Take Your Dog Paddleboarding!
As with every new experience, teaching your dog to become comfortable on a SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) requires patience, lots of praise, and a willingness to laugh when they nearly knock you into the water. We kept all of these things in mind when we took Cinder, our Border Collie mix, out to the Scappoose Bay Paddling Center. Cinder isn’t much of a water dog; she’s swam on her own on only a handful of occasions and definitely prefers to spend her time chasing bubbles up and down the shoreline. We’ve never forced Cinder into the water; we’ve never thrown her in and forced her to swim or anything anxiety-provoking so we went about our SUP day with the same “no forcing” method. This was also Cinder’s first day wearing her new Ruffwear Float Coat, a very well-made life jacket designed for dogs. We purchased it for her in hopes that it would help her feel more secure and less anxious, if she were to fall into the water.
We checked in at the desk, grabbed our gear, put on our life jackets, and headed down to the bay. The Next Adventure staff were super helpful, reminding us of the bay’s layout and suggesting different areas for us to explore while we were out on the water. They helped me (Corie) get on one SUP, and set-up the second one for Andy, who would be taking Cinder for the first part of the afternoon. A few basic commands helped us get Cinder onto the SUP. First, she knows the basics, like “sit” and “stay” and “wait” so she stood patiently until Andy was situated and ready for her. She also knows the command “help,” which we usually use when we’re boulder-hopping or scrambling, but it’s her way of knowing that we’re going to pick her up and that she should be calm and relaxed while she’s being held. Andy simply asked Cinder if she wanted “help” and she stepped into his lap, slightly worried expression on her face, but otherwise totally calm. She got lots of praise for that!
We paddled out into the bay, Cinder looking at the water around us and beginning to explore her temporary domain. It was definitely helpful to start the day off kneeling since a new SUP pup can be wiggly and hard to manage while you’re moving. Cinder isn’t a big fan of the “herd” being spread out so when Andy and I got too far apart (about 100’), she whined, and then calmly plopped into the water and began swimming toward my SUP. Again, lots and lots of praise was given here- she was swimming! She reached my SUP, I said “help” and used the handle on the Float Coat to pull her up with me. It was good that I was kneeling here because when she shook, I was pretty sure I was going overboard!
We explored the bay, watching fish jump around us and admiring the variety of birds that were out hunting in the shallows. We pulled off onto the shoreline to eat a snack and Cinder got to play in the bubbles for a short while before we headed out. The next, helpful command we’ve taught Cinder is “up!” which we use to get her to jump onto objects (and even us! She jumps into our arms on command). Before we pulled off the shore, we told her “up!” and she hopped onto Andy’s SUP again. This time, she was ready to play. Cinder spent most of the ride back to the boathouse attacking the bubbles and overspray made by our paddles and readily hopped right into the water to swim between our SUPs. I think the life jacket dramatically increased her confidence in the water AND it was very helpful for us since it allowed us to easily scoop her up onto our boards when she got near to us.
In summary, I didn’t realize how much fun having our little land mammal out on the water would be. I was very thankful for the few commands we’d taught her- “wait,” “help,” and “up!” all made the day significantly easier for everyone. The Float Coat helped us get her on and off the SUPs when she went exploring and helped her feel more confident when she was in the water. Definitely start off sitting or kneeling since it makes it harder for wiggly (or shaking!) dogs to knock you overboard. And, just remember to have fun and be patient! Even the least water-friendly dogs might enjoy spending a couple hours exploring a lake, river, or bay with you!