One of a Kind - Scooter the Surf Therapy Dog

One of a Kind - Scooter the Surf Therapy Dog

A little extra support can go a long way when it comes to stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new.

The only surf therapy dog in the UK, Scooter is one of a kind. His relaxed temperament and love of wave riding mean he’s a huge hit when helping people to feel safe in the ocean.

We were excited to meet (and pet) Scooter when he visited dryrobe® HQ with his trainer, and mental health advocate, Kirstie Martin. We discuss all things Scooter, from why his journey as a Surf Therapy Dog started to how the presence of this wonderful, blue-haired canine helps participants during surf therapy sessions and why raising mental health awareness is important to both Kirstie and Scooter.

Scooter the Surf Therapy sat by a van wearing a Camo Green dryrobe® Dog

Scooter started life as a rescue dog from the streets of Portugal. After spending a few years as a registered Therapy Dog, he became a Surf Therapy Dog. Why did you want to introduce him to Surf Therapy and which of his attributes did you think would be a great fit as a Surf Therapy Dog?
Ever since Scooter arrived from Portugal he has been the most chilled out dog I’ve ever met. He is also very intuitive and seems to know when people are feeling down or anxious. This is why he makes a great therapy dog.

I was on Instagram one day and a post about a dog called Ricochet popped up. She is one of the original Surf Therapy Dogs and lives with her Mum in Southern California. It turns out there are quite a few Surf Therapy Dogs in the USA.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, a therapy dog that surfed with people to make them feel better and experience the stoke of surfing at the same time. I had a lightbulb moment and immediately thought that I could possibly combine my love of surfing with Scooter’s skills as a therapy dog.

I tried to research how to become a Surf Therapy Dog and discovered that there aren’t any in the UK so I reached out to Ricochet’s mum and asked her advice. She was very kind and gave me lots of advice and sent me the training program she devised for Ricochet.

Scooter and a child in a wheelchair on the beach

Scooter is the only Surf Therapy Dog in the UK! He must be very busy! What does his typical schedule like?
Scooter has a number of jobs so I try to make sure he is not too busy. He is my full-time Assistance Dog, he visits patients and staff at our local hospital stroke unit and helps local school kids with their reading.

Scooter volunteers with a local Salt Water Therapy group called One Wave Bracklesham Bay, a branch of the global Surf Therapy charity One Wave Is All It Takes, and The Wave Project.

One Wave is for adults and Scooter has worked with Army Veterans and Police Officers coping with PTSD, people struggling with depression, anxiety, and menopause, and the bereaved, and lonely. Local council Social Prescribers refer people to us as an alternative type of therapy.

The Wave Project is probably more well known and is a national charity, that dryrobe supports, helping children and young people who are struggling with their mental health, bullying, bereavement, or social isolation.

One Wave Bracklesham Bay raised money to get an Adaptive Surfboard which we took delivery of a couple of months ago thanks to Cerebra a national brain condition charity for children. This means that from next spring Scooter can take physically disabled children for rides on his new board. This means EVERYONE can experience the thrill of surfing and the benefits of surf therapy.

Scooter is busier during the warmer months. I try to make sure he is not exposed to too much cold water, although his balancing abilities are exceptional and he rarely falls in. Scooter gets lots of exercise, he loves racing around his favourite beach at West Wittering. He is a very sociable dog and loves to play chase with other dogs he meets.

Scooter stood on a surfboard in the sea with a kid and instructors from the Wave Project

As the first UK Surf Therapy Dog, his training was based on Surf Therapy Dog training from the US. What was the training process like and how long did it take?
It took 8 months to train Scooter to be a Surf Therapy Dog. I wanted to make sure he was happy and comfortable and I’d never make him do something he didn’t want to do.

The first task was to get him interested and used to being on a surfboard. I got a 12’ paddle board and he was given a 7’ foamie surfboard by a local surf shop called Wittering Surf. I took the fins off and just placed them in the garden.

