Hiking is a great activity to enjoy alongside your dog. It’s a great way you can both burn some calories and time spent in nature is incredibly restorative for both body and mind.
I’m not aware of any research that has specifically verified that dogs find trips into the wild rejuvenating, but if you’ve ever seen a dog run through the forest with glee, you’ll have no need for empirical evidence!
But not every dog is well-suited for racking up the backcountry miles.
Some aren’t built for the kind of wear-and-tear hiking often entails, while others are simply more comfortable running around at a manicured dog park (for hardcore runners, canicross or dog joring are also solid exercise options).
If hiking is an important activity for you, be sure to familiarize yourself with the important qualities good hiking dogs possess, as well as the breeds that typically make the best hiking companions before you pick out that new pup.
What to Look For in a Hiking Dog: Important Qualities
Most dogs of average size, weight and build can hike, but some are clearly better suited for the task than others are. Among other traits, good hiking dogs usually possess the following:
1. Appropriate Age
Neither very young nor very old dogs are well-suited for hiking. Most dogs should probably be at least 1 year old and have all of their shots before heading out into the wilderness. However, old dogs should also have their trail time limited.
The actual age at which this occurs will vary from one breed to the next. Generally speaking, smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs and suffer from fewer skeletal issues, so they can probably keep hiking for longer than their larger counterparts can.
2. Climate-Appropriate Fur Length
It is important to consider the typical climate in which you normally hike, and obtain a dog with a coat-length appropriate for the conditions. You don’t, for example, want to drag a husky through 95-degree temperatures any more than you want to take a Dalmatian out during a snowstorm!
3. High Energy Level
Hiking is an energy-intensive activity and only dogs that like to get out and move-it-move-it, will enjoy the activity. In other words, leave your English bulldog at home when you hit the trails; bring your border collie instead.
It’s also worth noting that intense exercise can be downright dangerous for some dogs – pugs, bulldogs, and other short-nosed, flat-faced breeds have breathing problems and, when over exerted, may be unable to get enough oxygen. These dogs should stick to relatively short and easy walks.
However, for high-energy canines, hiking is a great way to burn off steam. If you need inspiration, check out Boot Bomb’s list of 50 long distance hiking trails in the US!
4. Calm, Confident Demeanor
Your dog is likely to encounter a million heretofore unseen things on your journeys, so it is best to bring along a pup that will interact appropriately to these new creatures, smells and people.
You don’t want a dog that cowers from new stimuli, nor do you want one that sees every mysterious thing as a threat. Super sensitive breeds can be challenging in this regard.
5. Sound Bone and Joint Structure
Think carefully before making a hiking companion out of a breed that frequently suffers from joint or bone problems, such as Rottweilers, Saint Bernards and others. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever take these dogs hiking – they still need exercise, just be sure to exercise restraint and sound judgement.
6. The Ability (and Willingness) to Be Obedient
It’s no fun to take a dog hiking if she is always getting into mischief – it can even be dangerous. Accordingly, easily trained, intelligent breeds, such as most retrievers, are often among the best choices for hiking companions.
Essentials You Need for Hiking with Your Dog
The list of things you’ll need to take along on a hiking trip will vary based on the duration of your trip, the terrain you’ll encounter and a variety of other things.
If you’re just cruising around a 1-mile loop at your local nature preserve, you probably don’t need much more than a leash and a few plastic bags; but if you plan to go farther, consider making some of the following items part of your standard trail kit:
- Saddlebags allow your dog to pitch in and carry their own gear. Not only does this make things easier on you, it can serve as a way to handicap your dog, if she is willing to walk for a significantly longer distance than you are.
- Dog sweaters, shirts and coats – like the Outback Jack Dog Coat — can help keep your dog – particularly your short-haired, small, or lanky dog – warm in inclement weather. For colder weather gear, check out our list of the best winter dog jackets!
- Booties or other types of footwear can help prevent injuries to your dog’s feet and keep them warm in the snow. They are especially valuable when traversing rough or uncomfortable surfaces.Waterproof pet boots are a great choice for keeping your dog’s feet toasty!
- Collapsible water dishes, like the SiliPet Collapsible Dog Bowl, provide a convenient way to provide your pup with water, yet they take up very little space when not in use and weigh very little at all.
- Obviously, you’ll need to bring plenty of clean, fresh water in a water bottle. Polycarbonate water bottles are more durable than cheap plastic bottles and are less likely to retain odors or become stained. You can even grab a water bottle that both you and your dog can share!
- A simple first-aid kit, minimally containing a few bandages and some antiseptic wipes, should always be within arm’s reach. You can make a first-aid kit yourself, but it is usually far more cost-effective to just purchase a pre-assembled kit, like the Canine Friendly Pocket Pet First Aid Kit, in a carrying case.
- A durable, reliable dog harness designed for physical activity, as you’ll want something that you can control your dog with (you don’t want him escaping from his leash and running off into the wilderness).
- Of course, you’ll also need to bring your phone, wallet, car keys and what-not, so be sure to account for these things, too. You’ll also need to bring your own water bottle and wear appropriate footwear and clothing. If you’ll be camping overnight, you may want to grab your dog a camping-friendly dog bed as well (some function similar to sleeping bags)!
