Hiking With Small Dogs [How-To & Health Benefits]

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Hiking with small dogs

Small dogs are the bearer of quite a few misconceptions. Many people view small dogs as little pets that only experience the outdoors from within a stroller or handbag. Fortunately, they couldn't be more wrong. If you love to adventure outside and go on hikes, hiking with your small dog is a great way to live a healthier life and strengthen your connection with your little pup.

Now, there are a few things that you'll need to keep in mind while preparing to go on a hike with your small dog. Precautions must be taken, gear must be supplied, and knowledge must be gained. Once you know what you need to do to have the best hike possible, we'll describe some of the great health benefits that come with hiking with your dog.

1. Train Your Dog To Be A Skilled Hiker

If you're not a trained weightlifter, there's a good chance you won't be able to walk into a gym and immediately deadlift 400 pounds. Your pup is likely the exact same way when it comes to hiking! In order to either lift heavy weight or hike on difficult terrain, training must be done to work up to that point. Without a history of hiking, your dog may not have the skills and abilities needed to effective hike a trail and all of the different terrain within it.

On a hike, it isn't uncommon that you'll come across a variety of logs, rocks, rivers, and ditches that your dog will need to navigate. An experienced dog may have no problem running or jumping through these obstacles, but untrained dogs can be a bit weary and unenthusiastic about these challenges. This is especially true for small dogs, as even small rocks can seem like a mountain to them.

There are a few ways that you can build up your dog's confidence and skills. An obvious way is to start off by going on much easier hikes that have very consistent terrain. This will get your dog affiliated with the new environment, and will allow them to get comfortable before exposing them to something a bit more challenging. You can also take some agility classes or play games with your dog to get them more comfortable on their feet.

Whichever way you decide to go about training, be sure to take your time. Hiking should be a fun experience for both of you, so make sure that your dog is comfortable and excited about the activity. Their safety should be your number one priority, meaning that you should do everything you can to ensure it.

2. Choose A Trail That's Easy To Navigate

It's clear that you should undergo some form of training with your dog before embarking on a hike. However, even if your small pup has the spunk of a hundred restless chihuahuas, there's still physical limitations that can't be worked around. Smaller dogs have bodies that simply aren't able to tackle some of the obstacles a more advanced trail may put in their way.

Not only are larger rocks hard to navigate for these pups, but they're also quite dangerous. Jumping off of a high surface can result in spinal or neck problems in dogs with longer spines, and those problems should be avoided at all costs. Because of this, it's a smart idea to avoid trails that have tall rocks and ledges.

Higher elevations aren't great for small dogs, and neither is water. A shallow creek may be a cake walk for larger dogs, but it can be a hazard for a dog that can't stand in it without being submerged. While your small dog may be able to swim, a mild current can easily pull them downstream. If you want to hike around water, it's highly recommended that you get your small dog a quality life jacket with a handle.

Small dog hiking

3. Gear Up Your Pup

Smaller dogs may need a bit of help trekking through nature with you. Fortunately, the right gear will make your adventure a bit safer, easier, and more fun overall! There are a few supplies that are optional, but there's one accessory that every single dog on a trail should be rocking, and that's a harness.

Having a harness on your small dog has a few benefits that will make your hike a lot better for the both of you. First of all, a harness is a place to attach a leash, and a leash is recommended for most hikes, especially if your dog is an unskilled hiker. Additionally, a harness with a handle makes it very easy to help your small dog navigate rocks, pits, and rivers. Harnesses with a bright color also help to make your dog a lot more visible. This is great if you want to let your dog off-leash.

On top of a harness or a life jacket, a few more supplies would be a smart investment. Dog boots are a great way to give your pup better grip on slippery terrain and protect their feet from the elements. If it's cold outside, a quality dog jacket will help to keep them warm and comfortable. Then, of course, poop bags are absolutely required.

4. Bring Food & Water

Fun fact: The average person burns over 400 calories per hour that they're hiking! Burning so many calories is absolutely going to deplete you of energy and make you quite hungry as your hike progresses! The same thing is also happening to your small dog that's walking right beside you. Therefore, bringing food and water is absolutely essential when taking your pooch on a hike.

There is no set amount of snacks and water that you need to bring on your hike. Factors such as the season, length of hike, and difficulty of the terrain all play into how many snacks you should bring. Most dogs require around 25 to 30 calories per pound per day to maintain their weight. If your dog's hiking with you, it may require a 50-100% increase in their daily calorie intake!

For example, a 10 pound dog will need about 275 calories per day normally. If they're going on a lengthy hike, they may need about 200 more calories that day! Over time, you'll learn how much food your particular dog needs during different circumstances. Water, though, should be supplied from the beginning to the end of the hike!

Dog hiking food

5. Stopping For Breaks Is Encouraged

During a hike, especially if it's a hot day, breaks are absolutely encouraged. However, your small dog may require more than an average amount of breaks. Small dogs are quite close to the sun-baked ground, exposing them to more heat than us. Additionally, they exert their small bodies quite a bit in order to tackle the obstacles that we don't think twice about. Therefore, a simple hike can result in overheating more easily than you may think.

