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Getting your Dog in Shape for Backpacking.

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

A lot of people seem to think dogs are naturally in shape and able to conquer any mountain.  That is simply not true.  Dogs need conditioning just like people.  If you push your dog too hard too fast you risk injury and exhaustion; you may wind up carrying your little buddy on your back.  That is fun for neither Fido nor You.  Luckily, it is fairly easy to get your dog conditioned for hiking, it just requires realistic goals.

The most overlooked aspect of getting your dog ready for a long hike is actually your dogs feet.  Dogs don’t wear shoes (well they can, but that is for another post).  Dogs paws do not start off made up tough leather; they are actually fairly delicate when you first start out.  The key here is to not go too far too fast.  Check your dogs paws before and after every trip.  If they start to look worn and cracked, then give your dog a day or so to heal up.  Eventually, over time, your dogs paws will become tough enough to handle any terrain within reason.

Daria hydrating after a short walk around the neighborhood.

The theme here is start off small.  Buy your dog a backpack and keep it empty for the first week, only taking him on short walks.  The general rule seems to be that a dog can carry 10-25% of a dogs body weight depending on breed and condition.  I’ve heard a wide range here, so if you are dealing with a dog that isn’t built for draft work I recommend you ask your Vet for guidance.  Do not, under any circumstances, put 25% of a dogs body weight on his back his first trip out.  You can cause serious damage if the muscles aren’t ready for that much weight.

Week Pack Weight Distance
1 Empty 1 mile
2 1 lb 1 mile
3 2 lbs 1 mile
4 4 lbs 1 mile
5 6 lbs 1 mile
6 8 lbs 1 mile
7 8 lbs 2 miles
8 10 lbs 3 miles

The above table shows an approximation of my training plan with Daria.  She was doing a lot of other exercise at the time, but this was the general progression with the pack.  I walked her once in the morning and once in the evening.  My first goal was to increase the weight she could carry, afterwards push the distance.  She has been on 10 lbs and 3 miles now for about two weeks.  I recently took her on an 8 mile hike with a starting pack weight of about 8 lbs (ending weight of 2lbs) and she did great.  She was tired at the end, but not completely exhausted; her tail still had plenty of wags left in it.

Daria charged and ready to go!

Adopting a slow, gradual progression when conditioning your dog for exercise helps prevent not only sprains and strains, but it also helps prevent injuries due to foot wear.  Also, your dog is more likely to enjoy the exercise if his muscles aren’t sore after every trip into the woods.  Even Siberian Huskies can’t run the Iditerod their first time out in the field; they require a lot of training.  Your dog is the same.  One bit of caution, however.  Do not force your dog to exercise; always make it a positive experience.  If he’s not into that day, then come back to it later.

P.S. Your dog will need more food the more exercise he gets.  Daria is eating approximately 1500kcals per day, for instance.  You will need to adjust their daily kibble rations to match the extra activity.

P.P.S. Its important you allow sufficient time for your dog to rest between exercises.

P.P.P.S. Your dog will not tell you when you are overdoing it.  He will try his best to keep up with you despite how uncomfortable or painful it may be.  Dogs have been known to run themselves to death trying to keep up with their owners.

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Categories: Hiking, Informative