How Far Can a Small Dog Hike?

One of the most common question I receive when post pictures of my small dogs hiking is, “How far can they hike?”

I recently announced plans for a 4-day backpacking trip. I will be hiking with my 11 lb miniature Dachshund Gretel for 7 – 10 miles a day.

Someone left a comment on that blog post scolding me for having “bad judgement” because “Dachshunds aren’t built for walking that far.”

I responded that her comment was a bit judgmental. (Ahem – breaking the stereotypes of what people think “poor” small dogs aren’t capable of is a huge part of what this blog is about).

A lot of things factor into a dog’s hiking ability. Surprisingly, size is not at the top of the list.

Dachshunds camping at Camp Mystery - Marmot Pass

Things that matter most are a dog’s age, health, physical condition and “ability to breathe well”.

For example, a dog with a heart murmur or diabetes may not be suited for hiking long distances (or hiking at all).

A dog that has had back, knee, or hip problems may not be suited for hiking long distances.

Brachycephalic dogs – those with short snouts who can have a harder time breathing like mastiffs, bulldogs, and pugs – may not be suited for hiking long distances.

I say “may” because there is no black and white rule and I’m not a veterinarian.

I can say that I have encountered dogs of almost all breeds and sizes out on the trail.

How Far Can a Small Dog Hike?

While it’s true that hiking is much like walking, it’s also more challenging for several reasons.

Hiking is different than walking because:

  • Trails have the potential to, at least in spots, be significantly steeper than a regular dog walking route.
  • Hiking is typically done on a dirt surface, which can be slippery compared to concrete or asphalt due to lose rock or mud.
  • It’s very possible you will encounter obstacles on a hike like large rocks, trees across the trail, or thick vegetation.

Besides the factors I mentioned above, how far your small dog can hike depends on how much your dog likes it and what kind of shape they are in.

A general estimate is to consider how far your small dog can walk around the neighborhood and cut that in 1/4 or 1/2 to for their first hike.

Even if your small dog is a seasoned hiker like mine, your dog may not be able to hike as the same number of miles as they do on casual dog walks.

How to Prepare Your Small Dog to Hike

I’ve been hiking for almost 30 years. Half of that has been with one or both of my little Dachshund buddies.

Although I regularly hike 10-15 miles a day with my Dachshunds, they didn’t start with that distance.

I know some people and dogs who can hike 15 – 25 miles a day with their small dog, but that’s not typical.

Before I started each of my Dachshunds, I got the Ok from the vet that they were in good health and capable of it.

We also started easy and slow and I let them work their way up more mileage and steeper terrain.

My two Dachshunds, Chester and Summit, have been hiking with me for years.

With both dogs, I started hiking with them on shorter trails – about 1 – 3 miles – until I was sure they liked it and could do it without being stiff and sore or exhausted afterward.

Once it was clear they had a desire to go farther, I let them.

We still kept our hikes to around 5 miles for a while.

After several months, we started venturing out on longer trails and, eventually, steeper hikes.

The whole time I would watch them closely for signs that they were getting tired to make sure they weren’t pushing themselves too far.

We would turn around when they had enough and increase mileage a little when it was clear they could handle more.

I have enough experience to know my limit, know what Chester and Gretel’s current limits are, and know that I should have a plan B in case we have to cut the hike short for any reason.

For the full details of how I physically prepare my small dogs, read my article How to Get Your Dog in Hiking Shape.

How to Know if Your Small Dog Has Hiked Too Far?

It is normal for all dogs to pant a little, and breathe a little heavy, when they are exerting a lot of physical effort.

However, these signs show your dog may be crossing the line into “this is too much for me.”

Walking slower

Lagging behind, when they started the hike strong, is the first sign that my dogs are becoming fatigued.

In my experience, this sign usually presents like this:

  1. My dogs started the hike walking in front of me
  2. Eventually they start walking beside or slightly behind me
  3. Later, they start lagging behind (either way behind me off leash or at the very end of the leash.

While frequent sniffing is not uncommon because Dachshunds are natural born hunters, a significant increase in sniff breaks can also be a signal that my dogs are getting tired.

By the time your dog slows down, it’s best to turn around or already be on the way back to the trailhead.

Excessive panting

This sign your dog is over-exerting themselves is often accompanied with a distended tongue.

Drooling may or may not be present.

If your dog stops drooling, it usually means they are dehydrated and that can be dangerous.

Note: this sign alone is usually not a problem – just make sure your dog has plenty of water – but, combined with another sign below, is a visual warning sign.

