I love my dog. I love paddleboarding. My dog loves me and paddleboarding…and that’s a very happy thing. In fact, I rarely paddleboard without my dog these days unless it’s a hardcore fishing trip. Why? Because my dog gives me That Look whenever I grab the SUP…and how can I say no to a beloved companion that loves to paddle as much as I do?
Honestly, the only reason he doesn’t go on the dedicated fishing trips is because I’m a tackle junkie and need the board space to accommodate my addiction. Having said that, he does tag along on the casually fishy outings, and he enjoys it immensely, even if he never has understood the whole catch and release thing; in his mind fish skin and scraps are tasty, but let’s not digress…
So, how did my dog come to be such an avid SUP’er? Or, perhaps more importantly, how can you combine your dog and paddleboarding? Like any other dog training, simply make it fun. Assuming you love paddleboarding and your dog - and assuming your dog loves you - it’s actually very easy. For the record, if your dog does not love you, we cannot be friends. Seriously.
My dog is a Labrador Retriever named Ranger Danger. He goes by Danger unless I’m serious about something; you know, kinda like your mom calling you by your full name when she was stern. When I adopted Danger as a 14 month old “career changed” service dog - a college flunky to put it in real world terms - that hadn’t ever been introduced to water. Hence, he wouldn’t even wade past knee deep, much less swim. Now, he is a full fledged lake bum, preferring a watery afternoon to anything else. Teaching him to paddleboard was no harder than teaching him to swim; fun, patience, consistency, and positivity are the operative terms.
I started with the board at the water’s edge, with only the very tail of the board in the water. He already knew the basics of “sit” and “stay” so the next logical step was to get him to sit and stay on the board. He loaded right on with little apprehension. The bow was my goal for Danger’s seat, so I focussed there, and the next step was to have him lay down and stay. Keep in mind the board was mostly on the ground and thus stable, while I was merely sitting near by. I did that several times until he loaded on without any hesitation. Then I began sliding the paddleboard farther into the water incrementally until only the tip was still on the ground. Each time I focussed on having him stay still on the boat, whether standing, sitting, or lying down. Once he was very comfortable with the board almost completely floating, I waded into the shallow water and tended to the board, slightly rocking it, splashing a little water on it, and pushing it around. In short, I was getting him used to the sensation of floating and balancing. At no point did I allow him to jump off without be told to; that would encourage a bad habit and it’s much easier to teach good habits than to break bad ones!
The last thing before I joined him on the board was to get him used to walking around on it which I did by wading around and around the board while playing lightly with him. He fell off once to which I responded with a touch of “nooo”, immediately had him re-load, and commanded him to stay. He has never fallen off since.
Finally it was time to paddleboard with him. I had him sit in his now familiar spot on the bow, and I started on my knees. I paddled around for a bit while reminding him to stay. It went well so I stood up and off we went. We’ve never looked back…
Flashing forward, Danger spends lots of time on my 1138 Bonefish iSUP. The sponsons, while not required by any means, sure do a good job of allowing him an edge to lay against and of course adding stability for our rowdier outings. The funny thing that is that I live lake-side and often leave the board at the water’s edge between outings; it’s common to see Danger snoozing away in his spot on the bow, patiently waiting for our next paddling adventure. Did I mention that I love my dog?
Teaching your dingo to SUP is no harder than teaching it to do anything else you both enjoy…just keep it fun, be patient, consistent with your commands, and always positive. Soon enough, your dog will be part of all your floats, and you’ll both be better off for it!