Water sports for you and your dog

Looking for a way to stay cool this summer? Grab your canine companion and try one – or all – of these exciting water sports!

It’s no secret that many dogs love the water. Some breeds can swim for long periods, while others prefer to enjoy water from a safe distance, paddling in the waves or cooling off by the river’s edge. But regardless of your pup’s propensity for H20, it might be fun to mix things up this summer! Believe it or not, many of the most popular water sports can be adapted to incorporate dogs. Read on to determine which ones your pup might enjoy, strap on his lifejacket (and your own), and head out for some fun in the sun!

kayaking with dogsKayaking

Dogs of all sizes can make great kayaking buddies. Like you, your pup will enjoy taking in the view from the kayak, and inhaling the smell of the open water. But don’t be fooled – just because Fido doesn’t have to do anything (paws aren’t ideal for paddling!), it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be trained before hopping aboard.

The first step is to teach him the basics – commands like sit, lie down and stay are all essential when kayaking. Once he’s mastered those behaviors, you can move onto step two: getting your dog used to the kayak. Teach him to climb into the boat while it’s on land or tied to the dock, so he knows what to expect. When you’re ready to set out, stick close to shore, and make sure the water is calm to prevent any excessive rocking. Have a friend waiting on shore in case your dog decides to jump for it and swim to land.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Excited dogs aren’t the best candidates for kayaking, especially if they’re over 30 pounds. The last thing you want is to capsize because he jumps whenever the fish do!
  • If your dog is 50 pounds or more, a tandem kayak might be needed. If he appears at all unstable riding on the front of your one-man craft, you need to upgrade.
  • Bring a leash. It can be easy to forget this essential tool since you won’t be using it on the kayak, but he’ll need it when you get back to shore.

Stand-up paddle boarding

SUP boarding looks a lot harder than it is. In fact, once you get the hang of it, this popular water sport is a serene relaxing experience that’s easy to enjoy with a four-legged buddy by your side. Like kayaking, the first step is to make sure your dog is well-behaved enough to hop aboard. Nervous, disobedient and high-strung dogs have no place on any type of water vessel.

SUP boarding with dogs

Once your pup is familiar with your SUP, have him sit on it while you wade out into shallow water. Gauge his reaction – if he seems okay, you can join him on the board. Start seated, then progress to your knees, and eventually your feet if you feel comfortable. Stick close to shore the first few times.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Your dog should be sitting in front of you at all times so you can keep an eye on him. Carry a few treats to reward him for staying calm and still.
  • A lifejacket with a handle can come in handy for stand-up paddle boarding. This way, if your dog takes a tumble into the water, you can get on your hands and knees and hoist him back onto the board. Of course, this will only work if your dog is small. If he’s too big to lift, encourage him to swim to shore while you paddle alongside him.

dock jumping with dogsDock jumping

Since the late 1990s, the trend of dock jumping (or dock diving) has been on the rise. This is a great water sport to try if your dog prefers to stay active, and is especially enjoyable for pups that thrive on being challenged. Just as it sounds, dock jumping involves a dog running and jumping off a standard-sized dock (roughly 2’ above the water). In competitions, a toy is thrown, and the dog who jumps the farthest wins. The dog is not required to retrieve the toy…but most do!

The best way to get your dog involved in this water sport is to enroll him in a dock jumping class. A quick internet search should bring up those being held in your area. Of course, you can also casually participate in this sport by teaching your dog to jump off your own dock! Simply grab his favorite floating toy, ask him to sit, then toss the toy into the water and ask him to fetch it. For safety purposes, ensure the water is at least 4’ deep, and lay down a rubber mat so your pup doesn’t slip.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Some dogs are natural dock jumpers and require very little training. Others might be hesitant to jump into the water from a height, and it can be particularly difficult to get dogs excited about dock jumping if they don’t like to fetch. In these cases, help build both confidence and anticipation by doing some groundwork. In your yard or a field, use a platform to teach him the basic skills involved in the sport. Make sure the ground is soft and non-slippery to prevent injury when landing.
  • Life jackets are permitted but not required in many dock jumping competitions. Use your judgment when deciding whether or not your pup should wear a floatation device for dock jumping. Whatever you decide, make sure he’s a strong swimmer!


Hang ten, dude! Okay…your pup might not be able to master that particular move. But he can certainly learn to surf! As with kayaking and paddle boarding, he’ll need you to be his hands for this sport – at least at the beginning. Grab your board and head to a dog-friendly beach near you, preferably during a time when it’s not too crowded. At this point, he should already be used to your board and the way it moves (practicing in a pool or shallow lake is a good first step). Use treats and praise to encourage your dog onto the top third of your board – this is ideal placement for optimal balance.

surfing with dogs

Unlike stand-up paddle boarding, surfing is a fast sport that requires a great deal of stability, so training your dog to remain steady and counterbalance the board is the next – and most challenging – step. When you feel he’s ready to practice his skills in the ocean, head out on a day when the waves are small or nonexistent. As with all water sports, the key is to ease him into it!

Things to keep in mind:

  • A longer surfboard is best if you’re planning to hit the waves with your canine companion. Look for something that’s in the 7’ to 9’ range. If you’re teaching your dog to surf solo (for advanced surfer pups only), opt for a shorter board with a hard non-slip surface.
  • Do not attach your dog to a surf leash. If he falls off, it could do more harm than good. Instead, minimize wipeouts by picking a time of day when it isn’t too wavy.

When it comes to water sports, all dogs have different skills and preferences. So go with the flow this summer, and enjoy some cool, quality time with your best friend!


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.