Backpacking with your Dog

Dogs of all shapes and sizes can enjoy backpacking but there are a few issues to consider before getting started:

  • Choosing the right pack for your dog
  • Conditioning yourself and your dog for exercise

Choosing the Right Pack for Your Dog

Dogs can carry a fair amount of weight on their backs but it is important to place the weight in the correct position — dogs should carry the weight over the withers area and not in the middle of the back. This is especially important for long-backed dogs. The pack should be specifically designed for the dog’s size, made from light-weight, water-proof material, with adjustable straps and quick-release buckles for ease of getting on and off.

If the dog’s pack is loaded, and he is doing any kind of climbing, uphill walking, or pulling, be sure to have a non-restrictive harness on the pack. This ensures that the dog’s shoulder movement is not impeded by any kind of horizontal strap across the front. A non-restrictive pack has a harness hook-up that goes over the dog’s head like a sledding harness, comes to a “V” at the hyoid bone, and continues down between the dog’s front legs. This allows the pulling pressure to go on the middle of the dogs chest, and not on the front legs, which would restrict his movement.

Padding on the pack depends on the dog’s coat, and the weight and amount of pulling that he will do. Short-coated breeds benefit more from a padded harness if there is a lot of rubbing of the pack.

The pack should also be a high-visibility colour — orange, yellow or red — especially when trekking through the forests. It not only helps you spot your dog from a distance, but allows others to see him as well.

Conditioning Yourself and Your Dog

Like any other physical activity, it is important to prepare yourself and your dog for the new strain on the muscles which may not have been used regularly. Start out slowly, walking short distances the first day. Slowly build on the distance you will cover on your hikes. Remember to stretch your muscles, and your dog’s too, before exercising. When the dog starts to carry his pack, start empty and gradually increase the weight on each trip.

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