Whether a teacup poodle or a Saint Bernard, dogs of any breed need regular exercise beyond a quick scoot out the back door a couple times a day for a peremptory pee. Most of us simply don't have the spare three to four hours a day to properly walk and exercise our pups. For many dog owners, a typical day includes a short walk in the morning, perhaps a 30-minute walk midday (often by hiring a dog walker), and then a longer walk in the evening. This schedule isn't necessarily bad, but many dogs plain need more exercise in order to maintain their health and just to expend all their energy. Beyond that, certain high-energy breeds will often get frustrated and act out if they aren't stimulated properly by exercise as well. One solution, then, is what we call backpacking: The idea is to give your pooch a modest load to carry to maximize the effect of the exercise they do get (if your dog is old, out of shape, or injured, consult a veterinarian before attempting an exercise regimen).
To get started, try Ruffwear packs, which are sort of like saddlebags for dogs, and let you add weight to pouches on the sides. The age and relative health of your dog are determining factors in how much weight you'll use in the pack, but as a hard and fast safety rule, you should never exceed 20 percent of your dog's body weight. So, for instance, a 50-pound dog should never have more than 10 pounds of weight in its pack. The fun part is coming up with items to use as weights: You can add water bottles, soup cans, 'Harry Potter' books, water, snacks or even a cell phone. Or, for more precision, simply order small one-pound weights online.
As with humans, your dog can be seriously injured if you don't ramp up the weights slowly, so start with a small amount, say, two pounds for the aforementioned 50-pound dog. Walk your dog for a week or two and then add another increment to the pack. Then go another two weeks, and continue this process until you reach the desired or maximum weight for your dog. This will allow your pet to properly adjust and get used to balancing the weight without putting too much strain on its joints. After that, you can introduce Fido to stairs or steep hill runs (make sure your pack is on nice and tight so it doesn't slip off on an incline). Besides helping maintain fitness levels or tiring out high-energy dogs, animals that suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other joint and muscle ailments may see improvement as well, and live a happier, healthier life.
MensJournal.com contributor Taylor McKenna is the head trainer and a co-founder of The Confident Dog in Brooklyn, New York.