Want to hit the trails with your dog? Here’s how to prepare.


By Elena Sipe

Want to go backpacking with your dog? It can be an amazing bonding experience! It takes some preparation, but this adventure doesn’t have to be daunting or dangerous.

A lot of what determines how well your trip will go is in the preparation stage – making sure you have enough water, food, clothes appropriate for the season (your dog may need a coat too!), and that your backpack isn’t too heavy.

Much of this comes with practice, but generally, the less stuff you carry (while still serving your basic needs), the better.

If you’ve never been backpacking before, it’s a good idea to do research, take a class, or go with a more experienced friend.

Make sure the trail you choose is not beyond either your skill level or your dog’s, and that dogs are allowed on the trail. Check the weather, too—you don’t want any unexpected surprises!

Remember – if the going gets too rough, you can always turn back!

How do you get your dog ready?

First, you want to determine if your dog is ready for backpacking. Are they fully grown? In decent shape? Have they been hiking before? Do you want them to wear a backpack to give them a job to do and help share the load?

If all your answers are yes, then it’s time to size your dog for a backpack. Measure your dog’s length (neck to rump) and their girth (around the widest part of their ribcage). You can use these measurements to determine their backpack size.

Try on a few at a pet store and determine what things you are looking for—specific colors, handles, etc. Once you have your backpack, introduce your dog to it by letting them sniff it. If they are acting okay around it, put it on them. If they back away, try again, slowly, with treats.

Adjust the backpack so the straps are snug but not tight on your dog’s body. This will prevent chafing. Let them walk around the house with the empty backpack on for a few hours, and take them on several walks. Once they are okay with this, start by adding a little bit of weight to each side and going for more walks with this weight.

To add weight evenly to both sides, try adding a bit of kibble or rice to plastic bags (same amount in each bag) and putting one bag on each side of the backpack. Over time, you can increase the amount of rice/kibble and thus the amount of weight.

Gradually build up the weight in the backpack over the course of a few weeks. Make sure to have your dog go up, down, and over things, so they can get used to maneuvering with the extra weight.

At maximum, your dog (and you!) should carry only 25% of your weight.

Say your dog is 100 lbs. The math looks like this: 100 x 0.25 = 25 lbs.

The bag weighs something too, say 2 lbs: 25 – 2 = 23 lbs. In this case, your 100 lb dog can carry a maximum of 11.5 lbs on each side of the backpack, but it’s better for them to carry less than this.


Assess how much food and water you will need based on the weather and difficulty of the terrain. Use a map to determine water sources along the way, so you can bring a water filter and add to your supply as you go.

Keep in mind that both you and your dog will need more food than normal, as you will be expending more energy.

For water and food, pack two small collapsible silicone bowls for your dog. You can measure out the amount of food you think they will need in a bowl beforehand and mark where on the bowl the food reaches. This eliminates the need for a measuring cup! Make sure their food goes in waterproof bags and that you hang both their food and yours downwind and away from your tent when you set up camp.

Another item that is useful to pack is dog bootiesSure, they look silly, but those pads get worn out with days of long mileage, pointy rocks, and hot surfaces. Get your dog used to these the same way you would with their backpack—gradually.

Make sure to have first aid supplies for both of you, and take things slowly. Keep an eye on how your dog is doing as you go along. If your dog is laying down to rest at rest stops, they are getting too tired and it may be time to call it a day or head back.

For sleeping arrangements, consider bringing your dog their own sleeping bag if they can’t fit in yours. That way they will have their own bed and won’t get yours dirty.

Before you go, make sure you leave your trip details with someone you trust in case of an emergency. Give them emergency vet contact info, where you are going (what trails, how many miles), when you are leaving, when you expect to be back.

Don’t forget a camera to capture that smiling doggy face!

On the trail

Be mindful of other hikers and backpackers on the trail. Not everyone is a dog lover, so make sure your dog is polite around new people and other dogs. Do not (repeat: do not) allow your dogs to chase wildlife.

Unless your dog has perfect recall, keep them on a leash. Many trails only allow dogs on leash anyway. It’s worth investing in a leash that has a hands-free option and adjustable length.

Make sure to bury your dog’s poop (this goes for you as well), and try to keep it off the trail. It’s best to do your business 200 ft away from water, so as not to contaminate it.

