In our last blog, we explained how to choose the right pack for your dog. Now, here are some tips on introducing and conditioning your puppy or dog to his new pack.
According to Charlene LaBelle, Backpacking With Your Dog (training books – Alpine Publications), you and your dog need to first master basic obedience training. Commands like ‘come’, ‘sit’, and ‘stay’ are essential.
Dogs need to be trained to calmly accept children, other hikers, bikers and animals. On a trail, you’ll probably be crossing logs and fording streams and young dogs will need to learn this. Your local playground is an idea place to start, with things to climb over, up, under and through along with the bustling excitement of children playing.
When your puppy or dog has developed confidence, good manners and can handle most of the ‘unknowns’ encountered on your daily walks with him, it’s time to introduce the pack.
– INTRODUCING THE PACK. –
The first step in introducing a dog pack is simply to place something (a towel is perfect), on his back. His first reaction may be to shake, roll or pull it off. Tell him “no” and encourage him to walk with the towel on his back. As soon as your dog leaves the towel in place, give him lots of love and praise. In the beginning, a towel staying on for ten seconds is a major achievement!
That accomplished, show the pack to your dog (if a puppy, make sure he is large enough to wear a real pack), letting him sniff it all over while giving him lots of praise. Gently place the empty pack on his back, all the time telling him what a good dog he is. Pet him while you fasten the straps.
Let your dog wear the empty pack around the house or yard for short periods of time. He’ll learn not to bump into things and get used to having something strapped on his back.
Once he feels comfortable with the pack on his back, it’s time to go on short walks with the pack filled with something very light. LaBelle uses a box of macaroni and cheese – it’s lightweight and rattles, along with crumpled up newspapers. The noise reminds the dog the packs are there and gets him used to the sounds that packs make when you are hiking in heavy brush. The newspapers fill up the pack and provide bulk and sway as the dog walks. You’ll gradually replace the newspapers with more weighty items.
Determining how much weight when training depends on your dog’s size, maturity and condition. Generally speaking, use 5-10% of your dog’s weight initially, gradually working up to 25%. LaBelle suggests using items most of us have around the house, like the box of mac and cheese. Small sacks of flour or sugar, canned goods or shoes provide the right type of weight. Keep the weight balanced in each side of the pack.
Ideally, training walks should be part of a daily routine but at least walk your dog with his pack on two or three times a week before attempting a longer trek into the backcountry.
Next, start with short day hikes that build endurance, stamina and help you determine both your own and your dog’s condition.
Once you’ve conquered the flat, easy trails, you and your dog will want to head out for longer, more strenuous hikes. Make sure you take the elevation and the weather into consideration. A twenty pound pack on a flat trail feels a lot heavier on a steep trail. That same twenty pound pack will feel even heavier if the weather is hot or it’s raining. The same holds true for your dog. Don’t increase the weight of his pack at the same time you first ask your dog to climb a steep, rocky trail.
By making gradual changes – adding a little more weight, hiking a steeper trail, in higher elevation, or in inclement weather, he’ll develop his stamina and be ready for some real backcountry adventures.