Labored breathing

If your dog is “heaving”, breathing heavily, or your dog’s breathing rate doesn’t start to go back to normal after a 15 minute break, it’s probably a sign that you should end your hike.

Limping or getting wobbly on their feet

If your dog is suddenly limping, assuming you checked their paw pads for injury or debris, they probably strained something or are starting to get from over-use.

It is VERY important to understand that many dogs will keep going and going, whether they are tired or not.

It’s also important to understand that every dog is different so you should get you know YOUR dog’s warning signs.

As a reader recently pointed out, the biggest factors in how far your dog can go are usually heat and terrain.

The hotter and/or steeper it is, the less distance they will be able to hike.

In my experience, snow is a significant factor too.

My small dogs get tired easily when they have to plow through lose, fluffy snow so our hikes are often only a couple miles in those conditions.

Final Thoughts

Want to start hiking with your small dog?

Have dreams of building up hiking 20 miles a day with your small dog?

It may be possible.

However, it’s not possible or safe to attempt hiking more than a couple miles with your small dog unless you’ve built up their physical fitness and know they are capable of doing more.

Part of keeping your dog safe on the trail, and knowing when your small dog can hike further or you should turn around, is understanding when your dog’s body language and behavior is communicating they are getting tired or sore.

With the proper training, many small dogs can keep up with the big dogs on the trail.

Little dogs can often hike longer than we think they can

About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’m a Dachshund sitter, President of the largest social Dachshund club in Washington State, a dog trainer in training, and I’ve been a Dachshund owner for 20 years. I have over 150,000 hours of experience with the breed. When I’m not working, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.


  1. What a adventure that would be. Ma and I love to hike but we are only able to do about a mile. I could go and go but ma’s legs won’t allow it. I look forward to seeing the photos that you will share.

    1. That’s what I keep telling people. I almost always start to give out before Gretel does 🙂 I understand dealing with health issues and not being able to do as much activity as you would like (“much” is all relative). It’s frustrating.

      1. An interesting article. I have a 10 mph o.d miniature long haired dachshund and am in the same process of helping to stretch her stamina. I have yet to see her tired.

  2. What a wonderful article and the hike sounds like so much fun – I bet Gretel will LOVE it! We recently started taking family “walks” in the evenings (it’s still too hot in Florida for a long day time walk). You are so right about building endurance! I go about a mile before I start honking for air (it’s a Frenchie thing, don’t worry). We are sticking at a mile for a little bit and planing to slowly increase the distance, but I absolutely LOVE it. Especially chasing all of the lizards. Thanks for such a great post!

    1. Yes, your’re one of those brachycephalic dogs that can have a hard time breathing I mentioned. I’v eseen bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds hiking though so there is still hope 🙂

  3. I think no matter what, people will always critique others. As a pet mom you know what your dog is capable of. The looks I got when my dog rolo was in a stroller(100lb dog). They didnt know that he has some serious issues with his legs (which are getting wayyy better now). I got him the stroller so he could still go out and enjoy events with me as he loves exploring.

    1. Oh, the dreaded stroller stare. Ha, ha. I had a friend whose dog was in a similar situation and she put him in a stroller so he could still “get out”. She also had to do it because she was single and couldn’t leave the dog alone in the apartment due to anxiety. She got judged SO HARD for pushing a dog in a stroller. I also have a stroller. It’s for Chester. He is 13 now and is already having a hard time keeping up on our walks. In another year or two I am probably going to need to push him after he gets tired. Getting him out at all is better than leaving him at home in my book though. I also use it at dog-friendly events when it is really crowded. Dachshund are short and easily stepped on so it’s really about safety. I am not saying I have never judged another dog owner but I try to remember that I don’t like being judged and we never know the whole story.

  4. We hike with our 2 and not a hike goes by without someone making a negative judgemental comment about how cruel we are. I laugh, they love to hike and we keep it within our limits. They out do me most times, lol. I look forward to pictures of your adventure, keep on trekking!

    1. We get negative comments a lot or, at the very least, judgmental and a bit ignorant. I’ve had to grow a thick skin and I am able to just ignore then most of the time. I have found that it’s a good “teaching moment” if I can stay positive and engage them in conversation and the breed or hiking with small dogs.

    1. I know! I think it boils down to the fact that people are so into the “pets as family” mentality that they forget that each breed of dog was bread for a purpose and excels at certain things (not everyone of course, but some people_.

  5. That’s going to be such a fun adventure! I know Mauja and Atka (and myself!) couldn’t do that hike. Definitely a “size doesn’t matter” thing!

