Backpacking with your Dog
Why should I backpack with my dog?
Backpacking is a great way to get outdoors and see the sites in a new area or around where you live. The fresh air and exercise are beneficial to you and your dog. Few hiking companions are more enjoyable than your dog and in many cases they may be the incentive needed just to get out and get moving. The whole idea of getting out and exploring the trails may bring you to places you would have missed if you were not sharing the experience with your K-9 companion. A dog with proper trail manners can alert you to wildlife that may have otherwise gone un-noticed. Their eyes and ears may be alert to animals on the trail far before we ever see or hear them. In many cases they would move on un-noticed by us, but your dog can help you enjoy seeing them just by letting you know something is there. Backpacking doubles the exercise benefit for both you and your dog. Even a routine walk around the block can become much more conditioning for your dog, if they carry a pack. Backpacking also exercises the dog mentally, giving many working breeds a sense of purpose that has a great calming effect on their demeanor. Exercise both physical and mental makes for a happier more controllable dog. This type of exercise can help prevent behavioral and physical disorders and in some cases reduce the symptoms of other ailments. One third of the dogs in the U.S. are overweight. Improper diet and lack of good physical exercise are the biggest cause. This can trigger other serious problems. Problems from high blood pressure to diabetes and arthritis can all be a result of a dog that is too heavy and out of shape. Ailments hips and joint movement can be improved by this type of conditioning as the dogs builds a better muscular support system. Dogs can become bored in the every day life at home and backpacking helps give them a new outlook. Problems like dominance and aggression or depressive lethargy can be helped by getting the dog outdoors in new environments for a while. Even destructive behaviors can be lessened with the dogs evolvement in backpacking. Dogs are less intrusive to the environment than any other pack animal. Their size and weight does little damage to the trails or the foliage. By teaching them proper trail manners and cleaning up after them, its very easy to leave an area with no evidence you and your dog were ever there.
Few other things are as enjoyable as getting out with your dog in a non-competitive, low impact, activity that is fun for both of you. The bonding that takes place when out hiking with your dog is more than worth the effort required to get out and get started.
Trail Courtesy and Responsibility
Keep your dog under control at all times.
Itís a good idea to keep your dog on a leash at all times, this is a requirement on any state ground. Here in Indiana dogs are welcome on any state ground unless otherwise posted. How you maintain and control your dog when in these areas will help to keep it that way. Remember that everyone you meet may not share your love of dogs. Many people may even be afraid of your fuzzy friend and be uncomfortable with the idea of sharing the area with you. Move off the trail a fair distance when you encounter hikers coming the other direction. Distance will make them feel more comfortable and may be an aid in helping you control things like barking, if your dog has the desire to exhibit this type of behavior. Socializing and desensitizing your dog to strangers will only improve your appearance in their eyes. It will also make things less stressful for you when a stranger is encountered. Teach your dog how to greet other people. Some encounters may be from people not very friendly or interested in your dog. A dog with good manners puts you and your dog in favorable light with everyone. If your dog has questionable manners ask people not to approach them. Let them know you are in the process of training the dog and most will understand. Remember you are not sure what the stranger may do when greeting your dog. Many good dogs have been put at risk or worse, because someone they did not know put them in a bad situation.
Your dog needs to learn that wildlife and livestock are not things to be chased or barked at. Make an effort to introduce some of these things before you get out on the trail. A barking dog will not only interfere with your opportunity to enjoy wildlife, but may also disrupt others trying to do the same. Negative experiences with other people can have an effect on how welcome your dog is in the future.
Always clean up after your dog. Even out in the outdoors the area needs to be kept clean of dog waste. Carry bags to carry it out, or carry a small trawl or shovel to bury it off the trail. In any case remove the evidence that you and your dog were there. People do not want to have to avoid the piles your dog left behind.
Refrain from letting your dog engage in unwanted behaviors like digging, or chewing of trees or brush. These are not only disturbing to the environment but may be harmful form your dog. Keep in mind you are responsible for your dog and their actions. Any damage they do to another person or property, your are responsible for.
Training and conditioning
Basic obedience behaviors can make things easier on the trail. "Sit" and "stay" are very helpful, these can be worked on before ever taking the dog out on a hike or trek. "Leave it" is also very helpful in keeping the dog from picking up unwanted items along the way.
Potty training for the trail also makes things a lot easier. The dog should learn a command to "go". This will let the dog know it is OK to "go" and let you control where they relief themselves. Dogs sometimes must learn to "go" on a leash and training at home will help eliminate problems on the trail.
