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Pooch Packs
© 2006

More than just an extra bag of food
My partner (and son) mentioned that if you give a dog a back pack (or cart/sled), then I should point out the items that should be included in the pack. Let's call it the "Pooch Pack".

At first, the only thing that came to mind was dog food. Food is definitely important, but is not the only item that he/she should carry. More on food later. Dogs have a much higher tolerance for "bad" water than you or I do. But, if you want to keep him/her healthy, then water should be right up on the list. We've all seen dogs drink from puddles without getting sick. But, why push your luck. I'm not going to specify exactly how much they should carry, since that depends entirely on many factors.
  • Weather. Is it hot or cold outside? Hot weather requires more water.

  • Size of the dog. A large dog will usually require a lot more water than an ankle-biter.

  • Work. Is the dog going to be doing a lot of work slogging in sand, hills, or pulling heavy loads?

  • Terrain. Is there adequate safe water along your bug-out route for Fido to drink? If so, he/she doesn't need to carry much at all.
How Much Water?

The easiest way I can think of is to measure out the water, in small amounts, that the dog usually drinks per day. I leave 2 5-gallon buckets out for mine but usually pay little attention to the actual amount they drink. Put out smaller quantities, and see how fast it disappears; then you will have a better handle on the amount they drink per day. Divide that amount by the number of dogs you have, and that's what they should carry – per dog.

The problem with carrying water is that it is very heavy; about 1 pound per pint. "A pints a pound, the world around". If you don't want to wear out your animal early, try to plan your route where there is a "safe" water supply for your animals. However, there is also a problem with this tack:

Water supplies attract everyone. It's the basic nature of animals and people to gravitate to safe water supplies for not only drinking, but for bathing, fishing, hunting other animals, cooking and cleaning. It is probable in an emergency situation that you will arrive at your pre-planned pond only to find it filled with refugee campers. In this case, my best advice is that unless the need for water is URGENT, avoid these refugee camps. If they see you coming with all your pre-packed survival gear, they just might try to take it away from you. Only if you must, collect water in your containers, and then bug out again. If necessary, boil this water later. If you do fill your containers with water of questionable quality, make sure to sanitize both the water and the container with either boiling water or bleach. Approaching these camps, keep a keen eye on the people and one hand on a weapon.

Water Containers

Whatever container you pick for the pup, make sure you have 2 per animal. It's important to keep their packs balanced. Put one container in each side of saddle-bag type packs. When one goes a little low, refill it equally from the other (full) container. This keeps the weight distributed evenly on the animals back. A lop-sided back pack will make your dog limp...or the pack may even slip so far as to be under the dog.

I've seen many different types of water containers. One pet supply company specializing in animal packs sells plastic containers for their own kits. They are sized to fit snugly inside the packs. Or, if you are so inclined, use baby bottles, Tupperware, or almost any container made of plastic that can be sealed.

Try not to let the food for the "pampered pooch" differ too much from what he/she is used to. A dog with a bad case of the runs can foul up a camp site pretty quickly. If you own a dog, you know what I mean. Again, the containers for your specified food should be light-weight plastic. I would use at least two per animal, and balance the load every time he/she eats. If you have more than one dog, you could split up the load equally among the pack; or give the strongest dog the bulk of the weight. This is up to you. You know your animals best.

The dog's back pack may not be waterproof. Prepare everything in it as if Noah had given you a "heads up" on the weather forecast.

Dry food is preferable to canned food. First of all, canned food may require a can opener that you may not have (or forgot to pack). The "pull-to-open" cans are OK, but they have the same problem that they all do, the cans themselves are heavy. Dry packed and cellophane-wrapped dog food is available, but I don't know how much to trust the cellophane. You don't want the food to open inside the back pack. If it rains, the food may be ruined or spoil. The inside of the pack will smell like a slaughter house. If your dog absolutely refuses to eat dry dog food, consider this: Dogs will not starve themselves. When they are hungry enough, they will eat whatever there is to eat. If you must carry canned (meat-type) dog foods, keep the size of the containers as small as possible. You want all the food eaten at one time. Don't let an open can of dog food go to waste.

