How Much Weight Should a Dog Carry in a Backpack?

Key Takeaways

  • Most dogs should carry no more than 10 to 12 percent of their body weight
  • With conditioning, some high-performance dogs can work up to carrying a maximum of 25% of their body weight
  • Backpacks are not recommended for senior dogs, growing puppies, or dogs with health issues that could be impacted by carrying the added weight
  • Adjust the weight appropriately for longer excursions

Have you considered introducing a backpack to your dog for your outdoor adventures? Not only do dog backpacks allow your dog to carry some of the necessary gear, freeing space in your own pack, but they are also a great way to add an additional challenge to your dog’s workout. Carrying a weighted dog backpack can help build muscle while also giving your dog the feeling of having a “job” on the trail. But how do you figure out how much weight your dog can safely carry?

Ensuring you don’t exceed the recommended dog backpack weight limit is essential. This will allow your dog to enjoy the benefits of wearing a backpack without increasing the risk of injury.

We’re going to break down how to determine the safe weight limit specifically for your dog.

We’ll also discuss the safe use of a dog backpack, including how long they should be allowed to wear one and the benefits of using a pack.

Let’s get started…

dog laying on grass wearing a backpack | How Much Weight Should a Dog Carry in a Backpack?
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What is a Dog Backpack?

As the name suggests, a dog backpack is a pack that your dog can wear and use to carry gear.

They often involve 2-4 saddlebags attached to a harness structure. This positions the bags on the sides of the dog’s body.

Many backpacks also have the option of removing the saddlebags from the harness, either to use it as a standalone harness or to make cleaning the bags easier between trips.

There are several styles of bags ranging from simple bags for short walks to those carefully designed for safe and comfortable use when planning longer backpacking excursions. Choosing the right backpack is essential for safe use.

Benefits of a Dog Backpack for Your Dog

While backpacks aren’t suitable for every dog, they can offer great benefits for many pups. There are even some benefits for you when you’re out on the trails!

Here are a few of the most discussed benefits of using a dog backpack.

Good Exercise

When you’re working out at the gym, you will often add weight to make a specific move or exercise more challenging.

The same can be said about your dog’s pack.

If you have a high-energy dog that can power through a hike without showing any signs of being tired, this is a sign that they may be ready to take things a step further.

Of course, you could increase their exercise by making your hiking adventures longer or visiting harder trails. But this isn’t always a feasible option for the rest of your “pack,” especially if you have dogs at different ages or skill levels.

Instead, introduce some weight in the form of a weighted backpack to up the difficulty level.

Carrying weight in this way is a great way to build muscle. Be sure to work up slowly, adding a little weight at a time in the same way you would increase your own weights.

Give Your Dog a Sense of Purpose

If you have a dog in the working group, then you know that they thrive on having a “job” or “task” to complete. This is what they were bred to do.

When Daviana was younger, and we placed her backpack on, you could see the happiness on her face.

Carrying a pack fulfills a deep need, one that isn’t always met for dogs that are living the life of a family pet. By meeting this need, you may even address some unwanted behaviours!

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Help Your Dog Focus on the Trail

Do you have a dog that is easily distracted by other dogs, hikers, squirrels, or anything else that happens to move along the trail? If so, you’re not alone. This description fits our boy Indiana perfectly!

When you put a pack on your dog, especially a working dog, they enter a working mindset.

This means that they are focused on the task that they are responsible for completing – carrying that pack to whatever destination awaits them at the end of the trail.

This mindset can help them ignore outside distractions as they zero in only on what will help them complete their task.

A focused dog is often better behaved, making the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

Your Pup Can Help Carry Gear

While the amount of gear your dog can carry may be limited by the size of their pack and the safe dog backpack weight limit that you have determined, every little bit counts.

Our dogs often carry their food and treats, a bottle of water, doggy dishes, and any toys we’re bringing along.

A dog-friendly first aid kit is always found in our dogs’ packs, making it easily accessible.

You can also add some smaller, lightweight items of your gear, like socks or mittens. This can help free space in your pack to carry bulkier or heavier items.

How to Introduce Your Dog to Wearing a Backpack

Before introducing a weighted dog backpack, start with an empty pack. This will allow your dog to experience the feeling of wearing a pack with minimal discomfort.

For each of our dogs, we allowed them to wear the empty pack around the house for a while until we could see that they were completely comfortable.

Some dogs will adjust to wearing a pack right away as if they have been doing this their whole lives. Other dogs will fight the process and even refuse to move once the pack is on.

During this initial introduction, make sure to praise and reward your dog. This is especially important if they seem uncomfortable with the idea.

You may need to start by placing the pack on your dog’s back, unfastened. Or, in some of the more difficult cases, your dog may need time to get used to the backpack as it sits on the ground.

Be patient, take your time, and make this a positive experience.

What is the Safe Dog Backpack Weight Limit?

To determine what weight is safe for your dog to carry, you will need to start with your dog’s body weight. If your dog is overweight, this should be the healthy weight your dog would be based on their breed and height.

Most dogs can safely carry 10 to 15% of their body weight. This includes the weight of the pack itself and all items placed inside.

Highly athletic dogs may be able to work up to 25% of their body weight. A dog’s breed and lifestyle can influence this. For example, a Belgian Malinois can often handle a heavier pack. But even a Malinois can be out of shape if they aren’t getting regular exercise.

How Long Can a Dog Wear a Dog Backpack?

Like the weight, the time limit for wearing a weighted dog backpack will depend on the dog individually.

When first taking your dog out with their pack, stick to shorter trips. This will give them time to get used to carrying the added weight.

You can slowly increase the time they wear it with each trip. But watch carefully for any signs that your dog has hit their limit. Pushing your dog too far will only increase the risk of injury.

dog wearing backpack on hiking trail | How Much Weight Should a Dog Carry in a Backpack?
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What Happens If Your Dog Carries Too Much?

A dog that is carrying too much weight is at risk of several injuries, including the following:

  • Joint damage or pain
  • Spine curvature
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sprained muscles
  • Loss of balance

The extra work required to carry the pack can also contribute to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and dehydration if you are hiking with your dog during the summer months.  

Final Thoughts

Do dog backpacks work? Is this something that you should consider adding to your gear collection? The answer is maybe… Deciding whether to purchase a pack for your dog will vary from pup to pup.

If you have a high-energy working breed that is often buzzed with pent-up energy even after a hike, a backpack can be a great help.

However, if you hike with a toy breed, a growing puppy, a senior dog, or a dog with health issues like heart problems or hip dysplasia, any added weight could have a negative effect.

Dog parents who are unsure whether a backpack is a good idea should consult their veterinarian.

The vet will not only offer some insight into whether a backpack is safe, but they can also recommend a dog backpack weight limit specific to your dog’s size and strength.

Does your dog carry a backpack when you are hiking? If so, what does your dog usually carry on the trail?

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