Words: Stephanie Barnicoat
Pics: Stephanie Barnicoat, Jo Moseley, Sophie Smith, Dave Hudson, Ant Barrett and Peter Tranter
Taking my dog Percy out paddleboarding for the first time was scary. I had only had him for two months; however, I was desperate to share my love of paddleboarding with him. He also howled every time I left him home alone, which was another excellent reason to introduce him to SUP. Percy is a retired working dog meaning he is very obedient.
My biggest fears were Percy not liking SUP or not wanting to stay on the board, something bad happening to him, and me falling in! To overcome these fears, I ensured I was dressed appropriately to fall in, wearing an appropriate wetsuit thick enough for the time of year and a buoyancy aid. Percy had his buoyancy aid on as I would never feel comfortable taking him out without one. I had dog treats plus his travel towel. As it was a short paddle, I didn’t need to take too much equipment for Percy. I also had a paddling friend with me in case I needed assistance.
Launching can be the trickiest part of your adventure. The ISUPs I use all have a big fin towards the board’s tail, and when Percy jumps on top of it, it can cause damage to the fin or, on some boards, make the fin pop out, making your paddle very unstable therefore unenjoyable. I have learned to launch from an easy spot like a slipway, attach the leash to you never to your dog, and walk your board in tail first (be prepared to get wet legs). On the colder days, I wear my dry trousers. I point the nose of the board towards the land and call Percy onto the board (he hates getting his paws wet when paddleboarding).
The first time around, if your dog doesn’t step onto the board, you can lure your pup in with treats. A helpful tip is to get your dog used to the board at home, pump it up and try to get your dog to sit and walk around on it so they can get used to the texture and being on the board. Once Percy is on the board, he tends to walk towards the tail end (because that is where I am standing and he is a needy boy) hence why this end must be in deeper water to prevent any damage to the fin. It can be a bit of a palaver to get Percy in the correct position towards the front of the board. Once he is in position, it gives me plenty of room to get on at the centre of the board. This is where dog treats come in handy!
Nose of the board
When Percy is in a good position towards the nose of the board, I jump on the board and start paddling on my knees. I like Percy to be ahead of me towards the nose of the board so I can constantly watch over him. Remember, I have my leash attached, and Percy is not attached to the board. It would be extremely dangerous to attach your dog to the board if they fall off and becomes entangled with the leash or lead.
Percy has a buoyancy aid with a grab handle on his back. I find this extremely useful if he does slip off; I can grab the handle and safely lift him back onto the board. Percy is not a typical springer spaniel for water and never experienced water until starting living his best life with me. Percy enjoys the occasional swim, but he hates getting his paws wet when paddleboarding.
When I feel it safe to do, and Percy and myself are conformable, I stand up and paddle. As Percy lies still, it is an enjoyable paddle; he isn’t one to jump off and back on again. Many dogs have been known to not stay on the board. If your dog wishes to swim, the best thing to do is allow it to happen and take care. A couple I am friends with have just started SUP; they have a Labrador Hugo who jumps from one board to another, causing everyone to get wet.
Watch his confidence grow
When I first took Percy out, he laid still on the board, probably too nervous about moving. (It’s selfishly my favourite position of his). The more we went out, the more comfortable he became. He started sitting and eventually started standing up (it is called stand up paddleboarding after all), now he walks around the board. It is wonderful to watch his confidence grow. We stick to paddling on rivers and estuaries rather than the ocean during our two years of paddling together.
A common question I get asked is whether we have fallen in? The answer is yes! Percy has fallen in maybe five times and is more prone to fall off my touring board as it is narrower at the front. Occasionally and especially during his first SUP experiences when we got close to land, he would make a jump for it! Another tip is not to get too close to land as your little pooch might be thinking I will make a swim for it.
There have been a few instances where I can’t explain what happened where Percy fell off the board. It was the first time it caused me to fall flat face down on my board. I was ok! The second time I fell completely in the water. On this paddle, I took Percy to a new place, a larger estuary, more sea-like, so I planned the paddle with caution. I wore my wetsuit and buoyancy aid. When Percy was in the water, he was swimming to land, so I swam after him to get him on the board. He was then shaking a lot; this is where a travel towel comes in useful. It is best to be aware that your dog may act a bit nervous when taking them to a new location or for the first time. Planning with caution is essential and going with a paddle buddy for support and safety.
