How to train your dog to accept a dog backpack

How To Train Your Dog To Accept A Dog Backpack

Adding a dog backpack to my pups’ daily workout routine has been one of my best decisions as a doggie mom!

I personally am not a runner, so I honestly don’t know what I would have done without the backpacks when it comes to managing my dogs’ energy.

Update 2023: That applies to my previous Boxer mixes AND to my current Feist mix.

K9sOverCoffee.com | How to train your dog to accept a dog backpack

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Why Should I Add A Dog Backpack In The First Place?

Very good question! I’m asked all the time why the pups are carrying backpacks. People usually assume that they’re in training for some kind of rescue work.

Well, they’re not.

They’re carrying their backpacks for a combined physical AND mental workout.

Since the pups are Boxer mixes, they’re part of the working dog breed group. They’re active, strong dogs who were originally bred to perform specific tasks/jobs, like guarding properties and doing police work. 

Buzz carrying Earthrated Poop Bags on his Dog Backpack
Missy & Buzz with their first dog backpacks

Because of that, they’re medium to high energy dogs and need an outlet for their energy. Dog backpacks offer exactly that!

They’re a great way of giving dogs a physical job as well as the mental challenge of focusing on carrying the backpack. 

My current pup Wally is a Feist mix. That’s a squirrel hunting dog who has medium to high energy, and he profits from his daily backpack walks just as much as Missy & Buzz did.

K9sOverCoffee | Wally on an urban walk with his Ruffwear doggie backpack
Wally with his dog backpack

That said, the ideal K9 candidate for a dog backpack has medium to high energy and a working background. That includes a variety of dogs, from herding and hunting to retrieving breeds. 

K9sOverCoffee.com | My friends Kristina & Kyle hiking with their Australian Shepherds and their dog backpacks
My friends Kristina & Kyle on a hike with their Aussies and their dog backpacks
K9sOverCoffee | Walking American PitBull Terrier Doeboy with a doggie backpack
Pitbull Doeboy with Missy’s dog backpack

Back in my professional dog walking days, I had a client who couldn’t manage their American Pitbull Terrier Doeboy. I went ahead and introduced him to Missy’s backpack, and guess what – he did great with it and started being much more manageable on walks. Turns out he just needed a job!

Make Sure Your Pup Is Healthy Before Adding A Dog Backpack

It’s always a good idea to talk to your vet before trying a new physical activity with your pup in order to make sure he’s fit enough for it. 

For Missy & Buzz, I started adding doggie backpacks to their walks when they were 8 months old.

I checked with our vet beforehand because I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t damage their joints by adding too much weight at too young of an age, but the vet said 8 months is just fine.

Introduce The Dog Backpack Slowly

Ok, now to the fun part! Once you get your hands on a dog backpack, take things easy and let your pup familiarize himself with it.

You can hold the backpack & let your pup sniff it, then reward his curiosity with a tasty treat or a favorite toy. 

Choose his reward depending on what motivates him most. My girl Missy would go for a yummy treat, while her brother Buzz would go for a ball.

My current pup Wally, a Feist mix, is just as treat motivated as Missy was, and so was my former client, Pitbull Doeboy.

You can also place the backpack on the floor and place a treat or toy on top of it. That way, it will be associated with something positive.

Once your pup has accepted the presence of the new item, slowly put the empty backpack on your dog. 

Feeding some of his food or a favorite treat will help associate more positive things with this process.

You don’t have to strap the backpack on right away, just let it sit on your pup’s back for a few moments. 

Repeat this step a few times before strapping the backpack on. 

K9sOverCoffee.com | Buzz carrying an empty dog backpack
Buzz with an empty dog backpack

Side note: Introduce the dog pack when your dog is in a calm, relaxed state of mind, ideally after a long walk or an extended playtime session.

Never Add More Than 25% of Your Dog’s Body Weight to A Dog Backpack 

Once your pup gets used to his new accessory, slowly add some weight to the side pockets.

I like to add bottled water (comes in handy on a longer hike!) and some tennis balls or other toys.

Remember not to add too much weight ~ a good rule of thumb is to not exceed 25% of your dog’s total body weight in added backpack weight.

K9sOverCoffee.com | I fill my dog backpack with water bottles and toys
I fill my dog backpack with water bottles and toys

It’s obviously up to you what you want to fill your dog’s pack with. I also like to add poop bags, some human band aids, and a few pet first aid items whenever I go for a walk.

For example, Benedryl in case the pups get stung by an insect.

Where To Buy Dog Backpacks

I’ve bought my dog backpacks both online on Amazon and in brick & mortar pet retail stores. As far as brands go, I’ve tried a few different ones.

If you’re not quite sure yet if your pup is going to be a good fit for a dog backpack, I’d suggest to go with a less expensive option.

For example, the Outward Hound Daypak or the OneTigris Dog Backpack.

