Chapter 10: Pumping Iron
How do you get a dog to use weights?
Well, there’s no need buy your dog a membership to the local gym: he or she can do weight training during on-lead walks with the help of a weighted backpack.
If your dog is overweight, it's probably best for him or her to lose weight through other types of exercise and a reduced food intake first, before using a weighted backpack.
This is because there’s already a lot of pressure on your dog’s joints from being overweight, and adding extra weight via a backpack might be more detrimental to the joints than advantageous for weight loss.
It's important to discuss this matter with your vet.
Not Suitable For All Dogs
Even if your dog is not overweight, dogs with certain physical issues shouldn’t wear a weighted backpack. Ask your vet whether your dog is suited to using one.
Different Energy Levels
Using a weighted backpack is especially good if you have dogs of different energy levels who walk at very different paces.
Although it’s a terrific exercise in self-control for the faster dog to go at the slower dog’s pace, you can help the faster dog achieve this in two ways:
Commands Needed For Walking With A Backpack
As you can see, you use exactly the same commands as for on-lead walks with a backpack as without a backpack.
Equipment Needed For Walks With A Backpack
As you can tell, besides the last three items the equipment needed is the same as for non-backpack walks.
Although I don’t like supporting the fishing industry in any way, the only place to buy small enough weights for this exercise is at a fishing shop. Fishing sinkers come in a range of weights, so use various sizes to build the weight up to the maximum your vet okays for your dog.
Not A Pack Horse
Dogs are NOT weight-bearing animals and cannot safely carry heavy weights. The good news is that for exercise purposes it’s not necessary for your dog carry heavy weights to get a more intense workout.
Think about it in terms of a person walking with handweights. One or two kilo handweights don’t sound like much, but they can make a big difference to the intensity of a walk. In other words, it doesn’t take a huge weight to increase the intensity for you, and it’s the same for your dog.
The Backpack Itself
Get a sturdy backpack that’s:
Different Brands, Different Sizing
Most online petshops have backpacks and when you start to research them, you’ll see that every brand has its own version of small, medium and large sizes.
It’s therefore important to measure your dog and compare your dog’s measurements to the sizing in each brand. That way, you’ll be able to choose the brand that suits your dog best. Before you buy, discuss the various options with your vet.
Correct Fit And Positioning
Adjust the backpack to comply with the two-vertical-fingers-underneath rule that you use with collars (see Chapter 8: First And Foremost, The Collar for details).
You don’t ever want to mess around when it comes to your dog’s spine, so get your dog to model the backpack for your vet to determine that the straps are the right tightness and that the positioning on the dog is correct and therefore safe.
Across The Shoulders
A dog can most safely bear weight if it’s distributed across the shoulders. If not, the extra weight will press into the dog’s spine and could potentially cause damage. (This is especially true for long-backed dogs who already have a propensity for disc problems.)
To keep the fishing sinkers in the right place, stuff the back part of the backpack with material so that the weighted part sits only on the dog’s shoulders. Any cheap, lightweight material will do.
Avoiding clunking weights is why jogging is NOT an option when your dog is ‘pumping iron’. Even if you make the backpack as snug as possible, running will cause some clunk, and you don’t ever want anything bashing against your dog’s ribs. So walk, don’t run.
Desensitisation Plan For Backpacks
My dog Jasmin got used to the backpack in one second…literally. Your dog might be the same, but be prepared for a longer transition period than a mere second, because each dog is an individual.
Go through each of the following steps, moving on to the next step only if you feel your dog is ready for it. Use treats to encourage a positive association with the backpack and be generous with praising your dog for calm behaviour:
Mostly Heeling At First
While your dog is getting used to the backpack, heel the dog throughout most of the walk, allowing him or her to free-walk only for very short periods.
The reason is that your dog’s not used to the extra girth the backpack adds which makes it difficult for him or her to gauge how close objects are. In other words, your dog is more likely to bump into or brush against things.
Now it’s pretty likely that most dogs won’t be too worried about this, but a nervous dog could get startled and become fearful of the backpack. The more heel-walking you do initially, the less likely (as compared to when free-walking) the dog will knock the backpack into things, and the less likely an unhappy relationship will develop between the dog and the backpack.
Once your dog habituates to wearing a backpack, a bump here and there shouldn’t be a problem, and you’ll be able to free-walk your dog for longer periods if you wish.
SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!
Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance
It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.
Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.
Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.
Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.
Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.
If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.
All information and photos are copyright © Despina Rosales.