During the pandemic, it was Percy and me, and we were fortunate enough to paddle on the Gannel almost every day. The Gannel is a tidal river/estuary between Newquay and Crantock. I didn’t get much opportunity to go out on my own as every time I got kitted up, Percy knew precisely where I was going and chased after me. Percy and I have learned to work together during our paddles on the Gannel, and I have learnt to read and predict his next movement; I now generally feel pretty comfortable on the board when he moves around.
I recently decided it was time to take Percy out for sea paddle as paddleboarding in the ocean is the best, and in Cornwall, we are spoilt for choice. (I also hate leaving Percy at home). I tried last summer (2020), and he was having none of it, running away from me on the beach. Making me look like the worst dog owner on the planet, I am surprised no one called the RSPCA. We aborted the paddle as it was clear he was not ready for the ocean, and I respected that.
A year later, in October 2021, Percy did it to my amazement during some glorious weather! We went to my favourite beach for paddle boarding, and Percy was happy to get on board. The conditions were perfect, glassy sea state like it was when I tried last summer, and I was ecstatically happy and so proud of my Percy. He is finally a sea dog! We are looking forward to more adventures along the Cornish coast.
Most of our paddles are short, but there have been occasions where we have completed longer paddles, the longest being 15 km. For a longer adventure like this, I pack more things for Percy; snacks for him, enough water for us, his travel water bowl and his travel towel.
If you take your dog or a friend’s dog, you must know the dog that you are taking out and whether you need to take extra precautions for them. For example, Percy hates waves, so when a boat passes by and causes waves, I now tend to get on my knees to gently hold Percy or sometimes he will sit between my knees. We remain like this until the waves pass; I think this makes him feel safe. We then resume our normal position. Think about whether anything startles your dog, and then think about the location and suitability for you and your dog.
The key point is to check the weather conditions. Percy hates having spray from waves in his face, and I imagine most dogs would feel the same. This will make it unpleasant for them, making it uncomfortable for the paddler. One time I got caught out with wind and swell, and I allowed Percy to sit behind me for the first time, keeping him dry. This worked and was ok, but I feared he would fall off and I wouldn’t notice hence why I like him to always be in my view.
OK, so what could go wrong!
Drowning can come in several guises; even the strongest swimmer can run into difficulty. A dog can become entangled in foliage or discarded items on a riverbed; snort in water whilst swimming, which may present issues immediately or later. This is known as secondary drowning, where the lungs are irritated, and the body tries to compensate by producing fluid (this fluid causes secondary drowning).
What to look out for…
Obviously, suppose your dog is struggling in the water. In that case, early signs of an issue your dog is suffering could also be that their breathing is laboured or irregular, coughing, or adopting an odd posture (a sign of discomfort). If you see any of these signs, check for the pulse and colour of the gums. A weak pulse and pale gums are indications your dog is in trouble. If not dealt with, difficulty breathing could lead to collapse and loss of consciousness.
What to do…
Small dogs can be picked up above the ankles and swung between the legs, or you could use the ‘coupage’ technique taught on courses to try and expel the water. If the dog has become unresponsive, then be prepared to give CPR. Keep the dog warm and call the vet to let them know you’re on the way. Even if your dog appears to make a full recovery, you should still have him checked by a vet.
Drinking too much water – could be unintentionally drinking or swallowing whilst swimming. Symptoms include lack of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, pale gums, and excessive salivation.
Advanced symptoms include difficulty breathing, collapsing, loss of consciousness, and even seizures. So be prepared to give CPR; call the vet to let them know you’re on the way.
For more tips on taking your dog paddle boarding, please visit GLOBAL SUP PUP COMMUNITY
Below are some tips for getting your dogs on the paddleboard, and by following these top tips, I hope you and your pup have the best experience. Remember, if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up!
Top tips for taking your dog out paddleboarding
- Make sure you are well trained, experienced and in complete control of your board.
- Ensure your dog is well trained, has good recall etc.
- Let the dog get used to the board on land.
- Check weather conditions: check the wind and swell, I don’t like to take Percy out in the wind stronger than 10mph, and I look for flat water. If it is raining, I might leave him at home, and I plan to try a dog raincoat for him.
- Ensure the dog is wearing a buoyancy aid; I got a good one for Percy from Terrain Dog: www.terraindog.com/.
- Paddle in a location you know well, perhaps a river, lake, or canal rather than the sea.
- Plan a small paddle first.
- Go with another well trained, experienced paddler.
- Stock up on dog treats
- Never attach your dog to you or the board because of the risk of entanglement.
- Wear appropriate clothing and equipment – be prepared to fall in.
- If your dog doesn’t settle, abort, try another day.