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I think I need to sit down and write an article about dog packs one of these days.


First, I will say this: the packs that are sold at Petsmart and Petco are not the best packs on the market. They are not designed very well in terms of the fit and they are not constructed very well. If you're planning to have your dogs carry any kind of substantial amount of weight or you're planning to use them for a long time, I would look elsewhere.

Your best bet are local hiking and outdoor stores, such as REI, who usually carry different makes and models and while most of these stores don't allow dogs inside anymore, they will bring the packs outside for you to try them on your dog.

When you buy a pack, the fit is the most important thing. A properly fitted pack should sit as far forward on the shoulder as possible. You have to remember that dogs have flexible spines, unlike horses, so that you don't really want to load a lot of weight onto the spine, but rather place it somewhere that offers support - like over the shoulder.

Then you need to consider the fit and adjustability. A pack that has a Y-front harness rather than a strap that goes straight across the chest is ideal because it helps distribute the weight, won't interfere with your collar, and won't choke the dog or rub at the bottom of the neck. The chest strap should sit just behind the dog's shoulder but not interfere with movement. If the panniers (the pockets of the pack) have cinch straps to hold down an unbalanced load, that's absolutely ideal - but most packs do not offer that feature, though many have inside pockets to help you load it well.

As far as smaller packs for daily walk use and maybe the occasional hiking / camping weekend trip go, the Wolfpacks recommended on the site MaggieRoseLee linked are wonderful. Wolfpacks makes an absolutely great product and since every single one of their packs are made to order, you're essentially getting a custom pack for your dog, based on your measurements. They are also very, very helpful in helping you find the right pack and fit via email or phone.

If you're looking for something slightly cheaper, but still great in quality, try your local REI if you have one, or another, similar outdoor store. I am most familiar with REI since we have several in our area and they carry different types of packs. Most REI will carry the Kelty Chuckwagon and the Ruff Wear packs, like the Pallisades. The Ruff Wear packs are designed more for serious trail hiking and are probably overkill if you're looking for a smaller 'day' pack. The Kelty pack is excellent, especially for under $50. REI has recently also started producing its own dog pack. I have not tried them but the design seems very similar to the Kelty and it looks like a nice pack overall.

If you get a little pack like the Kelty, don't be afraid of modifying if you feel like something needs to be done on it and you can do basic straight lines on a sewing machine. It takes nothing to add outside cinch-straps to the panniers or web to the top to attach things if you feel that's needed.

If you mainly want the pack to be weighted, sand may be your better option since water tends to "slosh". Of course, water is very practical since you can use it while you're out.

With any weight, you need to start with no more than 5% of the dog's body weight and work up to higher amounts from there. A healthy dog trained to carry weight properly can carry 30% of his or her weight for a day hike without problems. (As a matter of fact, if you wanted to go for a pack dog title, that's what the requirement is for the advanced titles, 20% is the requirement for the novice title.)

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club's website has an article about how to train your dog for pack hikes that has information on building up the weight right - http://www.gsmdca.org/activities/packhike/training.php

If you're looking for a pack only to carry weight, an alternative can also be a weighted vest, like the ones Leerburg sells here - http://leerburg.com/792.htm Personally, I find those to be overly expensive but they could make a good training tool if this is your mail goal / purpose for getting one.
 

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I'll be happy to link a couple of places / packs for you.


REI is Recreational Equipment Incorporated, they're a chain of outdoor stores. Their main website is at http://www.rei.com/. My area has both their regular store as well as an REI outlet and I love going there. They have a lot of really great gear, and also produce their own line of products which are a bit cheaper but still very nice quality.

This is the Kelty Chuckwagon (same as the one on eBay)
http://www.rei.com/product/684240?vcat=REI_SEARCH
Kelty makes quality equipment at cheaper prices. Their overall pack quality for both dogs and humans is really good. (Actually, if memory serves, they recently got a military contract making packs for Special Forces, which is something since they beat out better known brands for it.)

Here's the Wolfpacks site
http://wolfpacks.com/
Wolfpacks does the vast majority of its business via word-of-mouth and its online sales. They make a quality product that is essentially custom-fitted to your dog. Very helpful tech support, too.

Here are the Ruffwear packs
http://www.ruffwear.com/Products/dog_packs
Ruffwear makes quality products and have quite a lot of outdoors equipment - dog boots, travel bowls, etc. that is excellent quality and definitely worth the money. Their packs may be a little much, in terms of size, for what you're looking for. They're more geared toward people who want to seriously trail hike with their dogs where the dog would have to pack his/her own kit.

I have a modified Kelty pack which works quite well for Abby. You can see some pictures of it here - http://abbyk9.fotki.com/customgear/backpackmod/ - if you want to see what I've changed on it. Our pack is a Large, which is a bit too big for Abby (she should probably take a Medium) and required adjustment and alteration. I think the Large would work well for you and it's a great starter pack. I find it to be large enough for weekend trips.
 

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I don't use sand in Abby's pack, but if your primary reason for getting a pack is to help tire the dog out and / or work on building him up to carry more weight for, say, pack hikes or camping trips, that would be a good way to go.

I know people who do use sand tend to put it into Ziploc bags, making little "sand bags" (so to speak) to load the pack up with. As long as you use quality baggies and make sure they don't tear, that seems like a very good solution and keeps the inside of your pack mostly sand free.

When you start out with a pack, it should be no more than 5% of the dog's body weight - so your starting weight would be around 5 lbs for the pack with load. Then you can build up from there. If you follow the "training" schedule given in the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog pack hike link in my post above, you would add 5 lbs a week until you get to the maximum weight. Your dog should carry no more than 30% of his body weight, which would be 27lbs for a 90lbs dog.

And yes, if you're using the pack for daily walks, the purpose is to make the walk more effective exercise by adding the weight. It would be the equivalent of using wrist and ankle weights on a person who is exercising.
 
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