Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUPing, has become an incredibly popular sport the last few years. High-quality inflatable boards have made it easier to store and transport paddle boards, and the many rental shops have made it easy to try paddleboarding with your dog.
Our dog is an important member of our family, so when we first got into paddleboarding about 6 years ago, we knew we wanted to take our pup along too!
We’ve been fortunate that both our current and previous dog hate the water, so generally try very hard to stay ON the paddleboards. They are both herding dogs, and pick up new commands pretty quickly. Still, it took some trial and error to learn how to SUP and keep everyone upright on the boards.
Scotty, the Border Collie/Husky mix took a ton of coaxing to get on the board. Ripley, the cattle dog, will just load right up, but constantly wants to snap at ripples in the water and has trouble laying down. No dog is perfect, but with time and training, they can have a fun and safe float with their people.
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Gear you need to paddle board with dogs
Life jackets for dogs
While it’s not required to have a life jacket for your dog, I highly recommend it. People roll their eyes that my dog wears a life jacket, but it’s worth it.
Not only is it safer for my dog (dogs can drown too, especially in cold water or if they get tired), but dog life jackets come with a super important safety feature: a handy handle.
If you’ve ever tried to get a wet dog back on a boat or a paddleboard, you’ll know it’s almost impossible to lift them out of deep water without one. If your dog does fall in the water, it’s so much easier to have that nice handle to get them back on the board.
I can almost guarantee your dog will come off the paddleboard at some point. It causes them less panic and stress when it’s not an ordeal to get them back on the board.
I’m a big fan of Ruffwear’s Float Coat. It’s super sturdy, highly adjustable, and easy to take on and off your wet pup. I’ve used it on both my adventure dogs and it performs well with adequate floatation in the water.
Of course, YOU should be sure to wear your life jacket too, because I can also guarantee that YOU will come off the board at some point too. I mean, it’s a water sport, right?? Safety first! Bringing a kid along? Here’s our list of recommended life jackets for kids.
Best paddle board for dogs
Well this one is obvious, but you’ll need a paddleboard and paddle.
While you can put your dog on almost any board, make sure the board is adequately wide and stable for your skill level. Your dog will inevitably make the board more tippy than usual, so make sure it’s a board you are familiar with.
Some people prefer a fitness-style board for extra stability with passengers, while others prefer a longer touring board for speed and a higher weight limit. Some people prefer a river-specific board for tackling rapids.
Make sure to check the weight ratings for your board. If your dog weighs 75 lbs and you weigh 175 lbs, but your board is only rated to 200 lbs, you’re probably going to struggle.
Finally, make sure your deck is padded, to prevent your pup from slipping. It helps if your dog’s toenails are clipped, so they aren’t scraping the deck.
A good gear shop can help you pick the right paddleboard for your skill level, preferred paddling environment, and your anticipated gear/passenger load.
Not for your dog – a board leash is for you! A board leash will keep you attached to the board, in case you fall off (which is more likely with your pup on board). This is handy if you are on a large lake, or if it’s breezy. Your board can get away from you quickly if you fall off.
I use this NRS Leash, which is very comfortable to wear.
Board leashes should only be used on flat water, and never in a river. In moving water, your board could actually pull you under and drown you if you are attached. Same goes for your dog – NEVER attach your dog to the board.
SUP Throw Rope
A throw rope is handy to keep tied to the bow of your boat, in case of emergency. It’s also very handy to hang onto when you get getting your dog on and off your board, as they tend to jump and push your board away from shore.
On a paddleboard, you can use a smaller micro throwbag and use up less deck space.
Dogs aren’t always the best at holding still, and they certainly aren’t the best at watching out for your stuff. Anyone who has ever had a dog wag their tail and knock a drink off a coffee table can attest to that.
Be sure to clip your drybags, water, and sandals onto your boat with a carabiner or two. Otherwise, we can almost guarantee your pup will knock it off the board.
Just like you pack snacks for yourself, be sure to throw some in for your pup. They can be essential to lure your dog back to the board after swimming after those pesky ducks.
How to train your dog to paddleboard
First Time on the Paddleboard
It helps considerably to acquaint your dog with the paddleboard before your first day on the water together. Dogs are creatures of habit, and can get very excited or anxious about anything new.
