Paddling with your dog is a must for Canadian cottagers; paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks are great ways to share fun on the water with a canine companion. But it’s important to teach your dog how to participate safely. Sarah Mairs, a dog trainer at Tamsu Learning Center with more than 20 years’ experience with dog sports, has the following training tips for boating or boarding with your canine companion.
1) Train your dog to ignore distractions
Life on the water is full of excitement—birds, children splashing, other boaters. Your dog needs to stay calm on the SUP or in the boat. Mairs says the key for safe on-the-water activity is to first teach your dog to stay still on land. Train your dog to sit and hold that position despite distractions. Repeat with “down” and “stand.” “Start with low level distractions, like tossing treats on the floor, or people walking by,” says Mairs. “Build understanding so that kids on bikes, squirrels, or flying birds can go by and your dog will hold their position.”
2) Teach your dog to be comfortable with movement
Next, Mairs advises introducing wobbly surfaces to mimic the movement of the board or boat. Teaching your dog to balance will encourage body awareness. Have your dog hold their sit, down, or stand on the unstable surface. Once your dog is comfortable with movement, introduce them to the boat or board while it’s on dry land. While your dog is wearing their PFD—since that will be the case when you’re actually on the water—guide them with your hand, lure them with a treat, or drop a treat in the boat for them to find. “Be sure to hold the boat or have a helper control the movement of the boat in the beginning,” says Mairs. “You would hate to cause fear in your dog because they take a confident step in but the boat tips or falls from underneath them.”
3) Train your dog to enter and exit the boat or board safely
For safety, your dog should wait to be invited into the boat or released out rather than jumping on or off at their whim. Again, train “on” and “off” commands while your dog is wearing their PFD. Work on this until you can get in or on first, then invite your dog to join you. They should do so with confidence and under your control.
4) Teach your dog where to sit
Personal space and balance will help you decide your dog’s position in the boat or on the board. So will your dog’s size. For example, for sit-on kayaks it works well to have medium or small dogs sit between your legs facing forward. To teach your dog where to stay, lure them with a treat and feed them when they’re in position. On a stand-up paddleboard, Mairs finds it easier to have her dogs lying down in front of her, although sitting can work depending on how rough the water is. “With the SUPs, I find many dogs are most comfortable standing at first,” she says. “I really recommend the paddler start from a kneeling position and let the dogs get comfortable the first few times out. Having a preferred position is a nice goal, but the dogs have to figure out their balance based on the water situation.”
5) Build your dog’s confidence with movement of the paddle
Using a paddle around an anxious dog is dangerous, says Mairs, so it’s essential to train your dog to stay calm and hold their position despite the paddle’s movement. On land, reward your dog for seeing the paddle, then progress to moving the paddle around and pair that with rewards. Finally, sit or stand behind your dog and rehearse your paddling motion while encouraging your dog to remain in position and ignore your actions. Only when you have all the pieces put together on land will you be ready to take it to the water and enjoy boating or boarding with your dog.