I've been an avid dog handler and lover of paddleboarding for the greater part of my life. My passions grew from a time around the age of 6 when my mother began to enter dog shows with her lanky Greyhound. On my 11th birthday, after years of begging and crying, I was finally allowed to have my own dog and what a feeling it was! My little sausage dog Chorizo and I had a blast on an old surfboard and paddle exploring the estuaries about our neighborhood.
Fast forward 3 decades and I have established myself as a professional within the dog handling and training industry. My passion for these amazing beings is yet to burn out, I doubt it ever will! An interesting component of my job that I have come across often when training dogs is their different reactions when they come across water. Some absolutely adore the water… a steak wouldn’t tempt them away from their play! While others are dead opposite and fearful. Trying to encourage a dog into the water is a delicate process and one not to be taken lightly, for whatever the reason.
In June 2021, I was hired to assist a young family with some issues they had been having with their friendly pooch (Ted) and his maniac fear of water. The fear that Ted had for the water was a big problem as the family lived on an island not very far off the coast of Alaska. Taking a daily ferry to reach the mainland to see family, friends and to work is a normal task for them all however, it was something that had become increasingly problematic due to Ted's fear of the water. Imagine a stressed dog howling, yelping and crying on a medium sized vessel with 2 children, not ideal.
Upon meeting Ted and his concerned family I soon discovered that Ted proved to be a “challenge-dog” , he wouldn't respond to verbal commands or encouragement full stop, however he did have a fascination with inflatable toys. This sparked the lightbulb in my brain. I still liked paddleboarding after all these years, but I had never considered incorporating them into my training classes. I started to explore this strategy to improve upon a dog's emotional behavior when it comes to his/her relationship with the water particularly, through the utilization of paddleboards. As recommended by a friend, I purchased a budget friendly and apparent study board from brand WOWSEA called the Trophy T1 with the intention of using it as a device of encouragement for Ted.
Training session number one with the new Trophy T1 in hand proved to be interesting. We were on the island and down by the beach getting ready to begin our training session. The day was gorgeous and Ted's family was enjoying the sun on their picnic blanket while they watched Ted and I work. It was fairly obvious that Ted was definitely not going to see the day as beautiful and he certainly wasn't planning to go anywhere near the water. The fear in his eyes was apparent as I gently began to lead him onto the beach. However Ted needed no encouragement to go near the paddleboard and as I inflated it, with the included easy-to-use pump. He yelped with delight and leapt onto the board and off again, he even tried to chew it! (naughty). I had been slightly nervous to see whether the board would be resistant to his claws, and now his teeth, but there was no problem at all! A pleasant surprise. After placing the board half in and half out of the water, I tried for about 1 hour to coax him into climbing aboard, which he eventually did! When I placed a treat in the board's center. But as soon as I began to nudge the board further into the water, he scrambled off and ran back to his family's comfortable picnic blanket. The Trophy paddleboard had proved itself as a quality purchase nonetheless! But would it be a successful tool to help Ted overcome his fear?
Two days later I returned to the island to try again. Same beach and board however this time I asked Ted's family to stay back behind the trees and out of sight. I had questioned if their presence had encouraged him to misbehave. Leading Ted away from his family, he glanced back nervously but soon forgot about them. I inflated the Trophy (which I must say is easy once again) and we headed down to the water together, I placed the board half in and half out of the water, released Ted from the leash and began. Today proved to be no different to the last with the exception of Ted briefly visiting the side of the board which was in the water. Well, it was step 2.
Three sessions later the day finally arrived, Ted stood on the Trophy for a full 10 seconds, on open water! That was before panicking and abandoning ship in a messy manner. From here, I encouraged the family to take him down to the water daily with the Trophy and practice paddling together. A month later I returned to view his progress, I hoped his family had followed my instructions as little by little had been proving to be the way to go. I arrived and unloaded my second paddleboard from the car (I had purchased another Trophy as I had loved the first and the family had borrowed my first one). Trophy in hand I strolled through the trees to the water's edge And SURPRISE! Ted was on the board with one of his owners and wow, he was actually enjoying it!
Good things take time. It took nearly 2 months for Ted to overcome his fear of the water and I will happily endorse the quality paddleboard, the WOWSEA Trophy T1, and the role it played. I now use the boards that I have with dogs (and myself) for fun, adventure and training in the form of encouragement for those dogs who are afraid of the water and as a big reward for those who love it. What a sight it was to see little Ted aboard the Trophy. His family now take him out paddle boarding daily most summers and the sight of fear being overcome brings me great joy. Progression at its best!