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Hiking photosBackpacking with your Dog

BackpackingOn this page:

  • About backpacking

  • Training your dog

  • Working Pack Dog Titles

Backpacking is an enjoyable activity for you and your dog, whether it be a long hiking trip or just a walk to the shops for some supplies.

Anyone can have a go at hiking with their dog as long as the dog is in good health, is reasonably fit and you have the right equipment.

The only specialised equipment you'll need is a canine backpack for your dog. You'll also require a sturdy lead (6 - 8 feet long is ideal) & comfortable collar, dog-towel (if conditions are wet), food, water & water bowl for your dog, and a basic first aid kit as well as your own requirements. Be aware that Malamutes & Huskies are breeds that must be walked on lead at all times - wildlife will almost certainly be encountered on your hike and will often pose an irresistible temptation to even the most obedient Malamutes & Huskies!

If you are just interested in hiking with your dog for fun, you can put items such as food, drink and clothing in his pack - as much or as little as you like, keeping in mind that the dog should not carry more than 30% of his body weight.

Backpacks can also be put to good use when you and your dog have a bit of shopping to carry home,

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Training your dog                       

Am Staff hiking Training should begin with walking you dog with an empty or lightly loaded pack to get him or her used to the feel of it, and to ensure that the pack is fitted correctly and is comfortable for the dog. It is advisable to load the saddle bags with light bulky padding so that they are full and sit correctly on the dog.

Once the dog is used to wearing the pack, gradually increase the weight and the distance of your walks. By building up the weight in this way, any problems with your dog or the backpack should become apparent before you find yourself miles from anywhere participating in a long distance hike.


Any reasonably fit, healthy, sound and mature dog should be able to carry a loaded backpack on a long hike.  Having said that, it is always advisable to take your dog to a vet and/or veterinary chiropractor before you embark on any strenuous event to ensure that your dog is in peak condition and doesn’t have any underlying health or structural problems. For breeds prone to Hip dysplasia, having their hips x-rayed and assessed for hip dysplasia may also be advisable. 

Please note that hiking with a loaded backpack is not a suitable activity for some breeds due to their structure (such as the Achondroplastic breeds) or high risk of breathing problems (such as the Brachycephalic breeds).

Undetected health problems may be exacerbated by working activities such as weight-pulling, sledding and backpacking, and you and your dog certainly don't want any unpleasant surprises when you are at an event a long way from help.  If your dog does develop a serious problem it could be several hours before you can get veterinary attention. For this reason, and for your own safety, it is always best if you hike with someone else.

As larger breeds such as the Malamute can be slow to physically mature, we do not backpack our dogs with loaded packs until they are at least 18 months of age.  Keep in mind that every dog is different, but most fit, healthy puppies over 6 months may be able to do a short walk with a very lightly loaded pack, and from 12 months can do longer walks with a moderate load in the pack. 

Hiking - You Yangs Regional Park, VIC In all cases, we watch our dogs very carefully throughout the hike for signs of discomfort.  Some indications that a dog is not coping well with carrying a backpack are:

- dog lagging behind

- dog dragging his feet

- dog reluctant to move or get up after a break

Assess your dog and be objective, if he is not appearing to enjoy the hike then relieve him of his load.  Let's face it, I'm sure the dog would enjoy the hike just as much, or even more, if he didn't have to carry a pack.  

Offer your dog water at frequent intervals and plan plenty of rest stops during longer hikes.  Use your rest stops to relieve your dog of the weight of the pack and check that the pack is sitting comfortably on the dog and not rubbing.  If you have a 2-piece pack (separate saddle section and pannier bag section) and are only stopping for a short time, you have the advantage of being able to remove the weight of the pannier bags from your dog without having to undo the straps and remove the whole pack.  If the pack or your dog gets wet during the hike, it is advisable to dry the dog and pack off as much as possible before recommencing your walk.

If you are hoping to achieve a backpacking title for your dog please do not put your dog's welfare at risk - if he's not enjoying it don't force him to keep walking and carrying weight for the sake of earning a title.  The dog doesn't care if he has a title or not.

