Backpacking with a puppy for the first time? Know these 5 tips before you go!
“Summit” is our adventurous Brittany Spaniel. He climbed his first summit at only 3 months old and went backpacking at 4 months old.
Here’s what we did to get him ready:
- Everyone who gave us advice about bringing home a new puppy stressed to expose him to anything that we wanted him to be comfortable around early on. Since we knew we wanted Summit to be a dog comfortable on the trails, we took him on daily hikes on our local trails to get him comfortable with declines (which he wasn’t at first) and inclines. We also took frequent trips to the stream. Give your pup frequent treats when they encounter anything new, so they associate that new obstacle with something positive. Be sure to have your puppy wear the gear that they will be backpacking in, as to get him (and you!) comfortable with how it feels and works.
- Gear! Dog gear is no different than our gear these days. They make dog packs, boots, sleeping bags, rain jackets and more! And much of the gear from the outdoor dog brands are made from the same materials as our gear. Think about the gear you are bringing for yourself and I’ll bet your dog would appreciate similar gear! I came across a hiker/pup combo on my last hike and they highly recommended the company, Kurgo, for outdoor dog gear. We outfitted Summit with the Kurgo Loft Jacket, Loft Bed, Go-Tech Harness, Quantum hands free dog leash, and Zip Bowls. The Zip Bowls and the Quantum Leash were amazingly convenient. I can’t wait for Summit to use a backpack but at 17 lbs I figured I would carry his food/water/gear for now. I’ve read that dogs should not carry over 20% of their body weight, but I’m sure that varies from breed to breed.
- Plan on your pup needing more food and water than normal. If you’re backpacking, freeze dried food is a must. It’s lightweight, takes up less space and if you choose quality food, it’s high in protein. We tried out Grandma Lucy’s freeze dried food for this trip. This food was perfect for Summit and it smelled so good, I wanted to eat it! Another advantage is that you add water to this food so you know your pup is well hydrated. Since we were backpacking in 30 degree weather, I warmed up the water first and gave him some extra so it was like a soup. He loved it and I knew he was warming up his core, getting tons of protein and drinking lots of water. For snack, I fed him freeze dried treats that were high in protein and that were always readily accessible, so any new encounters Summit came across could end in a reward. Those treats definitely helped with his first trip across a long suspension bridge over a roaring river!
4. One thing I admittedly forgot about was naps. On day hikes, taking a break is sufficient for a little pup, but if you’re backpacking, plan in some nap times. If you took your pup on several hikes before your big trip then you probably know when he is tired and needs a break. Summit just sits down when he wants to take a break, so we’re lucky that he lets us know! Our hike in was relatively short. Day 2 was a little longer and had a 2,000 foot ascent. We made sure to take breaks on the way up, but we also let him nap for 45 minutes when we came back down. I even carried him for a few minutes when the ascent got a little too intense for his little legs. If you already take long breaks, then you should be fine. I have been known to skip breaks and push through but when hiking alone, but with Summit, I made sure to stop often.
- Take care of their paws. Our trip included snow, ice and rain (sounds fun, huh?). For humans, with the right gear those conditions might not be a big deal, but for a pup whose paws are not used to it, snow and ice might be a deal breaker. We used Mushers Secret, just in case, but I do not know if it helped. But, Summit did fine with the ice and snow so maybe it did help! I reapplied it on breaks and made sure to check for cuts or cracking. Make sure to pay attention to your pups paws, just like you’d pay attention to your own feet, and check them for blisters!
Bringing home a new puppy is a momentous occasion in any family, but in a hiking family, getting that pup out on the trail for the first time is just as exciting! Prepare yourself and your puppy, and you’ll be sure to have many exciting adventures in your future together!