Planning Your Dog-Packing Adventure

Taking your four-legged friend along for a hike can be a great way to bond while enjoying the outdoors together. Not only will you both be getting plenty of exercise and fresh air, you and your pup will have the opportunity to strengthen friendship and mutual trust.

Dog-packing involves asking your canine to carry a light load on its back. This activity is not intended for heavy burdens and will not injure or dishearten your dog if done correctly. Dog-packing can take outdoor activities together to a fun and exciting new level! Many types of dogs were bred for the purpose of performing a specific task or type of work, such as pulling a sled, hunting, retrieving, or herding. Depending on the type of dog you have (and his or her individual personality), dog-packing can be an easy transition and quite satisfying for both dog and owner once you get started. Here are some key points to keep in mind if you are interested in starting a dog-packing adventure with your pooch!

The Right Dog
Dog breeds that are considered ‘athletic’ or ‘working breeds’ are generally best suited for carrying a light pack and actually enjoy it! Certain breeds have often proven to excel in this area: Huskies and Malamutes, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Pointers, Labradors and Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, and herding breeds such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. However, you know your dog’s personality and can use your own good judgment as to whether or not they would willingly carry a pack. The idea of dog-packing is intended for fun – not labor. Once a dog is accustomed to shouldering a light pack, they begin to associate the sight of the pack with exhilarating adventures!

The Right Pack
You can search online for a variety of packs designed for dogs, ranging from $30 – $100 or more. The best packs will be well padded and evenly balanced to prevent side-to-side slippage. Be sure to keep equal amounts of weight on each side of the pack so that it won’t slide while your dog is adventuring. It is best to pack nonessential items with your dog in the event that the pack should detach and become lost. Typical items that your dog can easily carry include extra water, dog food, and treats. As much as you trust your pup, it may be best to keep that new camera in your own pack! Check out sites like wolfpack.com or ruffwear.com for sizing and ordering information, along with a wealth of other useful material from avid and experienced dog-packers.

The Right Training
Before running right out to the trail, it is best to begin by getting your dog accustomed to wearing a pack, which may seem unnatural to him or her at first. After allowing your dog to thoroughly smell and grow used to the pack, slip it on them and take them for an easy walk around the block. The key is to associate wearing the pack with fun activities. During the walk, make adjustments as needed. Once your dog is comfortable with this routine, you can add small amounts of weight to the pack on subsequent walks. Before long, Fido will be ready to hit the trail!

The Right-of-Way
Different venues have different rules about dogs on the trail; make sure to review these requirements beforehand to see whether or not a leash will be needed. If your dog is running free, it may be best to review the ‘come’ and ‘stay’ commands, which can be very important for your dog’s safety, should you encounter a risky situation. If the trail is open to other four-legged friends (i.e. horses, mules, etc.), general etiquette says that the smaller animals should yield to the larger ones: maneuvering can be more difficult for horses and they are at a higher danger of injury when leaving the trail.

The Right Ideas
After some practice, you will figure out what works best for both of you, although it never hurts to get a head-start when possible! Other dog-packing enthusiasts suggest attaching a small and inexpensive light to the pack; if it becomes lost in the dark, it will be easier to locate and can also help you keep an eye on your free-roaming dog more easily at night. If your dog will be sharing your tent at night, bring a tarp or piece of plastic to place on the ground inside; this will prevent toenails from tearing the thin floor material. Keep a leash handy at all times; you won’t want to have to rummage through your pack in the event that it is needed promptly. Pick up litter and trash along the way and stash it in your dog’s pack. Reward your dog after a good day’s work and always aim for positive reinforcement. After a few trips together, you and your tail-wagging friend will be an unstoppable team!

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