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SUP Pup 101: How to Paddleboard with Your Dog

If you've ever ventured onto a paddleboard, you're familiar with the initial learning curve – mastering balance, cultivating patience, and embracing the possibility of a refreshing dip in the water. Now, imagine adding your four-legged companion to the equation. Paddleboarding with your dog elevates the experience to a whole new level, blending adventure, companionship, and a splash of unpredictability into one exhilarating journey.

So how do you and your dog start paddleboarding without any experience? Former Ruffwear Pack members and first-time SUP-ers Brad & Umi and Julie & Beau volunteered to find out. With help from SUP instructor and dog trainer Maria Schulz, they learn all the basics of paddleboarding with a dog and tackle their first day on the water.

We also asked more of our Pack members about their experiences paddleboarding with dogs, and they shared some valuable insights for both novice and seasoned adventurers alike.

Keep scrolling for our complete guide to paddleboarding with your dog.

Gear For Paddleboarding With Your Dog

Having the right gear for your dog-friendly paddleboarding adventure will make all the difference. If there’s one thing we know about, it’s good gear. Here’s what you need to get started:

1) A Board and a Paddle

Renting or borrowing a board is a great place to start. If (when) you and your dog are hooked on the SUP life and ready to commit, your local paddle shop is a great place to go for help finding the right board and paddle.

    Human and dog at shore learning to paddleboard

    Inflatable paddleboards are a great option for paddleboarding with dogs. Compared to a hard board, the surface has better grip for dog paws and durability for claws. Wider boards tend to be more stable, a great feature for new human and dog duos building confidence and balance on the board together.

    In fact, Pack member Jill Kinison uses one with her Bernese Mountain Dogs, Kit and Woody. “Kit and Woody are 95 and 110 pounds respectively. I did a ton of research and went with the inflatable High Society USS HS board. Between my weight and my Bernese Mountain Dogs' weight, I needed stability, the ability to attach human and dog gear, and a surface meant to support boarding with your dog (pups can have sharp nails). This board had the best reviews for what I needed,” says Jill. 

    2) Life Jacket

    A life jacket is a key piece of gear for any water adventure with your dog. The Float Coat™ Life Jacket supports dogs as they swim, but the handle and overall design make it easier for you to help get them back on the SUP quickly.

    The Float Coat™ includes a leash clip-in point, reflective trim to boost visibility, and a handle for easy lifting. If you're curious about the human PFD (personal flotation device) spotted in the video, it's the Astral Airbelt, and it's great for calm-water paddles. Bonus: the Treat Trader™ (see next gear tip) can clip onto it.

    Human helping dog back up on a paddleboard

    3) Treats

    Up the fun of paddleboarding with your dog by bringing some treats. Pack plenty of snacks with the waist-worn Treat Trader™ so you can reward your dog often as they get the hang of a completely new skill.

    Pack Pointer: “My advice is to start them young if you can. Let them practice and learn to balance on the board in shallow water until they seem confident, and have them do their basic commands on the board with treat rewards.” - Pack member Kaitlyn Fettig

    How to Paddleboard With a Dog For The First Time

    Ready to hop on board? Start with these three tips then watch Maria’s video at the end for the full training.

    1. Practice on dry land first

    Letting your pups get used to the SUP before you hit the water can make a world of difference. Whether you’re in your living room or backyard, invite your dog to get on the board with you and give them a treat once all four paws are on.

    “The piece that was a game changer was advancing the training from the video — still in my living room — but now with me on the board practicing the paddle motion with my dogs on it, too,” Jill explains. “It was here I learned that one dog, Woody, preferred to stand in front of me when we paddled, while Kit preferred to stand behind me. She liked when she could see where the paddle was at all times. If I hadn't done this, we may not have been as successful or we likely would have been dumped in the water many times before figuring it out.”

    Ruffwear Pack member Jill paddleboarding with her dog.

    2. Get the wiggles out

    Sitting still on a board can be a lot to ask of some pups. A play session with the floating Lunker™ Toy before getting on board or during a shore break goes a long way in making the whole experience fun. It was a key part of Julie & Beau's first SUP session in the video.

    Dog swimming in water after fetching a toy

    3. Know how to get your dog back on the paddleboard

    Knowing how to get your dog back on your paddleboard is one of the most important skills you’ll need to have when paddling with your pup. SUP instructor Maria breaks it down into steps below so you can practice and have a plan when your dog goes for a swim and makes a splash.

    Step 1 - Make sure you are positioned in the middle of your board.

    Step 2 - Intersect your dog so he’s in front of you, with his spine perpendicular to the rails of the board.

    Step 3 - Grab the handle located on the back of your dog’s life jacket.

    Step 4 - Your dog will naturally try to climb up and on with his front paws. When he starts doing so, give a slight tug and lift up on the jacket. This will allow your dog to get a back leg on the board.

    Step 5 - Once your dog has weight on one back leg, he can manage the rest, but don’t let go of the handle until all four paws are on the board.

    Step 6 - Brace for the shake! All dogs shake after getting out of the water, so don’t stand up until after he shakes.

    Step 7 - Praise your dog. Don’t make a big deal over your dog falling off. Instead, praise him for swimming back to the board.

    Human on paddleboard with dog shaking water off after going for a swim

    When done properly, you shouldn’t be lifting your dog back on the board. Instead, you’re assisting your dog by taking a small amount of weight from the handle of his life jacket and guiding his natural movements. It’s a good idea to practice this technique. Pick a warm summer day and ask your dog to swim out to you in deep water so you can be prepared.

    Pack Pointer: “I taught my pups ‘Boat up!’ for getting on the boards. I started on land and then in shallow water holding it for them, and now they launch themselves on!” - Pack member Sydney Elliott

    Check out Maria’s full five tips before you and your dog hop on board:

    Time to Get Out There

    Like Maria, once you start SUPping with your pup, you may discover that sharing the paddleboard with your dog strengthens your bond and inspires you to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

    Maria has shared her passion for paddling as an author, instructor, dog trainer, and regular contributor to our blog. Check out all the SUP-related stories for some of her top posts and inspiration that'll have you planning your next trip around a SUP session with your canine first mate.

    Maria Christina Schultz is an outdoor enthusiast, American Canoe Association-certified stand-up paddleboard instructor, and author of two books. Her dogs are her constant companions while paddling, camping, mountain biking, and running. Follow along on all of their adventures on Instagram.