Crate training for transportation purposes, will keep your dog safer in a vehicle. Also, getting them used to travel, or even just riding in the car may be required in some cases.
Getting the dog trained to the pack should come in short intervals. You might want to start just by placing a small towel or cloth on the dogs back and lead them around for awhile just to get them used to having something on their back. Start with the pack empty then engage the dog in an enjoyable activity. Something to distract them from the idea of having a pack on. Let the dog wear the empty pack and take them for short walks. Place treats in the pack that can be given to the dog along the way and be sure they know where the reward came from. This will help teach them that the pack is a good enjoyable thing to have with them. Be sure the pack is fit correctly and check the dog often to be sure the pack is not rubbing or causing the dog any discomfort. Filling the pack with things like rags or cloth or even crumpled paper with teach the dog that the pack increases their width, without adding a lot of weight. Gradually add weight and increase the distance of the walks. Keep everything enjoyable for the dog where the pack is involved. Your dog should be excited to see the pack and look forward to using it. Let them know that the pack is a good thing and it is to their advantage to have it along. The whole idea of wearing the pack should be a positive experience for your dog.
Dogs may progress at different rates, but most will accept the idea after a short period. Remember that the additional weight of the pack requires your dog to work harder and it will take some time for them to become conditioned to the new work load.
The dog should learn to walk on a leash without pulling. Many dogs will improve their leash behavior just by wearing a backpack.. The pack gives an elevated level of exercise which will help deal with some of the enthusiasm of a dog that has a lot of energy. The mental aspect of the trip will also help keep the dog in control. Being on a leash not only helps to protect you and your dog, but also other people and other animals.
The dog needs to be prepared for things they may encounter along the way. Its important to understand how your dog will react to things like wildlife, livestock, other people and other dogs. Introduce your dog to all these things before you hit the trail, if at all possible. First time encounters can be hard to deal with out away from familiar surroundings. Remember anytime you are dealing with something that causes your dog to have a negative reaction, distance is your best friend. Move away and then work to close the distance on things that bother your dog. Take things slow with lots of encouragement and reward.
Controlling barking is a must on the trail. Barking can cause problems with livestock, wildlife and other people in the area. Learn to address the cause of the barking and then change the focus. Sometimes it may take some time to get past certain distractions but if the time is spent the next encounter will be less difficult.
How to choose a pack;
The most important thing in choosing a pack is that it must fit your dog properly. Packs that are best for backpacking have adequate volume and extra padding to provide comfort for your dog. Donít compromise quality to save money.
Packs may come with two, three, or more straps,to secure the pack to the dog. The less movement the pack has the less likely it is to cause rubbing or sore spots on the dog. Some packs attach to a harness that allows you to remove the pack from the dog for rest stops or feeding along the way. Your pack should be easy to attach to the dog, fit properly and hold the items you intend for your dog to carry.
Features like compression straps to help keep the load from moving around inside the pack, and hydration systems to help make transport of water easier, are items to consider when choosing a pack. Other considerations would be things like is the pack water repellant, how is the packs cleaning ability, and separation of compartments. Color is also a thing to consider. Brightly colored packs help to identify your dog as a member of your party and not a wild animal or stray.
The side compartments are known as "panniers" and these should not hang so low on the dog as to cause rubbing on the dogs elbows. The Yoke, which is the part of the pack that connects the panniers, may have more to do with how the pack rideís than the actual size of the panniers. If the yoke is too narrow it will cause the panniers to ride to high, to tilt out at an awkward position. This makes the pack hard to fill and hard to balance. It may also cause sore spots on the dogs back. If the yoke is to wide the panniers will ride to low and interfere with the dogs legs. A proper fit will have the yoke spanning the width of the back and the bottom of the panniers riding at or slightly below the dogs stomach.
Most packs are sized by measuring the dogs girth. This is done by measuring around the dog just behind the front legs, at the deepest part of the chest. Sometimes the dogs weight and the length of their back is also helpful. The back is usually measured from the collar line to the base of the tail.
How to fit a Pack;
Place the pack on the dogs back. The front edge of the pack should be forward over the dogs shoulders. Adjust the front strap to hold this position. The dog should carry the bulk of the load over their shoulders and not on the back.Then adjust the other securing straps. They need to be snug, but not to the point that they limit the dogs ability to breath freely. A good rule is to be able to slip two fingers in between the pack straps and the dog. They need to be snug enough to hold the pack in position but not loose enough for the pack to slip around.Check the yoke to see that it spans the back correctly and does not hold the panniers in an awkward position. Make sure the panniers are not so low that they interfere with the dogs leg movement. Check to see that the straps are not positioned in such a way that they are rubbing or causing discomfort to other body parts on the dog.
