While many dogs are anxious to carry a load and welcome the use of a pack as “job,” it is not uncommon for a dog to freeze up or become nervous when introduced to a pack for the first time. Think of the first time your dog was exposed to a car, gravel, crate, tile floor…the unknown can cause anxiety and be a startling experience for any canine. Here are some tips for turning your house dog into a pack-carrying trail dog:

1. Start by introducing your dog to the pack in familiar territory—the house or yard. Work your way up to a walk around the neighborhood and familiar paths before hitting the trail. Playing with your dog in the pack in the yard will help alleviate stress and associate the “pack” with “fun.”

2. Begin with an empty pack, and work your way up to something light in the pack. If your dog shows any signs of stress, back off and reward them for lying around with a folded towel on their back.

3. Step up the experience from the towel to an empty pack, to a pack that is filled with loosely wadded newspaper. This will give the dog a feeling of a full pack without the weight, while also introducing them to the increased profile. Remember, dogs don’t understand backpacks and could be easily jarred when the pack collides against another object.

4. The next steps depend on your dog’s response to the newspaper. You can replace the newspaper empty water bottles, rolled-up towels, or other large, light objects, working your way up to saddlebags filled with sand or water. But be sure to weigh each pannier equally to help prevent shifting.

5. Ruff Wear does not recommend filling a pack with more than 25-30 percent of the weight of a normal, healthy, well-conditioned dog. It’s a good idea to actually weigh the contents prior, because it’s easy to underestimate the actual weight of the pack. When in doubt, go lighter.