Doggie Backpacks – Find the Right Pack for Your Pooch

Sweetwater Creek State Park - PuppiesIf you are like us, our dogs are a part of the family. They love being part of our “pack”. When we get the car keys out and tell them to come, they get so excited to join us on an adventure away from the house. We have brought them on a few hikes and they can’t get enough. We wear them out, but they love it.

When you take your pooch on hikes, have you ever had to carry your dog’s supplies and wished they could? Well, there are a lot of styles of doggie backpacks out there that can handle such a task. They are all designed with the health and safety of the dog in mind, but it’s important to choose the correct one for your dogs shape and size.

Where do you Wander?:

The type of hikes helps determine the size, materials and functionality of the doggie backpack and will aid you in your selection.

  • Long multiple day hikes in the backcountry: This would require a larger pack. It would need to be big enough to handle food, water and gear. Also, in order to stand up to underbrush and abrasions on the trail, a heavy durable fabric like ballistic nylon is needed.
  • Shorter hikes in and around the neighborhood: A smaller pack is desired. One that would only need to hold a collapsible water bowl and water. Also include baggies for cleaning up any mess.
  • Day hikes at the nearest park: This backpack would be something in between the two above.
  • Therapy Dog or Walking Around Town: Look for a pack with more pockets for convenience and the fabric can be a lighter weight.

How to Measure for Doggie Backpacks:

  • Length: Measure your pet from the back of its neck to the base of its tail. (wagging is optional)
  • Girth: Start behind your dog’s front legs and wrap the tape measure around the widest part of their chest.
  • Weight: Weigh your dog. (don’t tell the weight out loud in front of other dogs if your pet is a little portly)

With all three of these measurements, you can find the perfect doggie backpack.

There are many styles of backpacks for dogs, but they all have at least some of these basic features:

  • Ergonomic Design: Each backpack may vary slightly in design. One may have better elbow clearance while a second has a scooped neck for increased head movement. Take these into consideration based upon your dogs body style and requirements. Ease of movement is a plus.
  • Bag Capacity: Doggie Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes. If you carry larger bulky, lighter weight items, then maybe a larger backpack is necessary. A smaller backpack would work well with heavier, more dense items. You don’t want the possibility of overloading your dog by buying the largest backpack you can get and then filling it up, (we will get into backpack weight allowances next). Another possible problem with a large backpack is less mobility for your pet.
  • Weight: Here is where the paw meets the trail. A typical dog can carry up to 25% of it’s body weight. A dog bred for carrying or hauling can handle up to 1/3 it’s weight. These would be Huskies, Malamutes, Mastiffs or one of the larger breed dogs.
  • Straps and Saddles: (When Did We Buy A Horse?)
    • One or Two Strap Harness: A two strap harness is designed so that the pack can be taken off your dog while the harness stays on. This can be a great advantage on long hikes when taking a break on the trail. You can take the pack off your pet when you take yours off, as well. A single strap harness is a one piece design. The only way to take off the backpack is to take off the harness.
    • Solid, Mesh or Strap Saddle: The top part of the backpack or the “saddle” is what will be holding and distributing the weight. A solid saddle strap will distribute the weight more evenly. This is an important feature for a heavier or larger pack. A mesh, padded mesh or strap design can allow more air flow around the dogs back. The mesh material may not be well suited for durability and wear. There is also a solid fabric design.
    • Belly Straps: Every backpack comes with at least one strap that is secured just over or behind the rib cage. There are some packs that have a chest strap. This chest strap is more forward on the dog and goes behind the shoulders. A two strap design will keep the pack in place better than one strap, however, the extra security may hinder the movement of your pet. One strap is adequate when the pack is loaded, but if it is just partially loaded, it may have a tendency to shift.
    • Chest Strap: There are two basic layouts of Chest Straps,V or Cross. These are the straps that secure the backpack across the dogs chest. The Cross type strap may constrict or hinder the dog’s movement more so than the V-type.
    • Compression Strap: These are straps on the pack designed to stabilize the load when the packs are not fully loaded. They are attached to the backpack either horizontally or vertically. If looking at a doggie backpack for deep woods hiking, a horizontal strap may suit you. They pull the pack closer to the shoulders, but their main advantage is that they won’t get caught in underbrush as easily. A third advantage is that they don’t have to be undone to get to any zippered pockets. The vertical straps pull the load up onto the back and prevent the bags from sagging.
  • Special Features:
    • Padding: Under the buckles or bags, on the harness.
    • Safety Features: A grab handle to help lift your dog over logs, rocks or other obstacles. Reflective trim.
    • Tie-Downs: Added loops for either a leash at the front or for a pulling harness at the back of the pack. Also there can be items to help secure items to the pack, like; D-rings, Lash Tabs or Laced Stretch Cord.
    • Durability and Weather Resistance: Review the construction of the backpack. Are the seams double stitched, or taped? Where are the zippers located, the side or top? Are there flaps over zippers and pockets to keep the rain out? Zippers on top with no flaps will not hold out water very well.
  • Packing:
    • Front to Back: Pack the heavier items to your dog’s shoulders and lighter items toward the tail (again, wagging is optional)
    • Side to Side: Make sure both sides of the pack are evenly weighted. If you don’t, your dog will start walking in circles. (Not really, but it’s not good for the pack to be uneven)
    • Soft and Hard Items: Pack the soft items so that they are next to the dogs body. You wouldn’t want something in your pack poking you in the back why would you think your dog would? Pack the hard sided items farther away from your dog.
  • Training: Start by putting the backpack on your dog for short time periods. Don’t load it to begin with, just let your pet get used to the feel of it. Take your dog for short walks with it on, then start loading it with items. Your dog needs to get accustomed to it before you actually go on a hike. Also, if your dog is a couch potato or out of shape, do not start them out with a full pack and 5 mile hike. They must be in physical shape to wear a backpack.

Tips For After the Purchase:

Have fun looking through all the doggie backpacks available. You can treat it as a reward for your pet. Praise them when they don’t scratch, pull or bite at it. You and your dog will be proud of their new accessory.

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