SUP with Your Pup: Stand Up Paddleboarding with Your Best Friend

Does your pup have what it takes to be a SUP pup? Check out this great guide to getting your dog out on the water with you!

Grace Sutz Photography

Guest blog post by Cate Sutz, owner and operator of Dog Boarding of Myrtle Beach.

So, you have been enjoying your time on the river with your standup paddle (SUP) board. You have gotten over the wobble of finding your balance and are now well acquainted with your equipment. You have discovered several beautiful places that you would like to share with others. The time paddling has been refreshing, peaceful, and fun but on certain days it just seems to be missing something. Why not try bringing your dog along on your paddle board outings? There is much joy, satisfaction and adventure waiting for you this year on a SUP with your pup!

Robin and her Bull Dog Pippa. | Boss Hoss Photography
Robin and her Bull Dog Pippa. | Boss Hoss Photography

There are so many great places along the slow-moving river systems and National Wildlife Refuges that are perfect to share with your dog. One place in particular I have found to be perfect for a day out with the dogs (and people of course) is the Waccamaw River. The beauty of the blackwater along with the peaceful meanderings of this mellow river as it fills in the gaps between the knees of the Cypress is captivating. There are plenty of branches, lakes, and loops off the main river that will allow for all kinds of adventures. The clean water and pristine river allows for awesome recreational opportunities. If your dog already enjoys going along, then going with you on your paddle board on the Waccamaw is just the excursion you need to try.

It is best to make this a fun process for your dog with lots of games and rewards and the Conway Riverwalk Area provides ample space and opportunity to do this. There are a few options for launching which makes this ideal for trying SUP with your pup. There are public floating docks, a soft launch, and even a marina. The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge is also hoping to open a new public access spot in downtown Conway in May with ample parking and a kayak launch. Paddling with your pup will feel natural in no time and the Blue Trail marked along this portion of the Waccamaw will be the perfect map to fun times together. (You can also check out the full Waccamaw River Blue Trail map at: www.AmericanRivers.org/WaccamawBlueTrailMap)

Follow along to learn more about paddle boarding with your dog. 

Safety Notes

  1. Make sure your dog knows how to swim. Test him in a safe environment where you can touch the bottom and hold him up if needed. If your dog is not physically active and does not enjoy a water environment, you may want to reconsider.
  2. Make sure your dog obeys basic commands on and off leash. Sit, stay, lay down, come. These are all important commands to know when you are paddle boarding with your dog.
  3. Find a Canine floatation device that works for your dog. A handle on the back is a helpful tool to assist the dog up on to the paddle board when you are already on board.
  4. Be sure the board you use has a volume that will carry the weight of you, your dog, and any equipment you plan to bring along. Check your board brand website for details on maximum volume.

How do I get my dog to like the paddle board?

Betty getting ready for her first SUP session on the Waccamaw Riverwalk in Conway, SC. | Grace Sutz Photography
Betty getting ready for her first SUP session on the Waccamaw Riverwalk in Conway, SC. | Grace Sutz Photography

A dog on a paddle board with you is probably not a natural thing for either of you. Make sure you take the time to get acquainted. Know your board and limitations. Know your dog and his limitations. You can absolutely teach an old dog new tricks. Take your time and your reward will be a dog that loves to paddle down the river as much as you do.

If treats motivate your dog, this is probably going to be easy! Stay focused but be flexible. Keep your eye on the goal, but don’t keep trying the same thing over and over if it just isn’t working. Use variations of the steps below to cater specifically to your dog.

Start by putting your board in a location that your dog walks by it several times per day. The more he sees it, the more familiar it will become.

After it seems like the paddle board is invisible to him, place it next to the dog’s bed or favorite resting area. Sit on it while your dog is near. Make it seem like a normal piece of furniture.

Another day or so later lay the board flat on the floor and place a treat on it. Gently reward the dog with praise when he takes the treat. Good boy!

Next, stand or sit on the board and invite the dog to sit with you. Offer the treat and praise when your dog is successful.

Repeat any of these steps as many times as needed to get your dog comfortable with the board and being on the board. Some dogs accomplish all of this in an hour, some dogs it will take a few days. Take your time because moving forward too fast can make it harder or even impossible!

TJ takes the nose as he enjoys paddle boarding with his owner wearing his canine flotation device. TJ is a veteran SUP Pup and enjoys the lakes and rivers of SC. | Jennifer Graham
TJ takes the nose as he enjoys paddle boarding with his owner wearing his canine flotation device. TJ is a veteran SUP Pup and enjoys the lakes and rivers of SC. | Jennifer Graham

Take the board outside. Repeat any of the steps needed that allow your dog to accept the board in this new environment.

All along the way, you are going to want to go ahead and get your dog used to the flotation device as well. Slip on the device before going out for a fun walk, so just like when you grab the leash and your dog perks up because he knows a leash in your hand means fun walk outside with you this will give your dog a clue that you are about to go do something enjoyable and that flotation device is part of the fun!

