8 Tips on how to create a SUP Dog - how to introduce your dog to Stand Up Paddleboarding

Remember your first SUP Lesson when you tentatively started to Stand Up and Paddle

The challenges and fears are not so different for your dog, and so it is well worth casting your mind back.

My SUP Dog is Cola, an 11 year old Collie, bright, loyal and protective of course.  Cola loves living in Cornwall, she digs up freshly made sand castles thinking her ball is in there, hates swimming but loves chasing waves and warns us of the incoming tide. You can follow her on twitter #Coladoes

Cola's love of paddling started on a sit on top kayak, moved to an open canoe and more recently to SUP's. There are emotional and practical reasons for inviting your dog paddling with you.  

  • Your dog is not being left alone and there are no concerns about getting back in time or leaving them in a car in summer.

  • Being on the water is as mentally stimulating for your dog as for you. The same is true of exercising the body through making constant balancing adjustments.

Fundamentally life is better sharing your adventures with a dog.

This practical SUP guide is written as a water sports professional and dog lover, you may wish to consult a professional dog trainer.

Tip 1: Set a goal, build up slowly and be flexible with your expectations

The aim for our family was for Cola to enjoy day trips, sheltered flat water exploring with pull outs in beautiful picnic spots.  They are often part of summer camping holidays and they are only possible because we built the journey time up with lots of practice.  This still works in a canoe but at her age on a SUP given that she does not sit still, an hour at a time on flat water is the limit.

Not every dog will be suited to longer journeys, the most you may achieve may be a fun shore based activity.   There are lots of other ways a dog may enjoy SUPing, my friend's chocolate Lab loves to swim along side and Cola loves to run along the shore.

Tip 2: Safety for you and your Dog, plan for things going wrong

Water and particularly the sea is to be respected, add in a dose of unpredictability in our 4 legged friends and the risks can escalate.  Dogs' swimming ability and confidence varies, if you both fall in, a dog in the water can often try to climb on top of you, and wet dogs are heavy and can be difficult to lift back on board.

Build up your dog's water confidence and swimming ability beforehand, it will help to make the experience enjoyable.

It is recommended that you wear a buoyancy aid and your dog wears a life jacket.  Cola wears her life jacket with pride, it is worth getting used to it on land first (what would their doggy friend's in the park have to say?).

Paddle well within your own abilities.  

Never attach your dog to the board, but it is worth packing the lead.

Choosing a Dog life jacket

They are becoming more common and so there is a good choice.  There should be clear instructions to help you with fitting and care, here are some additional thoughts:

  • Sizing is generally by weight, but it is ideal to try one on (especially if your dog is not of 'average' proportions).

  • The straps should hold the jacket in place, while being comfortable and allow freedom of movement. Remember it is going to float and so it is worth pulling upwards to test it. There is nothing worse than an ill fitting life jacket floating up past your ears. Like a girth on a horse it is worth re-checking.

  • An easy to grab handle on the top with a good balance point is ideal for lifting your dog out of the water.

  • Some of the cheaper life jackets do not seem have buoyancy across the chest, under the chin. Observing how Cola swims this buoyancy at the front is definitely preferable.

Tip 3: Location Location Location

In Cornwall the upper Gannel near Newquay on a neap high water is an ideal location:-

  • The shore gently shelves away and there are no rocks to contend with.

  • You can safely get off almost all the way around and foot paths lead you back to your launch site.

  • Much of the lake is waist deep and so you can find your feet if you fall in making any dog handling easier.

  • Conditions in lower winds are very reliable and flat, though look out for strong currents mid tide on a spring tide.

There are lots of other choices in Cornwall, Cola has been on the River Fal & Helford many times.  It's worth getting to know the area first if you can.

More information about launch sites can be found in Places to Paddle

Tip 4: Have an extra pair of hands

Ideal if you fall in, for helping to launch and with general equipment handling.  It may be worth having a towline available.  

A consideration is how much your dog will want to be with the other person.  Once on the water the Dog may try jump between boards or simply become anxious that they cannot be near them.

