Further back than even recorded history, man has had man’s best friend alongside him. And this is no exaggeration, we domesticated dogs at least 30,000 years ago. In that time we’ve had hunting dogs, guard dogs, herding dogs, assistance and guide dogs, sniffer dogs, and of course, pet dogs. Though doggy careers have been diverse, there’s been an upsurge lately in people getting their dogs involved in hobbies like surfing! As fun as these activities seem, we have to play Devil’s advocate and ask ‘should we really be teaching dogs to surf?’
Wait, what? Surfing dogs??
Okay, let’s take a step back. There was a story a few months back about a police officer called Kirsty and her therapy dog Scooter. Kirsty was struggling with PTSD from her time on the force and Scooter helped calm her anxiety and offer comfort during the day. A keen surfer, she decided to combine her love for Scooter with surfing and started to train Scooter to surf. Starting in the back garden, then in doggy swimming pools, and finally the sea itself.
Scooter has become quite the surfer dude. Kirsty now wants to work with a charity called One Wave Is All It Takes to set up surfing lessons for other emergency service workers suffering with mental health. Quite the heart-warming story, and Scooter on his surfboard really is adorable.
In the story, Kirsty mentions that she taught Scooter to surf using a course from a world famous surfing therapy dog, Ricochet. According to their website, Ricochet has surfed with hundreds of people needing therapy. So it seems there’s definitely a need for surfing dogs. In fact, doggy surfing has been seen as early as 1920 in the USA and competitions can now be found worldwide. That technically makes doggy surfing older than the Frisbee!
What other things are people doing with their dogs?
You name it, people have tried it with their dogs. A quick search online reveals articles discussing doggy hiking, sailing, rock climbing, swimming, flying in small planes (hopefully not at the controls!), skateboarding, snowboarding, base jumping and skydiving. Oh, and surfing of course. If there’s a hobby out there, you can bet someone has involved their dog in it somehow.
What are the upsides to doggy surfing and other activities?
Many of these more extreme activities are exercise intensive, which means both you and your dog are going to benefit. Exercise helps keep dogs slim and the correct weight, keeps their joints and bones healthier, reduces the risk of diseases like diabetes and cancer, and generally increases their longevity. Slim dogs also tend to visit the vets less, which keeps costs down as well.
We often forget the mental benefits of exercise too. But they are real and extend to our dogs as well. Being outdoors, getting our hearts pumping and doing some exercise helps release mood-boosting chemicals in the brain which keeps us happier. Exercise in humans is known to reduce stress and anxiety as well, so it may do something similar in dogs. Being mentally active is important for all dogs, but in older dogs especially it can help prevent doggy dementia. And like with Scooter, people with therapy dogs may find comfort having their pet with them at all times, even when doing extreme sports.
Dogs are social creatures and most love to meet new people and new doggy friends. Socialisation has been difficult because of the pandemic so taking up a sport with your dog is a great way for them to make friends. Socialisation is most important as a puppy, so starting young can help create a healthy, happy, well-rounded dog. Of course, humans are social creatures too, so sport provides a great chance for you to chat to other owners of extreme sporting dogs!
Like in the specific examples of Scooter and Ricochet, dogs doing extreme activities can be used as therapy dogs. Giving confidence and reducing anxiety in people trying new things. Perhaps your dog’s new-found sport could help others as well?
Finally, and perhaps the best reason to do extreme activities together, is that it brings you and your pet closer together. Dogs are family members, so interacting shows that you care and want to be there for them. Involving them in your favourite pastimes is a great way to interact in a new way and strengthen your bond.
Are there any downsides or considerations?
If you are considering introducing your dog to a sport, consider whether it is fair on your dog to do it.
Will they enjoy it?
Dogs can suffer stress and fear while we’re having a great time. So above all, make sure they actually do enjoy it, and they’re not just there because you do.
Can it be made safe and dog-friendly?
Will they gain something from it? Will it require a lot of financial or time input? Is the particular activity suited to your dog or their breed? Will having your dog with you make the activity more dangerous? Basically, don’t jump straight into training before having a think first. Your vet can be of great help here, as they can advise if your dog is healthy enough for a particular sport and if there is anything you could do to make it easier.
With danger comes risk, and there is a very real risk your dog may get sick, injured or even die.
Always consider this and put in as many safety precautions as you can. If water is involved, ensure your dog can swim. If there is heat, make sure to prevent heatstroke. If there it’s in a cold environment, prevent hypothermia. Some of these precautions require training or specialised equipment specific to the activity.
While doing the activity, always keep a close eye on your dog. Are they hot or cold? Tired? Hungry?
Remember that dogs are different to humans. So while you could be feeling fine while, your dog may be suffering. Always let them set the pace or intensity of the activity and don’t overwork them. It is important to know how your dog acts normally so you know when something is amiss.
Always make sure someone knows where you and your dog are and what you are doing. We recommend organising your day so your designated person knows if you have been gone too long. If you can, keep a mobile with you at all times, in case you need to call for help. If you are away from home, make sure you know where the local animal hospital is and what its opening hours are – keep their number handy.
Accidents unfortunately do occur, so you should always prepare for these.
A first aid kit is essential, for you and your dog; human first aid kits contain a lot of equipment useful for doggy injuries as well though never give human drugs to dogs unless instructed by a vet. Be sure to include a lead, harness and Elizabethan collar (cone of shame) as well, as dogs can be aggressive or uncontrollable when in pain. Knowing basic first aid is important – some vets may even offer doggy first aid classes. Should you become injured, you will still have to be responsible for your dog, so consider this too.
We recommend that all dogs should have insurance in case of an accident, but those doing extreme sports especially so. If injury is more likely, having the fall-back of insurance to help pay for emergency care could mean the difference between life and death. Bear in mind that your insurance premium may cost more if your dog is involved in dangerous activities – and if you don’t tell them, your insurance may be invalid.
What’s the verdict?
When done properly, involving your dog in sports can be a great way to bond, improve you and your dog’s mental and physical health, and socialise. Your dog may even be able to help others, like Scooter and Ricochet. But activities like this do carry risk, so we emphasise to prepare well in advance and ensure the risks are mitigated and your dog is safe.
Remember that your dog will not know an activity is dangerous, so the onus is all on you to make sure they are safe. But if you follow our advice and pre-plan, go for it! The world certainly needs more videos of surfing dogs right now!