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Dogpacking 101: Getting Started

Making Waves: Lessons from River’s First Time Dog Surfing

Curious about teaching your dog to surf? I signed up my dog River for a professional surf lesson in Cozumel, Mexico. Here’s how it went and what tips we have.

by Krista Halling DVM CCRP DACVS and River the mini goldendoodle

Surfing isn’t just for humans! With the right training and patience, dogs can also enjoy catching waves and hanging ten. My goldendoodle River had a surf lesson in Cozumel, Mexico. Check out how it went and what we learned about teaching a dog to surf.

We met Axel from the Cozumel Surf School by Highlife Mexico and rode with him in the school’s classic VW Beetle. Axel is a professional surf instructor who usually teaches humans. He was looking forward to spending the day with a four-legged student and chose a beach destination on the Mexican island’s west coast, where the waves would be predictably small to moderate that day.

Safety first

When teaching your dog to surf, these principles of doggy water safety should be kept in mind:

  • To enhance buoyancy of both their body and their head (the latter to mitigate risk of swallowing or aspirating water)
  • To prevent overheating and hypothermia
  • To maintain physical control/ability to easily retrieve your dog
  • To ensure they are comfortable and enjoying their experience

In River’s water adventure bag, I have her floatation jacket, a buoyant line (free of knots so that it doesn’t catch on things) which acts as a leash in case I need to round her up, a doggy wetsuit, a small quick-drying towel and a water dispenser to give her fresh water.

Other habits for safety and enjoyment include staying close to your dog at all times, providing them with guidance and support as needed; avoiding crowded or rough conditions; and being mindful of your dog’s comfort and well-being.

Getting started in the water

Before hitting the waves, it’s essential to ensure that your dog is comfortable around water and has basic obedience skills. Start with short trips to the beach and a calm body of water, allowing your dog to become familiar with the sights, sounds, and sensations of the ocean or a large lake.

River has always enjoyed swimming after a ball, so I started tossing it into slightly choppy water and now she enjoys being in and around waves. She has also joined me on paddle boarding adventures. This combination of familiarity with a board and with waves allowed us to start with small to moderate-sized waves. Otherwise we would have started with still water and progressed to small waves, as described below.

Introduce your dog to the surfboard

Begin by familiarizing your dog with the surfboard on land. Place the board on the ground and encourage your dog to investigate it with positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise. Gradually introduce your dog to standing on the static board, rewarding them with treats and praise.

River tended to stand near the front of the board, which resulted in the nose diving under the water when surfing. So we are now working on adjusting where she stands. Tip: teach your dog to stand near the centre of the board.

Practice balance and stability

Once your dog is comfortable with the surfboard on land, it’s time to practice balance and stability on the water. Start in a swimming pool or in calm shallow open water with the board anchored securely, allowing your dog to get used to the sensation of floating on the board. Use treats and encouragement to make being on the surfboard a rewarding experience.

Catching waves

When your dog is ready, it’s time to catch some waves! Choose relatively warm water, or bring a wetsuit if your dog is small and heat loss is a concern. Start with small, gentle waves close to shore, gradually increasing the magnitude as your dog gains confidence and skill.

We discovered that what worked best is to position River on the board, pointing toward shore, at the level where the waves are breaking. We then held the board still and waited for a decent wave to come. When the wave was a few feet behind the board, Axel accelerated the board toward shore so that it was in motion when the wave caught it. Tip: don’t be too picky about wave choice. While human surfers may have a lot of patience bobbing in place until the ‘right’ wave arrives, dogs don’t usually have that level of patience and will start to get impatient standing on an unmoving board.

Since River tended to stand a bit too close to the bow (front tip of the board), the wave would often lift up the unweighted back end of the board and either roll under the board (so we would miss the wave) or it would cause the front end to dive a bit under the water (also a hindrance to catching the wave). So as Axel accelerated the board, he pushed down on the rear of the board to keep it level until the wave caught the board and River started surfing. From there, River enjoyed surfing back to the beach, where we praised her, played with her squeaky toy and then went back for another wave.

Dogs are inherently good at balancing on a platform, so that wasn’t an issue for River. She still needs to learn to stand further back and to work on micro adjustments for better board control. So she won’t enter the World Dog Surfing Championships just yet.

Celebrate surfing success

As your dog progresses in their surfing skills, celebrate each milestone with enthusiasm and praise. Surfing is a team effort, and building confidence and trust between you and your dog is key to success. Enjoy the experience together and cherish the memories of riding the waves with your canine companion.

Teaching your dog to surf is a unique and exciting adventure that offers fun and bonding for both you and your furry friend. With patience, positive reinforcement, and plenty of practice, you can enjoy the thrill of catching waves together and create lasting memories of ocean adventures with your dog. So grab your surfboard, hit the beach, and let the surfing adventures begin!

  • A dog who is used to and enjoys the water
  • Foam surfboard (ideal) or an inflatable paddleboard, large enough to remain buoyant when your dog is on it while stationary on the water (small bodyboards therefore likely wont work)
  • Dog life jacket
  • Dog wetsuit (especially for small breeds and/or cold water)
  • 4-5 m of floating line (to use as a floating leash in case you need to round up your dog)
  • Water bowl or dispenser
  • Warm water, small waves and sandy beach (avoid places with rocky or slippery landing points)

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Additional resources

Special thanks to @highlife_mexico, @hazen.arte, @cueclips and Leo for a great surf lesson and photo gallery! 🐶💕

About the authors

Krista Halling is a veterinarian board-certified with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and co-founder of Dogpacking.com.

River is a female spayed mini goldendoodle and Chief Treat Tester at Dogpacking.com.

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