Monday, July 26, 2010
By Julia Williams
A few months ago I told you about a wonderful dog named Ricochet who not only surfs, but uses her extraordinary ability to “hang twenty” as a way to raise money for charity. Before I wrote that article, I didn’t even know dogs could surf. As it turns out, Ricochet might be the most famous surfing dog in the world but there are many other canines who also love to shred the waves. CANIDAE staffer Diane Matsuura’s young Lab Hailey, pictured here, is one of them. She recently competed in the Loews Coronado Resort 5th Annual Surf Dog Competition in Imperial Beach, California with 65 other four-legged surfers!
Surfing with a dog sounds like a lot of fun and makes me wish I had a canine companion. I’m positive my cats would not enjoy surfing. I did find a video of a surfing cat in Peru whose owner claims she loves being out on the surfboard. However, to me (and many others) it looks more like a terrified cat hanging on for dear life lest she fall off into the ocean. Yes, some cats actually do like water, but I’d bet the farm that none would enjoy surfing in the ocean. Most dogs love water and swimming though, and this guy obviously adopted the wrong pet.
Never mind. I’ll get down from my soap box now and get on with giving you some tips for teaching your dog to surf. I won’t provide a full-on canine surfing lesson because that’s better left to the pros, like Surf Dog Ricochet. She’s written an excellent beginner’s guide to doggie surfing with tons of helpful information, which you can read here. Surf Dog Ricochet’s website also has links to qualified instructors, surf dog clinics and upcoming competitions.
You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to teach your dog to surf. You just need a surfboard, a doggie life vest, and a pool. Most people recommend a foam surfboard for dogs because it’s easier for them to grip. Small dogs should use a 6-foot board while larger breeds can handle 7 or 8-feet boards. Look for a dog’s life jacket with a handle on top, which will help you lift your pooch out of the water or back onto the board after the inevitable wipeout. If you don’t have access to a full-size pool, a small portable backyard pool will suffice, and small breeds can even use a kiddie pool.
Like any other canine sport, teaching a dog to surf requires time, patience and practice. The pre-water part of your surf dog training can be done indoors or out – basically any place you can set the board down. You want your dog to do three things: 1) form positive associations with the surfboard; 2) learn to get on the board themselves and be in the correct position, and 3) work on balance techniques.
For positive associations, some surf dog trainers feed the dog and give them belly rubs while on the board. You shouldn’t ever force your dog to get onto the board. But if and when they do, give them lots of praise and dog treats while they are still on the board. You want to reinforce the behavior of being ON the surfboard instead of getting off. The next step is to practice a “stay” command. Teach them to remain on the board until you give them a release command, so that once they’re in the water, they won’t try to jump off and swim back to you.
If your dog has never worn a life jacket, you should practice putting it on them and letting them wear it around the house. Once they’re comfortable with it, have them wear it for their surfing lessons. The last pre-water step is teaching your dog to balance on an unsteady board. Use pillows or cushions underneath the board to make it wobbly. When they master the dry land surf lessons, you can move on to a pool. Here, they learn to jump onto the board themselves, and you can push them around so they learn to balance on the board while it’s moving.
Once they’re comfortable being on the board in the pool, take your surfing lesson to a lake or bay where the water is calm. A perfect place for this step is somewhere that allows boating, which will create very small “practice waves” your dog can master before graduating to the ocean. Even if you don’t live near the ocean, lakes can still be a great way for your dog to have fun on a surfboard.
These tips are not intended to be a comprehensive guide to dog surfing. For that, please visit Surf Dog Ricochet's website or enroll in a dog surfing school. And speaking of Ricochet, I have some exciting news to share with you about “Rip Curl Ricki” and CANIDAE in a day or two – stay tuned!
Read more articles by Julia Williams