Other Items To Consider For Your Pack

I'm going to list them first, then talk about each one.

  • Cold weather protective clothing.
  • Medications
  • First aid supplies
  • Comb or brush
  • Nail clippers
  • Shampoo
  • Extra leash and/or collar
  • Extra zip-lock bags
  • Chew toys, snacks and treats
  • Muzzle
  • Towelettes

Cold Weather Protective Clothing

Husky owners and dog mushers may skip this part. What I primarily mean is the bootie. They protect the dogs' feet when walking (and working) on ice and snow. For that matter, it could be any type terrain that could cut up their unprotected feet. A dog with a back pack, or pulling a heavy cart or sled, has much more pressure on the soles of their feet than they are used to.

The family pet that only walks on shag carpet, or green grass in the back yard, will be limping badly in a desert filled with sand at 110 degrees – or snow deeper than they are tall. The key to thinking about the purchase of dog booties is simple. If you don't want to carry your dog too, buy the booties.

Other protective clothing, usually found on some smaller breeds, includes hats, jackets, and blankets. Only you know how much they will need, if any. Plan for the lowest temperature on record, then lower it about ten degrees more. This is the amount of cold protection your dog(s) will need.

CAUTION: As the weather during the day changes – usually warming up as the sun rises – you will have to take off layers of clothing to prevent overheating. The dog can't tell you it's too hot, you have to watch how they act. Heavy panting and drooling is a sign that the dog is too hot. Panting is how they cool off.

Unless you own a breed of dog bred for cold water (Retrievers come to mind), keep your dogs as dry as possible. You should already know the characteristics of the breed of dog you own. If not, look it up on the internet...or buy a dog book. If you have a "Heinz 57" type dog, try and trick your vet into guessing what the breed mix is. Then look up all the characteristics for all the breeds he or she is guessing at. Take the worst case breed, (that is, the least resistant to cold), and use that as the planning point for your dogs' protective gear. If you're wrong, take it off, tuck it into his/her pack, and move on.


Like humans, some dogs require regular medication of some sort. Your dog (and all pets) should have a sufficient supply of their own meds in their own pack to make the trip...and then some. The pet should have his or her own meds, in their own pack...don't mix them up. If they all take the same meds, still have dog each carry their own. I would recommend at least a 5 day supply or more if your trip is longer. Why each dog?

Unfortunately, each year in campgrounds all around the country, dogs in a wild and strange environment wander off. Like people, they may not know their way back to your camp site. As bad as that is, you don't want the dog to be without his or her medication. Hopefully, some dog lover will take care of your dog and give them their medications as they need it. Directions on dosage and a time schedule should be included in each water proof medication container. Nobody wants to lose their dog. But if the situation should arise, at least give them a fighting chance - betting on the kindness of others to help you out.

Dog Identification

Lassie Come Home - NC
Many vets and web sites now sell laminated photo ID's for pets. It contains a picture of the dog, his or her name, and a complete summary of the owner's name, address and phone number.

This card should be fixed to the collar of the dog, not the back pack. If the pack comes off, the collar will usually stay on. This card is IN ADDITION TO any implanted chip that is used. The chips (there are more than one) require an electronic reader that only veterinarians have. The chips are great, and some include the medical history of your dog. However, if you don't have a reader, you won't know who to contact concerning the return of your dog.

If you should have any questions about this, ask your own vet. They have all the information you need. If possible, laminate the dog's medical history, including the vets name and address where more information can be found.


"If you don't plan on an accident, then you are doomed to have one."

First Aid For Your Dog

Dogs working by wearing back packs - or pulling carts or sleds - are under stress and are at a disadvantage. The pack dogs are heavier and out of balance compared to romping in the yard. Physical activity that they take for granted, high speed runs, quick turns, sudden stops, are all going to be harder to do...only the dog doesn't know it. They will behave as if they had no load at all. And that's when disaster strikes. The packs will over-balance each action, and the dog may stumble or fall...sometimes with very bad consequences.

