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Training Your Dog to Wear a Harness or Doggy Backpack

Training Your Dog to Wear a Harness or Doggy Backpack

Dog harnesses and backpacks provide many benefits for both you and your dog. Harnesses help keep your dog safe while walking on a leash by avoiding pressure on their neck. This makes them ideal for dogs that pull on leashes or have respiratory issues. Backpacks allow your dog to comfortably carry supplies, groceries, water and more on hikes, walks, and adventures. They give your dog a "job" which provides mental stimulation.

Some key benefits include:

  • Provides safety – harnesses evenly distribute leash pressure instead of straining the neck
  • Avoids injury – reduces risk of trachea and neck injuries from pulling
  • Gives the dog a "job" – provides mental stimulation and satisfaction
  • Lets dogs comfortably carry supplies – water, treats, waste bags on walks
  • Distributes weight across the body – avoids back strain from carrying packs

Choosing the Right Harness and Backpack

With so many options on the market, it's important to select the right harness and backpack suited for your dog's needs. Keep these factors in mind:

Harness Considerations

  • Get the proper fit – measure your dog's girth and choose the right size
  • Opt for adjustable straps – ensure a customized, secure fit
  • Pick your purpose -walking, running, training, anti-pull? Different harnesses serve different needs
  • Choose the right material – nylon, leather, mesh etc. based on climate and comfort
  • Add padding – for pressure relief in sensitive areas
  • Allow natural movement – should not restrict range of motion
  • Pick easy on/off design – for convenience during use

Backpack Considerations

  • Measure your dog's torso length and girth to choose right size
  • Select durable, bite-proof material if your dog is a chewer
  • Adjustable straps – customize fit for stability and to avoid chafing
  • Padded interior – for comfort against the spine
  • Pick storage type – saddle bags, pockets etc. to organize gear
  • Breathable fabric – avoid overheating
  • Reflective features – for visibility
  • Handle for assistance putting on and taking off
  • Leash ring – to keep the backpack and dog secure

Introducing the Harness and Backpack

The key to getting your dog comfortable wearing new gear is to introduce it slowly and make it a positive experience. Here are some tips:

  • Let them inspect, sniff, and get used to the harness/backpack first
  • Pair with treats to create a positive association
  • Place the harness/backpack near your dog to get them used to seeing it
  • Drape it over them casually without fastening at first
  • Give treats when they allow you to put it on, then take it right back off
  • Slowly increase the duration worn – just 30 seconds at first
  • Keep sessions brief to avoid overwhelming them
  • Fasten the straps once your dog is comfortable wearing it unattached
  • Give treats, praise, play to reinforce cooperation
  • Practice having them walk around indoors with the gear secured
  • Build up to going outside, longer walks, adding weight to backpack

Be patient and make it fun. Forcing gear on a dog can create fear and aversion. Let them warm up to the new experience at their own pace by pairing it with things they enjoy.

Fitting a Harness Properly

Getting the right harness fit will keep your dog comfortable and avoid issues like chafing, restricted range of motion, and escape. Follow these tips:

  • Have your dog standing squarely, not sitting or lying down which alters fit
  • Place the harness around their torso, just behind the front legs
  • Pull straps evenly but avoid over-tightening so you can slide two fingers between strap and dog
  • Adjust chest strap just behind the front legs above the elbows
  • Second belly strap should fall just in front of the hind legs
  • Check that harness doesn't restrict shoulder, leg, or neck movement
  • Double check strap tightness and readjust after initial walk
  • Monitor for any signs of chafing which indicate improper fit

Getting the right snug yet comfortable fit takes some trial and error. It should be loose enough to allow free movement but tight enough to avoid escape or shifting around. Test fit and adjust until your pup moves freely and the harness stays put.

Fitting a Dog Backpack Correctly

Fitting your dog's backpack involves similar principles as the harness. But it also needs to distribute weight properly without chafing. Follow these tips:

  • Have dog stand squarely and measure their torso length and girth
  • Place empty pack centered on their back, not too far forward or back
  • Adjust shoulder and belly straps for snug fit – able to slide fingers between straps and dog
  • Make sure pack sits right behind shoulder blades above the ribcage
  • Pack base should not extend past ribcage to avoid kidney contact
  • Allow free range of motion – check that straps don't limit shoulder or leg mobility
  • Pack should not shift or rotate once strapped on
  • Re-check and re-adjust fit with weight in pack before walking

The pack needs to stay stable when loaded, so ensure the fit is customized to your dog. The right fit will evenly distribute weight, reduce strain, and prevent chafing so your dog can carry cargo comfortably.