Tip 5: Understand what motivates your dog 

I would never force a dog (or person) to get on a SUP board.  You are an expert in your dog, Cola loves to be with me and so me picking up a paddle is a signal that she needs to get on board.  It's hilarious when she tries to sit on my exceptionally curved and slippery surf kayak.  She is determined to come along.

Have treats available, encourage and reward.  Play with the dog when you land, it all helps to make the whole experience enjoyable.

Tip 6: Plan & Prepare for where the Dog will be on the board

Is your board designed for the total weight of you and your dog?  Additional weight (even if sat still!) will make the board less stable, and more difficult to paddle and manoeuvre.  The position of your dog in the long term may restrict your paddling technique.  With this in mind, where do you want your dog to sit, stand or lie?  

In the early days I would let them sit where ever their instincts take them.  Once they have confidence you may be able to encourage a more preferable position.

Dogs hate slipping at the best of times and can get injured, do you need to add a deck grip? The Red Paddle Co Rides like most iSUP's are great, the large deck grip is perfect (dog claws can leave superficial indents in the soft deck - check if this is acceptable if you are borrowing a board).  On the nose the board is much more slippery.  

On hard boards fitting an additional grip will protect the board from scratches, once your dog has made the choice of where to settle.  There maybe temporary solutions.  (I use an old spray deck in the open canoe, as well as providing grip the neoprene is warm and comfortable). 

My brother's dog Brock sits between his legs, Cola 'helpfully' dodges back and forward on the bow of the board, the terrier pictured above loved to stand at the stern and my friends' collie often lies down on the nose.

An issue to consider as you take on longer trips is where you can carry kit, and also how the additional weight and movement affects the trim and balance of your board, which then affects the speed.

Tip 7: The first session

You've chosen your location, got some help, got kitted up and have thought about SUP Dog's positioning on the board, now here's the crux of it, does your dog want to get on the board?

I encourage dogs to try out boards on land (beware of any issues of damage such as rocks or fin boxes).  I have seen some people try dogs on their own in the shallows or rock pools. The boards can be twitchy without weight on them, so I would tend to sit astride the board, helping with stability and putting you right there in a great reassuring position. 

If this goes well then why not cast off still sitting or kneeling down.  The location is key here, if it is safe you can simply drift, perhaps paddling a little with your hands.  A paddle is just something else to think about and for the dog to get tangled in.

If all is going well your helper can bring the paddle and you could attempt a Stand Up, gauging the reaction of your SUP dog.   If there are any signs of distress simply sit back down and if that doesn't work head to the shore.  

Don't over do it.  Lots of rewards and if you are both floating you have made great progress.

Tip 8: As SUP Dog gets serious

As you progress keep thinking about the additional issues for your dog:-

  • Even small waves such as the wakes of passing boats can be frightening.

  • Plan journeys with lots of stops.

  • A friend gives her dog a lot of exercise beforehand.

  • Always pack plenty of water and consider if the cold or heat is going to be an issue.

  • Consider if your planned stops are dog friendly.

Would you consider surfing? The splashing is all too much for Cola, but for some dogs it's all part of the fun and so why not take them to California and enter them into a competition. Video courtesy of Buzz Feed


When things go wrong?

You have planned and prepared, what have you missed? Here are some things I have experienced (all ended well):

  • Dog runs to the back of the board at speed through your legs!

  • Dog jumps in to swim after the passing ducks (A confident swimmer is not always a good thing)

  • You leave your dog on the shore and have a pootle nearby, she jumps on someone else's board and refuses to get off.

  • A large (the size of your board large) male seal takes a great interest in you and your SUP Dog following you snorting

  • You lift the dog back on board and get absolutely soaking wet

  • What to do with poo bags? (hope the biodegrade is not too fast)

  • The dog spends the whole journey trampling on your sandwiches

  • The dog jumps on to land, oops no it's a patch of seaweed

  • The dog lands first and swallows a young child's crabbing bait, line and net

Smile for the cameras, people love to see SUP Dogs

For more information about dog friendly SUP Tours and SUP Hire

I would love to hear about and see pictures of your experiences with your SUP Dog.