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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Backpacking with a Dog

There is nothing like a good companion on a backpacking trip. And, that companion can be your dog.

Lotus & John
Image by Han-shan via Flickr
1. Companionship,
2. Protection,
3. Load sharing,
4. Fun for your dog.
To make sure you get the right backpack and that it fits properly, take your dog with you to your outfitter. Take your time getting the right equipment and the right fit. You don’t want your dog to be incensed by your insensitivity and to run away somewhere in the wilderness taking with it your vital camping gear.
Here are some things to look for in a dog backpack:

1. Make sure that it was manufactured for the size and breed of your dog.
2. Be certain that the backpack fits snugly and comfortably.
3. Also be sure to get the right backpack accessories for your trip, including straps and pockets.
4. Buy good quality. You don’t want the backpack to break down in the wilderness leaving your with more to carry.
Even though dogs have a relatively high carrying capacity, be sure you don’t overload your canine friend. You can include, within reason, the dog’s own equipment like food, water and play toys plus some of your equipment.
Make sure you distribute the load that you give your dog to carry equally on both sides.
The first thing to do is to make sure that your dog is fit and healthy and ready to spend time in the wilderness. If you fail to do this you might find yourself carrying not only your load plus the dog’s load, but also your sick dog. If necessary, take your dog to the vet for a checkup prior to departing on a backpacking trip.
If your dog is not accustomed to carrying loads on its back, you will have to do some careful training. Take it slowly and gently. Start by putting the backpack on your dog and letting him wear it around the house for a few minutes. Do this for several days, increasing the length of time each day. Then, add a few items to the backpack and let your dog get used to carrying them. Later, add a bit more and a bit more weight. Always increase the weight in small increments and keep an eye out for signs of overloading.
After a few days, take your dog for walks around the neighborhood with the backpack loaded.
Here are six rules to keep you canine companion, and everyone else, happy:
1. Trim his claws so he doesn’t tear up your tent floor.
2. Take a foam pad for him to sleep on at night.
3. Keep him on a leash around other hikers, horses and bikers. Also, use a leash on slippery or steep terrain.
4. Yield to all other trail users.
5. Pack out doggy poop in a doubled plastic bag.
6. Bring a brush and towel to keep Rover clean, dry and comfortable, especially before entering the tent for the night.
Make sure that the area where you plan to hike allows dogs. You won’t be happy if you have to go back home and replan everything. Your dog won’t think much of you either. Also, be sensitive to your dog’s needs for eating, drinking, pottying and resting.
Enjoy the wilderness with you canine hiking companion.
By Richard Davidian, Ph.D.
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