Each of my three dogs has his own backpack.On walks, hikes, or camping trips, each dog can carry his own snacks, water, and bags to pick up after him. When I break out the packs my dogs crowd me, pushing to see who gets to wear a pack first. They don't think of the pack as work but instead equate a pack with fun; going somewhere new and an adventure.
Evaluate your DogNot every dog is a suitable candidate for carrying a pack, especially a loaded one, so before you go shopping for a back pack or begin putting any weight on your dog, take an honest look at him. Medium to large breed dogs under a year and a half of age can wear an empty pack to get used to it but shouldn't carry any weight as it can stress a growing body and potentially cause injuries. Giant breed dogs mature even later than smaller dogs and shouldn't carry any weight until at least two years of age. If your older dog has some arthritis or other joint issues, or if he has other health problems, don't ask him to carry any weight. Overweight dogs or those who have been living a sedentary lifestyle need to get back in shape first. In addition, breed or body type difference can affect a dog's ability to wear a backpack. Toy breed and other tiny dogs shouldn't carry any weight as it could hurt them. It's difficult to fit a pack on dogs with extremely short legs; such as Shih Tzus and Dachshunds, while dogs with a long back (Basset Hounds, Corgis, and Dachshunds) shouldn't carry any weight at all. Dogs with short muzzles could potentially have breathing difficulties (Boxers, Bulldogs, and Pugs). If you have any questions as to whether your dog should be able to wear a pack and carry some weight, talk to your veterinarian.
Obedience Training is NeededBefore starting with backpack training, refresh your dog's obedience training. It's important that your dog know and respond to the basic obedience exercises, especially walk on a leash nicely, sit, down, stay, and come so that you can communicate with him while he's carrying his pack. This is even more important should your dog be off leash.
Choose the Right PackThere are many packs commercially available. Right now, my dogs all wear the Ruffwear Approach Pack. I like the way the pack fits my dogs (two Australian Shepherds and one English Shepherd) and it's comfortable for them to wear for hours at a time. I also appreciate the bright colors, particularly the red and orange, so my dogs are easily seen when we're in the woods and they won't be confused with wildlife. When you choose a pack for your dog, look for a pack with wide straps that won't cut into your dog or rub him raw. Padded straps help, too, as well as padding under strap connections. Although you can always buy fleece padding to add to the straps, it tends to work better if padding is a part of the original design. The pack shouldn't wiggle or shift on your dog. If it does, it will be difficult for your dog to balance and carry and he'll eventually try to rub the pack off on the nearest tree. The pack should ride closer to your dog's shoulders with less weight on the middle of his back and none on his hips. If there is a camping or hiking store nearby, you can try a few different packs on your dog to find the right pack and fit. If this isn't possible, call and talk to a service representative at one of the pack makers, such as Ruffwear or Mountainsmith, and have your dog and a tape measure close at hand. The service rep can talk you through the process of choosing the right pack.
Introducing the PackIntroducing the pack is easy. Have a pocketful of treats your dog likes in one hand and the pack in the other. Fiddle with the pack, touching your dog with it, having him step on it or over it, and feed him treats as you praise him for his boldness. Then place the pack on his back (without fastening any straps) and give him a treat and praise. After a couple of training sessions like this, if your dog is happy to see the pack and associates it with a good time, then put the pack on him and fit the straps so they are snug and hold the pack in place without being tight. Praise your dog and give him a few treats. Take it off and make a big fuss over him, "Good dog! Yeah, you're awesome!" The next training session, put the pack on him and then ask him to move around. Have him walk, sit, turn left and right, and even do a few tricks. Watch him to see if any of his movements are inhibited by the pack. See if any straps are too loose or too tight and make adjustments. When it fits well and your dog is moving freely, take the pack off and mark the straps so you know where the best fit is.