How to backpack with a dog in-depth guide
Seeking information on how to backpack with a dog? Whether you are going on a short day-trip hike or making an overnight trail-hiking trip of it, taking your dog backpacking not only provides companionship but they can also be a helpful tool on your backpacking excursion.
Exploring the great outdoors will undoubtedly strengthen your relationship with your furry best friend. Another perk, you will save those expensive boarding fees!
Many dogs develop bad habits with urban living, such as excessive chewing, barking, digging, and other destructive behaviors linked to boredom. Taking your dog hiking/backpacking will stimulate them and give them the adequate exercise needed to curb these destructive habits.
First Aid items for dogs
Put your dog to work!
Bringing your dog on your backpacking trip will allow you to bring items you may not have been able to bring without them such as camera equipment or binoculars, or decrease the weight in your own pack.
As a bonus, dogs cause less damage to the wilderness than other animals as they eat only the food they carry and their hiking does not contribute erosion on the trail. Their senses are way better than ours so they will hear and smell things that we would have missed and alert us to their presence.
How Much Weight Can Dogs Carry?
As a rule of thumb, most “packing “ breeds can carry 30% of their body weight if they are in good health and physical condition. If you are just starting to work with your dog, start with lower weight and slowly transition up to the 30%.
If you are planning to just take shorter hikes or walks, then a smaller breed will do just fine for carrying small items such as water, snacks, and a camera or phone.
If you plan to go on long trips through rough terrain, you will want a larger breed dog such as a rottweiler or Alaskan Malamute, with the strength and stamina to handle the longer hikes and carry the weight of a large pack.
Most working breeds or herding breeds will be able packers and up for the trip.
Warmer Climates Vs. Cooler Climates
While any breed can be great to take with you hiking, not every breed can handle the weight of backpacking.
Breeds with shorter coats will do better in areas with warmer climates, while dogs with longer hair will do better in colder climates so consider where you live and when you plan to be backpacking when selecting a breed if you are shopping currently for a dog.
If you already have a dog in your life, try to schedule your backpacking trips during weather that your dog will perform at his best in and be most comfortable.
If you are wanting to backpack in colder weather but have a short haired dog, consider getting a jacket for your pup to wear.
Things To Know Before You Go
Make sure you always have your dog on a lead so you have complete control over them.
Aggressive dogs or hard to control dogs should not be taken on the trail. They will not only make the trail less enjoyable for other hikers you encounter, but they will make your experience less enjoyable as well. So make sure to work with your dog and properly train them before hitting the trails.
- A 6 to 8 foot leash (some parks require a 6 ft leash so check before you go)
- A collar (make sure to have an identity tag with your contact information attached to the collar as well as their rabies tag).
- A quality dog pack
- Clean water
- Flea and tick repellant – especially in summer
- Pans for food and water
- Any items needed for overnight trips, such as a stake-out chain
Also, it is never a bad idea to have a spare collar and leash with you as backup in case you need it. Make sure to never pack all your survival supplies on your dog, in the event that the two of you get separated, you will need to have your survival pack with you (hopefully this never happens though!)
Types of dog packs
Are lightweight with a narrow yoke and smaller compartments. These packs do better on smaller dogs with narrower backs. They are meant more for shorter, day hikes where all you are needing to carry is water, snacks, and other small items. The nicer options of one-piece packs have three straps and have a ring to attach the dog’s leash on their back.
Are larger and more durable, meant more for longer backpacking trips. The pad/yoke is held in place by three straps and should reflect the size of the dog, the larger the dog the wider the pad. If the pad fits correctly, it will evenly distribute the weight of the packs and allow them to hang straight down on each side of the dog.
The weight should ride on the dog’s shoulders, not on his back. You will be able to tell if the pad is too wide because the packs will be hanging low and bumping into your dog’s legs as he or she walks.
Two-piece packs are made from heavier material so they will last longer than other packs and offer more protection to your dog. Pouches should be lightweight and easy to detach and clean.
Look for signs that the pack was well-made; double stitching, seam binding, double zippers, and flaps to protect the zippers. Also, look for D-rings, loops, ties, or daisy chains on top that enable you to attach your tent or tarp. The pack should have 3 straps, one goes across the chest and two for across the belly.
There are 3 different types of fasteners, D rings, quick-release buck, and ladder buckle. Make sure you are very familiar with the fasteners so you can undo them quickly if needed.
How to choose a pack
Dog packs are attached by a yoke or pad that is placed over the dog’s shoulders. They come in three shapes, square/box shape, saddle bag/”U” shape, or contour. The square shape is the most common and can fit the most gear.
