Stand-up paddleboarding, SUP for short, is a relatively old sport enjoying new popularity. Thanks to the fact that SUP is easy to learn, the sport has exploded in the past couple of years. It’s not overly technical, can be done on lakes, rivers or the ocean, doesn’t require a high fitness level, and since a stand-up paddleboard just happens to perfectly fit one person and one dog AND dogs just seem to inherently know what to do on a paddleboard, it is becoming a favorite sport for canines as well.
Paddle boarding is like walking on water: and anywhere boats are allowed, paddle boards are allowed. Paddle boards are considered non-motorized water craft, and the same rules and restrictions apply: you must have a life vest and sound device (whistle) on board, and anyone 14 and under must wear a life vest.
Stand-up paddleboards resemble a surfing longboard, but are geared more toward balance than speed. A single long-necked paddle is used by the boarder to move through the water. Stable boards are best for dogs, which usually means an all around style board. General rule of thumb is: the longer and wider the board, the more stable it’s going to be.
For people new to the sport, I recommend renting a board before purchasing one. Renting a couple of different boards before you buy one will give you a better idea of what is the best board for you and your dog. There are lots of options, but if you have a big dog, long and wide boards are the most stable.
Any dog can be a paddle board buddy, however your dog should like the water. If your dog is terrified of water, you should probably think about a land sport to enjoy together. This is one activity where the size or age of the dog doesn’t really matter, however the bigger the dog, the more you will feel it when your pooch moves around, making balance is little more tricky. Puppies can be a challenge because they have a harder time sitting still, but for most dogs, it’s just about being by your side.
What really matters more than size or breed is making your dog’s first experience with the board a positive one. Start slowly on land and get your dog used to standing on the board and obeying the basic commands while on the board BEFORE you go in the water. Once your dog knows basic commands and is comfortable with the board on land, go ahead and give a try in the water.
Most people and dogs can get the hang of paddle boarding together in one hour, even if they have no prior experience, but keep in mind that every dog is different. A beach allows you to gradually work in and out of the water, and dogs are always more comfortable if they can get in and out of the water on their own and see the bottom.
For your dog to feel safe on a board, traction is important. Trim your dog’s nails and any extra hair in between the pads of his feet before paddling. This will help reduce scratches on the board and keep your dog from slipping. Many boards are very slippery. Adding an extra pad for your dog will make his ride safer. There are a variety of options to choose from, like additional deck pads or rubber bath mats. You could also just lay as a wet towel over the bow of the board to add traction.
Always make your dog wear a life jacket. On paddleboards the handle on the life jacket is so important because it gives you a way to get your dog back on the board. Also, dogs that love the water may exhaust themselves before they realize they are too tired to swim back to you, and if you get separated from your dog while on the water a brightly colored jacket will help you and other boaters spot him.
Bring along some treats in a water proof bag, and reward your dog when he’s sitting on the board properly and being a good pup. Also, have water available and offer some to your dog frequently. If your dog gets thirsty, she will try and drink lake or river water, which can be infested with parasites. Drinking ocean water can lead to dehydration and salt poisoning. A couple of gulps usually won’t hurt your dog, but if you are boarding on the ocean, watch for signs of salt toxicity: vomiting, depression or dullness.
Don’t forget to check the local information boards for water conditions and know local dangers before you board. Jellyfish, sea lice and swimmer’s itch all affect dogs as well as humans. Inspect your dog after boarding, and if swimmer’s itch is active, rinse your dog after swimming. These tips should help you and your dog have a fantastic day on the water.
By Dr. Claire — Staff Writer