    1. I hope you come back to check out our trip pictures. I just got a new camera and, as long as it doesn’t rain the whole time, I plan to take a lot 🙂

    1. Same here! Gretel is like “stop being so slow and breathing heavy like a wild animal” mom 🙂 I can tell from looking at him that Mr. N has a lot of energy.

  6. I am jealous you have dogs who love to go for long walks and hikes. I love to power walk and I love to walk with my dogs. Somehow, when we were looking to adopt a new dog after our last one, who could walk well, passed away, we ended up with two brachycephalic dogs who are not big walkers especially in the heat that we experience, often times year round, where we live. I think it is awesome you can take long hikes with Chester and Gretel. Even a hike of 3 miles sounds long and awesome that they can do it with you. It’s great you got vet approval to take Gretel for the 8-10 mile hikes and you’ve been training with her to prepare. I can’t wait to hear how the 4 days go and if you need to implement a backup plan. It will also be fun to find out who seems to find the four days of hiking more challenging, you or Gretel. I hope you both have an amazing time and everything goes smoothly.

    1. I can pretty much predict that it will be more challenging for me. Ha, ha. You never know though. I plan to take it slow for both of our sakes. When you are hiking alone, all you really have to do all day is hike anyway. Sitting alone at camp isn’t the most fun 🙂

  7. I think Chester and Gretel are living life to the fullest and are lucky to be with such an adventurous guardian! As long as we know our dogs and listen to them consistently, the sky’s the limit.

  8. My little guy, Shaggy, started running with me when he was around 5 or 6 months old. We used to run a 5 or 10k (6.2 miles) daily. After running sidewalks began bothering my knees, we began running trails. Little by little, I ran less and less, and my weight crept up – my little running buddy had the same problem. We both are now still out of shape, but we BOTH are trying to begin a training program. Thanks to diet changes, Shaggy has lost 4 whopping pounds, which has clearly helped his stamina on walks. Schedule permitting we will be back on the trails soon, beginning with a nice 5k. Even small dogs can go the distance but, like people, they don’t just get up one day and do it without conditioning. Hike on, Low-riders, hike on!

    1. Good for you guys! I got sidelined by an injury and am struggling to get back into shape too. I know what a challenge it can be.

  9. Great post! I have had someone express interest in why I would allow my dogs to carry their gear, to which I responded “They are working dogs. They have been bred for centuries to work.” I think in our culture of treating dogs as if they are humans, many have forgotten that dogs were bred to do jobs for man, and that they ARE capable of quite a lot. Far too many folks are armchair judges these days.

    I enjoy your blog very much. Keep up the good work! Looking forward to reading about your next trip!

  10. As long as a dog is training for it, go for it! Katie used to run 15 miles no problem with Mom. We get more angry with the people that force their dogs to do activities they aren’t trained for. So many people think dogs are machines, but dogs need to work into things just as humans do. Nice post.

    1. Yeah, it’s important to know the difference between the “I’m tired” look (Ok) and the “this is totally miserable” look. When I see the “totally miserable” look on other dog’s faces and their owners can’t tell, it makes me a little sad.

  11. This is such a great post! We walk our 3 year old dachshund about 1.5-2 miles daily and take him on 5-7 mile hikes every month or two and he adores it. We have never had a hike where he didn’t beat us back to the trailhead with way more energy to spare than our exhausted butts. I guess we’ve been luckily that most people seem impressed when they see him charging up a mountain instead of being judgmental jerks. Dachshunds are super athletes if you let them be : ) you are setting a great example.

    1. Thanks Theresa. I don’t know how she does it but Gretel often seems to have MORE energy when we come back from walks or hikes. This one was a long one so she was pooped but she still wanted to play fetch as soon as we got home. Stinker. All I wanted to do was nap!

  12. I would like to do more hiking with my 7 lb. Yorkie. He is 2 years old, in training for agility and flyball, and easily does 7 km (approx. 4.5 miles) hikes. When backpacking, do you have a method to carry your dogs when they get tired? I’m trying to figure out how I would carry him on longer backpacking trips. I think the easiest thing to do is to make sure that I have enough room in my backpack for him to fit in it so that I don’t have to carry anything special to carry him in. I have placed him in a backpack at home and he is fine in it and settles quickly once I get him in 🙂 But I’m eager to learn what options I have!

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Natalie. My dogs have never gotten tired so I don’t have to regularly plan to carry them. However, it is important to have an “evacuation method” in case of emergency and there was once recently that I carried my senior dog the last half (steep) mile up a Colorado 14er. This is what I always carry for emergencies: and these are the best two methods I have found if you are going to regularly carry your dog in a pack: I know the post are kind of Dachshund-centric but these packs would work for other small dogs too. Good luck and glad to see you are getting your little guy out there.

