8+ Best Small Dog Breeds For Hiking


One of life’s greatest joys is hiking with a loyal canine companion by your side. The synchronized rhythm of your footsteps, the shared discoveries along the trail, and the sheer happiness of being in nature—it’s pure magic.

But when you think of a hiking buddy, does your mind automatically wander to the larger, more rugged breeds? If so, you’re not alone. However, here’s a revelation: small dogs can be just as enthusiastic and capable on the trails as their bigger counterparts.

In fact, with their compact size and spirited energy, they often bring unique advantages that might surprise you. Gone are the days of assuming that pint-sized pups are just lapdogs. Many thrive in the great outdoors and are eager to embark on adventures.

As a dog parent, having explored countless trails with my furry friends of all sizes, I’ve gathered insights and stories that I’m excited to share with you. Let’s dive into the world of small dogs and their hiking prowess, shattering a few misconceptions along the way. Ready? Grab your hiking boots, and let’s get started!

Why Small Dogs Can Make Great Hiking Partners

Whenever I hit the trails and see a small dog trotting happily alongside their owner, it reminds me that size doesn’t always dictate capability.

If you’re skeptical about those little legs keeping up or concerned about their endurance, let’s dispel some of those doubts. Here’s why small dogs can be the perfect hiking companions:

1. Ease of Management

Anyone who’s tried wrangling a 100-pound dog knows it can be a workout. On the other hand, small dogs are often easier to manage on trails, especially when you need to lift them over obstacles or guide them through challenging terrains.

2. Perfect Tent Mates

Small dogs are a dream come true for those who love camping as much as hiking. They snugly fit into smaller tents and don’t hog your sleeping bag. Plus, their body warmth can be a bonus on colder nights.

3. Boundless Energy

Don’t let their size fool you. Many small breeds have an energy reservoir that seems endless. Breeds like the Jack Russell Terrier or the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, for instance, are known for their stamina and zest for life. They’ll keep up with you and might even motivate you to push a little further!

4. Less Physical Impact

Their lightweight nature means they have less impact on the trail. With the right training and care, their paws can tread lightly, minimizing wear on sensitive terrains.

Do Dogs Throw Up When On Heat

5. Adaptable and Quick

With their agile bodies, small dogs can quickly navigate through tight spots, dodge obstacles, and adapt to varying terrains with relative ease.

6. Affection and Morale Boost

Let’s face it, after hours on the trail, a bit of fatigue can creep in. A small dog cheerfully wagging its tail, nudging you for attention, or simply cuddling during breaks can be a significant morale boost. Their affection and playful antics provide those needed moments of joy and relaxation.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Small Hiking Dog

Choosing the right hiking companion goes beyond just picking a breed known for its energy. It involves understanding the dog’s individual characteristics, ensuring their health and well-being, and acknowledging that not every small dog will be up for the challenge. Here are some crucial factors to keep in mind:

1. Stamina and Energy Level

While many small breeds are known for their vigor, it’s essential to assess your dog’s individual energy level. Some pups may tire quickly, while others seem to have a never-ending reservoir of enthusiasm. Choose a breed and individual dog that aligns with the type and duration of hikes you enjoy.

2. Coat Type and Weather Conditions

Some small dogs have thick coats that can quickly become too warm in hot conditions. Others might have short fur and require a jacket in colder climates. Understanding your dog’s coat and how it might be affected by different hiking environments is essential.

3. Trainability and Temperament

A well-behaved dog is a safer and more enjoyable hiking companion. Opt for breeds known for their trainability, ensuring they can obey commands, especially in potentially dangerous situations. Additionally, a dog’s temperament will determine how they interact with other hikers, dogs, and wildlife.

4. Predatory Instincts

This is an often overlooked but essential point. Dogs with high prey drives might be more inclined to chase after wildlife, which could lead to dangerous situations for both the dog and the wild animals. It’s crucial to be aware of this trait and train your dog accordingly.

5. Physical Structure and Health

Some small breeds, like Dachshunds, have unique body structures that could make them prone to injuries if not careful. Before deciding on a hiking companion, consider their physical build and consult with a vet to ensure they’re fit for the trails.

6. Comfort with Strangers and Other Dogs

Popular hiking trails can be bustling with people and other pets. A dog that’s comfortable around strangers and other animals will make the experience less stressful and more enjoyable.

7. Adaptability

Some dogs adjust better to new environments and situations than others. Choose a breed and individual dog that’s known for its adaptability, ensuring a smoother hiking experience as you encounter varying terrains and conditions.

