13 tips for hiking with a small dog

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13 tips for hiking with small dogs
Let’s go!

There’s nothing quite like going on a hiking adventure, especially when you take your best friend with you.

But if you’re hiking with a small dog, you might be wondering how to manage things like long-distance hikes and challenging terrain.

Here’s the good news: There’s no need to leave your dog behind when hiking, even if he’s small. Here are some tips that will help you out.

13 tips to hike with a small dog

Hiking is a fantastic way for both you and your dog to get in some much-needed exercise. If you have small dog, you might be wondering if it’s possible for you to take him hiking safely.

Many people assume that small dogs can’t go hiking because of their size. They might think that they won’t be able to keep up on adventures, or that they could injure themselves easily.

But the reality is that small dogs are perfectly able to go hiking! While it does depend on the breed and that dog’s individual stamina, many small dogs can go on long, challenging hikes. You may have to work your way up to them, though.

Before we get into these helpful tips for hiking with a small dog, here are some related articles to check out:

me hiking with my small dog - baloo is a mini poodle, and we're in the mountains!
My mini poodle Baloo and I on the trail.

1. Build up his stamina

One of the most important things you’ll need to do while preparing for hiking is to help build up your dog’s stamina.

Lots of dogs have naturally high stamina levels. But just like us humans, they need to build up their endurance levels.

You and your dog are not going to be able to go on super challenging, long hikes right off the bat!

Try going on smaller, easier hikes initially.  Going for increasingly longer walks can do a lot to  build stamina. Here’s a little advice on walking your dog:

2. Build up skills

There are lots of other skills aside from stamina and endurance that you’re going to want to build up.

One thing that’s super important for your dog to know is the basic commands. “Come,” “sit,” “stay,” and similar commands should be your main focus.

Make sure that your dog is also able to navigate obstacles. You can help teach him this skill by getting him involved in agility classes.

3. Train for different durations and terrains

You’re not going to be able to immediately start on long, difficult hikes. While it’s totally possible for small dogs to hike challenging trails, that’s something you have to build up to.

One of the best ways to start building up your dog’s endurance is to train him on different terrains and hiking durations.

Start off with a short, simple hike without too many challenges. You’ll also want to test how he does on different kinds of terrain. Smooth, flat ground is great to start with.

Over time, you can try things like rocky areas that might be a little more difficult for him (see tip #13 about dogs with long-backed dog breeds, though!).

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4. Choose the right trail

If you’re just starting out with hiking, then you’re going to want to make sure that you’ve chosen the right trail for you and your dog.

Don’t do anything that’s going to be super difficult. Start with an easy trail.

This will give you a better idea of what your dog is able to do. If he can easily handle the trail, you can probably try something more challenging next time.

But if he’s exhausted by the end, or you feel that this was the perfect trail for him, keep training until you can work up to something more difficult.

5. Train him to keep a solid focus on you

This is especially important if you ever plan on hiking off leash, or even with a long lead.

You need to be able to maintain your dog’s focus. This is going to keep your dog and other animals and hikers safe on the trails.

Before you start hiking, make sure your dog is able to focus on you. Work on obedience training, and ensure that your dog will respond to you even if there’s a lot going on around him.

Looking for some training tips? Learn more about positive reinforcement dog training and how it can help you.

Related topic: For dog training in general I highly recommend you get a program that walks you through step by step, such as Braintrainingfordogs. Certified dog trainer Adrienne Farricelli teaches you to train your dog to be the best dog he can by be using mental stimulation! Check out Dogpackr’s review to see if this is a fit for you!

Field Dogs 300 x 600

6. Train him to walk off leash with solid recall

Depending on the trail you’re visiting, you might be allowed to walk your dog off leash.

If you’re going to do this, then you must make sure that your dog has good recall.

Basically, what that means is that your dog comes to you right away when he’s called. This is going to keep him out of trouble—or from potentially getting lost on your hike.

These 13 tips to teach a dog to come when called will be super beneficial before you head out on your hikes.

7. Bring lots of snacks and water

When you go hiking, do you load up on snacks and water for yourself?

You’re not the only one that needs to stay hydrated and well-fed to maintain your energy levels!

It’s just as important for your dog to have food and water while hiking. So make sure that you’re packing some that’s just for him.

You’ll also want to remember to have treats available. There will be times on your hike where you should be rewarding your dog, so these treats are going to be important to have!

8. Make hiking fun for your small dog (any dog, really)

Do you love hiking? Going on adventures and exploring nature is so much fun! And hanging out with your dog is always a wonderful time too.

Since you’re going hiking with your dog, you want both of you to enjoy the experience. And if you plan on going hiking often, then it’s even more important for your dog to like hiking.

So how can you do that? There are lots of ways, but the most important thing is to make hiking fun.