While all small dogs will experience quicker exhaustion, some breeds have an even more difficult time. Flat-nosed dog breeds such as pugs, Boston terriers, and French bulldogs all overheat easily due to their small airways not transferring heat effectively. Breeds such as these need to be watched extra closely.

Breaks don't need to be a bad thing, though! Hikes are done largely for enjoyment, so there's no need to rush through an outing with your pup. When it's time to take a break, find a good clearing and take a rest! Bring a blanket to lay down on, or bring a toy for your dog to leisurely play with. Once your dog's breathing returns to normal, you can pack up your things and resume your adventure.

6. Bring A Backpack

Backpacks have been around for thousands of years, and it's not surprising why that is given their utility. Bringing a backpack on your hike with your small pup has two main benefits. Fortunately, it's quite easy to reap those benefits, as a quality backpack doesn't have to cost you over $50.

The first reason why backpacks are a great investment is because they allow you to bring more than the most basic supplies. The saying "it's better safe than sorry" is absolutely true, especially when it comes to the health and safety of your pup. An adequately-sized backpack will allow you to take a plethora of supplies with you ranging from a first-aid kit to a life jacket. This will make it much easier for you to bring supplies along that will make your hike much safer and more enjoyable.

On top of the fact that backpacks carry supplies, they can also carry your dog! Even if your dog is well-trained for hiking, they can still become tired and may not want to continue the hike. Having a backpack that's able to carry your dog will make this situation a lot easier to deal with. Just be prepared to deal with some joking remarks about the tiny dog smiling away in your backpack!

Health Benefits Of Hiking With Your Dog

Going on a hike with your small dog isn't just something to do... There's actually quite a few benefits to it! Below we'll discuss 3 of the most prominent benefits you'll get from hiking with your dog.

​Hiking Is Excellent For Your Health

​While it may seem like a leisurely walk, hiking is actually a very powerful cardio workout that has tons of health benefits. It may not seem like a workout walking around and enjoying nature with your dog, but your entire body is being put to the test! Whether you're an exercise beginner or veteran, you'll absolutely reap many health benefits from hiking. Below are some of the most prominent benefits:

  • ​Lowered risk of heart disease due to the high level of activity
  • ​Improved blood pressure and blood sugar levels with an overall healthier heart
  • ​The uneven terrain will increase the strength of your core, glutes, hips, quadriceps, lower legs, and hamstrings
  • ​You'll have better bone density as walking is a weight-bearing exercise
  • Improved balance as you'll need to navigate a wide array of obstacles
  • ​The moderate exercise will help you with weight control
  • An overall better mood with less stress and anxiety

​You'll Become Much More Active

​While increased activity is a part of the point that was made above, it absolutely deserves its own section. The reasoning behind this is because "being active" is so much more than leaving your house every once in a while. When you get in the habit of going on hikes with your dog, you're creating a much healthier lifestyle for yourself (and your pup)!

When trying to create a healthier life for oneself, many people find themselves struggling. Starting from nothing, it can be quite difficult to drag yourself to the gym consistently, especially when the results don't show immediately. While going to the gym is still strongly recommended, hiking provides a fantastic alternative or supplement.

Health benefits of dog walking

Easing yourself into regularly hiking is a very simple thing to do. You first have to start by hiking a relatively easy trail with your dog. Really take the time to enjoy nature, analyze the trail that you're on, and feel yourself becoming more calm and content. Many people notice the health benefits of hiking after just one hike, and they're instantly hooked and want to try another trail.

A great thing about hiking is that it can always be different. While the gym or yoga may be repetitive and boring for some, hiking never has to be exactly the same. Using a website like AllTrails.com allows you to easily find great trails anywhere in the world. Each nature trail is different in its own way and presents a unique set of challenges and sights.

Over time, there's a good chance that you'll develop a great habit of being active, and you'll start to see some health benefits without realizing you've been working out a good amount. Plus, once you see the smile on your pup's face during and after a walk, you'll be motivated to keep taking them out on your little adventures.

​You'll Strengthen Your Bond With Your Dog

​As a dog owner, it's clear that you want to have a very good connection with your dog. You didn't bring a dog into your life just to have one -- you brought them in to have a best friend for years upon years. Fortunately, a physical activity such as hiking is one of the best ways that you can strengthen your bond with your pup.

Think about it: Hiking allows your dog to experience an entirely different world from the neighborhood that you walk them around in twice a day. There's thousands of new scents, sights, and experiences for your dog that they'll be so excited over. Being there with your dog while they experience this new world is a great way to form a stronger bond with them.

Being a familiar presence in this new environment will be comforting for your dog while they get to experience the world. As the only two creatures walking on the trail (hopefully it isn't crowded!), you and your dog can communicate on an entirely different level. It won't be mind-blowing, admittedly, but it will be a great experience.

Plus, seeing your dog having the time of their life will help you love them even more than you originally thought was possible!

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Zach David
Zach David
Zach is a life-long pet owner and enthusiast. He was born into a family with a dog named Murphy, and since then has owned several other dogs, mice, ferrets, fish, geckos, and a cat. This experience has given him the knowledge necessary to help others become excellent pet owners.

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