Back packs and cart or sled harnesses, if not properly fitted, will wear ugly looking sores on their body. To plan for this happening, pack a tube of ointment (of your choice) that you have used in the past or that your doctor recommends. My vet told me to use Johnson & Johnson first aid cream (for humans) since it's the same thing sold by vets at a much higher price. I've used it for years and it works great, and costs little. If you don't like this, use your own medicine. Pack at least one small tube in the pack for each dog to carry.

Aspirin. My vet also told me to use baby aspirin for pain. I sneak it to the dogs inside of cheese. They seem to feel better by doing this when I know they're hurting. However, this may not be an option for your specific breed of dog. Only your vet knows for sure. Ask before you do it. If the vet says OK, pack a small amount of baby aspirin in the pack of each dog. If you use generic plastic bottles, print the name of the medicine, dosage, and time schedule on the bottle.

For cuts and sprains, and broken bones, band aids won't work. You will need a large roll bandage to hold a dressing or splint in place. Put at least one rolled bandage in the pack for each dog, as well as a few large sterile sponges. The ointments mentioned above, plus these bandages, will hopefully get your dog well quickly. Or, at least give you a chance to get him or her to a vet.

Problem: Dogs don't like rolled bandages because they are too restrictive. They will try a bite them off the first time you aren't looking. To stop that, you might need to muzzle the dog. So, you need at least one muzzle per dog. Worst case: All the dogs get injured and you only have one muzzle. BUT!!!

I have mixed emotions about muzzles. Putting a muzzle on a dog is a lot like handcuffing a human with their hands behind their back. Their mouths are their only protection. The dogs can still bark, and some muzzles are designed so they can drink water while wearing it. What a muzzle stops is biting. And biting is how they fight, both offensively and defensively. A dog with a muzzle cannot come to your rescue...or protect themselves. A dog with a muzzle can quickly become a victim.

Other Medications To Consider

Flea and tick repellant. Or the use of flea and tick collars. Contact your vet about these since some dogs react badly to some brands. Use what you always use. Don't throw new medications at your dog and hope they will work. The dogs are already under stress. Don't let fleas and ticks add to their misery. In the cold of the winter, these are not usually a problem (unless you live in Florida). If your dogs are anything like mine, if there is only 1 flea in the woods, it will find them. The nice thing about most flea and tick systems is that they usually last up to about 30 days. However, keep at least one treatment system (pill, collar or spray) in the pack for each dog. Now they won't run out along the way.

Comb or Brush

Even I would like to come home after a hard days work and have my hair brushed by a loving family member. So do dogs. But for dogs, it's even more important to keep irritants like sand spurs, stickers and other "hitch hikers" out of their fur. You've heard of "a burr under the saddle". Same thing. When the harness for the pack or the cart or sled goes on - over the top of a sticker - the result is a miserable dog with a soon-to-be sore on its back.

I haven't found a dog yet that absolutely hates brushing. The attention alone is a big plus for the dog that could care less about his fur condition. Grooming will be considered as a reward for a job well done by your dog.

On grooming, owners of the "floor-sweeper" dogs, like Shih-Tzu's, should consider a Puppy Cut to cut down on their attracting "hitch hikers". I raised 4 litters of Shih-Tzu's and I can tell you that their long hair can be hopelessly tangled in the living room. In the woods, forget it. They will sweep the forest floor clean, and carry the whole load under their fur. One of my dogs got so badly into the sand spurs I almost had to shave him bald. Silly beast. Stupid owner.

Nail Clippers

Not a big item in the woods, since just walking normally keeps the nails cut down. However, if the dog's nails are so long that they hurt their feet, then a clipper is needed. Also, it is potentially possible that their long nails could chew up the inside of leather booties, and make the bootie useless. Clippers aren't heavy. Let the biggest dog carry at least one for everyone.


By all means include a small bottle of shampoo in the pack for each dog. When you finally get to a place with abundant water, you can wash off the crud that the working dog picks up along the way. In order to keep your dog "camp friendly", he needs to smell clean (at least in my household). Dogs can get into anything. You'll find that once the packs and harnesses are removed from the dogs, the first thing they will want to do is roll over and scratch their backs. Where they do it isn't important to the dog, only the scratching is important - regardless of where they are...or what's lying on the ground. I've seen many a dog roll around in his own excrement...and be really pleased with himself that he did it. This is the stuff that makes dogs unwelcome in the family tent.