At camp

Your dog may need something to do at camp, so it’s a good idea to bring them a chew toy or bully stick. Remember to keep your dog tied up at camp and keep an eye on them at all times.

When you’re ready to head out, make sure to leave your campsite how you found it.

With practice, this will all become second nature. Good luck and happy trails!


elena-sipe-switzerland-300x276Elena is an adventure-seeker, world traveler, foodie, and all-around nerd person that is rarely seen without her rescue dog, Alfie, by her side. When not hiking or spending time near water, Elena can be found eating, cuddling with Alfie, enjoying nerdy books, and learning, which they both love even though only one of them gets treats for it.

Shipping a dog: What you need to know

dogcratesBy Bill Mayeroff

Moving, especially a long distance, isn’t easy. 

You have to organize and pack your life into boxes, transport it (or have someone else transport it) to your new location, get it into your new home and unpack it. It’s stressful for everyone involved. 

That process is even tougher if you have a dog. If you’re driving, you can put the dog in your car and hit the road. But what if you have to fly across the country? Or overseas? It becomes a lot more difficult.

Luckily, there are myriad companies around to assist you with the process. Some will get your pet just from one airport to another. Some will also offer temporary boarding as well as home delivery services. But as I and most dog owners know, leaving your dog in someone else’s hands is scary. We all worry about our pets and their safety. 

That begs this question: What exactly do you need to know before putting your beloved canine companion in the hands of one of these companies?

To answer it, we’ve compiled a handy list of tips and questions to keep in mind before making transport arrangements for your dog.

First and foremost, plan well in advance. A lot of these companies require several weeks’ lead time, so you should be ready to purchase the transport service at least two months before you actually move. Plan further ahead of time if you can. In that same vein, make sure your pet is healthy. Most of these companies require documentation that your pet is healthy enough to be shipped and if you’re moving to another country, even more documentation is likely needed (but moving a dog internationally is a whole other post).

Next, you need to figure out your own needs. Will you be able to get your pet to and from airport cargo terminals? Or will you need door-to-door service? Will you need to board your dog for any length of time after you arrive in your new location? A lot of pet shipping companies offer boarding services, so take advantage if you need to. It’s best to err on the side of caution. If you think there’s a chance you won’t be able to spare the time to get your dog from an airport, make arrangements to have it boarded. It’s much better to arrange for it and not need it than it is to need it and not have arrangements.

Once you’ve figured out those things, there’s still a lot you need to know, but there’s one very important question to ask ahead of all others: 

How does this work?

Luckily, this is a fairly easy question to answer. Most pet transport companies’ websites have sections that lay out the process in (sometimes excruciating) detail. If you can’t find it online, call the company and ask them to take you through the process step by step. If they can’t/won’t do it or if they can’t seem to answer all your questions, look elsewhere. 

As a side note, remember this: The only stupid question is the question you don’t ask. Don’t be afraid to ask anything you need in order to be confident that your pet will be safe. The best companies will be happy to do whatever they can to assuage all your fears. 

Other things to consider: 

  • Cancellations – what happens if your pet’s flight is cancelled? 
  • Are there weather restrictions? If you’re shipping your pet by air, it’s likely traveling as cargo on a commercial flight. Many airlines will transport pets from their cargo terminals to the planes in climate controlled vehicles, but if they decide it’s not safe to do that, your pet’s arrival may be delayed. Find out what weather restrictions may come into play. 
  • You may be tempted to sedate your pet for a long flight. But the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advises against it. From the AVMA’s website: “It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficulty with travel.” As a result, some companies might not allow you to ship a sedated pet. And if you believe the AVMA (which you should), it’s not a good idea anyway. So don’t do it.
  • Related to the previous bullet point: Know your dog’s temperament. How well does it handle stress? Travel is stressful enough on humans who know what’s going on. It’s far more stressful for a dog who has absolutely no control over what’s happening to it. Can your dog handle that? 

I know this seems like a lot to think about (and it is), but as long as you take your time and make sure all your questions are answered, you can alleviate a lot of the stress associated with shipping your pet.

For further information, you should also check out the AVMA’s frequently asked questions about traveling with your pet.


Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter while he studies to be a professional dog trainer at FetchFind Academy. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups.