Unlike humans dogs don’t have pockets and aren’t able to carry things with hands, one of the downsides of walking on all fours. Dog backpacks provide a way for your dog to carry a certain amount of stuff for them and you. They can be small and lightweight so you can easily store some extra poop bags or treats but they can also go up to larger whole body ones, which can carry a larger amount of weight while remaining secure against your dog’s body.
Dog Backpacks vs Dog Carrier Backpacks
Before we get into the details about dog backpacks it is worth clearing one thing up. The term dog backpack can refer to two very different things.
The first is what this article refers to, backpacks that are designed for your dog to wear and to allow your dog to carry things. The second type is backpacks that humans can wear that you can carry your dog in. To try and keep the two distinct, we refer to the ones where a human is carrying a dog as a “Dog Carrier Backpack”.
Why use a dog backpack?
Dog backpacks provide a convenient way for items to be carried by the dog when they’re out and about. The most common items to put in dog backpacks are items that you’re likely to need when taking your dog for a walk.
By putting these items in something that you’ll always put on your dog when you go for a walk you can make sure you don’t forget them. The last thing you want is to take your dog for a walk only to realize that you’ve forgotten to bring poop bags with you.
There are also dog backpacks that are specifically designed for working or service dogs. We'll go into some more detail about those later but they provide a way for equipment and supplies to be carried for both the owner and the dog securely. In some cases they are also designed to provide a level of protection for the dog.
Are dog backpacks safe?
In general dog backpacks are safe to use but as with a lot of things there are caveats to that statement.
Dog backpacks allow for dogs to carry around a certain amount of stuff with them but it is important to remember that your dog is not a pack mule, you are not going to be able to load it up with lots of weight without risking causing problems for your dog. If you’re looking to put things like poop bags or other lightweight items that you may need when taking your dog for a walk in the backpack then this is likely to be fine but if you’re going to start loading them down with weightier items like water then it is going to start getting more of a challenge for your dog.
Obviously the weight that your dog can carry will depend on what size dog you have and their health but we’ll get into that in more detail later in this article.
In addition to the weight aspect it is also remembering that when your dog is wearing a dog backpack there are a lot more straps and material to get caught on things. This is especially important if your dog runs off without you. If they run off and get caught up against something you won't be there to release them from whatever they have got stuck to.
Types of dog backpack
Service dog backpack vest / Tactical dog backpacks
Service dog backpack vests tend to be designed more in line with the sorts of backpacks that service men and women use. Designed to have parts that can be quickly taken off to allow quick access when needed.
Some service dog backpack vests have their base construction utilize materials that can provide your dog some level of protection from the situations where they are used. An example of this is where they use materials like Kevlar. While this is partially because materials like Kevlar are very strong and durable but they can also provide a limited protection to your dog from low velocity rounds and shrapnel.
One thing to be aware of if you’re looking for a service dog backpack vest is that the vast majority of one’s that you will find on sites like Amazon are unlikely to be to the grade that would provide proper protection. If this is something that you feel is necessary then you will need to be careful when looking to ensure that they meet the standards you require.
We have done a write up of the best tactical dog harnesses currently available, that you may be interested in.
Dog backpack with saddle bags
Saddle bags are more traditionally used for horses but these allow for the weight to be put on either side of the dog. Dog backpacks with saddle bags can also leave the top of the backpack free for handles or "if lost" information.
Dog backpack features
Dog backpack with a harness
One useful feature of dog backpacks is that they will need to be secured around your dog’s body so it doesn’t jump around too much when they are running in it. As this is also an attribute of a good dog harness a lot of manufacturers of dog backpacks also include points that you can attach a leash to the backpack.
Dog backpack with water bottle holder
Dog backpacks with water bottle holders are also pretty commonplace. These allow for your dog to carry around a water bottle which can be used to keep your dob hydrated during their walk.
One of the downsides of dog backpacks with water bottle holders is that the positioning of them is difficult to get right. Putting the water bottle on one side of the dog or the other may mean that the weight is not equally distributed on the dog, which can be uncomfortable. Whereas putting the water bottle holder on top of the dog will be a little difficult as dog’s backs aren't flat, which means the water bottle is likely to want to naturally roll to one side or the other, even when it is in a water bottle holder in the dog backpack.
One solution to the problems with water bottle holders in dog backpacks is the use of water bladders.
Dog backpack with water bladder
Dog backpacks with water bladders seek to address the main problem with water bottle holders, the equal distribution of weight on your dog’s body.
As dog backpacks with a water bladder aren’t constrained to the shape of the water bottle they are able to position the water bladders to allow for the weight to be more evenly distributed.
It is worth remembering that even if you use a dog backpack with water bladders you will need to try and ensure that you’re trying to keep the weight evenly distributed. This means that you will need to use the water from the different bladders at a nearly even rate. Being off by a bit isn’t going to make a massive difference but it is worth trying to keep them as even as possible.
One downside to the use of water bladders in dog backpacks is one that anyone who has ever used a water bladder for running or other activities like that is familiar with, the cleaning. While water bottles can just be chucked in the dish washer or easily washed by hand, water bladders are a bit more troublesome to clean out.
What to put in a dog backpack?
Dog backpacks are great for putting things in that you’re going to need when you’re taking your dog for a walk. Poop bags, dried treats
For more tactical or service backpacks these will be designed for more specific carrying purposes. They also are more focused on working dogs, which are larger and able to carry more. Examples for this include:
- First aid kits
- Rations for yourself and your dog
How to fit dog backpack
Be considerate of your dog
The exact way that you put the dog backpack on your dog is going to be slightly different for each type of dog backpack.
What you need to ensure with any dog backpack is that you don't over tighten it. While you might be keen to ensure that the dog backpack doesn't move around too much on your dog you need to ensure that you're not making it uncomfortable for your dog.
Allow your dog to get used to wearing a backpack
The first time you put a dog backpack on your dog they are likely to find it unusual, especially as they are not going to be able to take it off for themselves. It is therefore a good idea to avoid putting anything in the backpack for the first few times that you put it on your dog. This will let them get used to having the backpack on before you start adding any weight to it.
Consider different weather
It is worth remembering that when you put a dog backpack on your dog they will be carrying more weight than they are used to. They will also have parts of their body covered with an extra layer. This can be uncomfortable for them in warm weather, though certain types can help keep them warm during colder weather.
Be considerate, if extra layers would be uncomfortable for you then they definitely will be for your dog.
How to pack a dog backpack?
As mentioned earlier in this article, ensuring that the weight is evenly distributed on your dogs body is important. Similarly to how it is better for your back to have weight distributed equally when you wear a backpack, the same goes for dogs.
If you only put small lightweight items in the dog backpack it’s not going to make a large difference but if you start putting more weight, such as water or equipment in the dog backpack then it is going to be important.
How much weight can you put in a dog backpack?
This is a difficult question to answer as it is going to depend on a number of key factors:
- The breed and size of your dog
- Your dog’s age
- Your dog’s health
Obviously if you have a German Shepherd then they will be able to carry more weight than a Pomeranian.
Your dog’s health is also going to be a key factor, if they’re getting on in years or are injured then it is probably best not to weigh them down too much as you’re likely to end up hurting them, which we don’t want.
As with them getting used to wearing a dog backpack, it’s probably best to increase the weight slowly once they have got used to wearing the backpack. By letting them get used to wearing the dog backpack it allows you to see whether they’re comfortable with it. If you go straight to putting them in a dog backpack with weight and they find this disagreeable you’re not going to know whether it’s because you’ve put them in the backpack or whether you’re overloading them.
A dog backpack can be a great way to conveniently carry around items for yourself and your dog. It is also likely to cause you and your dog to get some additional attention as dogs wearing backpacks aren't something people see every day. Some people may think it is more dangerous than it is (assuming you're careful).
Your dog’s health should be the number one priority. Never overload your dog and when you’re giving them a lot of weight to carry then ensure that you’re not leaving them carrying it for too long without a break.
Remember that if you’re putting weight on their back it’s going to tire them out more when you go for walks so they are unlikely to be able to walk quite as far as they would normally before they get tired.