I encouraged him onto the boards with treats and cuddles, I fed him his dinner on the boards and he was soon excited to see the boards when I got them out. He would jump straight up onto them.

We then progressed by adding cushions and Bosu balls under the boards to make them unstable. I used doggy fitness equipment like FitPAWS balance bones, peanuts, and donuts to make sure his muscles and bones were in good shape to cope with the movements.

We then progressed to water. I approached the local doggy swimming pool Therapaws. The owner thought I was crazy at first but agreed to let me use her pool.

Scooter jumped straight onto the board as soon as I put it in the pool. He much prefers to be on the board than in the water. We would push him around on the board, from one end of the pool to the other, then rock it and tip it and try to make him fall in. He had a few swimming lessons to make sure he can swim if he needs to. I then started to lay on the back of the boards and paddle them around.

After a few months, we progressed to the sea on very flat calm days and did a lot of paddle boarding together. Eventually, we went out in white water waves and then very small green waves.

At every stage, I made sure Scooter was happy and confident before we progressed. I absolutely hate it when I see people just bung their dogs on the end of their paddle boards at the beach with no preparation and wonder why their dog is shaking or trying to jump off.

Scooter stood on a surfboard with a kid behind him

How is Scooter received in his sessions and why does his presence, cuddles, and rides on his quiver of boards help improve the Surf Therapy sessions even more?
Scooter has this amazing ability to make people smile, put them at ease, and empathise. He is a great icebreaker and conversation starter.

Since we started doing One Wave, it's been amazing to see people, like middle-aged women, come out of their shells and end up going off to buy surfboards, paddle boards, and wetsuits after they have had some sessions with us. They get hooked on the stoke and the benefits of being in the ocean. Scooter encourages them to open up and talk about their problems in the group or in a one-to-one setting and to try something new.

With The Wave Project, the surfers attend a 6 week course of surf therapy and are placed with surf mentors to encourage and support them. This summer we were placed with a young lad called Ander who suffers with severe anxiety.

The first week he wouldn’t even come, the second week he came but wouldn’t get out of the car - Scooter went over to meet him and Ander got out and took Scooter for a walk on the beach. He was wearing headphones to block out the world. Eventually, he started to talk to me, he asked lots of questions about Scooter and about surfing. He agreed to come back next week. He did and Scooter managed to encourage him to get changed and get in the water on Scooter’s big board.

By the end of the course, Ander was surfing on his own and had begged his mum to buy him his own wetsuit. He now attends the Brighton Surf Club. Ander’s mum was blown away at the change in her son.

I think the fact that Scooter can’t answer back or judge you is why he works so well with children and young people. They also love the way he looks and that he is a bit different.

Scooter the Surf Therapy Dog stood at the front of a surfboard on a wave with a kid lying behind him

Are there any specific parts of the surf therapy sessions that Scooter particularly enjoys?
Scooter loves sitting on people’s laps when they first get on a board with him if they are really anxious or scared. He seems to know how they are feeling and settles down and cuddles into them. Once they are more confident he moves to the front of the board and stands up looking all proud.

I think he also likes the feeling of the wind whistling through his Mohawk and the thrill of catching a wave.

He loves getting bits of “chicken” or “squeeze cheese” as a treat for doing a good job too.

Scooter is responsible for the Surf Therapy sessions Fluro Fridays and Super Salty Saturdays based in Bracklesham Bay. Why is it important to raise awareness of Mental Health through these sessions that use Surf Therapy?
Raising awareness of Mental Health, good and bad, is our mission in life. It is often not thought of as important, especially by certain sections of society who have been brought up to believe in “stiff upper lips” or that mental ill health is a sign of weakness. I was in this category of people until I became ill myself in 2020 and was subsequently diagnosed with Complex PTSD.