K9sOverCoffee.com | Hiking with Buzz and his dog backpack at Great Falls in Virginia
Hiking with Buzz and his dog backpack
Wally on a horse obstacle with the OneTigris dog backpack
My pup Wally on a horse obstacle with the OneTigris dog backpack

It was the first one I bought for Missy & Buzz back in 2012, and although I eventually had to toss it and upgraded the pups to a more expensive and durable dog backpack, it lasted us about a year and half.

I will say that we also used the heck out of it!

If you’re looking for a more durable option, I can’t recommend Ruffwear’s line of backpacks enough. They’re considerably more expensive, but also last forever.

I recommend the Ruffwear Approach Backpack for around $100:

K9sOverCoffee.com | Missy on a hike with her Ruffwear dog backpack
Missy on a hike with her Ruffwear Approach Backpack

…as well as the Ruffwear Commuter Pack for $120 (no longer available).

K9sOverCoffee | Wally testing his new Ruffwear doggie backpack at Phydeaux in Cary, NC
Wally trying on the Ruffwear Commuter Backpack in a pet retail store

Dog Backpacks: Bottom Line

A dog pack is a wonderful way of providing your pup with an additional physical as well as mental workout!

Remember to slowly introduce a new dog pack, and to check with your vet before having your pup carry one.  

Now enjoy your backpack walks & hikes!

Related Reading:

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.


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36 responses to “How To Train Your Dog To Accept A Dog Backpack”

  1. SlimDoggy Steve Avatar

    Resistance training is important for dogs just like with humans. We also recommend the K9FitVest by DogTread.

    -SlimDoggy Steve

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Yes! How neat to learn about this weighted vest, I didn’t know they also existed for K9s. Thank you for mentioning it, Steve @SlimDoggy!

  2. Emma Avatar

    We have backpacks we use occasionally. We never needed a slow introduction, just put them on and went. We also don’t have anything really heavy in the pockets as with our long backs we need to be careful.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      A backpack definitely doesn’t have to be heavy in order to provide a job ~ a little weight or none at all can be sufficient to provide a mental workout.

  3. Kristina Avatar
    Kristina

    People love seeing the packs on the dogs! Everyone thinks it’s so cute and is a great conversation starter. The comments are doubled wherever the dogs are wearing their shoes as well!

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Yes, definitely a great conversation starter 🙂

  4. M. K. Clinton Avatar

    Bentley would roll over laughing if I showed him a backpack! I do enjoy seeing dogs carrying their backpacks. They always look so official!

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Aww, Bentley..he may give a pack a polite sniff, after all 😉 He is very low to the ground though, so his body style isn’t exactly favorable for a backpack..

  5. DZ Dogs Avatar

    We love our doggy packs!
    Groundbirdgear.com makes the best packs, you should check them out! They come in 2 parts. We haven’t fitted Ziva for one yet. I think she’s about ready now but really i’m not a fan of young dogs carrying packs as it can be a bit too much during their growth phase – like you said. Ziva had some joint issues as a pup – according to the rescue we got her from, so in the beginning we were careful to not over exercise her and carrying weight was out of the question. We’ve built her up through running, assisted jumps with a harness, glucosamine and rest days. Dante though does great and it helps slow him down! I also like not having to carry things on me. I think they are great in general for any dog that needs extra work during a walk. 🙂

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thank you for sharing the Groundbirdgear.com website with us, DZ Dogs, I hadn’t heard of them yet! I like that they custom-make all their harnesses & backpacks!
      Very cool to hear that you have a backpack for your boy Dante ~ the pups have carried my keys & wallet, as well as cell phone numerous times..the packs really do come in handy!

  6. DZ Dogs Avatar

    I just read your guest post over at mypitbullfriend.com and great job!!

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Yay, thank you very much for the kind words :-))

  7. Tenacious Little Terrier Avatar

    I still haven’t found one small enough for Mr. N. I don’t think they come in his size sadly.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      You should check out the following Ruffwear link ~ they have dog backpacks in various sizes, ranging from extra small to extra large!
      http://www.ruffwear.com/Approach-Pack-Dog-Pack

      1. Tenacious Little Terrier Avatar

        Their xxs harness is too big on him and that’s the smallest size they make lol.

        1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

          Oh no…major bummer! Wow, he really IS tiny, then..maybe the peeps at Groundbirdgear.com can custom-make one for him? DZ Dogs shared their link in a comment on this post ~ I hadn’t heard of them before, but they seem to make quality products!

  8. Hawk aka BrownDog Avatar

    Hi Y’all!

    I have a backpack but when we’re hikin’ off lead in the mountains my Human doesn’t let me where it. She’s afraid I’ll get hung up in something and she won’t be able to get to me.

    Y’all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Hi Hawk 😉
      That makes sense, unless I had a 150% recall on my pups, I also wouldn’t let them roam around unsupervised while wearing a pack.