Try getting your dog on the paddleboard in the garage first (remove your center fin first, if you can, to prevent damage). Help them get on the board to get used to the strange surface, and reward your dog with plenty of treats.
Then work on training your dog to lay down and stay when they get on the board. Go with your usual training method, like using treats or a clicker.
Getting on the your SUP with your dog
Once you have your pup used to getting on the board and laying down, it’s time to take the action to the water.
Standing in shallow water, next to the board, hold the paddleboard and encourage your pup to get on and then lay down. They may take a few minutes to get used to the balance and they may jump off. Just keep encouraging them to get on the board and lay down.
Once your dog is comfortable on the board, then you can hop on and ask them to hop on with you.
Paddleboarding with your dog
Always get on the paddleboard first, and then call your dog up. This allows you to be sure your weight is balanced over the center of the board, or just slightly back.
Your dog should sit or lay in front of you, to help you balance the board. It’s much easier if you train them to lay down, although it’s honestly it’s probably not possible 100% of the time and depends on your comfort level with instability.
With Ripley, I’ve found it’s very difficult to get her to stay in one spot, so we’ve adapted to her standing at the end of the board.
Start on your knees, as you head out, until both you and your dog feel comfortable with the movement of the board. Once you have your balanced established, you can work on standing on your board. Get up from your knees using your paddle against the deck for balance.
If your dog gets excited and starts jumping around, feel free to go back to your knees at any time, to regain stability.
If you plan on paddling with both your dog and your child, make sure you practice a few times with just your pup first. Make sure your pup can be calm and not knock your child off the board.
Things to watch for when you start paddleboarding with your dog
Know Your Dog
Will you be able to paddle with your pup? Of course! But if your dog is a water-loving dog, it may be more difficult to keep them on the board (and therefore also keep YOU on the board). Honestly, it’s easier to keep them on the board if you have a dog who hates getting wet. (Ah, the irony.)
Some breeds of dog may need more practice with balance than others. Herding dogs, or dogs with natural agility tend to pick it up the easiest.
Try to anticipate your dog. If your pup is easily set off around birds, ducks, or wildlife, you’ll need to keep your head on a swivel. If you see waterfowl, steer away to prevent your dog from diving in after them, or use the “leave it” command before they get zeroed in.
If your dog likes to jump in, pre-emptively go to your knees if you get close to shore, since that is when they are most likely to jump.
While people tend to not have as much exposure to toxic blue-green algae in the water, your pup absolutely will. They are drinking it, swimming, and playing in it.
Blue-green algae tends to bloom to toxic levels in still water (ponds and lakes) during hot weather. Keep an eye on local water information before you head out, and look for slime before you get in, to prevent your pups from exposure. Read more about recognizing toxic algae blooms and the signs and symptoms of exposure in dogs.
If you think your dog was possibly exposed, make sure to rinse them with clean water as soon as possible and call your vet.
If you are on a lake, check the shoreline for sharp rocks, glass, fish hooks, and other debris. Just like with your children, if there’s something dangerous around, dogs will likely find it, eat it, or step on it.
And of course, because dogs will be dogs, watch out for dead fish or anything excessively smelly on the shoreline they might roll in.
The Poop Fairy
Remember that there is no poop fairy! Dogs poop in the most inopportune places, including in or near water. Not only is this gross, but it can contaminate drinking water for other dogs and people. Have some poop bags on hand and be ready to pack it out if needed.
The Kurgo Tailgate Dumpster is literally my favorite invention for dogs. It’s a little magnetic dumpster that sticks to your tailgate, so you don’t have to drive home with poop smell in the car. Yes!!
Paddleboarding with your Family Dog
If you fall in and get wet, don’t worry! Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged. Keep your sessions short to start with, and as your pup gets more comfortable on the paddleboard, extend your paddle time. Reward your pup with some play and treats at the end of a good paddle session.
Dogs tend to like routine, so try to do the same thing every time you get the board out. You’ll both find your groove over time, and you’ll have a loyal family paddling companion!
If you are looking for additional tips on how to get started, check out the book How to SUP with your Pup.
- Boating with Babies and Toddlers
- Best Outdoor Dog Gear
- Running with Dogs
- Backpacking with Dogs for Families
- Wild Water Play
How to paddleboard with your dog
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