17 Top Small Dog Breeds for Hiking

Venturing into the world of hiking with a small dog breed? Here’s a deeper dive into some of the best pint-sized companions known for their trail-ready qualities:

1. Jack Russell Terrier

These little dynamos pack a punch in their compact frames. Originating from England, they were initially bred for fox hunting, which speaks volumes about their energy and tenacity. Jack Russells possess a combination of endurance, agility, and a keen sense of curiosity, making them excellent companions for longer trails.

2. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Pembroke Welsh Corgi

With stout legs and an elongated body, Corgis may not seem like the typical hiker at first glance. But don’t be misled! These dogs were initially herders, working alongside farmers in Wales. Their natural stamina and robust constitution make them surprisingly good on hikes, with a cheerful disposition that’s contagious.

3. Miniature Schnauzer

Recognizable by their iconic beards and expressive eyes, Miniature Schnauzers are versatile and adaptable. Originally farm dogs from Germany, they’re known for their alertness and protective nature. Their sturdy build and intelligence make them easy to train and reliable on different terrains.

4. Shetland Sheepdog

Often mistaken for a small Rough Collie, Shelties hail from the Shetland Islands. Bred to herd sheep on rugged terrains, they’re agile, intelligent, and extremely loyal. Their double coat requires regular grooming but also offers protection against harsher weather.

5. Dachshund

Blue Heeler Dachshund Mix

With their distinctive long back and short legs, Dachshunds are true hunters at heart. Originally bred in Germany for badger hunting, they have a curious and determined nature. While care is needed due to potential back issues, a fit Dachshund can be a joy on moderate trails.

6. Chihuahua

Source: Caterinarufo//Wikimedia Commons

One of the tiniest dog breeds, Chihuahuas are known for their spirited and often feisty temperament. While they might not be suitable for very rugged terrains, their energy and alertness make them fun companions for shorter hikes. They’re also easy to carry if they tire out!

7. Alaskan Klee Kai

Often resembling a mini Husky, this breed is agile and energetic. They have a strong prey drive, so keeping them leashed is essential. Their thick coat means they’re better suited for cooler hiking environments.

8. Parson Russell Terrier

A close cousin of Jack Russell, the Parson has a slightly taller build but retains the same love for adventure. They’re intelligent, energetic, and have a high stamina level.

9. Norwich Terrier

Originally bred for ratting in the UK, these little terriers are courageous, affectionate, and have a keen sense of their surroundings—qualities that serve them well on hiking trails.

10. Cairn Terrier

Known to many as Toto from “The Wizard of Oz”, Cairn Terriers are rugged and robust, with a natural curiosity that makes them eager explorers.

11. Rat Terrier

With a keen hunting instinct and a love for play, Rat Terriers are agile and can keep going for longer than you might expect. They’re also incredibly loyal to their owners.

12. Poodle (Toy & Miniature)

Miniature Poodle
Source: Misty721//Wikimedia Commons

Don’t be fooled by their posh appearance. Poodles are incredibly intelligent, easy to train, and have a hypoallergenic coat, which is a bonus for those with allergies.

13. West Highland White Terrier

West Highland White Terrier
Source: Imoen//Wikimedia Commons

These white-coated terriers, also known as Westies, are sturdy and love outdoor activities. They’re friendly and get along well with other dogs on the trail.

14. Bichon Frise

Bichon Frise
Source: Bernt Fransson//Wikimedia Commons

With a fluffy white coat and a cheerful disposition, Bichons are more athletic than they might appear. They’re agile and enjoy exploring new environments.

15. Italian Greyhound

Sleek and graceful, Italian Greyhounds are best suited for moderate trails. They love to sprint in bursts but also appreciate leisurely walks with plenty of sniffing around.

16. Australian Terrier

The Australian Terrier is a spirited, courageous, and lively breed. With origins in Australia, this terrier was bred for hunting and herding, making them both rugged and adaptable. They possess a natural curiosity and a keen sense of their surroundings.

Their wiry coat helps protect them from adverse weather conditions, while their boundless energy keeps them going. Despite their small size, they have a robust constitution, making them great for moderate to long hikes.

Their strong prey drive may require them to be leashed in areas with abundant wildlife, and like other terriers, they appreciate opportunities to explore and sniff.

17. Border Terrier

Originating from the border region between England and Scotland, the Border Terrier was bred for fox and badger hunting. This background gives them a high degree of stamina and a ruggedness that belies their small stature.

They are known for their affectionate nature and determination. Their dense, wiry coat is weather-resistant, protecting them against rain and cold. Their legs, though short, are sturdy enough to keep up on longer treks.