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The Backpack

Backpacking with dogsThe most important piece of equipment for hiking with your dog will be the backpack. This is not an item that should be scrimped on, if you are intending to do some long hikes or pursue a title for your dog it's well worth the expense to get a sturdy, waterproof 2-piece backpack (See the Backpacks page for details).

It is important that you have a pack of suitable size for your dog and that you know how to adjust the pack so that it is fitted correctly and is most comfortable for the dog.

The backpack should sit over the withers (shoulders), so that the weight is transferred down to the ground through the front legs and feet. The pack should never put pressure on the dogs lower back. The lower back is the weakest area of the dog’s spine as there is no support from the rib cage or pelvis, and this area should never bear any weight.

If you are not sure that your dogs pack is fitted correctly, please check with an experienced backpacker. A badly fitted pack will be uncomfortable for the dog, may rub and, in the worst case, cause injury.

The pack should also not be too large. The pannier bags should not hang so low that they hit against the legs of the dog as he walks, and the saddle should not extend beyond the upper section of the back.  

Basic BackpackThe pack must be loaded and the straps adjusted so that it remains centred along the topline of the dog and cannot slip from side to side. The weight in each side of the pack must be equal, so if weight is taken from one side (ie water is consumed from a drink container in one side of the pack) the weights in the pack will need to be redistributed.

It is important that the weight is loaded and distributed in the pack in such a way that it does not shift while the dog is walking. If the weights can shift in the pack it will result in redistribution of the weight along the dog's topline towards the lower back which may lead to injury.  It is better to have a smaller pack that is fully loaded than a larger pack that is half empty - the former will sit more comfortably on the dog.

It is best to place the lighter items lower down and towards the rear of the saddle bags, with heavier items up higher and towards the front.  This keeps the majority of the weight over the shoulders of the dog rather than on the back.

If your dog is negotiating obstacles on a walk, such as climbing over a log, assist your dog by taking the weight of the pack. In difficult situations it is advisable to remove the dog’s pack and put it back on after the obstacle has been safely negotiated to prevent injury to the dog.

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Long distance hikeWorking Pack Dog Titles

The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) now offers Working Pack Dog titles as part of the Sled Sports program to registered dogs (eligibility criteria apply). 

The working pack dog program requires dogs to carry either 15% or 30% of their body weight on four 16 kilometre hikes to qualify for the Working Novice Pack Dog (WNDP) or Working Pack Dog (WPD) title respectively.

A dog weighing 40 kilograms would therefore have to carry 12 kilograms of weight for the WPD title program, which is the equivalent of 12 litres of water. It is recommended that you and your dog don't attempt this unless you are both fit, healthy and have done some training.

Many of the trails involve hilly terrain and may have some steeper trails, so make sure your training includes some hill work and is not just in flatter areas.  Walking on the flat does not prepare you or your dog for hilly trails, as different muscle groups come into play when walking up and down inclines.

You will require a sturdy backpack which is sufficiently large to hold the required weights, so it's best to get some advice before going to the expense of buying a pack. The weight is usually made up of something that is dense yet can mould to the shape of your dog: bags of rice, bags of damp sand and/or a soft pack of water (similar to the bladder of a wine cask) are suitable. 

To qualify for a pack dog title, the only permissible reduction in pack weight over the duration of the hike is by consumption of food and water by your dog, so making up some of the weight with water for your dog is strongly advised.

HikingBe aware that there are many areas in which you are not permitted to have a dog, including National Parks, so check before your big excursion that you and your dog won't be breaking any laws just by being there.

Many breed clubs hold several backpacking events each year and anyone with a healthy and fairly fit dog can go along. Contact your State canine association for further information about backpacking with your dog, backpacking events and the working dog title program.

If you are interested in trying your dog out at backpacking visit the Alaskan Malamute Club, Victoria website at for more information and details of backpacking events. 

Happy Hiking!


Written by Windchill Dog Gear - not to be copied without permission

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