It is tricky to ascertain how much weight a dog can carry. I personally experimented with my dogs every time I travel with them on hikes and camping trips. I hope to share my knowledge in this article.
Dogs can carry a portion of the body weight. The ratio varies depending on breeds, age and the individual dog itself. Afterall, not all dogs are made equal. Some breeds will surprise you with their strength, while others, well, you should NOT let them carry any weight at all due to health problems or biological stats. I’ll give you the lists in a bit. First, let me elaborate on determining how much weight your dogs can and should carry.
How Much Weight Can A Dog Carry
A dog can typically carry about 10% to 25% of their body weight.
Certain dog breeds are biologically sculptured to be strong thus able to carry loads. Other dog breeds might not be as tough, but due to their sheer size, they can carry a larger weight if we are talking about absolute figures and not percentage. Ever heard of Zorba? It is an Old English Mastiff that holds the current Guinness World Record for the heaviest and longest dog in the world in history. A Mastiff might not be able to carry the maximum of the stated range of 25% of their body weight, but they can probably carry more than what a husky can ever carry. Anyway, for a hiking trip, that kind of weight will have been more than enough.
Nonetheless, do consult your veterinarian on the amount of weight your dog can carry as afterall, the amount differs between individual dogs even among the same dog breeds.
Ease The Task
I happen to stumble across a Chinese proverb that encapsulate this point most appropriately. “工欲善其事，必先利其器” (gong yu shan qi shi, bi xian li qi qi). It means in order to get the job done, one must first sharpen his tools.
A dog can carry more weight if they have the right equipment, and the right arrangement. To maximise the amount of load your dogs can carry and the comfort of doing so, here are some tips that I will recommend.
Get A Comfortable Dog Backpack
The logic for getting a comfortable backpack the same for us humans. We will very likely complain if we are carrying a bag that is lopsided in weight on one side, as compared to a well balanced one. If we are to carry a bag with straps that are badly designed ergonomically such that they rub against the skin upon the slightest of movements, leading to abrasions in the long run, we are definitely going to carry less weight than we potentially can due to the unrelated factors of the sensation of pain. This is the same for dogs.
For that I personally recommend the OneTigris Dog Hiking Backpack. It has pouches placed symmetrically on either side to provide a backpack that can balance out the weight well. On top of this, the straps of this backpack, as can be seen from the image above, has a wide surface area. This increases the comfort for carrying the bag greatly. The straps are also strategically placed at parts of the dog’s body that can most effectively pivot the weight of the backpack, spreading out the weight evenly on the dog, thus allowing it to be able to carry much more load.
Just a reminder, this should not be about a race to see how much weight can a dog carry.
Arrangement Of The Weights
The trick here is to prevent the weight of the backpack from being lopsided. You should distribute the weight evenly on both sides of your dog backpack so that not 1 side is more strained than the other.
This will increase the comfort of carrying the weight and allow your dog to carry its load for a longer period of time with more ease.
Test The Load
This step is of utmost importance. We should always test the load that your dogs can carry by slowly increasing the weight each time you get the chance to go on a hiking trip. As mentioned, each dog differ individually from one another, so there is no golden rule on the weight that a particular dog breed can carry. Only experimentation can get you the answer.
Fully Grown Dogs Only
You should only test the load on your dogs if they are fully grown. They usually take 8 to 16 months to become full adults, with the bones and muscles fully matured to handle the rough going. Do no try it on dogs that are still growing as it may have negative impacts on the growth of their body. Different dog breeds take different amount of time to grow as well, so be sure to check with your veterinarian.
Hydration Is Key
Each time you test the load, it is going to be more difficult for your dog. The weight at your current iteration might already be at the limit for your dog, so increasing the weight further is going to really bad for your dog and you would not know until it reacts badly. So make sure your dog is well prepared for each iteration. Hydration is very important. Make sure you have ample supply of water for your dog to stay hydrated during his missions. Judge the situations shrewdly, and plan for frequent breaks along your hike in case your dog is finding it difficult.
Pick hiking locations that are more forgiving. For example, avoid testing loads at high altitude where the oxygen is thinner and breathing more strenuous. It is going to put unnecessary strain on your dog for testing.
In fact, reduce the load when you are going to track in the mountains, especially for the first time, because it has a different environment and probably a harsher condition as compared to where you last hike and tested the load on your dog. Your dog might not be able to carry the load that it could under the new but harsher conditions. I have personal experience with hiking in the high altitudes north of 10000 feets in the Peruvian mountains. I felt as though I had aged a good 20 years and my stamina and fitness had dropped drastically. This will be the same for dogs. It is going to be more tough without acclimatization.
