Hiking with Poodle Puppies

How do you hike with Poodle puppies?

Reed Lakes hike in the Talkeetna mountains with Pali in the pack.

Reed Lakes hike in the Talkeetna mountains with Pali in the pack.

People often comment about my hiking adventures with my show Poodles. I hear all kinds of opinions when we're out on the trails. Every kind of comment from "wow! Your dog(s) got dressed up for their hike today" to "I didn't even know Poodles could hike!"
The simple fact is that Poodles are not only great hiking dogs, one could even argue they were made to conquer the backcountry! Poodles' hiking versatility is the number one trait that drew me to the breed just before discovering my first Poodle, Wallace

Several steps are involved in my creating a fantastic hiking Poodle. This blog post will explain the introduction to backcountry hiking with my Poodles, right after they arrive home!

I expose my Poodles to hiking conditions when they are quite young.

Bryce is 6 months old as he joins Wallace and me on a summit mountain hike.

Bryce is 6 months old as he joins Wallace and me on a summit mountain hike.

Bryce chillin' in my Osprey Sirrus 24 day pack

Bryce chillin' in my Osprey Sirrus 24 day pack

I typically take my Poodle puppies out on an adventure about a week after they've arrived in my home. They always have their first round of shots and have visited my veterinarian before I take them outside of my home. The pups are between 9-12 weeks when they take their first little hike with me. 
Intense exercise and any real length of walking or running as a young puppy is not good for any dog. Their growth plates are still forming new cells to lengthen their small bones and any type of hard impact on these growing bones can be detrimental in the pup's adult years. If I work my puppies too hard when they're young it will be counterproductive to creating longevity in my hiking dog.
My way of balancing exposure to the outdoors with avoiding stress on the growing bones is to use load my pup into a backpack! I call this mode of hiking and exposure; puppy packing. And it is a super easy way to get my puppy out while keeping them sheltered. My backpacks of choice are regular backcountry packs just large enough for my Poodle. I love the Osprey brand, and have two packs by Osprey that I use for puppy packing.
The Sirrus 24 is my most favorite pack. I use this pack with my puppies until they are too big to fit comfortable inside. Usually by about 5 months, the puppies have grown too long to stay tucked inside the pack for any length of time. This is when I move to my larger pack, the Ariel AG 65 . The Ariel pack can pack my Poodles well through their puppyhood and had plenty of room for me to attach things like snacks, water, and first aide items to the pack without sacrificing the comfort of my pups.

I tend to keep my hikes fairly short when I'm puppy packing young pups.

Puppy packing with Kluane in the Talkeetna mountains of Alaska

Puppy packing with Kluane in the Talkeetna mountains of Alaska

Usually 4-6 miles (6-9 km) is about all I will hike when I'm packing a puppy. I hike in to a destination about half the total miles and let the Poodle puppy out of the pack to play for a while. Usually we play for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the age of the puppy. If my puppy is lucky enough to be a summer hiking pup, we'll stay out longer on warm days and have a picnic! But with my winter puppies, it's too cold to expose their tiny bodies to the elements for too long. Once we are finished playing at our destination, back into the pack the puppy goes and we are off on our return journey.

The best way to train a puppy to stay in the pack is to start young!

Winter temperatures require extra wraps in the pack for the puppy's comfort.

Winter temperatures require extra wraps in the pack for the puppy's comfort.

I've not yet had a puppy who hated puppy packing. Each of my Poodles have different personalities, but all have enjoyed their puppy packs. Pali, in particular, would still climb in the pack today as a full grown adult! Unfortunately for her, I'm not terribly keen on packing a 40lb Poodle through the backcountry!
The key to having comfortable puppies in their pack is simply to start packing them just as soon as possible. I begin with short spurts in the pack, lots of praise and some treats. I gradually increase time in the pack from a few minutes as a starting point. When I am out hiking, I never leave a puppy in the pack for longer than 40 minutes. 
The best thing about backcountry hiking, for me, is the wandering. I don't tend to keep a strict schedule and rarely have a firm destination point when I'm puppy packing. So, if my hike is going to take longer than 40 minutes, one way, well I just take breaks and let my puppy out of the pack for 20 minute romps as we trek along in Alaska's wilderness.

Pali at 4 months old taking a break to play with her Poodle brother.

Pali at 4 months old taking a break to play with her Poodle brother.

Creating a genuine love for the outdoors in my Poodles is my primary goal when training my puppies.

In my world, nothing beats a day in the great outdoors. And being able to share that day with my very best Poodle friends is absolute nirvana!