  9. Lindsay Avatar

    I’m a big fan of dog backpacks as well. I used one for Ace when I first adopted him and he just needed an additional way to burn up physical and mental energy. I think it also helped him to not pull as much because he was less focused on pulling and a little more focused on carrying his pack. I’d love a pack for my current foster dog. She is tiny and doesn’t fit into Ace’s pack.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Aren’t they just great to burn extra energy?! You are absolutely right, they also help teaching nice leash walking skills ~ so many benefits! Have you checked out Ruffwear? They have packs in various sizes (xxs, xs, s, m, l/xl): http://www.ruffwear.com/Approach-Pack-Dog-Pack.

  10. Beth Avatar

    What great advice! Barley doesn’t like to wear things–when I get her harness out for the car, she hides under the table. When it’s hot, I can sometimes wrestle her into a cooling vest, but I have to pick my battles with her 🙂 So for now, I guess I’ll be the one toting our treats and water. It sounds like a great way to wear out an active dog, though!

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thank you, Beth! Aw, sounds like Barley is the leader of the anti-backpack division 😉 The packs have been a wonderful investment for our pups ~ they are a great way of wearing them out for sure!

  11. Dezi and Lexi Avatar

    Gweat posty and very infurmative. Also gawjus fotos. always luv seein’ happy doggies.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thanks for the compliment, Dezi & Lexi kitties 🙂

  12. Mark @ DBDT Avatar

    Great discussion about dog packs. I have heard about groundbird gear before and it looks like they make some really nice packs. On another note, Kona, who passed away a couple of years ago, used to carry his own gear on our hikes. It was great. Except for the couple of times he went exploring and managed to lose his bag in the underbrush.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thanks, Mark! Groundbird gear has made it onto my list of worthy dog backpack companies to buy from. So far, I had Ruffwear & Cesar Millan’s backpacks on there 🙂
      Were you able to find Kona’s backpacks?!

  13. Sand Spring Chesapeakes Avatar

    Great information and pictures.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thank you very much!

  14. Scott at TailSmart.com Avatar

    Great, and informative, post! This will be especially relevant as we start to inch into the warmer months, and more people begin to hike again. You had tons of great advice, and I loved the precautions that you stated. Posts like these help keep our four-legged friends happy and healthy.

    Great photos, by the way! Always nice to see other fellow dog lovers out and about!

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by, Scott, and for your kind words! Yes, we can’t wait for warmer weather & new hiking adventures to come our way 🙂

  15. April Avatar
    April

    We use a backpack, and it has been so helpful. On our walks people often make jokes that Bain looks like a donkey with his halti and backpack on.

    I don’t think some people know really how beneficial it is to add a backpack into their routine. Great post, we use water bottles too!

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      I think you’re right ~ I’ve rarely come across someone knowledgeable about doggie backpacks! Thanks for the kind words, April!
      P.S. If anything, Bain looks like a proud working dog wearing his backpack (& Halti..we use those, too!)

  16. Rita Mhanna Avatar
    Rita Mhanna

    Hi,
    I have a 6 months old husky/German Shepherd mix. She’s very high energy, hyperactive but very smart. I am trying to introduce her to wearing a backpack, but she doesn’t let me put it on her, she is not scared of it but she wants to play with it, she tries to steel it, bite it, eat the buckles etc….the only way i would probably be able to put it on would be by force, i haven’t tried this since i am thinking she might keep eating it and try to pull it off even after it is buckled. Can you recommend a smart way to try to put the backpack on?

    Background of the puppy: she knows basic commands (sit, stay, come, down) but not 100% obedient i’d say about 70% she obeys the commands unless she is on leash and i force her.

    Your help would me much appreciated.

    Rita.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Hi Rita, I would introduce the backpack when your pup is in a calm and relaxed state of mind. Let her run off her energy, or take her swimming (I like to take our pups to an indoor doggie pool, you could google it and find out if there’s one nearby you), then gently place the backpack on her, maybe even while she’s lying down.

      Also, try placing the backpack on her while giving her a yummy chew if she’s food motivated. She’ll likely be more interested in the chew than playing with her backpack. You should also never allow her to chew on the pack or play with it. When she tries to do that, place the pack out of her reach and offer her a toy she’s allowed to play with.

  17. Jan K, Wag N Woof Pets Avatar
    Jan K, Wag N Woof Pets

    Luke LOVES his backpack, and I often put it on him for even just shorter walks. I read that it could help give him confidence. I don’t even put a lot in it most of the time. It works as well for me walking him as any harness does too.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      So awesome to read that Luke has a backpack 🙂 I do the same with my pups – they wear them for our morning walks which are typically around 45 mins. The beauty of them is that they intensify the workout of the walk tremendously, so even if we only went for a 20 min walk (which happens when it’s bitter cold outside), it would be the same as walking for 30-40 mins, depending on how much weight the pack contains. And I LOVE that it doesn’t only have the obvious physical benefit, but also the mental one, as you mentioned. It’s definitely a confidence booster and gives them a real job to do!

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