If you have a small dog, you may be wondering if they are good candidates for hiking adventures. In one word, yes! Small breed dogs may have short legs, but they are never short on an adventurous spirit! In fact, breeds like Jack Russell terriers, corgis and Shetland sheep dogs have been listed by Outside magazine as some of most active and best breeds to take with you on the trails!
That said, there are some considerations that need to be given when hiking with smaller dog breeds. Whether you bring a Boston terrier, Beagle, Chihuahua, or Fox terrier with you on your outdoor adventure, the following tips will help you both to be safe.
If your best human friend lived an inactive life, streaming Netflix all day on the sofa, you would never expect him to join you on a rigorous hike. He’s simply not in the right kind of physical condition to handle it.
The same is true for dogs. If your small dog has not been hiking before, you will want to be sure to start with an easy hiking trail and build up their strength and endurance. Some small dogs will also have to build up their confidence. When you’re small, the world around you can seem big and bad and dangerous. Think of the boulders, logs, creeks and riverbeds your little pup may have to navigate. Tackling these kinds of obstacles will take certain physical abilities so don’t push them too soon.
Keep a Close Eye
Small dog breeds are notorious for having boundless energy. If they are new to trail walking, they will no doubt be incredibly excited with all the new sights and smells. Though their legs are shorter, they will happily burn through every calorie in them to keep pace with you because they are having so much fun.
It is up to dog owners to be aware and stop them before they run themselves into the ground or become overheated. Watch for any signs of exhaustion such as wobbly legs or excessive panting.
Check with Your Veterinarian First
Your small breed dog may have the heart and courage of a larger dog, but their body does have some insurmountable physical limitations. Some small breeds’ bodies are not built for certain trail challenges.
For instance, shorter limbed dogs with longer spines, like the dachshund, corgi and Basset hound, should definitely avoid tackling large rocks and boulders, as well as highly uneven terrain. If these dogs were to jump off of a high ledge or surface, it would put a lot of load on their spine, which is already prone to herniated discs.
Rushing water may also be too much for your little dog to handle. Many small dogs each year are, sadly, carried off by rushing water.
It’s always a good idea to check with your vet to not only make sure your dog has been given a clean bill of health, but to get a clear sense of what their little body may or may not be able to handle.
Also, speak to your vet about flea and tick prevention. Disease carrying ticks are found throughout the United States, and generally in areas where deer have been. Your dog will absolutely need to be on a prevention treatment to avoid catching Lyme Disease.
Also, make sure your pup is up-to-date on their Rabies vaccine and heart worm medication before you head out on the trail. You never know what sorts of wild animals you may run into and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Take Plenty of Breaks
All dogs need to take cool-off breaks when hiking, but it is particularly important for small dogs. To start, because they have to move their short, little legs faster than larger dogs to keep up, they can reach their over-heating point much sooner. Second, because smaller dogs are closer to the ground, they pick up a lot of the heat radiating up from the sun-baked ground. And finally, flat-nosed small breeds such as pugs, Boston terriers and French bulldogs can’t transfer heat as easily as dogs with longer noses.
Understand Local Predators
Most trails will post signage that warns hikers of area predators. Your small dog may look like tempting pray to a coyote or alligator. And since they are low to the ground, you should also be aware of dangerous snakes and spiders. Always keep your dog on leash so they cannot run far from you and get into trouble. This will also keep them safe from other off leash dogs.
Get the Right Gear
There are a few of pieces of gear that are recommended when hiking with small dogs. For starters, a supportive harness with a handle will allow you to pick up your pup and carry them over a fallen tree or across a rushing stream.
If you will be hiking in colder months, like early sprig and fall, your pup may need a coat, especially if they are a small breed with short hair.
And finally, while it may be perfectly safe for you to use a retractable leash around your neighborhood, you should never use one when on a hike with a small dog. Get a sturdy 6-foot lead. This will help to keep your small dog close to you so you can protect them from any lurking dangers.
Happy Trails and Tails!
Hiking with your small dog is a great way for you two to stay in great shape and bond at the same time. If you follow these guidelines and always use your best judgement, you can ensure you and your tiny hiking companion will stay safe and healthy.
Here’s Another Way to Keep Your Small Dog Safe and Healthy
No matter how much planning you do, or how in shape and ready your small pup is, sometimes accidents happen. Your dog may step on a piece of broken glass someone else left on the trail, or they may step wrong and sprain their leg.
These accidents will require a trip to the emergency clinic and possibly several follow-up visits with your vet. They may also require X-rays and medications. At the end of all this you are left with a hefty vet bill.
The best thing you can do to ensure your pup gets the care they need while also not breaking your bank is to get a pet health insurance plan. These guarantee the best medical care and for a price you can afford. Some dog health insurance plans can reimburse you for up to 90% of your veterinary costs.
- 1. Berger, E. (2013) The 20 Best Active Dog Breeds. Retrieved from: https://www.outsideonline.com/culture/love-humor/20-best-active-dog-breeds/
- 2. Top 10 Breeds Exposed to IVDD: A Pet Parent Guide (2022). Retrieved from: https://www.alphapaw.com/blog/top-10-breeds-exposed-to-ivdd-a-pet-parent-guide/
- 3. Meyers, H. (2022). Lyme Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment, and Prevention Retrieved from: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/lyme-disease-in-dogs/