Washing a dog in freezing weather is a bad idea. Some breeds have oil that protects the skin and fur. If you wash it off it may take a few days to come back. A wet dog in freezing weather is known as a "PUP –SICKLE"


Probably the worst case I can think of to support my urging you to carry shampoo, is the Skunk. For some reason, dogs and Skunks do not get along. I've only seen one dog run away from a Skunk, and in my opinion this was the smartest dog I have ever seen. After a dog has been "baptized" by a Skunk, he or she is no longer welcome in camp. The best way to describe the spray from a skunk is "HORRIBLE".

Watch out though, most dog shampoos will NOT get out the smell of the Skunk. You have to wash the dog first with something else. The one cure that I KNOW works is (of all things) TOMATO JUICE. Something in the chemical makeup of tomato juice cuts the Skunk smell and allows it to be washed away.

Or, you could make up a concoction that is recommended by Lav Plourde, on a site entitled REMOVE THE SKUNK SMELL:

Remove the Skunk Smell

From Lav Plourde

"Do yourself a favor and don't try to wash the pooch immediately after you find him proudly lounging on the porch. If you leave him to cure in the back yard for a couple of hours, the smell dissipates somewhat. Besides, it gives you time to run to the pharmacy for the hydrogen peroxide.

Whatever you do, don't bring a freshly skunked pooch into the house! The dog will rub on things and transfer the smell, and then the whole house will smell like a skunk. If you must bring him in, wrap him in something washable until you get to the bathtub.

Skunk Smell Remover
  • 1 quart 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
  • 1/4 cup Baking Soda
  • 2 tbsp. Dish Detergent. The stuff for washing dishes in the sink, not something for dishwashers.

Mix the ingredients in a large bowl, because it will boil up like Vesuvius. We are, after all, making an oxygen generator. Wash the dog with this while it is still foaming, because it is the oxygen which reacts with the oils in the skunk stink to neutralize the odor. If it sits around, it will lose its efficacy because the oxygen boils off. Don't try to store it in an airtight container, because it will blow up. The brew also works for clothes, humans and unlucky cats."

USE DAWN DETERGENT: It cuts pepper spray. I know this all too well.

You also may find some "De-Skunking" commercial shampoos in pet stores or at the local vet's office. Ask around, if you have Skunks in your area, you may need this stuff.


After washing your dog and getting rid of the skunk smell, check him thoroughly for bite marks. Skunks are notorious for carrying rabies. If, while you are driving, you seem to see an inordinate number of dead Skunks in the road, then you are probably in a rabid Skunk endemic area and the place will be crawling with rabid Skunks. The rabies makes the Skunks absolutely fearless and they stand in the road challenging cars and trucks. Of course, they loose, but the Skunk smell will transfer to your car too.

These anti-Skunk treatments should be considered a "pre-wash", so at the end, you'll probably want to shampoo out the treatment stuff - particularly if you use tomato juice.

OK, humans: The crud from a Skunk will transfer to you while you wash your dog. You now have to treat yourselves. Ever had a dog shake off when wet? Of course you have. It's awful if they do it half way through the cleanup, and you get "Skunked" yourself. Off comes the clothes (usually to be thrown away) and on goes the tomato juice. I recommend washing out skunk smell in the nude. At least your clothing will not be ruined. Of course, that's just me. My wife thinks I'm crazy. For that matter, so do a lot of people - even in my own family. OK, moving on.

Extra Leash and/or Collar

This is self-explanatory, based on experience. Breaking a leash, or loosing a collar can be tragic if you can't control your dog in the woods. ALL LEASHES SHOULD HAVE QUICK RELEASE FASTENERS. For two reasons:
If you need your dog for protection, you want to be able to let it loose quickly.
If you need to hook them back up quickly, you don't want to waste time tying knots.

A Tad Bit More on Collars: If you haven't been out in the woods today (sound's like Winnie the Poo), there are animals in the woods that can really hurt a "city dog". Depending on where you are in the country, you face the possibility of running into:
  • Bears. Any and all bears can destroy an aggressive dog. Momma Bears protecting cubs are very protective and will kill your dog just because she can.

