As I prepare for my upcoming camping trip in November, I look forward to trying out some new hiking gear for my dog. I’m especially eager for Rio to test out his new doggie backpack from Ruffwear. Whenever I pull out the dogs’ collars, leashes, harnesses, etc – they get excited about the prospect of a new adventure. However, this will be Rio’s first big camping trip and first time wearing a backpack. Although he is extremely comfortable with a harness, I still want to slowly introduce the backpack so he has a positive association with wearing the pack.
Some dogs will immediately be fine with wearing a backpack. But before any dog goes on a hiking trip with a backpack, it’s important to first help your dog get acclimated and comfortable with the concept of having something on his back. All dogs are different and some may be apprehensive about the idea. If you already use a harness with your dog this should be easy. Either way, here are some tips to help your dog wear his backpack with confidence and ease.
1. Introduce The Backpack With Treats
Providing treats while letting your dog sniff and inspect the backpack is a good way to build trust. Put a few treats directly on the backpack. For dogs that are very wary, you may need to do this step several times. Take your time and be patient. Once your dog gets bored and loses interest in the pack move to step 2.
2. Place the Backpack On The Dog’s Back But Leave Un-Buckled
Again, have lots of treats on hand – (with my dogs, the stinkier the treat the better). Place the empty backpack on the dog but do not buckle it. Give a treat and then remove it. Keep doing this until your dog is comfortable and does not mind the pack being placed on his back.
Some backpacks go over the dog’s head. I recommend holding the pack open with one hand and then enticing your dog to stick his head through by holding treats in the other hand. If your dog is very fearful, then take this slowly – feed your dog treats through the backpack head opening. You may need to do several sessions for several days until your dog is comfortable with the backpack going over his head.
3. Click The Backpack Straps Together
Click the straps together and give the dog treats and lots of praise. Leave the backpack on for a 4 – 5 minutes, as long as your dog appears comfortable and not stressed. Gradually increase the amount of time that he wears the empty backpack.
4. Check The Fitting
Since I’ll be using a backpack from Ruffwear, I consulted with them on the proper fitting. They shared some insightful tips and commonly seen mistakes. They also provide instructional videos on proper fitting.
Common mistake: Typically a lot of people feel compelled to want the pack to ride on the dog’s mid back like a saddle. So they adjust and loosen the shoulder and neck straps all the way open and slide the pack down the back. Therefore, the handle would be centered on the back – sounds logical but is incorrect.
The correct way to fit a backpack: The pack should actually ride on the shoulders. This will help the pack ride better and stay in place.
5. Adding Weight To The Backpack
Before adding any weight take a few short hikes or strolls through the neighborhood with the pack empty. Also before adding any weight, take your dog’s age into consideration. You should not add any weight until your puppy is fully grown. Adding extra weight to a young puppy’s growing bones may increase the risk of injury. Also, not all dog breeds mature at the same rate. Smaller breeds usually mature in about 12 months. Larger breeds may take up to 2 years. Check with your vet about your specific pup’s maturity rate.
You will want to buy a scale so you can carefully determine the weight of the pack and the objects you placed in it. A fit dog may take up to 20 percent of his weight (multiply your dog’s weight by .20). Otherwise, use some common sense. An older dog or slightly overweight dog may be better with only 5 or 10 percent their weight.
Don’t add all the weight at once. Gradually add the weight, allowing your dog to build stamina and muscle.
Give your dog plenty of room and never corner your dog when attempting to place on the backpack – let him feel as if he can back away if needed. Also be aware of sharp or pointy objects that you place in the backpack. Make sure they are not poking the dog or causing any discomfort. Take it slowly – and make the backpack a fun experience for your dog.
Russ Boles was recently featured in The Honest Kitchen where you can find additional expert advice on camping and hiking with your dogs.