A dog backpack, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, is a piece of equipment that looks like saddlebags. (See pic above of Spark Plug modeling his.) The dog wears it - (as opposed to is carried in it!) - and the bags, which come in many different styles, can be used to carry everything from actual weights, to cell phones, leashes and poop bags!
Dog backpacks can work wonders in a training program, as there are psychological reasons to use one, not just physical. The psychological benefits of this tool far outweigh the physical benefits. Here is what I mean by that:
Picture you're the dog for a paragraph.
A weighted backpack is sized to you. (Sometimes one takes the step of acclimating the dog to wearing the pack with NO weight in it first, but not always... it depends on the sensitivities of a particular dog). You're aware of the pack on your back. You have to compensate for it in your movement. You have to adjust your balance a little bit. It can shift the focus from panicky & scattered to more stream-lined and focused.
Often, and sometimes immediately, you see the dog relax. Less "scattered," I call it (scanning ahead or around them with their eyes, looking back 'n forth, setting themselves up to over-react to whatever is on the horizon, that kind of thing). The backpack helps channel their focus & helps them "settle" or feel more grounded.
(I found out recently they do similar things with child behavior modification programs... using weighted vests to help with that "scattered" feeling of anxiety. I am in no way, shape or form an expert on child behavior modification, but countless clients that work in those fields have a light bulb go off in their heads when we are having the "doggie backpack" conversation, and repeatedly, that is the feedback that I get.)
Worth a thought: many many MANY people own working breed dogs and don't even realize it. When I say "working" I am referring more to a personality type than a specific breed. A working dog wants a job to do, and for lack of education, a large percentage of owners don't give their working breed dogs that respect. Carrying both of your parcels via the backpack on a structured walk can be a form of a job, and once acclimated, so many dogs flourish with this change in their routines.
The backpack also has obvious physical advantages - it's like you running with weights. Tires ya out more because you are working harder, and I definitely feel that any amount of anxious energy one can alleviate is a good thing! (They apparently make similar things - vests - for working out as well, which I learned from a client that is very into physical fitness & the gym & that kind of thing.. who knew! Makes total sense.)
I am not saying that getting the backpack and weighing it down will solve every (or any) behavior (or weight!) problem, but this is a safe product with safe advice that I can safely give over the internet. Sometimes, the change in a dog is remarkable and immediate in just adding the backpack alone to a well-planned training/rehabilitation program - no guarantees, of course. Dogs are individual and independent-minded. No matter what any trainer tells you, you cannot guarantee the behavior of a living creature any more than someone can guarantee your behavior. The backpack, however, can be a very valuable tool in a well thought-out rehabilitation, behavior-modification, or simple exercise program. Almost every HEX client has one and many will tell you what a life-changer it can be.
As far as adding weight goes, you generally start with minimal weight (like cans of tuna fish or soup, depending on the size of the dog), and get to about 10-12% of the dog's body weight; hardcore "backpackers" approach 20% of the pet's weight. (Some packs - or vests - like the LaGuard fitness vest, actually don't have "saddlebags," per se, but allow long thin weights to be slid in to compartments. This makes it possible to adjust the weight in small, consistent increments without the bulk of a traditional doggie backpack.)
The backpack can be a huge asset to part of an overall rehabilitation/training program: no more, no less. Any tool sitting on the dining room table is just that: an inanimate object that has no power behind it on its own. I am a huge fan of the backpack for what it is, and just like anything else, it isn't for every dog, every situation, every time. Check with the vet first if there is any reason the physical weight could be a problem.
Here are links to some of my favorite models and searches:
(In my opinion, the version they carry at popular PetCo isn't worth getting... there is a reason it's so cheap; our fell apart rapidly.)
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Cassie-Leigh Stock, ABCDT, CTDI, AKC-CGC, CDT, TPU, All-Star TC
Owner & Founder, Higher Expectations Dog Training & Behavior Modification