You might love to hit the trail exploring the deeper side of wildlife in your area, and large dogs can often be seen accompanying their owners on their hikes: but can a small dog cope just as well?
The answer is yes, small dogs can enjoy trail-walking as much as you, provided you take some important precautions.
Is Your Small Dog Ready to Hike?
All dogs love to explore the outdoors, and a trail can hold some fascinating new sights, scents and sounds that can be exceptionally exciting. Some small breeds such as Jack Russel terriers and Welsh Corgis have boundless energy that seem able to run all day, making them great companions for a long cross-country walk.
However, if your dog is not already a confident hiker, you need to start slowly to avoid potential problems. Running on little legs can mean your dog is working twice or three times harder than you. Rough terrain with creeks or boulders can look like rivers and mountains to your little friend. You don't want your dog to overheat or become exhausted, so it's essential to start small with short trips and keep an eye on how your little dog responds.
Building stamina is vital to make you both feel confident about embarking on long hikes. Training is also important to make sure his recall works so you can help get your pooch out of trouble if he encounters other wildlife.
Rei.com gives advice on how to fit a pack and some of the other equipment your dog might need on the trail. For example, you might need to add some dog-related ingredients to your first aid kit, and there are even booties that your dog can wear as paw protection from rough terrain.
Visit the Vet
Not all dogs are in the right shape to go hiking. Check with your veterinarian before taking your dog on a trail. Some dogs, such as older canines with arthritis, might find longer journeys too uncomfortable no matter how much energy they seem to show on short, local walks.
Similarly, overweight dogs or puppies with delicate growing bones should avoid long, challenging hikes. There are also preventative medications and vaccinations you need to consider.
Health Considerations before Hiking
Some breeds are better suited to hiking than others due to their character traits and genetic conditions. In some cases, certain dogs are predisposed to health conditions such as hip dysplasia and luxating patella, which might mean you need to take extra precautions or keep to shorter trails.
It is worth having regular conversations with your veterinarian at each check-up to make sure you aren't over-working your dog or causing unnecessary strain.
Brachycephalic (shortened snouts) breeds like pugs, Boston terriers, and French bulldogs, might find it difficult to breathe and keep themselves cool during hikes. They will not be suited to very long hikes but could manage shorter trails, provided you take regular breaks and think about using special made vests and collars to aid cooling.
8 of the Best Small Dogs For Hiking
1. Jack Russel Terriers
Jack Russell terrier | Photo source
This mighty little terrier is well known for its endless energy and running on long trails with exciting things to see and smell will be heaven to them. They have a high prey drive which has made them outstanding hunting dogs, although these features can mean they get carried away on a trail.
You should invest substantial time in training them or consider keeping them on a long leash, so they don't chase after any animal that moves. Their endurance is amazing, and hiking is a great way to give them the mental and physical stimulation they need, which some owners find difficult to manage.
Incredibly intelligent, these bold and hardy little dogs will adapt well to the different challenges of a trail. Jack Russell terriers will love nothing more than enjoying an extended outdoor adventure with their favorite humans. They have tough coats that cope well with different temperatures and wet weather.
Their huge hearts mean they sometimes ignore feelings of fatigue, so you will need to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't run themselves into exhaustion. These loyal and energetic little dogs will be a great, fun little companion on any trail.
Beagles are famous hunting hounds that are bred to cover rough terrain quickly and effectively. Friendly and cheerful, they love people and make great hiking companions as they will greet other walkers with a happily wagging tail. Their bodies are close to the ground, giving them a low center of gravity, which is one of the reasons they can climb better than most breeds.
Beagles are also very energetic and will happily join you on long trails for many hours at a time. As hunting dogs, their sense of smell is highly developed, and once they pick up a scent, it can be difficult to distract them. Again, training is essential to keep them safe as they tend to develop selective deafness when they are focused on a hunt so you may find a long leash is the best solution.
They also have some worrying health problems including a high propensity to develop hip dysplasia and luxating patella. You'll need to pay close attention to their joints and keep up with regular veterinary checks to avoid serious problems.
3. Miniature Pinscher
Miniature Pinscher | Photo source
Don't let their tiny size fool you; these little dogs have as much bravery and energy as much larger breeds. Miniature Pinschers thrive on outdoor activity, so they will enjoy hiking and can keep up on some of the longest trails. You may well tire before they do!
