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Tips for Hiking with Small Dogs
Short Legs Hit the Trail
Hiking with Small Dog

Most weekends in fall, I pick a mountain to hike near my home in Portland, Ore. “How did that little guy get all the way up here?” someone will ask. “She’s a she,” I’ll say, “and she does it all the time.” Chuckie, my Miniature Dachshund, will prance around like it’s no big deal, which it isn’t. But I’m often surprised by the attention we get. There’s no reason to leave the outdoors to larger breeds. Little dogs deserve to hike, too, and like all dogs, they need exercise to stay healthy.

Of course, you should check your trail’s rules to see if dogs are allowed, and if they must be kept on a leash. It’s smart to leash your small dog anyway, with a harness, to better manage encounters with other hikers and their dogs, mountain bikers, equestrians, wild animals, and so on. Your pet should have her flea-and-tick treatment up-to-date and should wear a collar with her ID tags and your cell number. Clean up after your dog just like you would anywhere else, and don’t leave any baggies along the trail. Gift-wrapped or not, that’s a present nobody wants to receive.

Dr. Kristin Sulis of Mt. Tabor Veterinary Care says, “Remember that your little dog has to work twice as hard on the trail, so plan accordingly. With small dogs, you want to be sure to bring plenty of snacks for energy, and water.” I use a BPA-free Nalgene bottle to give Chuckie small drinks of water every half-hour, and the cap serves as a little bowl. It’s small enough that she won’t slurp up too much at once and make herself sick. Small dogs’ calorie requirements can double on hike days, so Chuckie also gets a little snack at every break. I bring her favorite treats so I know she won’t refuse to eat.

“Another thing to remember about small dogs is that they won’t self-limit the way larger ones will,” says Michelle Fredette, owner of Portland’s dog-trekking service Wag Masters. Your little one might run herself into trouble, exhausting herself or overheating if you don’t help her take it easy. If your dog is new to hiking, it’s best to check with your vet and then start small, with short hikes on easy trails. Watch to see that she’s not excessively panting, wobbly on her legs or plain pooped out. If there’s a difficult stretch of trail or if she gets too tired, be ready to lead her an easier way, or carry her. You might find a small pouch or backpack to use as a carrier if you’ll be hiking farther than, say, one mile per pound your dog weighs.

Other health concerns for the trail include poison ivy and paw maintenance. Poison ivy and poison oak rarely cause rashes on dogs — the plants’ irritating oil urushiol must work its way through their fur down to skin level — but it is possible for your dog to pick up the oil on her coat and inadvertently transfer it to you. Learn these plants and keep away. Check the pads of your dog’s feet for wounds from thorns or sharp rocks, especially if she’s stopping to lick or gnaw at her paws. Consider booties for extra-delicate feet.

Finally, keep a towel or blanket in your vehicle if you’ll be driving home after your hike. Reward your dog with a bath, check her for ticks and bristles, and thank yourself for giving her a great day. Trust me on this: Your Labrador-owning friends will raise their eyebrows and say, “Wait, you did what?”

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 61: Sept/Oct 2010
John Hovey leads wilderness expeditions for NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School, and teaches rescue classes for the Wilderness Medicine Institute.

Art Credit: John Hovey

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Submitted by Dog Mama Soo | March 1 2011 |

My two little ones (Cairn Terrier and Miniature Schnauzer) hike with me every weekend too, and we get the same sort of reaction that you do. Ie, "How on earth did those short little legs get to the top of this mountain?" - to which my answer is always "Very easily! Plus they are ready to turn round and do it again at the end of the hike!" And you are so right, people always automatically assume that dogs that hike are boy dogs!! Whereas mine, like yours, are both girls. And my backpack is invariably full of their stuff, ie lots and lots of water, treats, water bowl, towels and an assortment of balls/toys.

And you raise 2 very good points indeed, ie keep a close eye on your small dog - they all think they are big dogs trapped in small dog bodies and will keep going and going, even when they are tired, so we have to be the ones to watch out for them. And the second is picking up after your dog - how many times have we unwittingly stepped on poop whilst out hiking on a sunny Sunday afternoon?

So, get out there with your little ones this weekend!

Submitted by jen | March 15 2013 |

Soo good to see other small dog out there!! I take my dog with me on every hike I go! He is a 6 yr old Chihuahua and he has the best time, while he was young I always treated him like he was able to do anything and everything he sometimes really suprises me on just how much he can do! I even plan on taking him to hike the Appalachian trails in ct with me for a few days. I have a blog for him too!! it's http://jenanddog.blogspot.com

Submitted by Jessica @ YouDi... | August 6 2011 |

I know exactly what you mean! I hike all of the time with my two miniature Dachshunds and get a million comments to the effect of "poor little dog with those short legs" or "How can that little dog make it all the way up there". I have just stopped explaining that my two weiner dogs can out hike me any day. They are real go getters - up and over logs and literally pulling me up the trail (which I benefit from in some spots. Ha, ha). It's what they are bred for.

I have gotten so many suprised looks and comments that I decided to start a blog about our hiking adventures called http://www.YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner.com. We share our stories as well as tips for hiking and excercising with your dog. I even started a local club for Doxie owners to help them get out more called the Adventureweiner Club of Seattle.

I was delighted to find your article that is not only about hiking with your small dog but specifically about hiking with your mini Dachshund. Small dogs unite!

Submitted by Anonymous | September 12 2011 |

My 15lb Lhasa and 13lb Chihuahua absolutely love hiking. They can do 8 miles no problem, and they sure sleep well afterwards.

Submitted by alpine canine | January 9 2012 |

Over here at Alpine Canine in Missoula, MT we run a Seniors and squirts group hike. Our 2hr hike lets the smaller dogs (from <5lb Yorkipoos) enjoy group hikes and socialization opportunities just like big dogs!

Submitted by Lorraine | March 27 2013 |

I hike with my chihuahua (who weighs about 5 pounds) all the time..of course now that she is nearly 15 our hikes are more like walks in the woods..and I do end up carrying her part of the way. The funniest is when we go with my daughter's dog which is an 85 pound black lab. I have each dog on a differnt leash and people just look, but they love to hike together.

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