If you are reading this, then you have a dog and the foresight to plan for its survival during an emergency. Before you even start looking at bug out bags for dogs, I recommend that you work on your “hunker down” pet plan first.
This is a thorough article about Disaster Preparedness for Pets.
Planning to Bug Out with a Dog
Figuring out how your dog fits into your bug out plan isn’t an easy task. There are a lot of variables to consider with bugging out (including many that we can’t predict).
Having your dog with you can completely change these variables and your chances of survival.
Make Your Own Bug Out Plan First
Make sure your own Bug Out plan is set in stone before you start incorporating your dog into it. I know it sounds cruel, but things happen and you might have to abandon your dog (or your dog might abandon you!).
- Under what circumstances will you bug out?
- Where will you bug out?
- How will you get there?
- Who will be with you?
- What will you pack in your BOB?
Learn from Thru-Hikers
If you are serious about bugging out with a dog, then I suggest you read some articles about thru-hiking with a dog. Even though the circumstances are very different, there is a lot you can learn about bugging out from thru-hikers. They are also going long distances with a limited amount of gear.
Here are some great blog posts to start with:
- How I Hiked the Appalachian Trail with My Dog – by Erin Tuveson
- Considering a Long Distance Hike with Your Dog – from Camp Therma Rest
- Hiking with a Dog Part 1 – by The Trek
- Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a Dog -- by Backpack Verse
Weigh the Pros and Cons
I know that you love your dog, but you’ve still got to consider whether it is worth it to take your dog with you in a SHTF situation. Your family’s survival comes first.
Even if you consider your dog as “family,” don’t think you wouldn’t consider eating your pet if times got desperate enough!
Pros of Bugging Out with a Dog
- Companionship - which is particularly important if you are bugging out alone. The family pet can also be great at reducing stress when bugging out with small children.
- Warmth – you can cuddle with your dog to sleep warmer
- Security - trained dogs can protect you from threats like wild animals or attackers
Cons of Bugging Out with a Dog
- Extra supplies – it is most likely that you will be carrying some of your dog’s supplies, which means extra BOB weight
- Security – while a dog can provide some security, a barking dog can also give away your location
- Additional mouth to feed – when planning for long-term bugging out, this can mean a lot more weight or training about what wild edibles are safe for dogs
- Responsibility – dogs have been domesticated. A long trip through hazardous terrain is going to be hard on your dog, and you will be responsible for your dog’s wellbeing through it all!
- Pace – most dogs are content to sleep all day. It can be difficult to get your dog to keep up an intense pace while bugging out to safety
Can Your Dog Handle Bugging Out?
The pros/cons of bugging out with a dog mostly depend on how well your particular dog is suited to it. You obviously want to consider your breed of dog.
Obviously, there is a big difference in bugging out with a poodle versus a German shepherd! White Blaze has a good article on the best dog breeds for trekking.
In addition to breed, you want to consider:
- Age of the dog: Trekking long distances with puppies can permanently damage their joints, plus they will slow you down. Older dogs get sick easier and go slowly.
- Terrain and climate: Is your dog used to walking in the area where you plan on bugging out? You might need to pack extra gear, such as doggy jackets and booties.
- Training: Is your dog well-behaved enough not to run off? Will your dog freak out at loud sounds?
Note about other pets and bugging out:
I’ve seen a lot of posts about cat bug out bags (as well as hamster/bird/etc. bug out bags). In addition to my dog, I also have a cat. However, I would never think of bugging out with my cat. At least not on foot.
Cats by nature will not listen and obey. If bugging out by car, this isn’t an issue. You just pack up the car with cat supplies and put your cat in a carrier for the trip. But, if you had to leave your vehicle, carrying the cat is simply not practical.
On the positive side, cats are better equipped to survive on their own than dogs. Cats can easily jump into trash containers to get scraps, hunt rodents like mice, and navigate through rubble. Hence why we see so many more stray cats in cities than dogs.
Conditioning Your Dog for Bugging Out
Your dog might seem like it has tons of energy. However, dogs are domesticated and are not generally suited to trekking long distances or tough terrains. Just like us, their strength and endurance will need to be built up over time.
- Start conditioning now: Making this part of your disaster preparedness plan!
- Gradually increase the lengths of your walks: This is good physical preparedness for you too 😉
- Put an empty saddle bag on your dog: Get your dog used to wearing a pack. Over time, gradually add some weight to the pack until you reach the max weight.
- Go on overnight camping trips with your dog: This will get your dog used to sleeping away from home and under a tent or tarp.
- Improve off-leash training: You need to make sure your dog will heel and come when called.
