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Getting Started with Paddleboarding with your Dog

Updated: Jun 17

If you're like me, you love finding excuses to get out on the water. I rowed crew for 4 years, so kayaking naturally is a way for me to return to my roots and enjoy being in nature. When i got a dog, I knew I'd need to find a way to bring along my best furry friend on all my adventures, so I did plenty of research for getting her comfortable with the water. I started standup paddleboarding when I won an instagram giveaway for one years ago.

Shikoku-ken are not known for being swimming dogs. Most of my friends who have them also complain how their dogs are afraid of the water. Shikoku are hunting breeds though, so if you can turn swimming into a hunting activity, then they'll quickly learn to love it! My Shikoku first became really interested in swimming once I found some ducks that were closeby, got us real close to them, then she started jumping in the water on her own to go after them (and then immediately returning to me aka "land")

Step 1: Get a Lifevest for both of you and buy all the things

First and foremost you will need a board or kayak and you should know how to use these comfortably without your dog before you go!  I use this inflatable SUP board and I had this inflatable kayak (though I prefer SUP with Sora because she got a little motion sickness on the kayak, you can also give your dog Cerenia anti-vomiting meds for this too).

Dogs need protection just as much as humans do, and it's better for peace of mind because injuries can happen that can prevent their doggy paddling instincts from kicking in. If something happens to you and they need to stay afloat, this removes the burden on you to save them! Please bring a lifevest with you at all time for safety, I got this one on amazon.

My most common question on instagram is what size I buy for Sora! Sora is 32 lbs and wears a size small in Ruffwear float coat and the 20-40lb vest in hurtta's life savior.

When I go out on the water, I use a waterproof bag, my GoPro, and a little case for my phone that's sealed/waterproof. For the pup, bring a waterproof dog toy and a few high-value treats to get their attention when needed, and some water.

Step 2: Get them comfortable with water first

Sora naturally was scared of the water when she was a puppy; she wasn't bred for it like labradors or retrievers, but I still assumed she'd be more brave. It took awhile to break her into the water and a lot of practice sessions under the summer sun. It was a great way to pass time during quarantine since I lived on a lake in Virginia. I would take her on a walk around the lake, then stop halfway to get her walking in and out of the water. Practice by walking with her into the water and throwing her favorite toy further and further into the water so that she'll be encouraged to go deeper and chase it, before she realizes it, she'll be knee deep.

When I moved to Colorado (when Sora was around 1.5 years old) I signed up Sora for a few swimming lessons in a rehabilitation facility in Colorado so she could get even more comfortable in a controlled environment. This helped her learn to trust herself and gain confidence in her ability to swim. I somewhat regretted this because I had her tied to a tree at green lake in Seattle, and she broke the she took off swimming when her leash broke off and she sped off after a duck. She swam 1/3 towards the middle of the lake before I could catch her - I was half proud and half mortified that she knew how to swim!

Step 3: Let them get accustomed to the kayak or SUP on land

Introducing this giant, intimidating object is best suited on land since your pup will be more confident and comfortable in her natural environment. If you introduce 2 new scary things it could make a bad association for them with the kayak, which isn't what we want! They should have plenty of time to sniff out the new objects before attempting to kayak with them on it.

Step 4: Practice with short sessions on water

My first session with Sora on the water lasted about 15 minutes. She was so nervous and I gave her motion sickness medicine just in case since Shikoku often get sick from car rides, so figured it couldn't hurt. We did a few short sessions before going for longer times, so she could get used to kayak and the motion on the water. She ended up being a lot more comfortable on the SUP since it's a bit easier to balance with it being flat.

Step 5: Time to get out on the water!

When you're ready, you can find an established kayaking place that allows for dogs or use your own if you have one. The hardshell kayaks are better since the inflatables can get punctured by their claws. Trim those nails beforehand if you can. When you're out on the water, take it slow and avoid animals if your pet has a high prey drive like mine (there were several instances she tried to flip my kayak to try and reach the ducks swimming nearby). I chose a small lake outside Denver called Bear Creek Lake Park since they allow dogs in the summer and the size is manageable for more practice/safety. For paddleboarding in Seattle I prefer Green lake or Seward Park.


Hi! I'm Jackie and my dog is Sora. I work remote as an engineer, but I love to spend my free time in nature and by traveling to new places. I take my camera wherever I go, and sometimes my drone.

Somewhere With Sora is a Seattle-based lifestyle and travel blog that provides helpful travel and adventure tips for all kinds of trips, with or without the dogs.

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