10 things you need to know before hiking with a puppy

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You love hiking and you wanted a companion who’s always happy to join you. That’s why you got a dog, right?

More specifically – a puppy.

And that puppy seems to have boundless energy. So, why not get rid of it during a hike?

Not so fast!

Yes, puppies seem to have boundless energy – for about 10 minutes. And then they have to rest again! It’s really important not to overdo it with a puppy.

This is why I have put together this guide to show you how long a puppy can hike and what you have to pay attention to. You’ll also learn the 10 things you absolutely need to know before hiking with a puppy.

What age can puppies hike?

In order to hike in the sense of walking over uneven, potentially steep, terrain for several hours, you have to wait until your puppy is a pup.

But you can still start building up the skills he’ll need for hiking later on. Let’s just look at some more specific questions.

How long can a puppy walk?

As a rule of thumb, a puppy is allowed to walk 5 minutes per month of his age at a time until he’s about 1 year old (for small breed dogs). This is okay for 2 or 3 walks per day. Until that age your dog’s bones and joints are still relatively soft and longer walks can harm his health. If your doggo has just surpassed his first birthday, you still shouldn’t rush the hiking training. Start slowly with the preparation (see below) and when he’s about 1.5 years old, it should be fine to go on a first full-day hike.

For large breed dogs you should even extend the period until he’s about 1.5 years old before you start the hiking preparation.

How long can a puppy hike?

As I’ve said before, a puppy can’t hike, yet. He can walk for the periods I’ve just mentioned. But hiking is out of question.

However, there is a way to bring your puppy along, after all. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Talk to your vet

This is the best advice I can give you!

In order to get a precise opinion, you should always consult your vet. Every dog is different, so, she’ll be able to tell you exactly how long your pup can walk and at what age he can start to hike.

Btw, vet costs can easily go into the thousands over your pup’s lifespan. This is why I highly recommend to think about how you could come up for high vet bills as early as possible. I’ve covered this topic in detail in my article on the question “is it worth getting pet insurance for dogs?

Hiking with a puppy in a backpack

This is one of my favorite topics. I absolutely looooove dog backpack carriers! Honestly, this is one of the best inventions for owners of small dogs!

A dog backpack carrier allows you to take any small dog – including puppies – wherever you like. Isn’t that just amazing? In order to find the right dog backpack carrier for you, make sure to check out my guide on the 6 best dog backpack carriers for hiking.

Now, if you really want to go on a hike but your puppy isn’t old enough, yet, you can carry him in a dog backpack carrier for most of the way. Of course, this only works when your puppy is still really small or he’s a small breed dog.

Also bear in mind, that this usually isn’t the most comfortable position for a dog. So, a day-long hike is still out of question. However, you could go on a 2- or 3 – miles hike and carry your dog for most of the way. On a flat and easy part, you can still let him walk for the amount of time that he’s allowed at his age.

How to prepare a puppy for their first hike?

Okay, you can’t really go hiking with a puppy. But you can still prepare him for his first hike.

I’ll quickly touch on the most important preparation parts. For a more in-depth and complete guide for hiking with dogs (particularly small ones) for beginners, click here.

Build up stamina

This happens automatically when you stick to the rule of thumb mentioned above. By the time he’s 1 or 1.5 years old, you can start building up stamina for hikes.

Start extending your daily walks to about an hour. Once he’s one year old, add 5 to 10 minutes every week until you’re doing one-hour-walks on a regular basis.

Then build it up from there. Try to go for a 2-hour walk every now and then try 3 hours. Once this works fine, you can start taking him on easy hikes. I think once your dog can walk for 3 hours without any problems, he’ll have that stamina built up and will be able to walk more as well.

Get him used to a backpack carrier

You can start training this as soon as you get your puppy. A backpack carrier is such a useful tool, especially with a small puppy.

In my post about the question, whether dogs can have fear of flying, you’ll also find a section about dog crate training. This can also be applied to dog backpack carriers.

Get him used to a dog pack

If you want your dog to carry some of his own things, you can already start getting him used to it as a puppy, as well.

