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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.

Alternative: A Harness With A Built-In Backpack

Ruff Wear has a harness with a built-in backpack that can be
used instead of a regular backpack. Assume from this point that whenever I use the word “backpack” I’m referring to either option.


Overweight Dogs

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.

Why A Weighted Backpack?

A dog wearing a weighted backpack is similar to you
walking with handweights - it adds intensity and
makes you work that bit harder. Basically it’s a great
way for your dog to burn extra energy during a walk.


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:

  • Tiring him or her out somewhat using the treadmill before taking both dogs out (more on treadmills in Chapter 11: Indoor Walks - The Treadmill).

  • Weighing the faster dog down a little by using a weighted backpack.

Commands Needed For Walking With A Backpack

  • heel.

  • free.

  • this way.

  • stop.

  • sit.

  • stay.

  • uh-uh.

  • leave it.

  • good wee-wee.

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

  • Sneakers.

  • Treat bag and treats.

  • Adjustable lead.

  • EzyDog Standard Extension.

  • Head halter.

  • Fishing sinkers.

  • Backpack.

  • Lightweight material (eg. cotton).

As you can tell, besides the last three items the equipment needed is the same as for non-backpack walks.

Backpacks And Treat Training

Backpack time is not a time for learning new
stuff, but certainly use treats to reward
already-learned commands while on a walk.


The ‘Iron’

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.

Safety Tip For Backpack Use

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS weigh the bag evenly on both sides.

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.

Ask Your Vet

DON’T decide for yourself how weight much your
dog should carry. Consult with your vet and follow
their advice as to the maximum weight your dog
should build up to. As an example, my vet suggested
a total of 700 grams for my dog Jasmin, which is
approximately ten percent of her body weight.


The Backpack Itself

Get a sturdy backpack that’s:

  • Made specifically for dogs.

  • The right size for your dog.

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.)

Lightweight Material

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.

Clunking Weights

Besides spine safety, the other important reason to secure
the fishing sinkers in place is to keep them from clunking
around and repeatedly banging into your dog’s ribs.


No Jogging

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.

A Big Fat “Don’t!”

Don’t just plonk a backpack on your dog and keep
it on the dog all day long. Only use the backpack
during on-lead walks
and under supervision.


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:

  • Supervise your dog as he or she sniffs the backpack. Give a treat for calm, interested sniffing.

  • Put the unweighted backpack on your dog, give your dog a treat, and take the backpack off straight away.

  • Place the unweighted backpack on your dog and do a few minutes of simple obedience training using treats. Give your dog one last treat before taking the backpack off.

  • Pop the unweighted backpack on, give a treat and take your dog for a five minute walk. When you come home, give your dog another treat and remove the backpack.

  • Same as point 4, but go for a ten minute walk. The next time try fifteen minutes, then twenty.

  • Once you hit the twenty minute mark, your dog is ready for a little weight in the backpack. Add a small amount of weight and go for a twenty minute walk.

  • Keep taking the dog for twenty minute walks with the weighted backpack on, gradually adding a little more weight until you get to the maximum weight approved by your vet.

  • Once you’ve reached that maximum weight, increase walking time by five minutes each time. Do that until you’re walking your dog for the length of time your vet says your dog can safely handle walking with a weighted backpack.

Increasing The Weight

How should you build up the weights? By increasing every
two days until you reach the maximum? By increasing
every week? Two weeks? It’s a good question, and one
I can’t answer. But your vet can. Talk to your vet and take
their advice as to what’s safest and best for your dog.


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.

>>>On to Chapter  11: Indoor Walks - The Treadmill

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doggie backpack
This is the Black Dog Wear backpack I use for Jasmin.

dog wearing backpack
Here's Jasmin wearing the Black Dog Wear backpack. It's important that you put lightweight material in the back part of it so that the weights sit ONLY on your dog's shoulders and NOT on his or her spine.

Backpack and weights
It makes me feel dirty all over to recommend anything that is connected to an industry that kills animals (in this case, the fishing industry), but fishing sinkers are the only weights small enough to use in doggie backpacks. Pictured here are different size fishing sinkers - you can use a collection of small ones to build up, bit by bit, to the maximum weight your vet recommends for your dog.

backpack with weights
This is 700 grams worth of fishing sinkers that I put in Jasmin's backpack. The weight was what the vet recommended for Jasmin's size. Don't just experiment with different weights - get your vet's recommendation as to what your dog can safely carry.

Ruff Wear Approach Pack™
This is the Ruff Wear Approach Pack - it's both a harness and a backpack. In fact, it's a Ruff Wear Web Master Harness with a backpack attached, so it's got all the features of that harness - the handle, the sturdiness, the reflective strips - plus the backpack.

dog wearing backpack
Here's Jasmin wearing her Ruff Wear Approach Pack for the first time.

dog sniffs the backpack
Before I put the backpack on her, I let Jasmin have a sniff of this new piece of equipment...

dog gets a treat
...Then I put it on her and gave her a treat. It's very useful to give treats to your dog when getting him or her used to new equipment or situations of any sort.

dog with material and weights
In front of Jasmin is the cotton material and fishing sinkers that go into her backpack. The cotton material is stuffed into the back part of the backpack to make sure that the fishing sinkers only sit on Jasmin's shoulders. This is VERY important for spine safety.

Heeling dog wearing backpack
Heeling Jasmin with her Black Dog Wear backpack on.

Free-walking dog with backpack
Free-walking Jasmin with her Black Dog Wear backpack on. This backpack is streamlined, so I think dogs would get used to their new-found girth quicker with this than with the Ruff Wear Approach Pack.

dog heels with her backpack on
Heel-walking Jasmin with the Ruff Wear Approach Pack on is the just same as with the Black Dog Wear backpack...

Free-walking dog wearing a weighted backpack
...but, as I said above, the Ruff Wear Approach Pack is has a lot more backpack to it - it's made for carrying more stuff, basically. That means that it may take a little longer for your dog to figure out how wide he or she is with the backpack on.



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.

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