Do you want to make this the Summer you learn how to SUP with your pup? Stand up paddle boarding is a fun adventure activity you can do with your dog. But before you head out on the water, you should prepare your dog for the experience.
I first tried SUP with my labrador, Lucy, in the Summer of 2019. We got our first paddleboard a year later. Since then, Lucy and I have been paddling together dozens of times on local lakes and rivers and even in the Chesapeake Bay!
Stand up paddle boarding is a great adventure activity for dogs of all ages and skill levels. In fact, it’s really great for senior dogs who aren’t as mobile as they used to be. Plus, if they take a swim, the water can be very therapeutic for arthritic joints. Consider introducing this sport to your dog now so you can do it together well into their golden years!
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through my links I may earn a small commission which will help me do more adventures like this with my dogs!
Learn How to Stand Up Paddleboard with Your Dog
If you’re new to stand-up paddleboarding, I recommend taking a class. This is a great way to try it without the expense of buying all the equipment. I was able to find a local SUP with your PUP class through L.L. Bean’s Discovery Course here in Pittsburgh. They offer these classes a half a dozen locations around the country.
During that class, the instructor started us in the grass and taught us how to stand up on our boards and get comfortable with the equipment before heading out to the water.
While our instructor was an awesome teacher and a dog lover, this class didn’t include any information on training your dog to stay on the board. So in this post, I’ll share the training methods I’ve used to teach my dogs to stay on the paddleboard with me.
Equipment to SUP with your Pup
Before we go over keeping your dog on the board… you’re going to need a paddleboard to learn with! One of the great parts of SUP is that you don’t need very much gear. Of course, there are all kinds of accessories you can get to SUP with your pup. For example, you might want a biothane leash and collar, a drybag, fresh new towels, or a seat to turn your board into a kayak.
But to get started you just need these three things:
- Stand Up Paddleboard (I have the Bote Breeze Board from REI)
- Dog Life Jacket (Lucy wears the Ruffwear one, but I like this one, too)
- Personal Flotation Device (a life jacket for you!)
I recently shared the top 5 life vests for large dogs. I included all price points on that list! And every one has sizes for our large breed dogs!
When I was shopping around for a dog-friendly paddleboard, the first thing I considered was the weight capacity of the board. I looked for a board that would accommodate me and both of my dogs. Since I have big dogs, it means I needed a bigger board!
I recommend you look for a stand up paddle board that can hold the weight of you and your dog, plus some wiggle room. You should also consider the width of the board, the wider it is, the more stable it will be. And with a dog walking around, you want it to be as stable as possible! I recently published a whole blog post with my top Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards for Large Dogs, check it out!
I was excited to discover inflatable stand-up paddleboards. I live in a small house in the city and need to drive to the water, so an inflatable board is really convenient! When it’s packed away it fits in my car and I can store it in my basement. Once we get to the water, the storage backpack makes it each for me to carry my board from the car to the water where I inflate it.
I have the BOTE Breeze Aero Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard. With inflatable paddle boards, a lot of people are concerned their dog’s nails could pop the board. But that is highly unlikely! The inflatable paddle board is sturdy enough for dogs and you should not be concerned about it being punctured.
If you’ve never seen an inflatable board in person, you’ll be shocked at how rigid and tough it is. The one I have is made with a military-grade PVC shell and has a special composite fiber core that makes the board super rigid when it’s fully inflated. This is nothing like a pool floatie! In fact, I think it feels just as durable and tough as a regular paddleboard.
The BOTE board comes with a backpack for storage and transportation, a collapsible paddle, a fin, a patch kit, and an air pump.
Yes, I pump up my board by hand! I’ve timed myself and it takes under 10 minutes. However, if you don’t want to go to the extra work, you can get an air pump that runs off of your car. An automatic air pump is on my wish list!
Training Your Dog To Stay on a Paddleboard With You
One of the main excuses that prevent people from trying to stand up paddleboard with their dog is a fear that their dog won’t stay on the board. First off, let me say that having your dog jump off and get back on is part of the fun! But obviously, you want them to stay the board most of the time. So how do we do that?
