Does your surf dog walk to the front of the surfboard or jump off while surfing? Do you leash your dog to the board to try and fix the problem?
The best way to fix the jumping off behavior is through training. And it should be done at home BEFORE your first surf trip to the beach. This way, by the time you hit the water, your dog will have a solid foundation.
Some dogs take to surfing immediately. Some dogs don't want anything to do with water. It's our job to keep them safe while trying to figure out if surfing will be something they enjoy. Most people grab a board, grab their dog, and hit the waves. That's a lot to ask of a dog who has always played with his friends at the beach.
Now you're asking them to stop playing, forget the seagulls, ignore the balls & frisbees, put on this bulky life jacket, stand on this unsteady surface, get hit in the face with salt water, fall off the board into a washing machine, worry about their owner who hasn't come up from the swirling water, figure out how to get back on the board in the deepest water you've ever been in, stay in one spot at the back of the board, don't walk to the front of the board even if this activity is stressing you out, and if you do walk to the front, a leash gets attached to the board so you can't move, balance like you've never balanced before, gain confidence so you don't have to surf backwards while looking at your owner, don't fall off, and ride this wobbly thing all the way to the beach. But when you get to the shore, don't run after your friends because we need to do it again.
My philosophy is building a foundation through training at home so your dog isn't subjected to what I described above. This way, by the time you bring your dog to the beach, he will have been exposed to most everything he'll experience in surfing, and the transition will be much smoother. There is a much greater likelihood that you'll end up with a surFUR who enjoys surfing than a dog who is flooded with new requirements, confused, overwhelmed and stressed out.
Today's blog addresses how to tell if your dog doesn't want to surf, why your dog walks to the front of the board or jumps off. Instead of using the quick, in-effective and dangerous fix of leashing your dog to the board, these training tips will help you correct the problem or determine if your dog is exhibiting stress behavior that you haven't been aware of.
How do you know if your dog doesn’t want to surf?
If your dog is jumping off the board, it’s a pretty good indication that he/she doesn’t want to surf!! Of course it could be lack of training too. Your dog is communicating with you all the time. Sometimes they make a loud statement, like Ricochet who plants herself on the sand when she’s done surfing. Other dogs may show more subtle signs of stress through their body language such as…
- Ears are back
- Lip licking
- Rigid body position
- Runs out of the water & doesn’t want to go back in
- Tucked tail
- Restlessness or pacing (walking to the front of the board)
- Dilated pupils
- Tight jaw
- Excessive blinking
- Looks for handler, or won’t’ take eyes off handler
- Furrowed brow
- Excessive barking
- Comfort seeking
Of course there are additional signs of stress, and just because a dog displays a certain behavior doesn’t mean it’s stress. For instance, Beans the surf dog is deaf, she keeps her eye on her handler all the time, as that is how they communicate. You know your dog best and you should evaluate his behavior to determine what exactly they are trying to tell you through their behavior.
Besides stress, the main reason a dog walks to the front of the board is because he hasn’t been taught the correct surfing position.
Before you have your dog jump on a surfboard for the first time in the ocean, at a clinic or whatever, you really should have already been doing foundation training at home. This will ensure your lesson goes smoothly and your dog has already experienced an unsteady surfboard BEFORE you put it in water. If you throw too many new things at a dog at one time they will be overwhelmed. The best way to teach a dog is in steps. Here are some things you can do to get your dog used to being in the right spot.
- Teach your dog to get on the board himself so you're not trying to lift a heavy dog in the waves
- Feed his meals on the board (put the surfboard away anytime you're not training)
- Give treats when he is in the right position
- Don't give treats when he's not in the right position
- Use the cue "touch" where the dog will touch your hand to get him in the right position
- Lure your dog onto the board with treats
This video shows a puppy learning how to get on the board, but it will work with an adult dog too.
There are nine lessons in this "teach your dog to surf" video series.
Click here to see more
Then your dog isn’t ready to surf. And he’s especially not ready to surf in a contest. There really shouldn’t be a need to leash your dog to a surfboard if you’ve done the training.
Of course there may be other reasons you feel you need to leash your dog. And they may outweigh the risk. But, if it’s because the dog will jump off, then you need to re-think this strategy.
If you’re leashing your dog to the board because you don’t want them jumping off the board when you reach shore, then you should teach your dog to wait for you (or someone) to get to the board before they are released & you tell them it’s ok to get off.
Conditions are never perfect, so there will be times when the dog has no choice, but to jump off the board as it gets to shore. In those cases, you will want to have helpers that can wrangle your dog. But, remember you need to expose your dog to what may happen at the beach BEFORE you get there. Such as people grabbing at their life jacket handle, picking them up awkwardly, running after them (you should never run after a dog as they will just continue running), and a host of other things that happen in the chaos of the surf.
The best thing to do is to teach your dog to look for YOU when he gets to the beach. This way he’s not running off, but scanning the crowd looking for you. You can call out his name, and he should run to you as soon as he sees you. Again, every dog is different, and every situation is different, so I’m not saying this will work in every situation. The key is training according to your personal circumstances with an emphasis on TRAINING!
My dog used to stand in the back of the board, but now he’s walking to the front,
why is that?
If this is happening after your dog surfed in rough conditions, it may be that he lost his confidence. Remember the adage “fight or flight”? Well, the dog is looking for a way to escape the board after a not so good experience in rough water.
Your dog may not want to surf in big waves, strong currents or bad conditions. That’s ok. Just stay in smaller waves when you surf. Always check the conditions before you set out, and know the beach you’ll be surfing. If it’s a beach that you don’t think your dog will like, don’t surf it. There’s no reason to turn a fun activity into something that causes your dog undue stress.
After your dog has a not so good experience, you may need to go back to the basics to help build his confidence again. If you’ve gone into rough water too soon, without building a foundation, your dog may never want to surf again. It’s up to you to be extremely honest with yourself and listen to what your dog is telling you. Surfing may not be their thing. Please accept that, and don’t make your dog surf because YOU want to. Do something your dog enjoys instead.
If you have additional information to add to this blog, please leave a comment. And, if you need other surf dog tips for a training problem you're having, leave a comment too, so we can address it in a future blog post.
Judy Fridono was a certified professional dog trainer who went on to get a degree in service dog training. She is the founder of Puppy Prodigies, a 501(c)3 non profit organization that uses relationship based training. This innovative program helps dogs achieve their full potential.