When the pack is loaded be sure that it sets evenly on the dog. You may need to adjust the contents to balance the weight out between the panniers.A loaded pack is a new experience for a dog. It will make him wider, so maneuvering will take some adjustment. The additional weight will also change his ability to jump up and down over different obstacles. You may need to help them at times, so be aware that they are adjusting to the new load.
Along with your own personal gear, there are things your dog will need to make for a safe and enjoyable packing experience.
First lets talk about the dog. Small dogs are great hiking companions and can be expected to carry about what it will take to sustain themselves. Their own food and in some cases their own water. There may also be a few other small items that they can pack without any problem. They will bring mostly their enthusiasm and companionship, which is greatly appreciated on a days hike. They get all the same benefits of a larger counterpart, so they should not be excluded from the experience. However if you are looking for a dog to help share the load, a larger breed will fit the bill. A well conditioned adult dog, can on average carry about 30% of their body weight. This is just about double what a person is comfortable with.
A collar is one of the first considerations for the dog. A good secure collar is a must. Your dog may encounter things in the outdoors that they have not seen before. We donít always know what their reaction will be, good or bad. Having a secure collar that is fitted correctly will let you control your dog better in difficult situations. There are a lot of acceptable styles, but some fit the bill a little better than others.
Identification is a must. Even in the best planned situations with well trained and behaved dogs the possibility of being separated is still there.
Things like micro-chipping are great permanent identification, but they do require equipment to get the information from them. Rabies tags are sometimes used to identify lost dogs, but this requires the finder to make the effort to contact the vet that gave the vaccination and may cause some considerable delay in your reunion. The best item for a quick recovery is still the identification tag. Information on a tag is something the finder has instant access to and can speed things along for the dogs recovery. The tag should have the dogs call name on it. This should be printed as large as possible. If someone finding your dog, can get close enough to read his name, they can use it to help calm the dog in a situation of stress. Knowing the dogs name also gives people a more friendly attitude toward the dog and helps identify them as someoneís loved companion. Contact information should also be on the tag. With the technology of today a cell phone number can help bring your dog back in a very short time.You will also need a leash. Your dog should always be on leash when out packing. It keeps them safe, with you, and helps to guard against unexpected reactions to things you may encounter. In most places, it is also the law. Dogs off lead chasing wildlife or livestock or even just bothering other people who are trying to enjoy the outdoors, can make a difference in how welcome dogs remain in the future. Not to mention the dangers it may put your dog in. Leashes that can serve more than one purpose are always an advantage. A good heavy rope lead cannot only control the dog, but may be used for a variety of things in an emergency. Light cord leashes can double as a tie out for the dog in camp. With the addition of small amounts of hardware, leashes can be a very useful item to have around.
The pack is the next item your dog will need. They are available in lots of different configurations and prices. Some even have their own water containment and hydration systems built in. Be sure that the pack you choose, fits your dog correctly. The pack should carry most of the weight on the shoulders and not on the back. It should be secure without limiting the dogs movement. Packs with more than two securing straps will keep the pack from shifting and lessen the need for readjustment as the dogs uses them. The more comfortable the pack is for the dog, the more he will enjoy it.
A Bandana is also something to consider for your dog. Not only does it give your dog some style out on the trail, but it helps to identify your dog for what they are. Working pets and companions, not wild animals. A dog out in the woods or around camp without a pack may be seen as something else by a passer by. A bright colored bandana lets everyone know that this is a member of someoneís family.
Weather protection for your dog, may be another consideration. In cooler weather you may want to pack a sweater or coat for dogs lacking in the fur department. Some protection from the elements can make the trip much more enjoyable for your dog. The heat can also cause your dog problems, so things like collars and coats that use evaporative cooling can help them deal with warmer days. Some areas may present terrain that could injure or cause discomfort for your dog to walk on. Dog boots can help with that situation. Although they take some getting use to on the dogs part they can help over come situations where a dog may cut or injure a paw, and need some protection to be able to continue
Here are some suggested items you might want to consider taking along;
Camping Day Pack
Water Bottle / 8oz ea 3 mile
Rain wear - garbage bag
Cell phone- Camera - film - batteries
Lunch Cook Utensils
Parachute cord - Leash
Field Survival Kit;
Emergency Food or Chocolate
Water 8oz per 3 miles
Vets phone number
Other items of interst
Long Sleeve Shirt
Hat / Brim for sun
Personal First Aid Kit