Teach Your Dog To Wear A Backpack

If you saw my last post, you can tell I love to hike, and so does Xander! It’s kinda hard to tell by looking at him, but he is half Great Pyrenees. He loves to go on long hikes, and here in the Pacific Northwest we have lots of trails to explore. Getting out into the mountains is one of our favorite activities.


We have not, however, been very good about prepping for our hikes. We usually carry far less water than we should. I can’t carry a backpack due to a shoulder injury, and my waist pack only carries a couple small bottles.

Xander to the rescue! He is a strong, healthy 2 year old boy, and he weighs about 100 pounds. He could easily carry our supplies. So I purchased a backpack for him, and it just arrived. Naturally we had to try it out right away.

Finding dog backpacks is easy. Large online retailers like Amazon have many to choose from – it’s choosing just one that’s hard! Color, style, size, you can pretty much get anything you want.


I got a nylon, saddlebag-style by Legendog. At $18.99 it makes a nice starter pack. I don’t want to invest $50 or more until I have Xander totally comfortable with packing.

This is a nice pack. Good sized main bags on each side with multiple smaller pockets. It even comes with a folded up travel bowl in it’s own pocket. It’s lightweight nylon, but I am wondering about it’s overall durability at the seams. That’s something only time and use will tell though. I like the bright color – it makes Xander a whole lot more visible, and less likely to be mistaken for some wild animal when we’re out on the trail.

Xander is very used to me draping things on him, so he didn’t flinch when I slipped the pack over his head and draped on on his back. But not every dog will react as calmly. If you want to teach your dog to wear a pack, introduce it to him slowly. Move in stages.

  • Let your dog sniff and investigate the new pack before you attempt to put it on.
  • Gently touch the pack to your dog’s back, shoulder’s and chest. Build to light, brushing strokes with the pack.
  • Drape the pack on your dog’s back.
  • Fasten the straps and adjust.

At each stage, observe your dog closely. Praise your dog! If she stays calm, encourage her with phrases like “Good dog!” and use treats to really reinforce that wearing the pack is a good, positive event.

Look for signs of stress or discomfort, like yawning, avoiding eye contact, or laying ears flat. If you see these, stop, and back up to the last stage your dog was comfortable at.

Lastly, add weight gradually! And be sure to keep it balanced. Today, Xander is carrying my phone in a wallet-type case on one side, and a change purse with a couple dollars in it on the other. Slowly increasing weight gives your dog time to adjust to the feel and motion of the pack on her body, and build strength.

The most important step – have fun! Be sure you and your dog are relaxed and happy, or teaching her to wear a backpack will never succeed. Go as slow as you need to. Just because Xander here picked it up quickly doesn’t mean every dog will. Go at YOUR dog’s pace! Observe her responses to the pack, to the weight.

For more more information about how to train, check out my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. I cover what you need to know about how to observe, understand and communicate with your dog so your training lasts a lifetime. Plus how to do more, like hiking! Follow the link above to my publisher, and use this coupon code “dct-ftg” at checkout for an additional 15% off!

Get Out There! Hiking With Your Dog


Xander and I went hiking with our friends yesterday. A very long drive up some winding dirt/gravel roads led us to a trailhead that was cleverly disguised as an unassuming wide spot on the road. Two other cars were pulled off to the side, and a younger guy with his baby/toddler and an older dog were just getting out as we pulled up.

“Is this the trailhead for Noble Knob?” We asked. We’d driven past it and had doubled back. Nice Guy indicated that it was. “How did you know this was the place?” Was our next question. “Because this is where the map said to stop.” He said with a slightly bewildered air, as if the answer was obvious.

Ok then.

The ascent was a little steep in the beginning. It was a good workout, and although it was a push, it was well worth it.

Seriously, look at this killer view.


And this one.


Although he looks like a giant white Lab, Xander is in fact half Great Pyrenees. Thank goodness he got daddy’s short coat instead of mom’s glorious long flowing one. However, he did inherit a love of mountains, hiking and long days outside.


Hiking and dogs just go together. Adventure, nature, clean air – it does not get any better.

But – this isn’t your average stroll. Preparation is a must! You are both working more than you think, so bringing supplies isn’t just a nice idea, it’s a necessity. At a minimum you need to bring:

  • Water – for both of you
  • Collapsible bowl
  • Food – also for both of you
  • Map
  • Compass
  • First Aid Kit
  • Layers – the day may start hot, then get very cold, very fast.

Yesterday, I did the carrying, but Xander is 2 years old, 100 pounds and very strong. He’s getting a backpack for Christmas and will carry his own weight next year. Yes! Your dog can share the load. On average a dog can carry 25% of his body weight.

However, it will take some training. Xander will need to learn how to wear the pack, then build up his strength carrying. It’s not good or healthy to expect him to carry a full pack on our next trip. He needs to work up to it. But by next spring he should be up to carrying 25 pounds.

Next time Xander, you carry the water!

Oh look! There's the sign! In the meadow at the top of the climb.

Oh look! There’s the sign! In the meadow at the top of the climb.

We even saw wildlife! A mountain goat that we smelled long before we spotted it. Surprising how strong it was even from so far away.

What do you mean you don't see the mountain goat?
What do you mean you don’t see the mountain goat?

Anticipate that you may encounter wildlife, and not just little bunnies or the birds that fly up and away as you approach them on the trail. Big, and sometimes dangerous animals live out there. You are just a visitor. Hiking with a friend and carrying on a conversation can deter most unwanted encounters. Unless you stumble on a mama bear and cubs, most animals will want to avoid you.

Mr. Mountain Goat up there was clearly unconcerned about the humans passing through his field, but you see how far away he is. Think ahead and prepare! Hiking sticks can be waved to make you look big and scary if you do come face to face with a big critter. Invest in some bear spray and hope you never have to use it.

But what about your dog? The big outdoors calls and you can’t resist letting your furry friend have some freedom off leash. Out there, it is essential you have your dog trained. A reliable recall is critical when hiking.

What’s that mean? If you call your dog, your dog returns to your side. This is basic trail etiquette. Not everyone loves dogs and wants your big happy guy to run up and smother them with sweet doggie kisses. Narrow trails, like this one, make for dangerous encounters if your dog is not under control.

Do you even see the trail?
Do you even see the trail?

Off to the right of that picture is a steep dropoff to a little bitty lake. Bouncy exuberant dogs are great, but not when you’re passing in a narrow spot. You must be able to control your dog. Trail courtesy says you clear the trail and let other hikers pass you by.

Oh and that wildlife? Dogs and wildlife do not mix. Another reason you must have a solid recall trained if you allow your dog off leash while hiking. An experienced hiker once told me how her well-trained dog came running back when she called – with a bear chasing it! Fortunately the bear was just as surprised to see her as she was and promptly turned and ran back the way it came. But it could’ve been so much worse.

But before you ever head out to wilderness, consider your dog. Xander is young, strong and healthy. Nice Guy at the trail head had an older dog, but she was still fit. How about your dog? Even if your dog has some health challenges, you can still take them out, but choose trips suited to their physical abilities. Don’t pick a hike that requires scrambling over big boulders unless you’re prepared to carry your dog over them.

I cover hiking with your dog, as well as other fun things you and your furkid can do together in my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. It’s a holistic manual for how to find, train, and bond with your dog. Follow the link attached to the title and you can use this code “dct-ftg” (all lowercase!) at checkout for 15% off!