By Judy Fridono
Leashing your dog to a surfboard is a personal choice, but it comes with RISKS! Know them before you get in the water with your dog.
With the drowning of the lifeguard in Orange County this week, and another young man in Carlsbad/Oceanside, safety has become even more paramount in keeping our dogs away from danger when they surf. The ocean can be treacherous. It doesn't take much for a rip current to grab hold with a vengeance.
As most of you know, I don't surf Ricochet myself due to some physical issues. So, why am I giving you surf dog training and safety tips? Because I'm a dog trainer, and if you're leashing your dog to the board because he/she wants to jump off, I can help with some training exercises that can be done at home to eliminate the behavior.
It is NOT safe to leash your dog to the surfboard. Some people do, and they have their reasons, so you need to evaluate your reasons to make sure the benefit outweighs the risk of injury or worse. But, it is highly recommended that you DON'T leash your dog.
When a dog is leashed to the board, they aren't able to get away from it if they wipe out. Dogs are very visual creatures and if they see a board coming toward their head, they going to swim in the other direction. But, if they're leashed to the board, they have no recourse. I once saw two dogs riding tandem, with both of them tied to the board. They were heading into the beach, but the current to them further north so they were heading right for the rocks. If someone on the beach hadn't jumped into the water to grab the board just before it would have hit, those dogs would have been injured. Even if they wanted to jump off the board, they wouldn't have been able to.
The board can also hit them, and push them under it. I've seen that happen many times. You know the dog wiped out, but you can't see them because he/she is under the board. The leash can get wrapped around their feet which could result in a broken leg if there is a wipe out. Or, if the leash gets wrapped around their neck, they could choke to death.
Some dogs jump off the board because they have to. They are way more in tune with the ocean than we humans are. They can sense currents, conditions, etc. I've seen very seasoned surf dogs telling their owners they didn't want to surf anymore due to conditions. Some owners listen, some don't.
So, first and foremost... LISTEN TO YOUR DOG! The very reason they may be jumping off the board is because the DON'T WANT TO SURF. It's ok. Don't make them. Your dog is communicating with you all the time. Just because you want to do something, doesn't mean they want to.
I also discourage dogs to "play" with their surfboard. Whether at home or at the beach. Because oftentimes the play becomes the focus instead of the surfing. Again, this would fall under the safety category as it can be dangerous if the dog is busy playing on/with the board instead of paying attention to what's going on around him/her. Same goes for surfing backwards... they can't see behind them, thus can crash into other dogs, rocks, people, etc much easier. I know people think it's cool to see a dog surfing backwards, but to be honest, most dogs who do it have confidence issues and don't want to take their eyes off their owners. When Ricochet first began surfing, that was her default position... backwards. But, after using the training tips I'm sharing with you, she knows the correct position to be in. Dogs are skilled at surfing, and surfing forward or backwards is no harder or easier for them. The main thing, is that they are aware of their surroundings and paying attention.
Other issues surf dog owners have with their dogs include walking to the front of the board, distractions, balls, birds and a myriad of other things that can happen at the beach. For most dogs, they've been going to the beach for a long time, and never had to stand on some floaty thing instead of running after their friends.
And now for the at home training tips...
A few years ago, I put together an instructional web page with corresponding videos that provide information and exercises you can do with your dog AT HOME before you take a surf dog clinic at Helen Woodward Animal Center or Surf City Surf Dog.
The exercises can be done any time and consistency is key. So stick with it, and your dog will be surfing in the exact spot on the board they need to be, without walking up, or needing to be leashed! And if they end up telling you they don't want to surf, that is perfectly fine too!
Have fun & be safe!
Click here for the nine part "teach your dog to surf" instructional series with corresponding videos
Lessons cover these topics...
Teaching your dog to "stay" on the board
What type of surfboard to use, and introducing your dog to the board
Teaching your dog to offer behaviors on the board
What about the ball, the other dogs, the birds & other distractions?
Getting your dog used to the movement on a surfboard
Getting your dog used to a life jacket
Building confidence in the water
Taking what you learned to a bay, lagoon, lake, etc
Teaching your dog the correct position on the board using a clicker
Also be sure to check out So Cal Surf Dogs for their dedicated section on training tips and safety while in the water.
Surf dog Ricochet
Ricochet speaks! A blog from a surf dog's paws'pective!
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