Surf's Up Pups!
Taking your dog surfing is an incredible outdoor activity to experience! From the first steps of getting your dog comfortable in the water to conquering the surf - this is a great adventure for both of you. Surfing with your dog(s) requires patience and practice to ensure you both stay safe out on the waves and in this article, we'll be sharing some top tips and tricks to help you get your pup ready for the surf!
Benefits of Surfing With Your Dog
Surfing with your dog is an activity that has a variety of benefits. It can be a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your dog, while also providing you both with an amazing experience in such an enriched environment. Dog-friendly beaches offer one of the most perfect playgrounds for your dog to socialize with other dogs and people while soaking up the sun. It also promotes a sense of adventure and exploration for your dog, as they get to experience new sights, smells, and sensations in the water. For dogs, activities like surfing can provide more than just fun and entertainment. If you're lucky enough to live near a body of water with waves, what better way to enjoy quality time outdoors?
Surfing can be a great form of exercise, working those muscles and burning off excess energy
Balance & Coordination
Surfing requires a lot of balance and coordination, so your dog can greatly benefit from this activity by learning how to control their body movements in the water
Trying something new introduces your dog to different experiences that aren't limited to regular habits or daily routines and learning dog tricks outside of their normal realm shows them just how capable they are
Surfing with your dog can open up opportunities for socialization with other surfers and their dogs and this can be especially helpful for shy or timid dogs who may struggle with socializing in other settings
The calming sound of the waves and the warm sun on your skin can help reduce stress levels and promote relaxation
Preparation for Surfing with Your Dog
Before you head out to the beach, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration. First of all, make sure that your dog is comfortable around water, as getting them accustomed to the waves is important. Check out our blog on swimming. Another important part of preparation is having the proper safety equipment. Be sure to review all applicable safety precautions. When selecting a beach for your dog surfing adventure, make sure to choose one that is dog-friendly and allows dogs off-leash. Lastly, prep your pup for this more complex adventure by ensuring they're properly trained.
Gear for Taking Your Dog Surfing
Dog Life Jacket
Leash & Harness
Food, Water, Treats and Snacks
Towels and/or Blankets
First Aid Kid
Dog Surfboard Selection
One of the most important pieces of gear when surfing with your dog is, of course, the surfboard! Luckily, there are many options available for you to start with depending on your dog's size. At the time of writing, there's not really a dedicated dog surfboard manufacturer, so you'll have to start with a human surfboard and go from there.
Your dog's surfboard selection will depend on how big or small your dog is. For example, I use a round nose, soft top 5' 8" surfboard that is 19" wide and 2.75" thick for Snoopy, our 14lb Jack Russell/Chihuahua. The bigger your dog, the larger board you'll want to select. Regardless of the size, it's a best practice to go with a soft top board. Fiberglass/resin boards are slippery and too hard for dogs, and the dog can get a good grip with their paws on the soft top.
Surfboards can get a bit pricy, so look for bargains on social media groups and shops and check out yard sales in your area, your dog's perfect board may be sitting in someone else's garage looking for a new home! Remember, it doesn't have to be the best board, just something with a soft top that's going to float your pup.
Take Necessary Safety Precautions
Consider your dog's physical abilities and limitations, just like humans, not all dogs are natural swimmers or surfers; be aware of their energy levels and take breaks as needed.
Your dog should be up to date on vaccinations, especially if heading to a dog beach with lots of other dogs
Keep an eye out for any signs of fatigue or discomfort and don't force your dog to surf if they don't want to - it's important to listen to and respect their boundaries
Always keep a close eye on your dog while they're in the water - never take your eyes off your dog, even for a second
Keep an eye out for any potential hazards, such as strong currents or even wildlife that may be present in the water
Avoid surfing near rocks, piers, or strong currents that can be hazardous for dogs
If you're not a confident swimmer, it may be best to stay close to shore and only go out into shallow waters with your dog
Be aware of other surfers and beachgoers, and make sure to keep your dog under control at all times
If you encounter any injuries or accidents, seek medical attention immediately
As mentioned above, always equip your pup with the right-size dog life jacket
Finding a Dog Friendly Beach
Unfortunately, not everyone is going to have access to a dog-friendly beach with waves. We wish everyone did, but for those of you lucky enough to live near one, there are a few things you'll want to consider before heading out. Each beach is different and has its own rules regarding leash laws, times and months of the year dogs are allowed, and each one is going to have waves of different skill level.
