Backpacks for Dogs

Many people enjoy the outdoors, and what could be better than sharing that wonderful experience with your dog? Hiking is a great way to provide exercise for your dog and you can find wonderful places for some amazing canine photos. Whether you plan on just an hour, day, or over-night trek, your dog can help share the load and carry items for himself or for you in a special canine backpack. Here are some tips on how to prepare your canine hiking buddy…

Initial Preparations:

  • Dogs should be in good shape to carry a pack. Older dogs with arthritis or breathing problems should not carry packs.
  • Purchase a pack that is the right size for your dog. (Check the sizing charts on the websites) The side pockets, when full should still give ground clearance and allow your dog to fully lie down.
  • Find a pack that fits your dog where the pack is near the shoulder, not further down the back. You want the weight to be centered on the sturdy part of your dog’s frame.
  • Dog backpacks range in style and price. Some have removable packs, others are a single construction. Some contain water pouches, while others don’t. It’s up to you to decided what you want in a pack based on what you will use it for (day trips or overnight) and your budget.
  • Strap the pack on snug, but not too tight. You should only be able to fit two fingers under the straps. Check the fit while your dog is standing, sitting and lying down.

Practice First:

  • Practice with a short walk first and nothing in the pack. For more sensitive dogs, you can even just let them play in the backyard with the empty pack on. This allows your dog to get used to having something on his back. Help your dog to ignore the pack by distracting him with treats and/or toys and praise him with enthusiasm for walking and ignoring the pack.
  • Once your dog gets used to the pack, go for a short outing and a lightly filled pack. Then gradually extend the length of the walks and increase the heaviness of the load in the pack. 
  • Build up your dog’s endurance over time to reach your ultimate trail hiking goal.
  • Do not over-load your dog’s backpack!! Dogs should not carry more than 25% of their body weight. Too much weight can cause joint and bone stress.

On the Trail:

  • Pack unbreakable objects and items that don’t necessarily need to be kept dry, unless they are packed in a zip-lock or sealed containers.
  • Make sure to pack both sides equally in weight to avoid slipping to one side.
  • Pack essentials in the pack, such as a first aid kit, water bowl, treats for your dog and snacks for you. You can even have your dog carry water.
  • Watch for any rubbing or irritation to your dogs skin by the straps and reinforce and pad areas that may be uncomfortable for your dog.
  • Keep a careful eye on your dog during the hike; when something's making him uncomfortable, he may not be able to tell you about it, but if you're attentive and familiar with your dog's idiosyncrasies, you will probably notice. Be especially alert to the signs of dog health problems on the trail like heat stroke and dehydration.
  • Keep your dog under control while wearing a pack. Take the pack off if you are going to allow your dog to swim or play. Packs can snag on obstacles along trails, so keep an eye on your dog. He will not necessarily compensate his movement to accommodate the extra width of the backpack.
  • Get to know your dog’s capabilities through short and moderate day hikes. This will give you a chance to assess--and increase--his physical condition and toughen his paws, plus the opportunity to learn what sort of distractions are most likely to cause him trouble and how he'll behave when exposed to wildlife, people and other dogs.

Make walking and hiking on-leash a habit for both of you. This is a safety issue to ensure your dog doesn’t wander off or chase wildlife. If you will be giving your dog off-leash privileges, make sure that certain beahviors and cues are reliable (see Hiking with Your Dog).

Happy Hiking!!