Min Pin's small stature also makes them easy to pick up and carry over larger obstacles, and they can fit easily into a backpack if you want to carry them for longer distances over treacherous ground. It is best to keep them on a leash to avoid them disappearing after small animals, and they will need help crossing water.
4. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The sturdy Pembroke Welsh Corgi has a strong body and a brave heart so they will rise to the challenge of any trail. Originally bred as a working dog to herd sheep and cattle, they have impressive endurance and plenty of energy. They will enjoy joining you on hikes and can cope with most terrain.
Corgis have long bodies and can be prone to problems with their spines and joints so you should try to avoid letting them climb and jump too often. While they can climb over obstacles, jumping down can cause considerable pressure on their joints as their bodies are quite heavy for their little front legs to take all their weight. You would be best to invest in a harness or dog pack with a handle that you can use to help them or stick to open trails with fewer obstacles.
5. Rat Terrier
This short breed has endless stamina, and they are tough enough to enjoy a variety of different hiking trails. Rat terriers are happy little souls who will love playing outdoors, making them the perfect hiking companion.
Cheerful and loving, you can count on their friendliness when they meet other hikers on busy treks. Again, you will need a leash as their instinct to take after small animals can mean they could run into danger. They are strong and confident and will relish the challenge of exploring new environments.
Papillon | Photo source
This tiny miniature breed has plenty of energy and will enjoy running on trails, but they will need close supervision as they might struggle to climb over boulders and cross creeks that could cause a severe injury if they should fall.
Luckily, they are small enough to carry easily and their friendly nature means they don't mind being lifted. They are very intelligent and easy to train, which makes them a great family pet. Very long trails might be too much for their little legs, so you may want to keep to shorter hikes or invest in a backpack to take off some of the stress.
Poodle | Photo source
When you see a pretty poodle with a bow in its hair you may be forgiven for thinking this little dog would not be suitable for hiking, but they were originally bred for hunting and retrieving prey from water, so they are fully equipped to encounter anything in the great outdoors,
Poodles are very intelligent and, with proper training, can be trusted to run beside you off-leash. They cope well with varying weather conditions and have the energy to run on the longest trails.
8. Alaskan Klee Kai
Alaskan Klee Kai | Photo source
The beautiful Alaskan Klee Kai has many of the character traits inherited from their husky cousins who were bred for pulling sleds, including incredible energy and endurance abilities. Like huskies, they can be stubborn and more difficult to train, which means most experts advise they are kept on a leash to avoid them chasing small animals or disappearing into the undergrowth.
Their fast speeds and curious attitudes mean they can be difficult to catch if they choose to run. They are very agile and can get through all types of rough terrain with ease. With their double coats, they fare well with cold weather and changes in temperature.
Gear You Need for Hiking with Your Small Dog
Your short dog will love joining you for hikes and may well be ready to leap into the car as soon as you take out your hiking equipment. Having the right gear and being prepared for every eventuality can stop a problem from turning into an emergency. This is as important for your dog as for you. Here is some of the best equipment you should include for happy and safe hiking with your pooch.
Collapsible Dog Water and Food Bowls
Staying hydrated is vital for you both, and your dog will need a bowl that is easy to carry. Never let your dog drink from streams as they can become ill from water-borne pathogens. Drinking too much can also make your dog sick, so keep offering little and often. This dog bowl from Comsun is ideal. It is easily portable, durable and colorful enough not to get left behind when you pack away.
This high-quality escape-proof harness is the ideal choice for hiking. It is padded and fully adjustable to make sure your dog is comfortable, and the handle is a convenient way to carry them or to make a quick grab if you need to restrain your dog quickly. It is also an excellent way to provide extra stability when crossing boulders or streams. A harness is essential for hiking as it offers better security than a collar alone.
Many trails insist dogs are on a leash at all times and certain breeds are recommended to stay on leash. The best leashes for hiking allow you to attach your dog to your waist, keeping your hands free like this roamer leash from Ruffwear. Its stretchy material gives your dog a little more freedom and avoids unnecessary checks.
Dog GPS Tracker
Even if your dog is well trained or on a leash for most of the time, accidents can happen and a tracker will give you the confidence that you can always find your dog if you part company. The Whistle tracker fits easily onto a harness or collar. You can also use the tracker function to record data from your hike, including which trails you covered and how long it took.
Doggy First Aid Kit
You would never think about hitting a trail without some first aid equipment, and the same is true for your dog. Since your mini hiking buddy can easily cut a paw on the sharp ground or have their skin nicked by prickly thorns, you need to relieve their pain and treat their issues immediately.