What to Pack in a Dog Bug Out Bag
I’ve seen a lot of K9 bug out bag packing lists. Since most of these are really generic, I want to go into more detail about supplies and calculating needs.
In a few forums and blog posts, I’ve read that you should “add a couple cans of dog food to your BOB.” Canned dog food is easy, but it is a terrible choice for bugging out.
Cans simply weigh too much. Even a 3-day supply will weigh your pack down.
Bear in mind that your dog will require extra calories. If your bug out plan includes intense hiking, then you’ll need to increase your dog’s calories by 50% to 100%.
For example, when Erin Tuveson hiked the AT with her dog, her dog consumed 1300 calories/day compared to the 660 calories normally consumed.
Freeze-dried dog kibble is a good solution. It provides a lot of calories per weight. You can also look for higher-quality dog kibble with a good calorie-to-weight ratio.
Here are some recommendations with good calorie to weight ratios:
Safe Orijen Regional Red
You might also want to include some doggie energy bars in the Bug Out Bag. Hunters commonly give these to their dogs to provide a quick burst of energy.
They have a lot of calories but don’t take up much space.
This is a good option:
First Aid Items for Dogs
As a prepper, I seriously recommend that you take a canine first aid course. Even if you don’t ever bug out with your dog, the first aid course can come in handy during everyday emergencies.
Many of the first aid items in your bug out bag can also be used for dogs. However, dog bug out bags require a few additional items.
Here’s a rundown:
- Monthly flea and tick treatment: Fleas and ticks are a major problem with animals in emergency situations. When bugging out, immediately apply a monthly flea/tick treatment. This doesn’t mean your dog won’t get any fleas or ticks, but it will help reduce the numbers.
- Sulfadene: This is a skin ointment for dogs (also suitable for humans). Skin abrasions, chaffing, and infections are common with dogs and this ointment can help.
- Hydrogen peroxide: In addition to cleaning wounds, this can be used to induce vomiting in case your dog eats something poisonous.
- Flagyl (Metronidazole): This is an antibiotic for dogs. It can be used for treating Giardia and other waterborne diseases (which your dog are also susceptible to).
- Electrolyte powders: Electrolytes are the first aid item which I use the most while backpacking. They can save your life if you are dehydrated from diarrhea or vomiting! Dogs can also get dehydrated, so pack extra electrolytes for your K9 friend.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): Good to have for insect/spider bites.
- Antibiotic ointment and gauze: For treating wounds
- Tick key: In the backcountry, your dog will get ticks which in turn could cause serious illness.
Dog Clothes and Paws Protection
Depending on your breed of dog, you might need a raincoat, sweater, or doggie jacket. Breeds such as Shepherds and huskies generally handle rain and cold well, but even these dogs might appreciate a jacket!
What you do need to consider is paw protection. When thru-hiking with a dog, one of the biggest issues is paw injuries.
Dog booties help protect your dog’s paws on rough terrain. If an injury does occur (such as a broken claw or cut), the bootie helps protect the paw. This means you can keep walking instead of waiting for the injury to heal.
Not all dogs like walking in booties (which is why you should start training your dog to wear them now).
Alternatively, you can apply waxes to your dog’s paws. The wax protects their paws, especially in colder weather.
Here's a highly rated wax called Mushers Secret.
Dog Bug Out Bag Checklist
Choosing a Bug Out Bag for a Dog
Another common issue that thru-hikers have when trekking with dogs is chaffing. To protect your dog’s skin, you need to make sure the saddlebag you choose for your dog fits well and isn’t overloaded.
The doggie saddlebag must fit snuggly, but not so tightly that your dog’s rib cage can’t expand fully during breathing.
To ensure a good fit, look for dog BOBs with these features:
- Harness: The harness goes on first, then the saddlebag attaches to this.
- Wide, padded straps: These prevent chaffing
- Tapered towards the rear: This puts the weights on the shoulders of your dog rather than the spine or hips
The great thing about bugging out with dogs is that they can carry their own gear. However, if you are planning for more than 3 days, you will probably have to carry some of your dog’s gear.
Dogs simply can’t carry lots of weight without causing problems.
It is common to read that dogs can carry up to 25% of their bodyweight. For 1-3 days, this is probably okay. For longer periods though, 25% is way too much weight.
Instead, you should shoot for the same goals as humans: dogs should only carry 10% to 15% of their body weight.
Dog BOB Recommendations
Here are just a few saddlebags that make great dog bug out bags.
Remember that fit matters!
Choose the right size pack and don’t overstuff it.