If you’ve at all been on Instagram lately, you’ve probably seen oh-so-adorable dogs wearing oh-so-adorable backpacks with big silly grins on their faces. And you want to join in on that party. Maybe for cuteness, maybe for utility, or maybe just to slow down your non-stop pup!
There are more than just these reasons for your dog to wear a backpack though.
Why train your dog to wear a backpack?
If you have a dog with a lot of energy, the extra weight can tire them out on your walk/hike/mountain climb.
Going on a run? You can ask nicely to use your dog’s backpack to carry things – like your keys, phone, and energy foods. You can even bring along some treats for them.
Now that you’ve found your dog the perfect backpack, it’s time to
Introduce your dog to their backpack
Before you start training, make sure your dog is fully grown. Then you can size the bag properly and won’t risk damaging growing puppy bones. Also make sure your dog isn’t too old – you don’t want to aggravate old dog conditions like arthritis.
Next, introduce your dog to the (empty) backpack. Place it on the floor and let them come up and sniff it. If they appear neutral (not shying away from it), give them a treat for it. If your dog isn’t into treats, you can verbally praise him (‘Good boy!’) and give him a pat.
Once he is okay with this, put the pack on slowly. One strap and one paw at a time. Pay attention to how your dog takes this. Is he scared of it going over his head? Go back a step.
If he is okay with this, reward him for having the backpack on (but not fastened).
Next, adjust the straps to get a good fit. If he appears neutral, reward him. You want the straps tight enough so the bag doesn’t slide around, but loose enough so it doesn’t chafe. The backpack should be sitting evenly on your dog.
Let him walk around the house with it and get used to wearing it.
After a bit of this, take them for a walk.
Do a few walks with an empty pack. Before long, your dog will know that the pack = walk. What you’re doing here is building a positive relationship with the pack.
When you are weighing the pack, never add more than 25% of your dog’s weight to the pack. If you have a 20 lb dog, you can only put 5 lbs of weight in their backpack, or 2.5 lbs on each side.
Gradually add more weight (evenly) to the pack over a couple weeks. Your dog will need to recalibrate their balance, so make sure you take them up and down stairs and over obstacles with the pack on.
To gradually add more weight, you can add increasing amounts of kibble or rice in a bag to each side.
Once your dog is up to carrying 25% of their body weight on your regular walks without issue, take them for a hike with their pack on. Tone the weight down to 5-10% for this.
If your dog shows signs of chafing or tiredness (slowing down, laying down on walks to rest), it’s best to take their pack off and try again with less weight. You’ll get there!
Finally, if you are ready to backpack with your dog NOW and he can’t carry that much weight, he can still be helpful with his pack by carrying bulky but not heavy items such as bowls and jackets.