Complete guide for hiking with a small dog for beginners


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Complete guide to hiking with small dogs

Let me tell you right from the start: almost every healthy dog can go hiking! The question is only for how long and if he’s gonna like it.

Frankly, I don’t know why people keep thinking that small dogs can’t hike. Anyone, who has owned a hyper small dog like my miniature poodle Baloo, will probably agree that hiking with him is the best thing you can do!

Of course, hiking is not for everyone. And the same is true for our four-legged companion. Some will just lack the physical capabilities. And some are just lazy and don’t feel like climbing up that mountain!

If that’s your dog, make sure to check out the 7 reasons why your dog might be lazy and what you can do about it.

If you’re an active person and love hiking, however, I can reassure you, there’s almost always a solution how you can take your small dog hiking as well.

Let’s get into it!

Can I take my small dog hiking?

So let’s start by answering a few questions around the bigger question: can I take my small dog hiking?

Is hiking good for dogs?

First of all, you might be wondering: is hiking even good for dogs?

The answer is yes, it is, if you adapt it to your dog’s capabilities.

I guess all dog owners know that their pup needs daily walks. And hikes are actually just longer or more difficult walks, that’s all!

So, for every dog that has a normal level of energy, a hike every now and then is a welcomed adventure.

It’s not only the exercise that is beneficial for your dog’s health. It also provides mental stimulation. For one because you have to teach your dog some manners before taking him on a hike. But also, because new scents require a lot of mental energy for a dog to process.

Now keep in mind that not every dog can go hiking himself. Especially if your dog is still a puppy or is very old, walking for too long is actually counterproductive. In that case I recommend that you take him in a dog backpack carrier. That way you can still bring him along and you can let him walk for as long as it’s good for him. We’ll get to that further down.

For a more in-depth answer about whether hiking is good for dogs, check out this article.

Can small dogs walk long distances?

Absolutely! It’s all a matter of training.

It doesn’t really matter what size your dog is. If he’s never been walking for more than 30 minutes at a time, it will be very difficult for him to hike for a full day.

It’s just like with us. Imagine never walking for more than a few minutes and then, all of a sudden you decide to go on a 3-day hike.

Well, that’s almost impossible!

And even if you succeeded, it definitely wouldn’t be pleasant.

So as long as you prepare your dog, almost every healthy dog can walk long distances.

The only exception are probably brachycephalic dog breeds.

They often have breathing issues. So, walking long distances won’t be possible for them.

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Best small dog breeds for hiking

In my opinion, there are 10 small dog breeds who are particularly happy to join you hiking.

These are the most active and energetic small dog breeds. Trust me, most of them have more energy than almost any big dog and certainly more than you! Remember, their legs are much shorter, and they walk up and down the whole time. So, they’ll walk about 4 times as much as you do.

These are the 10 best small dog breeds for hiking and backpacking:

  • Miniature Poodle
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Dachshund
  • Pomeranians
  • Miniature Pincher
  • Papillon
  • Corgi
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Norwich Terrier
  • Mutts

If you want to learn more about those breeds, check out my other post about the 10 best small dog breeds to take backpacking.

Age and health

Now, there are certainly a few precautions to take if your dog is very old or still a puppy.

Also, if he has health issues that prevent him from walking long distances, then don’t force it!

In case you’re not sure, consult your vet before you go for a hike.

One thing is particularly important to note: puppies seem to have boundless energy at times! However, this only lasts for a very short period before they have to rest again.

So, let’s have a closer look at what you have to watch out for when hiking with puppies.

Is backpacking with a puppy possible?

Hiking in the sense of walking on steep terrain for a few hours is not possible for a puppy! It’s very important that you don’t overdo it with a puppy.

Puppy energy can be deceiving. But a their bones are still very soft. If they walk too much at a time when they’re young, it can lead to health issues later on in their life.

As a rule of thumb, a puppy can walk for 5 minutes per month of age at a time. So, e.g. at 3 months, your puppy shouldn’t walk for more than 15 minutes at a time.

How old should puppies be to hike?

As soon as your dog is one year old, you can start to build up stamina and at about 1.5 years old you should be able to take him on hikes. This is certainly true for small dog breeds, as my vet has confirmed it for my miniature poodle Baloo.

For bigger dogs, it will take even longer, as their bones are still growing until 1 to 1.5 years old. So, for very big dogs, I recommend to add another 6 months and only start building up stamina at 1.5 years old. Your vet will be able to tell you exactly, though.

In any case, don’t rush it! Remember, if your pup is walking for too long at a young age, he’ll suffer later.

I remember taking my Miniature Poodle Baloo on our first hike when he was just about 1 year old. I consulted my vet before that and he recommended to only let him walk for 30 minutes at a time. Then I should carry him for 30 minutes and so on. So in total, Baloo was probably walking for about 2 hours but he got breaks every 30 minutes.

If you’re having a younger puppy, a dog backpack carrier can come in handy, too. This way you can enjoy your hike while your puppy enjoys the surroundings from your back. Then you can let him walk for a few minutes from time to time before you put him back.

Here’s an overview of the best dog backpack carriers and how to choose one. 

If you want to learn more about hiking with a puppy, check out my article about the 10 things you need to know before hiking with a puppy.

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Preparation for hiking with a small dog

So let’s look at what you actually have to do in order to take your small pup hiking with you.

If you want to get more details, check out my preparation guide for hiking with a small dog.

How to train a dog to hike

Build up stamina

As I’ve mentioned before, you should start building up stamina as early as possible. If you know that you’ll want to take your pup hiking with you on a regular basis, start building up stamina when he’s one year old.

