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With Spring comes the opportunity to hike with our furry friends in temperatures that are comfortable for both humans and canines. Hiking is even more fun when the dog has packs and carries some of the gear, especially if you are overnighting.

There are some things to keep in mind when backpacking your dog on the trails. First the dog can be expected to carry his necessary supplies but not yours as well. If you want him to carry more than his needs you should use a travois and not packs. Also carrying his own needs should not be taken too literally. You can distribute the loads between humans and dogs so that each carries what works best for them although the total is not increased by having the dog packing. For example you might do as I do and carry the water for all. This is because water is consumed as you go and, if in the dog packs, will involve constantly repacking the canine packs to ensure balance. I find it easier to carry this heavy item myself since my back pack does not have to be rebalanced.

Then there is the maximum weight to put in the dog’s packs. While some experts have suggested that a dog can carry up to one half of their weight in back packs, this is somewhat heavy for long distances especially if over rough terrain. A good rule of thumb is to use the back pack weight of the Canadian Kennel Club’s Draft Dog Excellent Test which is one sixth of the dog’s weight to a maximum of 25 pounds.

Fording streams is something to consider. Ideally the canine packs will have drainage holes so that they don’t fill up with water. Of course all the contents that might be affected by water. like feed, should be in water proof containers.

A warning about fording streams especially in Spring is that the water flow may be higher than normal. Should you find fast flowing water, then even with a strong swimmer like a Newfoundland, you should take the precaution of attaching a line to each dog.

A first aid kit for both humans and canines is a good idea if you are going far from civilization. The doggy first aid kit should include dog boots and padding. This will be needed if your dog gets a foot injury. Should a dog not be able to walk then knowing how to construct a travois and having the tools necessary to cut down small trees and/or branches to make the vehicle is most important. It would also be useful to check for ticks and know how to remove them safely.

Finally, make sure you have back packs for your dog that put the weight over the shoulders. For canines, back packs should really be called shoulder packs. This is because the dog is the only pack animal that has a flexible back. There are many advantages of a flexible back but one disadvantage is that they can’t weight bear well on the centre of their back.

If you take the proper precautions, then back packing on hiking trails with your furry friend can be one of the most enjoyable adventures that you share. Happy hiking!

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Newf News

March/April 2011