That doesn't mean you need to carry an extensive range of products from your veterinarian's store cupboard. This handy lightweight kit contains all you need and can be attached to your dog's leash or backpack
Even the toughest paws can become sore when the terrain is rough, and you can help your dog by carrying some paw protection balm. It provides a protective layer as a barrier against infection if your dog has a cut, and it will soothe any pain. It can also stop your dog's pads from becoming dry and cracked. This paw balm is also gentle enough to be used on sore noses, as dogs can often cause sores by sniffing prickly plants.
If your dog's paws are sensitive, you could also invest in a set of boots to give them added protection. You should put these on before a hike to get him comfortable to walking with booties, as they will feel awkward at first. These durable waterproof boots come with reflective straps to ensure a comfortable and secure fit. They feature anti-slip soles to provide your pup extra grip on slippery surfaces.
You could equip your dog for hiking with their very own backpack, comprising all the benefits of a harness including a handle for grip and handy pockets for them to carry some of their equipment. Be careful, though, as not all dogs have the right frame to carry a backpack comfortably and you don't want to put extra strain on their spines or joints if they have long backs or underlying conditions. This pack from RUFFWEAR has reflective strips to help if you are returning from a long hike in the twilight, and you can even add a beacon for extra light if you venture out in the dark. Bright colors are great for spotting your dog in dense undergrowth or if they venture further away than you would like.
If you like hiking in cold weather or if your dog has a thin coat, investing in a dog jacket is a great way to ensure your four-legged pal is comfortable and warm. This jacket is bright, reflective and folds into itself to be packed away neatly if your dog becomes too warm.
Camping Dog Bed
If you are planning to camp during your hike it is worth carrying a dog bed. A dog travel bed provides a safe place for your dog to sleep, without lying on damp ground. All that work will leave your dog looking for a good night's sleep and a comfortable, padded bed will support their exerted joints and muscles, so they wake up fresh and ready to go. This Chuckit travel bed folds up small and also has a handy hook to hang up to dry if it should get wet.
On any hike, you are responsible for keeping your loyal friend safe and close supervision from beginning to end is a must. With some careful preparation and regular breaks, your dog can enjoy hiking as much as you. Keep these ten tips in mind before you hit the trail to keep your little hiking buddy safe.
- Take extra snacks: Your dog can consume twice as many calories when on a hike, so feeding high energy snacks is important as well as their regular food.
- Water: It's easy to become dehydrated, and dogs can become ill just like humans from drinking unclean water. Take frequent breaks and offer small amounts to avoid your dog from becoming sick.
- Check the trail requirements: Some trails don't allow dogs and others insist they keep a leash on at all times. Make sure you are aware if there are particular risks such as any wildlife that could see your dog as a tasty morsel or dangerous plants to avoid.:
- Sunscreen: Pack sunblock protection for your little four-legged friend. Even if he has a thick coat protecting their skin, the nose and ears are exposed.
- ID Tags: You need to make sure it's easy to identify your dog if he manages to get lost. Importantly, you will also need a rabies tag and micro-chipping your dog is even more important if you venture onto trails.
- Poop bags: Pick up after your dog and take the bags with you. Think about other hikers and remember the trail ethics of leaving no trace behind.
- Check their paws: Look out for small cuts and thorns. Use booties if your dog has delicate feet.
- Doggy first aid kit: You might need a tick removal tool and some powders to help with blood clotting in case of small wounds. Disinfectant, creams, and ointments to attend to minor injuries as well as some scissors and bandaging material are also important.
- Build up stamina: Start with short, easy trails and build up to more challenging terrain as your dog gains confidence.
- Vaccinations and Parasite prevention: Some parks require specific vaccinations for entry, so be sure to check with your vet before you head out. Regular flea and tick prevention is even more critical on the trail. You can also look at other parasite preventatives such as chewable medications to deter mosquitoes. Insect repellant spray that is safe for your dog can make their times on the trail more comfortable.
Inspect Your Dog Post-Hike
Before you go, make sure that your dog is free of any open wounds as these could become infected in the wild, especially if he crosses muddy creeks or puddles. At the end of each hike, check your dog carefully for any burrs in his coat or ticks and thorns that can become harmful if left untreated. Once you get home, bathe him and then settle down for a cozy evening to rest in the happy satisfaction of a fun-filled day.