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This past weekend I dusted off the backpack to get it ready for the cooler season ahead of us.
Not only is a backpack a good physical workout for your dogs it’s also a great mental workout for them as well. It’s a versatile product that can be used for several activities such as everyday walks around the neighborhood, on the trails or out running errands.
Here’s a few reasons why you might want to add a backpack to your dog’s routine:
Work mode. If you have a Newfoundland, you have a working breed. Put those Newfies to work! Putting a collar and leash on your dog is one thing but adding a backpack can put them into a different frame of mind,-the working frame of mind. Carrying a backpack for many dogs is like a job, as soon as that pack is snapped into place they are ready to carry it wherever they go. It gives them a sense of purpose and can possibly re-direct unwanted behavior such as barking or pulling when out for a walk. This is a great option for dog breeds that were meant to work but don’t.
Mental stimulation. A non-weighted dog backpack is great for puppies and senior dogs because it provides them with extra mental stimulation that they’re not getting in their daily routine which will tire puppies out and keep a senior dog’s mind challenged. A bored dog is a destructive dog, a dog with a job is a tired and happy dog.
More exercise in less time. With daylight being less in the colder months it’s not always possible to get a full walk in after work so using the dog backpack with some extra weights can help a dog get the excercise they need in less time. I’ve used water bottles, soup cans and small weights before. You can also pack poop bags, water bowl and snacks. A good rule of thumb is that a dog can carry 10-20% of their body weight but the age of dog, size and body condition will have to be taken into consideration too. Weight should be introduced slowly and disputed evenly in the pack. It’s important not to use weights with giant breed puppies who are still growing, wait until after 2 years of age.
Build muscle. If you choose to add weight to a backpack it can be a great way to increase muscle mass and strength in a healthy adult dog. Good muscle mass is important to joint health. Contrary to popular belief, a backpack where the weight is evenly distributed will not put more strain on big joints, it’s actually building and toning the muscle in less time and with less repetitions. Extra pounds will put much more strain on an dog’s joints then a weighted backpack.
Finding a backpack.
There’s many different dog backpacks out there but not that many are made to fit big dogs. I’m a big fan of the EzyDog Summit Backpack. I like the big chest plate and it’s very easy to put on but other big dog owners have said that they also use Ruffwear, Leeburg and Outward Hound. Some even use a horse saddle and adjust the straps as needed or you can have one custom made.
When searching for a dog backpack it’s always best to try to take your dog to the store and find a good fit, however, not all stores carry backpacks for big dogs so make sure that you measure the girth and the deepest part of the chest before ordering online. Make sure to get a pack that distributes the weight over the chest/shoulders and the middle of the back because you don’t want stress on the spine. You’ll also want the bags on the side to have adjustable straps so that you can cinch it down close to the body so that the bags aren’t flopping around as the dog moves. Read the reviews of the packs and see what other pet owners have to say.
Introducing the backpack
It’s best to introduce the backpack slowly to dog. You can put it on and offer your dog treat, then take it off. The next time keep it on for a few minutes and let your dog walk around the house or backyard. This will be a good chance for you to check the backpack and make sure that it fits properly. A dog backpack should not be shifting from side to side or slipping up or down the dog’s spine/neck. When you think that your dog is ready to wear it out on a walk, let him walk with it for a few minutes and then take it off. After a few weeks of your dog wearing the backpack you can add some newspaper or bubble wrap to fill in the pouches so the dog gets to the bulk of the pack then gradually introduce some weight to it if you would like. (Thanks to Erin A. for that tip!)
What to carry
Poop bags, treats, water bowl or water bottle, first aid kit, keys, bug spray, gloves, hat, books, water. Honestly, the items are endless of what your dog can carry.
As always, if you have any concerns about your dog using a backpack you should check with your veterinarian. Giant breed dogs should not carry weighted backpacks until they are at least 2 years of age. Also, after a few weeks of your dog using the backpack make sure to check that the straps of the pack aren’t causing any irratation to your dog’s skin.