  13. Hi Natalie. We also have two dachshund dogs. They are 11 years old, weighing 17lbs and 26 lbs., Fritz and Otto. We started walking them as soon as we got them. Yesterday they just finished an 8 mile hike and did great. So many people commented, wow, I can’t believe those little guys can do this hike. They have climbed high mountains and scaled rocks. They also are unleashed most of the time and my husband and I cannot keep up with them. LOL. When our son was deployed we watched his dachshund and took him hiking with us. Needless to say after about a half mile we had to carry him. He was NOT a walker/hiker. We are so fortunate to have hiking dogs as that is one of our favorite hobbies.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Although I’ve found that most Dachshunds take well to hiking, there are some that don’t. Mostly those are the ones that weren’t encouraged to be that active since they were young… but some are just not into it 🙂

  14. I love your blog! Finally, an outdoorswoman with small dogs! I’ve been a big dog person my whole life until recently…lost our golden and Toby found us at our farm. He’s an 80 lb swissy mix, now 6 years old, then rescued his brother, Teddy, our now 2 year old toy poodle. Teddy simply made himself fit into our world, lives for his big brother and would absolutely hate not being a daily participant in our walks/hikes/swims, etc. Toby has taught Teddy to hunt, tree squirrels, swim and use his senses in every way. We hike 2-4 miles 3x week with 1-2 mile neighborhood walks in between. Teddy LIVES to play Chuck-It and retrieves anything! Teddy started off walking .5-1 mile 3- 4x/week, now full grown at 6.75lbs, keeps up stride for stride with Toby! He LOVES his walks, loves his family pack, furthest from a lapdog (big lover though)! Isn’t snippy or yappy…basically a sweet, kind, lovely heart, big dog personality in a little tiny bundle. Puppy mill rescue and unfortunate DNA…broke the anxiety issues through exercise… ALL BOY, though looks like a white fluffy bunny 🙂 When you find a pack that works great, need to buy…sometimes he just wants to rest so I’ve been carrying him, 7 lbs isn’t a ton but adds up after 10 min! Thanks!!

  15. Great to see your article. I would long distances with my dogs and my dogs are also not the kind of dogs one normally thinks of when it comes to hiking. I have walked the West Highland Way, The Jurassic Coast, The Weardale Way, The Great Glen Way, Hadrian’s Wall, undertaking the Hertfordshire Way at the moment and some other long distance walks, like one in the North Pennines of 18 miles. My 7 dogs walk with me, 4 Shih Tzus and 3 Chihuahuas. Fun these dogs have too. By the end of the day when I want to put my tired feed up, these 7 will run and run on the village green chasing one and other. My 7 ones are fundraisers for Walking To Save Dogs – You can also follow my blogs on there.

    1. Wow. You’ve done some really spectacular hikes! Chester and Gretel can go all day too and still have energy after 🙂

  16. I had a dachshund who hated going more than a mile! She would plant her butt down and refuse to go any further. RIP Lolo. Was hoping Pippa (a ratchiweenie… or rat terrier/chihauhua/dachshund mix) would like to hike, but she’s been done after a mile and a half. Think I’ll take her in the morning and give 3 miles a try. I can’t get any humans to go hiking with me either! Smh.

    1. Dachshunds can be so stubborn! Ha, ha. When they don’t want to go, they won’t. With Pippa, I would suggest staring her regular hikes just below the threshold where she refuses to continue on. For example, I would take her for regular 1-mile hikes for a while. When she seems fine with that most of the time, you can slowly start extending the duration. My dogs are very food motivated so enticing them a little further with treats works well. As long as it is always a positive experience for her, she may be a 3+ mile hiker in no time 🙂

  17. There are dogs that can hike 20 miles in a day. In fact, i have ran over 20 miles with my two 25 pound dogs on pretty steep trails. Yes, most dogs are smaller than us. They also use four instead of justvtwo legs. Huge difference.

    1. I don’t consider 25 lbs a small dog. Mine are 11 lbs 🙂 But we agreee that dogs are capable of more than a lot of people give them credit for.

  18. I have a 12-1/2 pound cockapoo and she loves to go with me on my 3.5-4 mile walk…at a rate of about 3.5 mph. I wondered if this was too much for her…but she doesn’t stop! When we get home, she is TIRED…but will hop off the couch if something looks like fun. I worried about this, too. As summer gets closer, I will pack some water for her.