You can also do your tests during walkies. For example, you can do the drill with your dogs when walking your dogs to the supermarket to do your groceries. This will make your hikes more enjoyable and can focus on the gorgeous views and the experience more instead of on your dog.
Observe your dog’s behavior during each iteration. If your dog starts to slow down during the hike, or tend to want to rest longer during the breaks, that is a possible signal that it is more tired than usual and you should take heed, although you might probably be tired from hiking too.
If your dog is the one to suggest a break, where it might stop in its tracks and resist moving, it is a clear sign that his backpack is getting too heavy. If you have been on horse riding treks that stretch more than 1 day, sometimes during the ride, you may see the horses stopping in their tracks and sit down with the person still on top of it. It is a signal that it needs a rest, as well as for an overweight load. The weight it is carrying have well exceeded its limit by more than 1 iteration. Reduce its load by 2 or 3 iterations back and restart the experiment.
Just a gentle reminder – Only add a little more weight on your dog during each iteration.
Why You Should Let Your Dog Carry Some Load?
Letting your dogs carry load is a way to instill discipline in dogs, to make them understand that they should not take everything for granted. I tend to make my dogs carry their own food. I will show them what they are carrying so that they will carry their own food. They will the lesson of how hard work and rewards commensurate with each other.
Remove Explorer Instincts
During my hikes, I unleash my dogs and let them run around freely to enjoy the nature. However, this might give me a big headache if they tend to wander off to unknown paths and so no return obediently. There are many ways to ensure your dogs do not get lost in the wild, or how to find them eventually, and one of them which I recommend, is to have them carry some load.
It reduces their tendency to wander off too far because they are carrying something heavy. It will make them think twice about their decision to leave the sight of their owners, probably because they will realise they need someone to remove those extra pounds on them soon.
Strongest Dog Breeds
These are the strongest dog breeds that can carry a great amount of load. They are going to be the most reliable camels during hiking trips.
The first image that comes into my mind when someone mentions a husky si the image of dog sledding. Yes, these dogs are so strong that they are selected to pull the sled in lands of snow, apart from the fact that they can stand the chill really well.
These are the dogs you see so often with the canine unit of your local police force. They are selected for a reason, and that is because they are one of the strongest dog breeds out there.
This is one aggressive dog if not tamed properly. It is blessed, or cursed if you view it from another perspective, with strength. Its can produce bites that are so strong and thus lethal that they are banned in certain countries.
Dog Breeds That Should Not Carry Any Load
I discourage you from letting these dogs carry any extra weight because they are simply not meant to. Let’s look at them and find out why.
Dogs With Chondrodysplasia
These are dogs characterised with short legs and long bodies. Corgis and Dachshunds are the archetypes of these breeds. Their bodily structure causes their body weight to add extra strain to their back. This daily strain causes eventual sufferings as these dogs age.
Hence, these dogs should not carry any weight at all, although they might be able to do so and will show no signs of tiredness during their prime. The gravity of the adverse effects of carrying weights for these dogs cannot be tangibly measured until the dogs reach the later stages in their lives, and it is really disheartening to watch them suffer.
These are dogs with short snouts like the pug and bulldog. They tend to have breathing difficulties and therefore, we should not add salt to their innate biological injury by forcing any task that will make breathing difficult on them. That includes making them carry weights.
Dogs will pant when they start these weight carrying routines, or should I say trainings, because they are tired but in time their stamina will improve and the panting should get a lot lesser. This is not the case for brachycephalic dogs. They are disabled in terms of their ability to breathe. They will suffocate under these tasks before ever improving their stamina by any significant means.
Dogs With Chondrodysplasia
These dog breeds are eponymous to the size of a teacup. The notion is that they are so small that they can fit into a teacup. That is on a level of exaggeration, of course. The Yorkshire, the world’s smallest dog breed, and the chihuahua are some examples of these dog breeds.
When you get a teacup dog, you probably should not have the idea of making it carry anything at the back of your mind at all. They are so small and light that they can barely carry anything of significance. If you are taking it on a hiking trip, it can probably just carry only the food container that is supposed to contain its food, but without its food inside.
I doubt you can even find a dog backpack that will fit these petit dogs in the market. There is probably no demand for this kind of “stunt”.
All in all, a dog can carry a certain amount of weight, but there is no golden ratio out there that can be placed on each and every dog. Many factors play a part to the final number. Do experiment on your dogs with the potential maximum amount of weight that it can carry, but avoid doing so at all costs if you own certain breeds of dogs as mentioned.