on the board, I slowly pushed the paddle board around familiarizing them with forward movement on the water. lastly, I moved out to slightly deeper water, sat on the board, and paddled slowly while rewarding them with treats for sitting and staying. From there I was able to stand and paddle. Building confidence on the water was a quick process, which took about three 20-30 minute sessions.

6. Water training (from the dock): As the dogs became more comfortable with the SUPs, we transitioned to mounting the paddleboard from more difficult positions like docks or deeper water. Repetition was key to this and involved placing treats on the paddle board and allowing the dogs to jump from the dock to the SUP and then back to the dock. Because of that positive reinforcement, Neige and Bailey associate the SUP with fun and treats automatically jumping onto the board as soon as it hits the water!

7. It takes time: Both of our dogs felt skeptical at first on the water – tucked tails, shaky legs, and pitiful whimpers. But with training, they grew confident and those tails began to wag. It took a couple of weeks before they would jump onto the board without expecting a treat first. Yes, they still jump off the board from time to time, but quickly swim back when they realize the ground is not beneath their paws. Our older pup enjoys riding on both boards when my husband and I are out together. She tends to jump from one board and swims to the other. Speaking of jumping, the pup life jacket is the easiest way to recover your dog from the water in deeper areas, so buy a life jacket with a handle!

Remember – This training is cumulative, don’t move to the next step until you and your dog are comfortable!

    SUP board adventure packing list:

    • Must-haves: SUP board & paddle – Pup life jacket with handle – human life belt {Onyx Inflatable Life Belt} – dog treats with waist treat bag – water & bowl – SUP ankle strap
    • Extras: SUP board shoulder strap – Waterproof SUP bag – Anchor (we love to drop an anchor and chill) – Waterproof speakers – Waterproof cellphone case – Human snacks – Battery operated SUP board inflating device (unless you want to manually inflate your board)

    If you and your pup enjoy SUP board adventures, then check out www.boarddogapparel.com for some cute gear.

    2 Comments

    1. Monica

      Oh my gosh I so want to do this now.

      Reply

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