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The How and Why of Backpack Training Your Dog

Hello doggie friends…I hope this finds you all happy and healthy!

I’m sharing this topic with you now, because I recently had a couple of intriguing conversations with dog owners where backpack training your dog came up – and there were a lot of questions!

“Backpack training your dog? Huh. i never thought about that. How does that work?”

We were sitting around killing some time at QVC before going on air, and two of my co-worker friends were sharing similar stories about their own dogs. They are both very high drive, and as hard as their owners tried to “burn up” their energy, these dogs just did not get tired! Well, the short answer that came from me was: “Your dogs need to have a job, and the backpack could work for you.”

My friend Chris and I were talking specifically about her hound dog, Tracker. He is an intelligent, yet rather hyper dog that just does not wear out. She walks and walks and walks, he plays and plays and plays, and it just does not stop. And he’s a grown up dog (in theory;)

So, I said, ” have you thought about putting a backpack on him during your walks?” She paused, looked at me, and I felt that “hmmmmm..?” going on in her head. She knows animals. Smart lady. She liked the idea, so a new plan for Tracker was underway.

Why Does Backpack Training Work with Your Dog?

As I said earlier, dogs need a job. Unless you have an elderly lap dog, or one that is just incredibly mellow  …. most all dogs need a job of some sort. Breed doesn’t matter, so put that out of your head. I have worked at several shelters with many breeds, mixed and purebred, during my career as a Behaviorist/Trainer…and we had great success with backpack training.

One of my favorite shelter dogs, Logan, comes to mind. Shelter life stressed him out. Understandable. He was about two years old, had no formal training, and got so riled up in his kennel he was taken off the adoption floor because some people thought he might be getting a little aggressive towards other dogs.

Tampa the Dog and I were still training together at the time. And I had strong doubts about Logan being aggressive. I believed all of the barking in the kennels was stressing him out. So we teamed up and worked with him to help prove that theory. It was a success! You can see one of his training sessions here with my boy, Tampa: https://christiefletcher.com/tampa-videos/

Logan looks like a wild child in that video, doesn’t he? Tampa did a great job of correcting, and Logan responded well. But our friend still needed a “job”.

Backpack-Training-Shelter-Dog
Logan the shelter dog during backpack training. He took on his new “job” well, and became a very adoptable and well-behaved dog.

The backpack training comes into play, because it gives your dog a sense of purpose. Yes, you can throw a ball or a frisbee. You can play with them in the pool and run with them. And then you wonder why that doesn’t just wear them out, right?

It is because they need something that really makes them think. Something that makes them feel like they really have a purpose. Look at every dog you own or know, and think about the wolf pack. All dogs, no matter what breed, are descendants of the wolf. And wolves work for food. It is their job. They must do it to survive.

How You Begin Backpack Training Your Dog

Well, just go get a backpack! Ha! No. Kidding. First, understand the state of mind. You are giving your dog a job. YOU have to begin this training by understanding you are not just taking your pup for a walk. It is a very happy new job!

Start by finding a nice backpack. I would suggest going online, as I searched local pet stores and they were priced at around $40 to $45. On amazon.com I found a nice one for just under $17, plus shipping. Be sure you measure your dog so you get the right size. Then you are ready to roll!

Talk to your pup as you are putting the backpack on him. I’ve never had one resist, but if you do …. give treats and make it a pleasant experience. Take your time.

Remember the two goals here: to make your dog think, and work his mind like you would work your mind at your own job. AND … to burn up that energy!

You can start with just the backpack. But I would recommend putting something in the zip pockets on each side. The idea is to add some weight to help wear your dog out on the walk. And, also, to get him into a “working” state of mind. He is carrying something … for you or for him. It’s like his briefcase.

Now, with the little guys, or with older dogs, start with something light in the pockets until you figure out how much weight is right for them, without putting too much pressure on their back.

You can put car keys in there, water bottles, some snacks for both of you … use your imagination. If you like to take long hikes with your dog, this is truly ideal to carry all kinds of things.

Let’s Start the Walk with Your Dog and His Backpack

When I introduce something new to a dog, I always create a command. I have an entire vocabulary with my dog, Raja …. and I had a very long one with Tampa the Dog when he was still with me. He was a walking four-legged dictionary.

“Let’s go to work!”. “Come with Mama, it’s time for your job!” Anything you want. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s consistent, positive …. and different than what you would say to them when just taking them outside to pee.

Put on your dog’s backpack while giving the command, always encouraging with “Good boy!”, or “Good girl”. Then, off you go.

As your dog embarks on this new journey, you will be surprised at how quickly he figures it out. That is, as long as you stay on point and keep reminding him with your voice and your body language that he is doing a job. He’s carrying things!

Of course he can stop to pee and poo if needed. But then, right back to your walk. “Good job. Good boy! You are doing such a good job.” Repetition is your friend. Keep talking to him as much as you can.

I started doing this with my girl, Raja, about a month ago. At the age of eleven, she has the energy of a young dog and was bored with her usual routine. Enter, the backpack. She “got it” the first time around! I put some snack mix and treats for her in the pockets. We ran into a neighbor, Jerry, on that walk.

“Hey Raja! What are you wearing today?”

“I’m backpack training her, Jerry, to wear out some of that high energy. She’s carrying some snacks, would you like some?”

Jerry loves Raja, so he obliged. I asked her to sit, then retrieved some trail mix from the backpack pocket to share with him. He thanked us, and we continued our walk.

You see where I’m going with this????  Well, you should have seen the look on Raja’s face. She was calm and proud. She already knew she had a new job, and she loved it. We underestimate our animals sometimes. As long as we are on point and focused with what we want, they almost always pick up on it …. sometimes very quickly.

The new job, and the weight of the backpack continues to help wear her out and calm down that excess energy. Success! Now, I am anxious to touch base with Chris at QVC to see how things are playing out with Tracker;) I’ll update you on that as soon as I hear.

Tampa’s Story is Coming Soon!

I just like to keep you up to speed on this. It is quite the mission of love;) Tampa’s Story is in final editing phase with my publisher, and should be out sometime this spring.

Remember, because Tampa was all about giving love, a portion of the proceeds from his book will be going to animal shelters and rescues in need of help. He was a rescue dog himself, so he would want that.

Always great chatting with you! Be well, and keep being kind to our animal friends.

Look forward to catching up soon!

God bless,

Christie

 

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