As with any kind of dog training, teaching your do to be a SUP pup is all about baby steps and being consistent. Start with these 4 steps to teach your dog to love SUP:
- First, start by training your dog to get on the paddleboard on land
- Use the “place” cue to ask your dog to get on (and stay on) the board
- Reward them with treats and praise for staying on the board
- Add the life jacket and reward your dog for staying on the board with the jacket on
Give your dog plenty of time to get comfortable with this new activity. You might want to do this with your dog for 15 minutes a day for a week. Once you feel comfortable and confident with these steps, you can move on to repeating them in shallow water.
You can watch this video I created with tips on training your dog to stand up paddle board with you. I also show you what to do if your dog jumps in the water while you’re out. You should practice getting them back on in the shallow water before going too far out.
Find a nice quite shallow spot where you can stand and hold the board steady, put on your dog’s life jacket, then repeat these 3 steps:
- While holding the board in shallow water, ask your dog to go to their “place” or “up up” on the board (use the cue your dog knows)
- Reward your dog with lots of treats and praise for staying on the board
- Move on to “down” on the board to get your dog comfortable with laying down
Repeat this as many times as you need until your dog is very comfortable with the paddleboard, their life vest and the water.
One more thing you should try before hitting the open water is to make sure your dog is comfortable with the paddle going over them. As you paddle the actual paddle will need to switch sides from stroke to stroke, passing over your dog. Test this motion out on dry land to make sure your dog is OK with it.
How to Get Your Dog Back on the Paddleboard in the Water
Once you’re on the open water with your dog, you might run into a few distractions such as other paddleboards, kayaks, fish and birds. I’m always on the lookout for these things! I get my dog’s attention, keep her calm and reward her for passing by distractions without trying to chase after them.
Rewards are the key to keeping your dog on your paddleboard with you! I take a fanny pack filled with high-value treats that won’t get too nasty if they get wet. These Zukes training treats would be perfect.
However, there will be times when your dog can’t resist temptation or the perfect opportunity to cool off in the water, and they’ll jump off the board. When this happens (and it will), don’t panic! Remember, your dog is probably having a ton of fun and that’s the whole point of this activity… fun!
If your dog jumps in the water to cool off, let them have a little swim. If they jumped off to chase after something, paddle as fast as you can to catch up to them! This is why I think a dog life jacket is essential for SUP with your pup . It gives you something to grab onto.
When your dog is wearing a life jacket like the Ruffwear Float Coat I have for Lucy, there’s a handle right on top. To get Lucy back on my board, I sit down on the board, ask her to get back up, grab the handle on her jacket and hoist her up. Your dog will probably put their front paws up on the board, so you’re really just hoisting up their rear end!
Lucy weighs about 75 pounds and I can get her back on the board without much trouble. So don’t worry, you can do it!
To get your dog back up on the board, a life vest with a sturdy top handle is essential! See my top 5 dog life jacket picks.
Lucy tends to want to jump off more when we’re near the shore. Because of that I usually try to stick to the middle of the water or at least 25 feet away from the shore. Pay attention to your dog and set them up for success with SUP!
Before I wrap up this post, I want to give a shout out to Maria Christina Schultz… she’s the author of How to Sup with Your Pup: A Guide to Stand up Paddleboarding with Your Dog. If you’re the kind of person who wants a physical book to learn these techniques, you should grab hers. It would also make a great gift for any dog lover friends who are seeking more adventure in their life!
Finding Places to SUP with Your Pup
Living in Pittsburgh, it’s not exactly the coastal village where you imagine it would be ideal for SUP with your pup. But I’ve still found lots of places within an hour’s drive that are perfect for a dog-friendly paddle. While you’re searching around you, look for places where people like to kayak, avoid places with lots of speed boats and keep an eye out for public docks.
If you live around Pittsburgh, these are our favorite places to SUP with the pups:
Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park
Public dock in Verona
Aspinwall Riverfront Park
Peters Lake Park
Crooked Creek Lake
Enjoy this post? You should check these out, too:
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25 Things to Do With Your Dog in Pittsburgh
Do’s and Don’ts of Labor Day Dog Swim
This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through my links I may earn a small commission that will help me do more adventures like this with my dogs!