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SUP PUP! Teach Your Dog to Ride a Stand-Up Paddleboard

Photo Credit: Ibrahim Cordero Morales

Originally published on 6/02/2017.

What’s “SUP?”

Summer is in full swing! Does hanging out with your dog at the beach sound like fun? SUP, stand-up paddle boarding, is an adventurous sport that you can learn to do with your PUP this summer!

If you and your dog love the water, SUP is a fun aquatic activity that you can do together. Stand-up paddle boarding lets you practice communication skills, get some exercise, and have a great time in nature.

Living on a Caribbean island, I have many water sports available every day. Last year, in conjunction with Rincon Paddle Boards, I taught a class where folks learned to stand up paddleboard with their dogs. Before we began, some of the questions I received from potential students were: How do I get my dog on the board? What can I do to get my dog to stay in the centerso that we don’t tip over? My dog gets nervous when we just take the board out on the water! How can we overcome this fear?

During the course, we answered all of those questions and taught the basics in an enjoyable and novel environment. What better way to teach some old, familiar cues than with a bold twist?

SUP: step by step

Ready to get going? Here are the steps for training your dog and learning SUP together!

The first step is figuring out and teaching the necessary skills. The second step is to practice those skills in an easier environment than the water. When your dog is feeling more confident, you can drop your criteria and practice those same skills in a more challenging situation. Next, you build all of the behaviors back up and increase criteria. Finally, you are ready to take the board out on the water to put it all together!

1.     R+ PADDLEBOARD: Step number one is to create a positive association with the paddleboard while on land. Any time that your dog looks at the paddleboard, click and treat. The next level would be clicking for any voluntary interactions with the board. If the dog decides to explore the board by sniffing it or getting on top of it, use a high rate of reinforcement. In other words, click and treat often for this decision! 

2.     TARGET:

Photo Credit: Ibrahim Cordero Morales

Step two is to teach a hand target. The hand target lets you move the dog around without physical manipulation. By teaching a dog to target your hand with his nose you can then teach him to follow a moving target to get up on the board. From there, following a target lets you move the dog around on the board so that he is sitting or lying down in a convenient location.

3.     SIT/DOWN: Step three is ensuring that you have a solid sit and/or down cue in place. It will be far easier to balance if your dog is sitting or lying down squarely in the middle of the board where your center of gravity lies, at least when you start! Be sure to mark and reinforce sits and/or downs in many different locations before asking for a sit or a down on the board. To get several repetitions, click for a sit or for lying down on the board and then toss the treat off of the board, thus setting your dog up for another round!


Photo Credit: Ibrahim Cordero Morales

In step four, teach your dog to sit or lie down with duration. Practice waiting for a bit with your click after your dog has his bottom or belly down. In this way, you are marking the amount of time the dog is sitting or lying instead of just the sitting or lying behavior. Again, practice this behavior off the board and then build to practicing on the paddleboard. Once your dog is sitting or lying down with some duration, you can add in distractions, too. Try moving the paddle around and/or moving one foot. Will your dog remain in place? If yes, click and treat! If not, try an easier version of this behavior and build it back up.

5.     ON the SUP: Now you are ready to put it all together on top of the paddleboard, out in the water. Remember that since this step is increasing your criteria significantly you should drop back your expectations temporarily in other areas. To begin, try a shorter duration sit and/or try clicking and treating just for a sit without any duration. Try very small movements following a moving target and/or try a few confidence-building, easy-level hand targets in place. These steps will increase your dog’s comfort level and give him a simple behavior where he can succeed.

6.     INCREASE CRITERIA on the SUP: Eventually, increase the sit or lying down duration, helping your dog to the best position (your ideal spot) by following a target. Cue a sit or a down exactly where you would like your pup to be for the ride. Relax and enjoy the experience together!

SUP success (and style!)

With a few additional reminders, you and your dog can make a SUP experience positive fun in the sun!

·       Be sure to rinse your dog’s coat after you have been in murky or salty (sea) water.

·       Make certain that your dog has access to plenty of clean water so that he doesn’t attempt to drink elsewhere.

·       Be mindful of the sun and rising temperatures, considering both time spent on the board and any surfaces (sand, parking lot) before and after your adventure!

·       Your dog should wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or doggy life jacket while out on the water. Condition the PFD to have a positive association prior to your dog wearing it out and about. Click and treat for interest, and then slowly desensitize and click/treat for any relaxed exposure to the life jacket as you move toward putting it on fully. Be sure that your dog is comfortable wearing the PFD before you try the paddle-boarding steps above.

Learning to paddleboard with your dog can be the perfect time to train some new behaviors.

Learning to paddleboard with your dog can be the perfect time to train some new behaviors. Mastering the new skill will also help your dog feel more confident in a different environment. Of course the most important benefit to some paddleboard lessons is the opportunity to spend quality time enjoying a new, exciting activity together with your dog, strengthening your bond! 


About the author

Terrie Hayward holds a master's degree in bilingual special education. She is a KPA faculty member, a KPA CTP, and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Council of Professional Dog Trainers. Additionally, Terrie is certified as a Canine Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) and is an Associate Member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). A member of the Pet Professional Guild, Terrie has authored articles on training for BARKS magazine, Pet Business, and Grooming Business magazine, and is the author of the pocket guide to working with deaf dogs, A Deaf Dog Joins the Family.

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