How to Train Your Dog to Wear a Dog Backpack

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Hiking with your canine and letting them carry some of their gear and supplies can make the experience much more enjoyable for both yourself and your four-legged friend.

Not only do you get to take some load off your shoulders, but they’ll enjoy the feeling of being a contributing member of the team as we all know dogs love having a job! Plus, by letting your canine wear a dog pack, you’re not only giving them a sense of purpose but also providing them with additional exercise and mental stimulation they need.

However, our pups may not appreciate the idea of wearing a saddlebag at first. And it’s perfectly normal that they become uncooperative and might try to get it off by any means necessary because they aren’t used to having something strapped onto their back.

So it’s crucial to take time to train your furry hiking partner to get them accustomed to carrying a doggy pack, and here are some tips that can help your pooch quickly adjust to wearing one and make things go much smoother!

1. Don't Force the Pack on Your Dog!

Dog with Hiking Pack

A common mistake many of us make after purchasing a dog backpack is that we immediately put the pack filled with supplies onto our pups without a proper introduction and hope for the best. However, this can end up backfiring as this approach may cause your dog to hate the saddlebag and do whatever they can to get it off their back.

What you’ll want to do instead is to, first, get your dog familiar with the pack. Start by either placing it on the ground or holding it, and when your canine approaches to sniff it, reward them for investigating the pack.

Once your pooch seems comfortable just being near it, you can start placing it on them without fastening the straps for a few sessions just to get them used to the feeling of something on their back. And remember to reward them for positive behavior throughout the sessions.

The purpose of this is to help your pup associate the backpack as a pleasant object rather than thinking of it as an annoying thing strapped onto them and being forced to carry around on walks or hikes.

2. Start With An Empty Pack

As your canine get more comfortable, you can start taking them on short walks with the backpack still empty. Make sure your dog feels comfortable during this process. If they’re not, don’t force anything but offer continued encouragement as much as you can, and keep training sessions short. Again, the idea here is for your canine to see wearing a backpack as a pleasant experience.

3. Load it Up

Once your fido is accustomed to wearing an empty pack, you can begin loading it up. But you don’t want to go about this too quickly. Otherwise, your pooch may become overwhelmed by the additional weight.

Always take things one step at a time. So start by putting something lightweight in at first, like a Kong toy, and increase the weight in small increments over multiple sessions while monitoring how they’re doing at all times. And remember, don’t push your canine any further than they can handle. Wearing a pack is supposed to be fun for them!

4. Don't Let Your Dog Carry More Than They Can

The maximum weight a dog can carry depends on the dog’s breed, size, age, strength, and health conditions. For instance, a Jack Russell Terrier obviously isn’t going to be able to carry as much as a German Shepherd. So make sure you take these factors into account when determining how much your dog should carry and be realistic about it.

A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 25% of your canine’s weight. So even if you find that your furry friend is physically capable of carrying more than that, keep the load to be around 1/4 of what they weigh at max for safety reasons. If still in doubt, consult with your vet to get their professional opinion.

5. Make Sure The Pack is Evenly Distributed

An unbalanced pack can shift while your pup is on the move and quickly cause discomfort, especially if they’re lugging around a hefty load. So make sure the weight is distributed evenly and adjust the load accordingly if one side of your canine’s pack seems heavier than the other.

Also, make sure nothing is rubbing against or irritating them in any way. And if you decide to let your dog carry pointy objects like keys etc., ensure these items aren’t poking into them.

6. Go Slow At First & Gradually Increase the Distance & Duration

Carrying even light loads on the trail can be taxing on dogs, especially in the beginning. And you have to understand that wearing a backpack is a totally new experience for them and a 10-minute walk with a weighted pack isn’t the same as without one. It’s going to take your pup more time, effort, and energy to cover the same distance.

So, say, if your canine usually does a 60-minute walk without a backpack, it’s probably a good idea to cut the walk down to, say, 30 minutes with one. And if they usually can walk 5 miles, then with a pack, you’ll probably want to reduce that to around 2.5 miles simply because of the additional weight they carry.

You can then gradually work up to longer hikes or ones with more challenging terrain as your canine becomes more accustomed to walking with a pack. And be sure to constantly monitor them for any signs of discomfort or fatigue, such as heavy panting, limping, or behavior changes.

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The Bottom Line

Just like when training your dog to do many other things in life they aren’t familiar with, such as going potty outside or coming when called, wearing a backpack also takes time and plenty of patience. And while some dogs adapt very quickly, you’ll want to take things at whatever pace works best for your pup.

You will also want to keep training sessions fun by positively reinforcing your furkid when they behave well, whether during the introduction phase or while wearing the pack around! Over time, they will get used to having a pack on their back and feeling the weight there.