What to Put in a Dog Backpack

Once your dog is used to wearing their backpack, it's time to start loading it for your adventures together. But what should you put in a doggy backpack? Here are some dos and don'ts:


  • Bring water and collapsible dog bowls
  • Pack poop bags and other essential supplies
  • Load treats to reward and motivate them along the way
  • Add dog first aid items – bandages, tick remover, tape
  • Carry their food on overnight hiking/camping trips
  • Let them transport their own toys to the park or beach
  • Balance loads on both sides of pack


  • Exceed 10-12% of their body weight – start with less
  • Allow load to pull backwards and put pressure on organs
  • Overload small dogs trying to keep up with big dogs
  • Make dog carry your stuff – keys, phone, heavy gear etc.
  • Put breakable or harmful items in reach of dog
  • Overpack to the point they can't move normally

Start with an empty pack or minimal weight such as a single water bottle. Slowly work up to heavier loads based on your dog's size, fitness and comfort level. The backpack is for their job carrying gear – not yours!

Adding Weight to the Dog Backpack

You need to condition your dog to carrying weight in their backpack progressively. Adding too much weight too soon can strain their body and make them dislike wearing a pack. Follow these steps:

  1. Let your dog get used to wearing the empty backpack first

  2. Start with a light load such as a single water bottle, under 5% of their body weight

  3. Walk for short durations of 10-15 minutes at first with light loads

  4. Slowly add weight – bottles, some treats, small toys over multiple sessions

  5. Increase duration and distance of walks as your dog adapts to the added weight

  6. Work up to a load of no more than 10-12% of body weight for larger breed dogs

  7. Smaller dogs can carry less – stick to under 7% of their weight

  8. Monitor for any signs of discomfort – reluctance, lagging, panting

  9. Reduce load if needed and build back up gradually

Be conservative and patient to avoid injury and fatigue. Make sure to let your dog stop and rest periodically on longer walks. Stay well under the weight limits and adjust based on each individual dog and conditions like weather and terrain.

Training Dog to Walk Nicely in Harness and Backpack

The first walk may be awkward for your dog getting used to new gear. Here are some training tips to teach them to walk politely on leash while wearing a harness or backpack:

  • Practice initial sessions in a familiar, low-distraction environment
  • Reward walking next to you with treats and praise to reinforce this habit
  • Use verbal cues like "let's go" to signal the start of a walk
  • Stop and stand still if they start to pull – wait until leash loosens to continue walk
  • Maintain a brisk enough pace to keep your dog focused
  • Work on basic obedience cues like "sit" and "stay" with gear on
  • Practice heel and change of direction with positive reinforcement
  • Correct pulling gently with leash, then give treats when walking nicely
  • Try head halters/no-pull harnesses if needed for extra control
  • Be patient – it takes time for dogs to adjust to new walking equipment
  • Keep initial walks shorter and easier for dog to succeed

With regular, positive training it will start to feel natural for your dog to walk politely on a leash in their gear. Proper introduction sets them up for outdoor adventures together.

Maintenance and Safety Tips

To keep your dog comfortable and safe in their harness and backpack, follow these tips:

Harness Care:

  • Check for signs of wear – fraying, damaged hardware
  • Monitor for hair mats or sores under straps
  • Wash padded harnesses regularly to prevent odor and skin irritation
  • Clean leather harnesses with conditioner to prevent cracking
  • Avoid leaving harness on unsupervised – only during walks

Backpack Care:

  • Inspect for damage after each use – bent/broken buckles, torn fabric
  • Check interior padding remains secure and supportive
  • Rinse out dirt, debris, and dog hair after each trip
  • Take out contents to let fully air dry after walks
  • Hand wash or spot clean exterior as needed with mild detergent
  • Regularly clean and lubricate zippers to keep functioning


  • Never leave a harness on unattended – risk of injury if caught
  • Remove backpack after walks to avoid excess pressure on body
  • Ensure proper fit to avoid chafing injuries
  • Take extra water on warm days – backpacks can cause overheating
  • Watch for signs of fatigue, discomfort, limping, or reluctance
  • Gradually build up duration and intensity of walks

With proper care and maintenance, your dog's harness and backpack can provide years of walking, hiking and adventures together!

Troubleshooting Common Issues

It takes time to get used to gear. Be patient and persistent. Some common issues and how to resolve them:


  • Use no-pull harnesses and halt immediately if they lunge
  • Work on basic obedience, change direction, start/stop cues
  • Lure back to your side with treats to re-focus
  • Try head collars for additional control if needed

Escaping Harness:

  • Ensure proper snug fit – check straps regularly
  • Use harness with multiple adjustment points
  • Practice having dog "back up" into harness before attaching
  • Reward for staying put while putting on
  • Try over-head style harnesses which are harder to wriggle out of

Unwilling to Wear:

  • Introduce slowly with positive reinforcement
  • Have dog associate gear with going on a fun walk
  • Drape on initially without fastening all the way
  • Distract with treats for securing straps
  • Short, easy sessions to build confidence


  • Adjust straps looser in problem areas
  • Opt for well-padded, soft fabric harness
  • Move straps regularly to avoid prolonged friction
  • Keep fur trimmed in areas that will be under straps
  • Treat hot spots and let them fully heal before using gear


  • Use lightweight, breathable harness and backpack material
  • Bring lots of water and take frequent breaks in shade
  • Avoid strenuous exercise on hot days
  • Watch closely for signs of heat stress – heavy panting, reluctance, confusion

With some troubleshooting adjustments, your dog can learn to love wearing their harness and backpack!

