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Starting out beginners training guide to back packing with your dog (best age to start & pack contents)

First of all you must be aware of how your dog is developing and how old he is right now. A young dog's bone and joints are still developing and growing, putting these under strain of un-necessary weight and force will only cause issues later in life.  A Great Dane develops far slower then a Jack Russell terrier.  As a general rule a dog under a year old should not carry more than a handful of food or a lead and poo bags with a fold away dish for water.  There is no need to push your puppy too early, you have plenty of years of fun together in the future for many years to come, if you take your time and enjoy their puppy stage first. At around 6 months he can wear the dog pack empty if you want to get him used to the feel of the pack and get familiar with your hands going over his body as you fasten and touch the pack.  This way he won't fear the pack or get upset at you touching him to put water bowls in etc in the future.  He will soon see the pack as a fun accessory and a great thing to wear, associating the pack with fun.  Don't force him or pull him about when fitting, gently place it on him and give him a treat for his good behaviour.  Carry this on once per day for a few weeks, wearing for up to an hour.  Don't leave him alone in it whilst at work though as he will soon find pleasure and fun in removing it unassisted! A good beginners pack is here.

Over the next few weeks place rolled up carrier bags or small towels inside so he experiences the bulk of the pack but with not much weight, this way bumping into the odd sofa side or gate post will give him awareness of his new width side of the pack and teach him automatically to move over and around objects.  I find discouraging urinating (males) when in 'working' mode i.e. in a back pack and in harness so they don't injure themselves and they know they are working. Mine will toilet on command and so only urinate when they need too, not to mark and scent areas which I find very helpful.

Once he is fully grown the weight can start to be increased.  Now he's over a year old he can start carrying stuff in his well fitted backpack, he is possibly now the size of an adult of his breed so you may need to buy another dog pack or have decided that this is just the beginning and will need an overnight heavy duty pack.  A  tin of beans or water bottles can be placed in the pack and used on short walks to get him used to the feel of the weight. A bottle of still water of 500 ml weighs 500 g, so using this guide 2 bottle each side (always pack evenly) is a total weight carry of 2 kg. Gradually increase the length of walk and with slightly extra in his pack. By 18 months and following this method, he should now be able to carry up to 30% of his body weight over flat terrain without any issues.  The weight of the pack should NEVER go over this maximum.  Carry it yourself if in doubt!

**Please seek veterinary advice if you want more breed specific dog back packing help, my guide is only that, based on training a healthy well bred Alaskan Malamute of KC breed standard shape, size, weight and build, with normal growth rate**

Your dog is now used to the pack weighing of 10-30% of his own weight and over 18 months old,  he is now ready for longer flat day walks

If you are just doing flat day walks this ones easy! Anything light and easy to remove like his fold away bowl, poo bag holder, some dog treats for all his hard work or a small meal if you are going on a picnic and plenty of water. He could carry most of the families water or even the blanket too that's wrapped in a dry bag incase it rains or he walks through the local pond!  Mine carry a spare lead also or their extendable lead for the country.  A normal flat walk of ten miles in cool weather could have the pack only weighing 6-8 kg which would be a great starter weight to a day hike.  If you wish to try and achieve a AMCA working title (WPD) 10 miles of 30 % body weight could comprise of the following based on my dog Mackenzie (RBPISS Sledog Forest Mist, WPD WWPD WLD WTD)

His dog body weight is 40.0 kg. So he could carry 30% which is 40.0 kg / 100 x 30 = 12.0 kg in his pack (6 kg each side)  To finish a leg of this award his pack must only be reduced by natural wastage i.e.. by the use of the food and water in his pack. As a guide we normally use half of the initial pack weight by him drinking and eating a snack or so over the 10 miles + over a full day in the mountains of around 8-10 hours of hiking over mountains in Winter/Spring.  I use a base layer of 3 kg of sand bags in each side which are never removed so I know we can use all the water and food in the pack that's left.

A full day on the hills with your dog with his back pack

Before you attempt 3 days wild camping with your dog (as much as you want to) its always best to try and test bits first. One full day now is perfectly adequate at this stage. Your dog needs to be of correct fitness, a sofa dog will not be ready for a day on the hills and could end up injured, which would be hard to carry down from a remote location. You should also be physically fit. The pack will be tried and tested over the last few months so you know it will last and is up to the job.  His paws will toughen up nicely on this terrain. The weather should be considered as anything can happen in elevation and the British weather systems changing so fast.  Please make sure you have your route planned and are familar with taking barings or map reading. I carry a Garmin Montana 600 that has full U.K mapping that shows the route I want and also records where I am. The Garmin Customer Support (0808 238 0000) are fantastic should you smash the screen (doh!)

Your dog needs plenty of water in his pack (some mountains I call dry mountains as they have no or barely any natural water drainage such as Scafell and Old Man of Coniston) Please don't assume they all have flowing water falls and be caught out. A dog day pack for Mackenzie consists of: First Aid kit, spare lead, a halti head collar (just incase he decides to like sheep, fingers crossed he's not yet after 6 years) An extendable lead, 1 kg of food (double bagged into 500 g) Plenty of water up to 8 kg. 2 Bowls. Treats. Dog Brush for removing any picked up shrubs or burrs. Tick remover just incase. Walky belt for under my back pack to fasten him hands-free. Spare climbing carabineer & climbing slings. A copy of the main map/route laminated. Dry bagged dog fleece bedding.   **Check his pack regularly for any rubbing marks on his arm pits or back, take plenty of breaks with his pack removed for relaxation (every hour minimum)  & check the dog back pack for damage, the day is a marathon NOT a sprint **

Over night camping or 2 or more night on the hills

Now you're all tried and tested on your full day hikes you're ready for the harder but more rewarding trips of wild camping! Please see my Dog law pages on where you can and can't go and the rules around the countryside to make sure you get it right.  This time you will have far more in your pack also! Possibly about 12 kg of kit on your back including your tent.  I would take the same pack of contents for a day hike as above for my dogs, but include far more food and snacks, have a reflective sheet incase the sun catches you out, you will need a strong stake for tying up your dog up secure whilst at your base camp, so you can put the tent up incase there is no trees or fences. Your dog needs a soft warm supportive blanket/bed as he has worked hard for you so far and at least two dog booties and small dog towel.  I have a full comprehensive list of everything I need for 3 days in the mountains alone with one dog and all his kit too. If you would like a copy please email me on the contact form and I can help you as much as we can for an easier trip than trying yourself with trial and error.



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