You’ve seen the paddle boarders, kayakers and canoers paddling along majestically with their dogs at the local lake. You, too, can enjoy some paddling fun with your furry best friend – follow the below steps to train your dog to be your co-pilot on your “boat” of choice.
Get the right gear.
Be sure that you have a life jacket for your dog, life jacket for you, and a leash that attaches to your waist. If you don’t have a leash that attaches to your waist, take a regular pants belt and make that your “lake belt.” Thread the belt through the loop handle of a 4 or 6 foot leash and then put the belt around your waist. Now your dog is attached to you! When you’re on the boat, you may choose to attach the buckle of the leash to the dog’s life vest or a harness - not his neck collar - so that you stay connected to your dog. You’ll also need treats to reward your dog for good behavior on the boat and for being content and calm near the water.
Train your dog before going to the lake.
In your garage or yard, prop up your “boat” on dry land so your dog can practice getting on and off the boat. Have a command word for “on boat” and “off boat” to designate that your dog should get on the boat and off the boat, respectively. Treat your dog for standing with all four paws on the boat. If your dog will be required to lie down while you paddle, practice this behavior, too. Some paddle boarders prefer that their dogs lie in a down position between their legs as they paddle. When your dog will happily get on and get off the board on command, stay on the boat without you, and remain on the boat with you in your position on the boat (kneeling and standing for a paddle board and sitting for an open kayak or canoe), then you’re ready to do some fake paddling. Start by just holding the paddle when you and your dog are on the boat. Treat your dog for tolerating a new, weirdly shaped object! Then start with a fake paddle stroke. Treat your dog for good behavior. Work up to several fake paddle strokes between treats. Give you dog breaks – go play fetch or let him sniff the yard - between repetitions on the boat.
Have your dog practice getting in and out of the boat in very shallow water.
Place your boat in shallow water. You and your dog should practice all the progressions that you did in step 2 above – except that instead of being on dry land, you’ll be in shallow water! Have a friend hold the boat if necessary so you don’t float away and so there is not too much movement as you move through the training steps. Take breaks as needed.
Practice floating without paddling.
With your dog on the boat without you, gently push your boat around in the shallow water. If you have a friend with you, have your friend push you and your dog around on the boat in the shallow water. Praise and treat your dog for accepting the movement of the boat and for staying aboard. Take breaks by going on short walks to allow your dog to relax mentally.
Paddle for very short turns.
Progress by getting on the boat with your dog and doing some paddling. Increase the duration slowly. Treat your dog for good behavior and end the training session before your dog is too tired or gets restless. You may paddle for two minutes, return to shore, take a ten-minute walk and sniffing break, and then return to your boat for two more minutes of paddling. Perhaps you repeat that three times and then go home. The next time, you build up to 3-4 minutes of paddling between breaks. Keep building duration until your dog is cheerful and confident on the boat.
Remember that dogs learn by patterns - you want your dog to remember the perfect pattern of how to behave on the boat. Thus, always end a boat training session on a successful, joyful note even if you’re tempted to do another repetition. You will not spend an entire day at the lake or your dog will leave with the impression that the lake and boat training is exhausting and overwhelming – instead, stay for less than an hour and then go home. The boat training will be very mental and physical for your dog. Balancing is hard work!