Surf's Up! 5 Tips for Teaching Your Pooch to Hang 20
"I think what people don't understand is how much work this takes," says Alyssa Neubarth, a senior instructor at Surf Diva, who also works as an animal trainer at Sea World. "People have this misconception that all you need to do is put the dog on a surfboard and stick them in the waves. Not all dogs are able to do this. But if they have an affinity for the water, they generally pick it fairly quickly."
If you've been pondering hitting the waves with your pooch, Neubarth offers five tips for teaching a canine to cowabunga (Note: Bring along some Cheez Whiz!):
* Never force a dog to surf if they show signs of being nervous. "Learning how to read those telltale signs is crucial. Part of what I'm doing is training the owner," says Neubarth. "It's this relationship the owner has with their dog that's important. That's a huge part of teaching your dog to surf. The dog needs to be able to sit, stay and come when they're called."
* Make sure the dog is comfortable in the water. "Take him to a dog beach and get him used to the waves and the taste of salt water," she says. "Some dogs hate the taste of salt water as much as humans do. Start with very small waves. Let them play in them, then move up to bigger ones." All Surf Diva dogs wear life vests, so it's also important to make sure the pooch is comfortable in a vest – so try it on several times before beach day.
* Develop a target spot. "This helps so when they get on the board, they know where to stand. One way you can do this is to put a big X on your floor with tape. Every time you say 'Target,' he runs over and sits on the spot, then you give him a treat," she explains. "Next, I'll put that same X on a surfboard and place it on the grass. Then I walk over to the board and say, 'Target.' "
* Come armed with friends and doggie treats. "If the dog is comfortable in the water, you can get them to go to the target spot. It's great if you can get two or three people to hold the board," she says. "Start with small waves, then move into knee-deep water. Hopefully, you can have one person go out with the dog and another waiting for him on the beach to give him a treat after the ride. Whenever you ask the dog to do something, give him a treat Positive reinforcement really helps." The best treat for a wet day at the beach? Cheez Whiz!
* Remember that fun is the main objective. "If he catches one wave and doesn't want to go back out, the session is over," Neubarth says. "This needs to be something that's fun for the dog. I think that's why this sport is beginning to catch on. This is something the dog and its owner can do together."