Train Your Dog to Ride a Standup Paddleboard

Cairn Terrier on a standup paddleboard
Dogs of all sizes can learn to ride a standup paddleboard. Jack, a Cairn Terrier, rides the waves with his owner, Dawn Celapino.

What’s better than standup paddleboarding on a sunny day? Standup paddleboarding (or SUPing) with your best friend, of course. You know — your dog!

Even if you haven’t personally seen someone SUPing with a dog, you’ve no doubt seen lots of pictures and videos of SUP hounds. If your dog loves doing things with you, you’re halfway to having a SUP dog of your own.

You might think that small to medium-size water-loving dogs with a low center of gravity — think American Water Spaniels, Boykin Spaniels, Miniature Poodles, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers — would be the best SUP companions, but you can find just about every kind of dog riding paddleboards. In general, Labs and Golden Retrievers are naturals, but other breeds that have taken to SUPing include Airedales, Australian Shepherds, Basset Hounds, Beagles, Border Collies, Borzoi, Cairn Terriers, Cavaliers, English Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Pit Bulls and mixes of all kinds. However, flat-nosed, barrel-chested breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs aren’t always natural swimmers and can become easily overheated, so they may be better left on shore in the shade.

Some dogs seem to be born to SUP. They hop on board without any coaxing and balance like pros. Most, though, benefit from training. Here’s how to get started.

But first, a bit of advice: Be comfortable on a board yourself before you add a dog. It doesn’t take long to pick up SUPing, whether you’ve got two legs or four, but the better you are, the easier — and safer — it will be when you add a canine passenger. 

Board Games

To introduce your dog to the board, start on land, whether you’re in your yard or at the beach. Let him explore the board and feed him treats while he’s on it to make the board part of a fun experience.

Your dog should have basic obedience skills down pat before you take him out on the water. He needs to respond consistently and reliably to the commands " sit" and " stay." Keep in mind that if he jumps off the board to go for a swim — highly likely if your dog is a Lab, Golden or water spaniel — his movement will challenge your own balance. “The more your dog will sit or lie down on the board, the better your experience will be,” says Leash Your Fitness founder Dawn Celapino of San Diego, California, who leads exercise classes for people and dogs and also SUPs with her Cairn Terrier, Jack.

It's always best if your dog knows how to swim if he's going to SUP, but for his own safety as well as your own peace of mind, make sure he's wearing a canine flotation device. If he falls in or jumps off to go after a bird, the doggy life jacket will help keep him afloat. Choose one in a bright color with a handle on the top to make it easier to haul him back on board when he’s done playing in the water.

It's also important that you choose the right board. Especially for larger dogs, a board that is at least nine feet long and 33 or 34 inches wide will be more stable and forgiving of movement. If you and your dog are both beginners, a 10-foot or longer board is a good choice. Dogs tend to prefer soft tops to laminates because they’re less slippery. Warren Thomas, president and CEO of SurfingSports.com in Santa Barbara, California, SUPs with his two chocolate Labs, Molly and Miranda. He likes Hammer soft-top boards, calling them “the ultimate dog board.” An inflatable board made of heavy-duty PVC or hardened rubber can also be a good choice.

To give your dog better footing, attach a bath mat with suction cups to the area where he’ll be riding or purchase a deck pad made specially for dogs, such as a Pup Deck traction pad. A mat or deck pad will also help protect your board from being scratched by your dog’s toenails.

If you’re renting a board, ask first if dogs are allowed. Many rental companies don’t permit dogs to ride boards because they don’t want them scratched up.

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