To find a dog-friendly beach, start by doing a quick internet search of dog beaches near me. There are also a few websites dedicated to finding dog-friendly beaches and parks, so make sure to take advantage of these resources. If I'm scouting a new area, I typically use BringFido.com to find what's dog-friendly and then go to Surfline.com to get a little more info on the waves, beach, any hazards, and typical crowd factor.
When searching for a beach, consider the time of day as well. Early mornings or late evenings may provide calmer waters, making it easier for your pup to navigate without getting overwhelmed by the waves. High tides can also make it difficult for dogs to enter and exit the water while low tides can create a more challenging shorebreak, so be aware of the tide schedule as well.
Finally, it's important to be aware of the surf conditions for the day. If there are larger waves present, it may be best to wait until another day or a different beach where the waves are more gentle. Learn more about finding a good beach at our blog on dog beaches.
If you're in the San Diego area, check out our blogs on Del Mar Dog Beach and Ocean Beach Dog Beach. We have the links posted below in the Learn More section.
Basic Training Tips for Surfing with Your Dog
BASICS: Training is an important part of achieving success with dog surfing. Start by teaching your dog basic commands such as sit, stay and come. These will be essential for controlling them while they are on the board and in the water. Read more about teaching basic commands here.
WATER COMFORT: Before heading into the waves, your dog should have some basic swim training completed. Check out our chapter on Swimming With Your Dog in this adventure guide. Chances are that your dog will fall off the surfboard at some point and if they have have experience swimming, there's less chance of them panicking and having a bad experience. Once you get to the beach, start with a test run. Before you hit the waves, take your dog for a swim in the ocean to see how they handle the water. If they seem uncomfortable or start to panic, surfing might not be the best activity for them.
Teaching Your Dog to Surf
Now that you and your dog are all set to go, here are a few tips to keep in mind when teaching your dog to surf.
Tips Before Heading Out
Get your dog acquainted with the surfboard before going to the beach. Start by introducing your dog to the board on land, allowing them to sniff and explore it at their own pace.
Preferably at home where they're the most comfortable
Gradually move towards placing them on the board while it is on land (and eventually in shallow water when you get to the beach).
You can use lots treats and praise to get your dog on the board
Start slow and gradually increase the amount of time spent on the surfboard.
Additionally, go for walks with your dog while they're wearing their life jacket. This will help get them used to wearing it and won't be such a huge shock when it's time to put it on for real.
At the Beach
You're going to be in a different environment away from home, so reacclimate them to the surfboard by practicing standing on it in the sand.
Start small by practicing on smaller beach break, or smaller waves breaking closer to shore.
There's a small inlet at Del Mar dog beach that typically has smaller and more gentle waves. I like to use this when I bring dogs out for their first few times. It gets them used to the motion and balance before going into the bigger stuff.
Make sure your feet can touch the ground at all times (especially when just starting out).
Find a spot where the wave has already broke and where you'll get a little push from the whitewater.
Make sure the whitewater is not going to form another wave as it gets closer to shore- this is usually very observable from the beach
With your dog balanced on the surfboard (typically a little forward from center) Hold the back of the surfboard.
As you feel the whitewater push through you and begin to move the board forward on it's own, gently just let go of the board and you're pup will be cruising on a wave!
If the whitewater lacks sufficient power to move the board, you may have to give the board a little push in towards shore.
Train your dog to come back to the board after catching a wave, as this can prevent them from getting separated or lost in the water (part of your recall commands from above).
Better yet, if available, have a buddy stand in front to meet your pup as he/she comes riding into shore