- A dog-friendly tent (if you’re camping). Campers will want to make sure they have a canine-compatible tent. While admittedly any tent will do, some are better suited for pooches than others (be sure to check out our article on the best tents for camping with dogs if you need recommendations)!
Don’t forget that your dog will be exposed to fleas, ticks and other biting insects while you are out traveling through the bush. Be sure that you have addressed her needs by discussing the best preventative options with your vet before embarking on your adventures.
It’s also important to ensure that your dog has a collar and tag that clearly displays her name and up-to-date contact information in case you become separated. You may want to consider a GPS pet locator for additional insurance.
This video from the Appalachian Mountain Club offers more tips for safe hiking with your canine!
10 Best Dog Breeds for Hiking
There are no unyielding rules regarding breeds well-suited for hiking, so be sure to use your best judgement about your pet before deciding whether or not she’ll make a good hiking companion. And for that matter, mixed breed dogs can be just as awesome on the trail as their purebred counterparts.
1. Labrador Retriever
There aren’t many things labs aren’t good at, and unsurprisingly, they make wonderful hiking companions too. Rugged, outdoorsy dogs, labs love going on adventures, have the bodies to tolerate tough terrain and personalities that make them quite well-behaved when you encounter other hikers and their dogs.
Beagles are always happy to tag along with their people, and this includes when you hit the trail. Beagles have plenty of energy to keep up, just be sure you take their smaller stature into consideration if you are truly racking up the miles.
Beagles are legendary for their friendliness, so they won’t cause you any problems when encountering other hikers, but they are apt to chase small, furry critters that cross your path. Fortunately, their vocal nature means that they’ll scare off most critters before you even get close.
3. Siberian Husky
As long as the weather isn’t too warm, huskies are great companions on the trail (if it is cold enough to upset your husky, you should probably be indoors yourself). They’ve got energy for days, so they’ll view most of your hikes as warm-up sessions. Their hair can hide an army of ticks, so be sure to give your husky a good once over after every trip.
4. Alaskan Malamute
Malamutes are high-energy dogs, who love to walk and explore for miles at a time. They may, like some other breeds, have a tendency to pull on the lead while you are walking, but you may be able to curtail this with consistent training and positive reinforcement.
Much of what can be said for Siberian Huskies can be said of Alaskan malamutes. However, while malamutes are not as friendly with other dogs as huskies are, they are very friendly with most human strangers.
5. Australian Shepherd
Don’t worry whether or not your Australian shepherd will enjoy hiking – just be sure his leash is secure before you arrive at the trailhead, so she doesn’t leave you in the dust. The combination of their adventurous spirit, incredible energy and happy-go-lucky attitude make them one of the best hiking companions one could desire.
6. Border Collie
Border collies are smart, agile and capable dogs that love to run – what more could you want in a good hiking dog? Most border collies are a bit sensitive, so you’ll want to make sure your dog feels confident out on the trail, so it probably pays to start introducing your pup to the trail from a relatively young age.
Border collies will eye-stalk just about anything and everything that moves, but they have a relatively low prey drive, which helps prevent them from dragging you through the forest in pursuit of squirrels, chipmunks and birds.
7. Australian Cattle Dog
Australian cattle dogs are better suited for hiking than you are; they should probably be considering your fitness as a hiking companion rather than the reverse. They are often a bit much for first-time dog owners, but most experienced puppy parents will find them easy to train and eager to please.
Like their shepherd brethren who also hail from the outback, Australian cattle dogs are surprisingly capable of enduring both warm and chilly temperatures. Simply put, few dogs are as well-suited for accompanying you as you travel over the river and through the woods (presumably while en route to your grandmother’s house).
Dalmatians are infamous for their endurance, so it is no surprise that they excel on the trail. They’re also fun-loving, friendly and full of energy, so hiking is a great outlet for them. Dalmatians aren’t really noted for having an insane prey drive, so they’re also unlikely to dart after each and every critter in the forest.
Dalmatians have short hair and a slender build, so they’ll require some protection from the cold, but they handle warm temperatures fairly well.
The Plott is a somewhat rare breed, originally bred to hunt wild boar and other large animals. Their endurance and love of running long distances make them pretty good hiking companions, even if their prey drive makes them susceptible to lunging after furry creatures and birds.
Because they have rather short hair, they aren’t ideally suited for the cold, but warm-weather hikers will find them to be very suitable hiking partners.
Weimaraners are often thought of as challenging dogs, but many of the behavioral problems they exhibit can be tamed with sufficient exercise. Getting your Weimaraner out on the trail is an excellent way to provide not only this kind of exercise, but a healthy dose of mental stimulation as well.
Weimaraners are sporting dogs, who can easily withstand the physical rigors of hiking. They aren’t ideally suited for cold temperatures, so be sure to prepare your dog accordingly when the mercury drops.
Do you take your dog hiking? I actually love hiking myself and have led around 5,000 miles worth of guided hikes over the years. Many of these hikes occurred in the company of my (now deceased) lab, who was perfectly suited for trail life. However, my current puppy-Mc-snuggle-face (a young Rottweiler) is not ideally suited for the task.
She’s in excellent shape and loves to walk for miles, but she’s entirely too predatory, and tries to dislocate my arm every time we encounter a squirrel, deer or bear running through the woods.
But what about you? Does your dog like to hike alongside you through forests, fields and mountains? Who enjoys it more – you or your pup? Tell us all about it in the comments below!