I was a tough police officer with 25 years of service. I used to roll my eyes at any mention of mental health. I thought PTSD was only something soldiers got when they had been blown up in a war. One day at work someone said something to me and I completely lost the plot. Turned out my cup had been gradually filling up to the top and that day it began to overflow. After 2 years of therapy, lots of research, and completing several courses, I want as many people as possible to know it's ok not to be ok and that talking about mental health, your problems and sharing experiences are just as vital to your wellbeing as looking after your physical health.

I also want to educate as many children and young people to try and prevent them from developing mental ill health in the future and to recognise the signs and symptoms in others early. Scientists are continually proving that water is good for your mental and physical health, add a dog into the mix then I think you definitely have a winning formula.

When you guys visited dryrobe® HQ, you mentioned Scooter is partial to a chicken nugget or two! Outside of surf therapy (and chicken nuggets), what else does Scooter love?
Scooter does indeed love a well-known brand of Chicken Nugget. As he was a former street dog from Portugal he loves anything to do with food. He spends hours with his empty dog food can, licking every last morsel out of it.

He loves cuddles, ear scratches, and playing chase with other dogs on the beach.

He does however have one vice, CATS. He loves to chase them if he gets the chance. It has got him into a few scrapes and I lost him once for over 2 hours which was terrifying. He was found with his head stuck through a cat flap where he had chased one home. This is why he now wears a tracker on his collar. He is so precious I don’t ever want to lose him again.

His other huge love is sunbathing. I think that’s the only thing he misses from his time on the Algarve. He spends ages laying in the sun, he gets so hot he is panting and eventually moves to the shade for a few minutes but then he is back again basking in the heat. I have to put sun cream on his nose. He has a hammock that was specially made for him as a thank you for the work he does in the community.

Scooter and Kirstie stood on a pebbled beach wearing dryrobes

Scooter has a very distinct look with his blue Mohican hairstyle! What was the inspiration behind his look?
Scooter’s Mohawk is a bit controversial. 95% of people love it, and the other 5% hate it and let me know about it! His Mohawk is done professionally by his groomer who did a special course. The products used are specially made dog hair dye. It doesn’t hurt Scooter at all and he gets his roots done every 3 months! The main purpose of the Mohawk is to make people smile and to start conversations.

When people ask me about it, I can explain that he is a therapy dog, what work he does, signpost people, and tell people about rescue dogs. We do get stopped for photos quite a bit so I had some stickers made up which have his social media details on there so people can go and find out more about what we do and follow Scooter’s adventures.

Scooter has a children’s book coming out in time for Christmas called “Scooter the Surfing Dog Finds His Forever Home”, tell us more about it!
It's for children aged between 3- 8 and tells the story of how Scooter came to live with me after being a street dog in Portugal, how it's ok to be different, it’s ok not to be ok inside, finding your best friend and how a joint love of surfing can make everything feel better.

Part of the proceeds will go to the rescue charity that saved Scooter’s life and One Wave Bracklesham Bay. Scooter will be emBARKing on a book tour to read his story to local kids. Any enquiries and pre-orders can be made via Scooter’s website.

Scooter sat on a wall with Kirstie next to a surfboard looking at the beach

What would you say to people who are considering surf therapy training for their dog?
The UK needs more Surf Therapy Dogs for sure so I’d say look into it. Do your research, and contact me for advice if you want to. It's not a quick thing to do and you MUST go at your dog’s pace, not yours.

I’d contact your local Wave Project to see if they would allow you and your dog to take part.

You can start up your own One Wave group via One Wave Is All It Takes, check out their website.

The main thing is not all dogs would enjoy it, maybe start out by seeing if your dog would make a good regular therapy dog. They need to have the right temperament. Look at Pets As Therapy UK as a starting point.

Dogs need to be very patient, calm, and intelligent. It is very rewarding though, seeing the change in people’s lives and knowing that you have played a small part in it is amazing.

Follow Scooter’s adventures

Instagram: @scooter_surf_therapy_dog


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