When picking out a pack, make sure the one you choose properly fits your dog and that it is functional for the type of hiking you are wanting to do. With packs, you get what you pay for so pick a quality pack that will hold up over time to the elements it will face with outdoor backpacking. Check out our article on some of the top rated saddle bags for dogs!
If you have a puppy, make sure you wait until the puppy is fully grown before purchasing the pack so you will not have to purchase multiples as they grow. Maybe just take your puppy hiking with a harness until they are fully grown then transition to a pack.Packs are sized by your dog’s weight so make sure to weigh your dog before ordering to ensure a proper fit.
They come in many different colors and designs so it is up to you based on your personal preference the one you get. Just be sure to get one that properly fits your pup, as a poor fitted pack can cause injuries to your dog’s back or legs.g
Training your dog for backpacking
Start training your dog before you hit the trails to make sure they have the necessary commands down so they are ready once they are on the trail and surrounded by stimulants and distractions.
Some really good commands to make sure your dog knows include; “Come”, “Sit”, “Stay”, “Quiet”, “Back”, “Behind me”, “Down”, “Easy”, “Leave it”, “Stop”, and “Wait”. The more of these commands your dog know, the better the experience will be for you and your dog on the trail.
Expose them to other hikers, bikers, and animals before you take them backpacking on a trail so they are not alarmed when they see them.
Also, get them used to climbing over things like rocks and logs at local parks or playgrounds. This way they know how to react when they see them on the trail.
Introduce the pack to your dog slowly. Allow your dog to get used to wearing it before he is on the trail. You may want to start with the weight of a towel on their back then transition to the actual pack.
Praise your dog when they leave the pack or towel alone. Start with the empty pack and letting your dog wear it for short periods around your house. Remember to give him/her lots of praise when they are wearing the pack. Treats are always good too to let them know they are doing a good job!
If your dog is having issues adjusting to the pack, slow down and be patient with them. Punishing your dog while they are getting used to having it on, may give a negative association to the pack. Try to redirect their attention to something else. If they will not leave the pack alone, remove the pack and try again later.
Use your daily walk with your dog as an opportunity to train them for backpacking, letting them wear their pack when they are used to it and adding weight gradually.
Dog manners on the trail
Some things to focus on when training your dog for the trail:
Unfortunately, a few irresponsible dog owners can ruin opportunities for many responsible dog owners, so do your part by working with your dog before you hit the trails to ensure dogs will still be allowed on those trails in the future!
When to go on your first real backpacking trip with your dog
Give your dog plenty of time on your training walks before going for the real thing, no need to rush it. Make sure you and your dog are both ready to take on a real trip.
It is ideal to wait until your dog is fully grown before taking him on a long hike, use the time up to this point to get in lots of training and practice. Choose the timing of your trip so the weather conditions are ideal for what your dog is familiar with.
You do not want to take your dog into harsh weather that they are not used to on their first backpacking trip.
Prepping your pup for the trails
Before you and your furry pal head out on your trip, make a stop at the vet and have them do a preventative health check up on your dog.
Have them do a blood test to check for heart worms and make sure you are current on their heart worm medication. Heart worms are spread by mosquito bites and present most places in the country. Since your dog will be outside for a long period of time on your trip, you want to make sure your dog is not susceptible to this potentially life threatening parasite.
It is also not a bad idea to get your dog the lyme disease vaccination.
Lyme disease is spread by ticks and there will be a lot of ticks on the trail, depending on the season you go.
Also, make sure you give your pet a flea and tick treatment to help them ward off the ones that they can pick up on the trail.
Check with your vet to make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations. You may want to carry a copy of your pet’s vaccination records with you on your trip, just in case.
You will want your dog’s nails to be short to medium in length. If you do need to trim them, make sure to do it a week or so in advanced so they do not experience soreness when they are walking long distances on the trail.
Make sure to use proper dog grooming clippers when cutting them and make sure not to cut them too short, if you cut down to the quick it can hurt the dog and cause their nail to bleed.
Pack your dog’s meals in individual plastic bags and label them if needed.
It is a good idea to feed your dog puppy food while they are on the trails because they are burning so many more calories than a normal day.
Be sure to pick a puppy food that is similar in ingredients to their normal food so they do not have a hard time digesting it. Feeding them once in the morning and then again at night will ensure they have energy throughout the day for hikes.
You can also take some small high protein snacks to give them periodically on your hike.
Make sure to bring proper water containers for your dog that are clean, lightweight, and do not leak.
You will want to bring a water filter to filter water for each day using collapsible gallon containers. You can pick one up here on Amazon.
Invest in a good water filter, you will want to have quality, pure water when you are on the trails. Try to always look for the cleanest water you can find to begin with before you filter.