Click here to find out how to train your puppy to wear a dog pack.

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10 things you need to know before hiking with a puppy

Alright, now here’s a quick overview of the 10 things you absolutely need to think about before taking a puppy hiking or backpacking.

1. Don’t start too early

As I’ve mentioned before, this is crucial!

Don’t rush it with your young doggo, it’s not worth it. He’ll suffer greatly if you do! So, enjoy the puppy play times, and start slowly with the training process.

2. Keep walking times short

Another important factor. Stick to the 5-minutes-per-month-of-age-rule or to whatever your vet has told you. Also start with normal flat terrain like your neighborhood.

3. Build up stamina

Make sure to get your pup used to walking longer periods of time. However, don’t start to extend the time over the 5-minute-rule, before he’s 1 or 1.5 years old. From there, slowly prolong the walking time until you’re at about 3 hours. From there, your dog is ready to hit the trail.

4. Build up navigation skills

This is also a great thing to start practicing with your puppy. Don’t do any kind of jumping exercises with your puppy until he’s fully grown. But it’s a great practice to let your puppy walk or climb over things from time to time. These can be any kind of obstacles you find on walks, such as boulders, fallen branches, leaf piles etc.

It will greatly help your pup on a hike if he’s not fearful to climb over obstacles.

5. Get the right dog backpack carrier

If your puppy is (still) the right size, I highly recommend getting a dog backpack carrier. This makes life just so much easier!

Make sure to check out my guide to find the best dog backpack carrier for you.

6. Start with an empty dog pack

If your dog is a medium or large breed, he can wear a dog pack to carry some of his own things when he’s an adult dog.

However, you can actually start training while he’s still a puppy. When he’s tall enough, probably at around 8 months old, you can start training with an empty pack. Just don’t put anything inside until he’s fully grown (so 1.5 years old for a large breed). If you want to learn more about dog packs, check out my post about them here.

7. Explore different terrain

Once your puppy is old enough to walk about 30 minutes (at 6 months old), you can start exploring different terrain. It should still be mostly flat. But you can start exploring different area than just your neighborhood streets. Take a walk in the park, through fields and meadows, through a forest or over gravel. Always stick to the time limits but let your pupper get used to different underground.

Then you can slowly start exploring a little steeper paths. But don’t rush it. It should still be very easy for you and your dog to manage it.

8. Start with obedience training as early as possible

This might easily be overlooked but it’s just as crucial as the other things!

You can’t go on a hike unless your dog knows at least some commands.

Obedience training can be started as early as you get your four-legged friend. So, it’s a great idea to use the puppy-months to get your pup to learn some manners.

In my opinion, these commands are the most useful or even necessary for hikes with your dog: Sit, lie down, stay, recall, ignore, leave it and quiet.

Would you add anything else?

9. Don’t let him go off-leash until he’s fully vaccinated and tagged

While it’s outdated to keep your dog indoors until he’s fully vaccinated, I wouldn’t let him go off leash until that time.

Also make sure to have him tagged properly, preferably with a microchip. This makes it so much easier in case he gets lost or runs away.

10. Pack a first-aid kit

Some dogs have very sensitive paws. If your pup is that kind, I’d pack a first aid kit even for shorter hikes. Otherwise, I would only bring it on overnight hikes.

Useful things to put inside are: bandages, tape, tweezers, antiseptic and tick puller.

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Puppy energy can be deceiving. However, a puppy’s bones and joints are still very soft. So, you have to take it easy and only go on short walks until he’s fully grown. For small dogs this is at 1 year old, for larger breed at 1.5 year old.

At that point you can extend your walks until he manages about 3 hours with ease. This is when he’s ready to go hiking!

In order to prepare your puppy for his first hike, there are a number of things you can start training already, though. These are: slowly building up stamina, exploring different terrains, building up navigation skills, getting him used to a dog backpack carrier, getting him used to a dog pack and obedience training.

If you want to go one step further and also try camping with your puppy, make sure to check out my post about taking dogs camping for the first time next and how to go camping with a dog.

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