  • Cougars (Mountain Lions). May hunt your dog for food.

  • Wild Boar (includes Javelina): Tusks to put fear into the heart of anything, they can rip a dog to shreds before you can call the dog off.

  • Alligators. Every year in Florida, alligators eat a large number of dogs who stood and barked when they should have been running away. Alligators love little dogs.

  • Coyote and Wolf. When hungry enough, these pack hunters will stalk and kill a lone dog.

  • Hawks and Eagles. Swooping from the sky, these birds of prey can pick up small dogs, cats, and puppies before you ever get a chance to react.

  • Defensive animals. Other animals are equipped with horns or antlers that can ruin your dogs day: Bulls, elk, large deer and moose come to mind. I accidentally walked "face-to-face" with a bull moose in Alaska. The moose won the game of chicken. I turned around and got out of there quickly. They're really big.

  • Badger and Wolverine. Probably the 2 meanest animals in America.

  • Poisonous Snakes. Just about everywhere, some dog tries to take on a large venomous snake, and loses. Florida is just full of these little rascals. The largest diamond back rattler I have ever seen was in Port Charlotte, Florida. And I have lived in both Texas and Oklahoma.
Trained hunting dogs who hunt in packs (under adult supervision, of course) are the exception. They will encircle an animal, moving quickly to distract their attention until the hunter arrives. But I can't envision trying to control a "pack" of hunting dogs on a survival journey. It boggles my mind. But, it could be done. However, if each of these hunting dogs has on a back pack, they are at a disadvantage because they no longer can move as quickly as they think they can. One or more will get hurt if they revert to their nature and attack a large animal.

Extra Zip-lock Bags

If you are a city dweller with a "scoop your poop" law, then you know what I mean. It may be a good idea in the woods to pick up after your dog. Why? We're in the wood for goodness sake.

Because you may be being followed. You may be trying to "sneak" through the woods, but your dog won't know that, and leave a monument on the trail you are trying to hide. Pick up the poop by using an inside-out bag over your hand. Pick up the poop and fold the bag back over the poop. Zip it up and put it in your dog's bag. After all, he or she was carrying it up to now. Dispose of it later. Burial is ideal. "Poop picking" is for your own protection, not for health laws.

Extra zip-lock bags can be used to water-proof almost anything, provided the seal is tight.

Chew Toys, Snacks & Treats

Totally useless waste of weight. Unless your dog will only obey to bribery, leave these at home. There is plenty of stuff in the woods (both good and bad) for a bored dog to chew on. Working dogs have to be on voice command (most of the time) and be happy with a scratch behind the ears and a "Good Boy" for a reward.


I've already talked about the muzzle. I'll leave this one up to you.

Moist Towelettes

These are a wonderful invention. Individually wrapped towelettes can be used to clean up almost anything, including a dog. At night, when everyone is trying to sleep in the tent or shelter, you would much rather have a clean dog sleeping with you than a dirty dog. Stick a few in each dogs' pack, and camping can be a lot more comfortable. RT's wife totally agrees with this stipulation.

Last, But Not Least

No, I'm not proposing that your dog go "Goth", or become a punk rocker. These collars are defensive in nature. All three types shown will provide a high degree of protection to the neck area of your dog. They are also available for cats. Any animal that grabs onto the neck of a studded or spiked collar-protected dog, will regret it. All these collars should be as wide as the dogs neck can handle. The metal chain is like chain mail. The neck can be bruised, but not cut. In the woods filled with predators, both dog, wild animal or human, these collars will make your dog safer than an ordinary nylon or leather collars. It also makes them look meaner and tougher than they probably really are. A human approaching your camp will think twice if they see that center collar above on the family pooch. A "subtle" hint that "Poopsie will eat you if you blink twice".

Did you know that almost all police dog handlers use a foreign language to control police dogs? I'm not going to tell you which language. That's why they only obey the handler, and not hecklers from a crowd. Something to think about. A dog doesn't care what language you use... It doesn't understand it anyway. It's the repetition and behavior that's important, not the words used. Dog training 101.