Fun Ways to Engage Your Dog While Wearing Gear

Donning a harness and backpack presents new challenges and sensations for your dog. Make it fun with these engaging activities:

  • Have the gear signal going on an adventure like the park, beach, or hiking. Get excited!
  • Bring toys like balls and frisbees and play fetch – the backpack adds a fun challenge!
  • Have random rewards stashed in the pack and celebrate when your dog "finds" them
  • Let your dog carry their own collapsible water and food bowls on walks for built-in responsibilities
  • Teach cute tricks like weaving through your legs, spinning, crawling
  • Practice basic obedience cues – sit, stay, down, heel with added distractions
  • Invite another backpack-wearing dog on group walks and bond over the shared experience
  • Stop at exciting new places and let them explore sights and smells
  • Take a doggy first aid class together while wearing your gear
  • Train for a dog sport like agility, rally or nosework

Keeping walks and training sessions dynamic will build your dog's confidence maneuvering in their new equipment. That makes it more likely they will enjoy wearing harnesses and backpacks for life!

Preparing for Multi-Day Adventures

Want to take your dog backpacking, camping, or road tripping? Multi-day adventures require some added preparation:

  • Get them accustomed to wearing gear for longer periods
  • Train "leave it" cues so they don't remove packs at camp
  • Pack extra food, medications, first aid supplies
  • Bring collapsible water and food bowls for remote locations
  • Teach them to relieve themselves on different surfaces
  • Acclimate to varieties of terrain – hills, uneven ground, lakes, elevation
  • Expose to sights, sounds, animals they may encounter – other dogs, wildlife
  • Get required permits and vaccinations wherever you'll visit
  • Ensure proper identification – tags, microchip, embriodered harness
  • Practice commands around new distractions they will experience
  • Pack backup leashes/harnesses and repair items like duct tape

With conditioning and training, your dog will thrive on multi-day adventures in their backpack. Some key preparation and planning will make the experience smooth and fun for both of you!

Choosing Alternate Carry Methods

While backpacks are the most common way for dogs to carry items, some other creative carry options include:

Saddle bags – Bags that attach to a padded "saddle" around the torso distribute weight to the ribs or hips

Vests – These distribute small loads around the torso and include utility pockets and D rings for items

Wagons – For toy breeds or puppies, pulling a wagon can be an alternative to carrying a pack

Sledding – Dogs can pull sleds or carts with loads in cooler climates. Teach directional commands like "gee" (right) and "haw" (left)

Mobility harnesses – Custom harnesses allow disabled dogs to be assisted or carry medical equipment

Strollers – Let petite or senior dogs ride in comfort while staying part of the walk

Carts – Larger cargo carts can be hitched to bigger, stronger dogs – popular for sport dogs

Panniers – Packs that attach to the sides of bikes or wheelchairs – training is critical so the dog doesn't get tangled

The key for alternate carry methods is ensuring proper fit, introducing slowly, distributing weight evenly, and making it a positive experience. Get creative based on your dog's size, skills and personality!

Incorporating Backpacks into Dog Sports and Jobs

Backpacks are useful training tools to incorporate into dog sports and working roles:

Agility – Adds challenge to navigate courses and provides physical conditioning

Hiking – Carrying water, collapsible bowls and first aid supplies makes dogs prepared trail partners

Search and rescue – Canines can carry radio transmitters, medical supplies, rations when working

Hunting dogs – Useful for birds, ducks and other game retrieved, as well as supplies

Running – Extra resistance when training for canicross races

Frisbee – Dogs can carry discs and tosser tools to the park or competitions

Herding dogs – Can carry supplies out to the pasture all day

Detection dogs – Allows dogs to transport tools of their trade such as arson or mold detection kits

Therapy dogs – Can safely transport things like toys, books, activities for visits

Service dogs – Customized to hold medications, emergency items for people they assist

Mobility support – Helps counterbalance handlers who have disabilities

The working roles above involve a lot of conditioning before adding pack weight. But a well-trained dog wearing a purpose-built backpack makes them even more helpful!

Backpack Games and Activities for Kids and Dogs

Incorporating a dog backpack into playtime, training and outdoor adventures makes for memorable childhood fun. Some ideas:

  • Have the dog backpack carry picnic supplies for your playground lunch or snack time. Let kids unpack the "surprise" treats!

  • Bring kid-sized gardening tools and have the dog carry them to the yard or community garden for some planting time.

  • Load coloring books, crayons, and activity pads into the dog's pack and head to the park for some special craft time together.

  • Pack pup-safe bubbles and sidewalk chalk so you can decorate the sidewalk with art on your walk.

  • Let kids pick out dog-safe toys and special treats to motivate your pup on a neighborhood scavenger hunt.

  • Load dog toys like balls and flying discs so your pup has constant entertainment at the park or beach.

  • Stash small "surprise" toys inside the pack and let the kids discover them along your hike.

  • Bring dog training treats and practice fun skills like weaving through cones or children's soccer goals.

  • Design a kids obstacle course in the backyard using toys from the dog's backpack. Time them!

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