Most dogs will naturally have lots of fun just wandering around and sniffing all the new smells. But you can also make a difference by your own behavior, as well as bringing things like toys to chase and tasty treats.

baloo looking at me because he has more fun sniffing things than posing for pictures
Baloo wants to get a move on!

9. Plan for frequent breaks

This is an important tip if you’re just starting out. Even as you and your dog get used to hiking together, you might find that your dog needs a break every once in a while.

You don’t want to overtire your dog. This won’t just cause behavioral problems for him, but it can also be dangerous for his health.

If you’re wondering if your dog has become overtired, check out these 10 overtired puppy symptoms and what to do about them.

During your hike, make sure that you’re planning to take breaks both for your dog’s sake and for your own! There might even be designated rest stops on your trail, so take advantage of them.

10. Watch out for weariness

Having fun with your dog on the trails is one of the most important parts of hiking with him. But you should also be aware of things to be mindful about while you’re hiking.

One of the reasons why it’s so important to choose the right trail length and difficulty and to take frequent breaks is to prevent weariness and fatigue.

Lots of dogs will push themselves even when they shouldn’t. They may not even be aware that they’re getting too tired to keep going.

That means it’s up to you to be mindful and look for signs of exhaustion.

Things like excessive panting, limping, or starting to lag behind can all indicate that your dog is done for the day.

11. Bring a dog backpack carrier

There is lots of gear that you can and should bring with you on your hikes. One of them is a dog backpack carrier.

Both large and small dogs can do well on hikes. But one of the major differences and benefits of taking a small dog is that you can easily fit him into a backpack carrier.

This will make it much easier to take your dog over terrain that might be too difficult for him. If your dog hurts himself or starts getting too tired, all you’ll need to do is pop him in the carrier and carry him the rest of the way back!

12. For cold or rainy days: bring a dog jacket

there's plenty of gear you can take to make hiking easier on dogs, big or small. Dog carriers and jackets are just two of them
Baloo enjoying the view. The weather’s a bit overcast, but he’s snug in his jacket 😉

Lots of people will avoid hiking on colder or rainier days. But it’s still possible to enjoy a hike even when there’s a bit of a chill in the air, and even in the snow!

All you need to do is make sure you’re properly prepared. For hikes like these, you probably bring yourself a jacket, a hat, and other warm clothing.

You should be doing the same for your dog! Get your dog used to his jacket by having him wear it around the house and giving him treats so he forms a positive association with it.

Then, when you go hiking on colder days, he won’t give you trouble when you put his jacket on to keep him nice and warm.

13. Hiking with a small, long-back dog: carry them over boulders

Some breeds, like dachshunds and corgis, have naturally longer backs. While they were bred to have this trait for burrowing purposes, it can have some major drawbacks.

One is that these dogs tend to have back issues, or be susceptible to back injuries.

It’s totally possible to go hiking with these breeds. You might just need to be a little extra careful! For example, if you come across large rocky areas or boulders that will be too tough for him, just pick your dog up and carry him.

Hiking with a small dog FAQ

Still have questions even after going over the basics? Here are the answers you’re looking for.

Is it safe to take small dogs on hikes?

Are you worried that it might be too dangerous to take your small dog on a hike? You might be concerned that his size makes it unsafe.

But the good news is that it’s totally safe to hike with your small dog! Just like hiking with a dog of any size, all you need to do is make sure you’re taking the right precautions. Things like taking frequent breaks and having food and water on hand will help.

How far can my small dog hike?

Looking at a small dog, you might think that he won’t be able to hike very far. But depending on a few factors, your little dog will be able to hike for several miles.

Most people are able to hike around 5 to 10 miles with dogs that are healthy and in average shape. With the right training and conditioning, you’ll be able to teach your dog to hike even farther.

Baloo and I enjoying the view =)

Just always remember to be on the lookout for signs of exhaustion in your dog.

Best dog backpack carriers

A dog backpack carrier is a great thing to have. Small dogs can easily be picked up and carried over difficult terrain, or back to safety if they get overtired.

There are lots of great options out there, and it’s important to think about investing in one if you’re planning on hiking often.

Are you wondering how to find the right dog backpack carrier for you and your dog? Here are the 6 best dog backpack carriers for hiking and how to choose the right one.

Best small dogs for camping and hiking

Looking to get a puppy but want to make sure that you’re getting a breed that can handle hiking and camping?

There are plenty of small breeds that will be more than happy to go camping with you. If you want to know which breed is best for you, here’s my pick for the 18 Best Dogs for Hiking and Camping (Big and Small).


If you have a small dog, there’s no need to avoid activities you love, like hiking and camping! Despite their size, small dogs are perfectly able to go on even challenging hikes.

Just make sure you prepare properly, and you and your dog will have lots of fun on the trails.

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