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 and then try 3 hours. Once this works fine, you can start taking him on easy hikes. I think once your small 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.

Baloo and I on the trail

Build up skills

Another important thing to build up are skills.

Not every dog will naturally be able to manage obstacles. Some are afraid or don’t know how to deal with a big rock or branch.

So, while you’re building up stamina, try to also work on your dog’s skills. You can even do that on city walks. Let him jump over small obstacle or onto a bench every now and then. Or walk on uneven ground with him. This will give him the confidence to deal with obstacles more easily.

Another option is to do some agility training. Agility is an obstacle course, so perfect training for your pup.

Choose the right trail

So once your dog is able to walk for 3 hours straight without any problems, you can take him on his first hike. You should start with an easy trail, of course. Something not too steep and not too rocky will be the perfect start.

Before you go on a trail, you should always do some research to find out if dogs are even allowed. Also think about wild animals such as wolves, coyotes and bears. A small dog wouldn’t stand a chance against such an animal. So, consider taking a different trail where it’s safe.

Even if dogs are allowed, they have to be on a leash on most trails. So, make sure you check this first, as well.

In case dogs are allowed off leash, I highly recommend you first check out my guide on hiking with a dog off leash so that you’re well prepared.

Baloo and I enjoying the view =)

Things you need to bring

So, these are the things I recommend bringing:

  • Treats
  • water
  • collapsible bowls
  • dog blanket
  • dog backpack carrier
  • long leash

Now let’s have a closer look at those items.

Dog backpack carrier

A dog backpack carrier is a must to go hiking with a small dog!

Even if he can keep up with you for hours, there might be times when you need to carry him. This is much easier if you have a dog backpack carrier. It’s also very handy if you have to go somewhere where dogs aren’t allowed, such as a grocery store.

Make sure to check out my other post about the best dog backpack carriers for hiking.

Food

If you’re only going for a hike for a few hours, you don’t need to worry about food. In that case just bring some of his favorite treats. If you’re worried about your dog’s energy, you can always add some coconut oil, liverwurst or peanut butter. Personally, I like to bring a small tube of liverwurst with me. This is a calorie and energy boost and it’s light to carry.

In my opinion, you don’t need any special hiking treats for your dog. It’s best to just feed him what he’s used to and possibly just give him a little more.

I highly recommend bringing collapsible bowls for food and water. They are light weighed and need very little space.

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When you’re on the trail…

Okay, we’re finally through with all the preparation stuff.

Now let’s get to the core of hiking with a small dog: what you need to think of when you’re on the trail.

Plan for frequent breaks

As I’ve mentioned before, most small dogs have at least the same energy as big dogs.

However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t need breaks all the same.

Especially when it’s hot, you need to make sure to stop frequently in the shade and give your dog some water.

Small dogs’ bodies are closer to the ground. Therefore, they can feel the ground’s heat more easily. So, keep that in mind when hiking in the summer.

Baloo wants to continue

Generally, I’d just recommend observing your dog. Is he happily jumping around and running up and down the whole time? Then he’s fine, no need to stop every 30 minutes.

However, if he seems to be dragging himself behind you or if he doesn’t want to move out of the shade anymore, then he needs more frequent or longer breaks. If it’s really hot, it’s best to avoid the mid-day heat between 11am and 3pm. This is especially important if you’re walking on a paved trail or bigger gravel, as this can heat up very quickly.

If you’re hiking in summer, make sure you know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat strokes in dogs, you that you don’t get your pup in any danger.

Just try to find the right rhythm for you and your dog.

Me personally, I like to take my time. I love to take in all of nature’s beauty and stop for pictures frequently. If it’s a a very steep trail, I like to rest for a few minutes every half an hour or so. But I only take longer breaks after one or two hours. I know Baloo’s energy and I know I don’t have to worry about him. I need far more breaks than he does!

Watch out for weariness in your dog

This is quite an important point!

Small dogs often can’t stop themselves. It’s your job to do that.

Even though small dogs seem to have boundless energy, it’s often because they think if they stop, they’ll lose you! So, they won’t stop, at any cost.

Make sure to check out the 10 signs and symptoms for weariness and exhaustion in dogs.

Some of the signs can be quite surprising, so it’s important to know them.

Baloo enjoying the view

Don’t underestimate your dog’s abilities

Now, you might think: what, you just said to watch out for weariness and stop frequently, right?

Yes, that’s true.

But you don’t need to be overprotective!

A small dog is still a dog and dogs are made for walking, running and hiking. It’s their nature to move a lot while they’re awake. And then sleep for the remaining 18 hours or so…

So quite honestly, I’m not gonna tell you to stop every 30 minutes to give your dog food and water. Unless your dog shows signs of exhaustion, I think this is way too much!

It’s better to take an easy pace but then keep going for a bit longer. This helps to build stamina for you and your dog.

Of course, there are exceptions. If it’s really steep, you might be the one who has to stop frequently, just like me. But I don’t think dogs need to drink every 30 minutes. Even on a hot day, Baloo would probably only drink every hour or so.

Dogs are strong! Keep that in mind and make sure to just watch them. You’ll soon find out what’s a good pace for your dog.

Long-distance hikes

With the right preparation, you can even take your small dog on a multi-day hike and go camping. The only exception are probably brachycephalic dog breeds, as they normally can’t walk for more than 30 minutes at a time.

There are a few other things to think about in terms of preparation and equipment. It’s very important to be well-informed and well-prepared if you want to do a long-distance hike with a small dog. So, make sure you check out this preparation guide if you’re interested.

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