And now you have done great prep work and your dog is ready to head to the water. He knows how to swim, is use to his flotation device is comfortable with your paddle board, and is excited about going with you! You have it all covered so far so pack a snack bag with water and treats and go launch!

Selecting a good launch area for your first SUP pup sessions.

Once you accomplish acceptance of the board, you are ready to hit the water! This is an exciting day and you are no doubt going to be quite gung ho over the whole thing. Your dog will sense your excitement and be thrilled to be out on an adventure. Remember, you want your dog to be focused on you so a pre-paddle run or full on play session would be a great precursor to the SUP session. The more relaxed and focused your dog can be, the better.  I always suggest making the trip as “normal” as possible. A successful first session starts with a relaxed dog and a great launch area.

So, walk around the area first before unloading your board. Take time to let the dog recognize your board in this new place. Offer assurance and rewards for any hint of curiosity or acceptance of the activity.

Betty getting her balance and starting to feel confident with the movement of the board. | Grace Sutz Photography
Betty getting her balance and starting to feel confident with the movement of the board. | Grace Sutz Photography

I love to launch my paddle board sessions out of Conway at the Riverwalk area. This location is relatively quiet especially on weekdays and I can give the dogs time to walk around, sniff, run, and relax. There is not much boat activity either which is really helpful on your first few outings. The Kingston Lake area is very calm with little current which is great for a quick swim and refreshment. Once you paddle under a railroad tressel or two, there are virtually no motorized vehicles to be found. This place is so beautiful and quiet. Great for the beginner paddler, this area is part of the Blue Trail and is well-marked with signs and information. You can take your dog on a nice paddle through the history of Kingston (now Conway) and the river that played a major role in the growth and development of this area.

Look for these qualities when selecting the place for your first outing:

Try to find a quiet launch with little activity. Choose a place with low human activity and few distractions. Boats coming in and out of a marina cause a lot of wake for a dog’s first water experience on a board, so finding a low activity launch is a good idea. Look for a soft launch on a quiet bank. The 140 miles of the Waccamaw River provide many other launch options. Try Lake Waccamaw, Babson’s Landing, Lee’s Landing, and the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge’s Cox Ferry Recreation Area.

Shallow water where you can walk beside the board will help with the first session. If you can find a sandy bottom area about 3 feet deep that would be perfect! Seeing eye to eye with your dog will put you close so he feels confident. Just find the best you can, even a pool works if you have access.

Betty had a great first paddling experience. She learned everything in one afternoon! This is going to be a fun season ahead having her on board with me! Peace, Paddles & Dogs! | Grace Sutz Photography

Have those treats handy for rewarding your dog while he is on the paddle board! Positive reinforcement is the key. Bonding and connecting the board with rewards is going to be important when launching in different places and situations.

You have done it! You and your dog are now confident and able to go on the river together on your paddle board and enjoy time together in a beautiful setting. Make sure you take time to look for Bald Eagles, River Otter, and the diversity of wildlife the Waccamaw River cultivates. Our River is teeming with wild creatures and beauty. Being able to share this with your dog makes it even more special.

Have fun and then invite some friends!

After the first few sessions and a little practice getting on and off the board together, you are primed for many hours of SUP adventures with your dog. Take short trips close to the shore line for your first few outings. Build up distance and length of sessions over time. Once you are both comfortable, the possibilities are endless and so is the joy and satisfaction of having your furry best friend along for the ride on the water ways. Many people never try because they think they can’t teach their dog to stand up paddleboard but there is no big secret, just perseverance and reward!

Other Helpful Tips:

  • For longer trips remember to bring water to drink and a snack for both of you. You can even start a group that can meet regularly and paddle the rivers together.
  • You can add a traction pad to the nose of your board or where ever your dog finds to be most comfortable.
  • Larger boards will provide greater stability. Check the volume of your board before attempting to add a large dog to your SUP adventures.
  • Be sure your dog is wearing his collar and identification tags. If he accidently gets separated from you in the wilderness, anyone will be able to find you and get him home.
  • Make sure your dog is healthy and up to date on vaccines as some stagnant waters can contain bacteria that may make your dog feel ill if ingested.
  • If you don’t feel confident or would like a group setting for your SUP pup training, there are many reputable programs that will work with you and your dog on learning to SUP.
 Grace Sutz Photography
Grace Sutz Photography

Cate Sutz, her husband and their 3 teenagers are the owners of Island Inspired Board Company located between the Inter Coastal Waterway and The Waccamaw River in Conway, South Carolina. They have also owned and operated Dog Boarding of Myrtle Beach for the past 7 years (www.dogboardingofmyrtlebeach.com). Cate is always looking for creative ways to combine her love of animals, paddle boarding, and people. Teaching people how to SUP and SUP with their pups just comes naturally.

You can find her most often paddling with groups of new friends along the Waccamaw River in the Conway area or handling operations at either business. Island Inspired Boards are hand made in Conway and sold in many places along the east coast and online at www.islandinspired.com.

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