Their friendly disposition means they generally get along well with other dogs they might encounter on the trail. However, their hunting origins might make them curious about smaller wildlife.

Training Tips for Preparing Your Small Dog for Hiking

Embarking on hiking adventures with your small dog is an exciting prospect. However, just as we humans need to prepare and train for physically demanding activities, our four-legged friends also benefit from specialized training. Here’s how to ensure they’re trail-ready:

  1. Before hitting long trails, introduce your dog to the world of hiking through short, regular walks. Gradually increase the distance and complexity of these walks, letting your dog build stamina over time.
  2. Start by walking on flat surfaces and then move to uneven grounds like grassy areas, pebbled paths, and gentle slopes. This helps familiarize your dog with different terrains they might encounter during hikes.
  3. Ensure your dog responds reliably to basic commands such as “stay,” “come,” “sit,” and “leave it.” These commands can be crucial in situations where you need to control your dog for their safety and the safety of others.
  4. Hiking trails can have other hikers, dogs, and wildlife. It’s essential for your dog to be well-socialized and comfortable around new faces. Plan playdates with other dogs and introduce them to different environments to boost their confidence.
  5. If you plan to have your dog carry a small backpack, introduce this gear slowly. Start with an empty bag and gradually add weight over several walks, ensuring it never exceeds 15-20% of their body weight.
  6. Hiking can expose your dog to unfamiliar sounds like rustling leaves, gushing water, or distant animal noises. Play soft recordings of these sounds at home, gradually increasing the volume over time to help desensitize and familiarize your dog.
  7. If you plan to occasionally let your dog off-leash in permitted areas, a reliable recall is vital. Practice in enclosed spaces initially, rewarding your dog for coming back immediately when called.
  8. Introduce activities that boost their strength and endurance, like fetch, tug-of-war, or agility courses tailored for small breeds.
  9. Toughening up your dog’s paws can help prevent cuts and injuries. Walk them on varied surfaces, but always check their paws post-walk for signs of damage. Consider protective footwear if needed.
  10. Train your dog to walk beside or behind you, not to pull on the leash, and to yield the path to oncoming hikers. Reward calm behaviors, especially when encountering other dogs or people.

Safety Precautions for Hiking with Small Dogs

Taking a small dog on a hiking trip is an exhilarating experience that offers mutual enjoyment and bonding. However, due to their size and specific needs, there are safety precautions that every owner should keep in mind. Here are guidelines to ensure your petite companion remains safe and happy throughout the journey:

1. Regular Vet Check-ups

Before embarking on hikes, especially strenuous ones, get a thorough check-up for your dog to ensure they’re in optimal health. This can help identify potential issues before they become problematic.

2. Keep Them Leashed

Unless you’re in an off-leash permitted area and your dog has an impeccable recall, it’s best to keep them leashed. This prevents them from chasing wildlife, eating something harmful, or getting lost.

3. Watch for Fatigue

Small dogs can be energetic, but they can also tire quickly. Watch for signs of fatigue such as heavy panting, limping, or a sudden lack of interest in moving. Always be prepared to end the hike or even carry them if necessary.

4. Hydration and Nutrition

Ensure your dog remains well-hydrated. Carry sufficient water for both of you and a collapsible bowl for your dog. Additionally, pack some dog-friendly snacks to keep their energy levels up.

5. Beware of Predators

In some areas, small dogs might be seen as prey by larger animals like eagles, coyotes, or cougars. Always stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.

6. Check Paws Regularly

Small stones, thorns, or sharp objects can get caught between their pads. Regularly inspect your dog’s paws and consider dog booties if hiking in rough terrains.

7. Protect Against the Elements

Depending on the weather, your dog might need protection. A jacket for cold conditions, booties for hot or rugged terrains, and even dog sunscreen for sun-exposed hikes can be beneficial.


Embarking on hiking adventures with your small dog by your side offers an unparalleled blend of nature’s splendor and the joy of shared experiences. As we’ve explored, these pint-sized companions, when prepared, can be just as resilient and enthusiastic on the trails as any other.

However, their safety and well-being hinge on our awareness and preparedness. By embracing the right training, understanding their unique needs, and always prioritizing safety, you pave the way for countless memorable treks together. The world of hiking with your small dog is vast and inviting.

Armed with knowledge and an adventurous spirit, there’s no trail too long, no mountain too high that you can’t conquer together. Here’s to many shared sunrises, breathtaking views, and the unbreakable bond forged with every step you take side by side. Happy hiking!

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