  19. Just want so I really respect your open mind, regarding several differnet aspects of dogs. Its not one size fits all. Every dog is unique as a are childs and humans. I’ve owned big, medium, small dogs. My last two have been small. First one patterdale teriier… Aka pockest pitbull weighing in at 17 lbs. I’d bring him on hikes over 40 miles with friends who owned young B Mtn dog, huskie, arizona res dog. All under 4 yo. My 17 lb compared to the rest never tired. We woild stop they would lie on their sides, he was always ready to keep going on the trail. Once home he was ready for sleep, but I aleays no itored him. Now I have a 15 lb mix not built like previous, he is now 5 got him at 3, after 8-10 million a day for 4 days hes is never tired. Just like humans everyone is diff

  20. My girlfriends tiny 9lb daschund loves to hike and is an absolute beast on the trail. All the things you would never think a tiny dog could do she does and she pulls to the end When the hiking boots come out she goes berserk!. And at her size, she is reall easy to carry or pass over obstacles or just strap her into a doggy bjorn

    1. I love hearing stories like this Marc. I can see her little self happily scrambling over rocks and roots. Hiking is the best! 🙂

  21. I hike with my 65 pound Rhodesian Ridgeback and have been blogging about it as well. I’ve heard it said that you can’t really tell when a dog is overheated but I didn’t believe that noise. In fact I notice many of the same symptoms you described in this article.

    Since my dog is a hound she cannot help but stop and smell everything. If she becomes uninterested in sniffing, along with the panting or drippy tongue you described, we call it quits. That being said, we live in San Antonio where it gets very hot and she has never went anywhere close to ten miles. She’s a sprinter. Very good in close distances lol.

    I wish you good fortune on the trails to come. And I LOVE the name of your website! It’s too good.

    1. Thanks David. On an “interesting” note, I was 100% sure I wanted a Rhodesian Ridgeback when I was in college. They are such beautiful dogs and seemed to fit my desired lifestyle perfectly. Being the responsible kind, I knew I had to wait until I graduated and had the time (and my own place) to care for one. It tore me up to have to wait. After I graduated, things didn’t go as planned in life and I found myself living on my friend’s couch. She got a Dachshund puppy. We became “proper” roommates and I helped take care of her dog while she was out of town (which was a lot). Eventually, we parted ways and her Dachshund came with me. Now I am in love with the breed. That’s how I became a Dachshund owner instead of a Rhodesian Ridgeback owner. 🙂

      1. It is very interesting how we come across our four legged family members. I have always been into wolves and dogs that have the appearance of them. Huskies and Malamutes come to mind. However, when we met Abbey at the Animal Defense League, we knew she was the one for us. Luckily she loves playing with Huskies, so perhaps she will gain a sister some time soon!

        Do you do your traveling from a primary residence, or do you maintain more of an RV lifestyle?

        Do you have to do any special care or preparation for your dogs feet prior to the long hikes? I bet their feet get fairly sore. Ten miles with such a small stride seems like a million steps!

        1. David,

          We live in a house and do all of our traveling from there. I work for myself so my schedule is pretty flexible.

          Over the last 15 years I’ve been hiking with my dogs, we’ve rarely had foot issues. Only twice did the outer layer of one foot pad scrape off. My former Dachshund Chester had an issue once, and had to be carried out, when we hiked 15 miles over fine shale. He got the sharp “sand” between his foot pads and they rubbed them raw. That was my fault because I wasn’t even aware that could happen.

          Fortunately, very sharp rocks are not common where we hike. I would certainly be wary of hiking for 10 miles over sandstone (aka. sand paper) or sharp lava rock. It’s been impossible to find dog boots for them that, fit, would stay on, and don’t chafe. I’m definitely not a fan of boots anyway unless they are absolutely necessary. In the snow, so it doesn’t stick and rub, I put Musher’s Secret paw balm on them.

  22. This is so cool! Thank you for sharing, I came here from the 4-day hiking blog. I’m looking for a weekend backpacking trip I can do solo with my dog. We are building up our hiking distance and I am keen to get out but also scared to go by myself. Your blog is encouraging me to go too and I set my goal to do your 4-day hike!

    1. Hi Kate. I’m happy to hear you were inspired by my blog. Thanks for reading and I hope you have a grand adventure.

  23. Hey! Where did you get the bag you are carrying your dog in, in the pic? I can’t find a front facing one that doesn’t have leg holes it it. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Joanne. The bag Chester is in is the Flash 18 pack from REI. It’s something I carry in my backpack in case of emergency but it’s not something I would carry my Dachshunds in on a regular basis or when it’s not absolutely necessary. It’s not sportive for their spines. It’s a great “emergency evacuation” tool though because it’s small, and relatively lightweight enough, to always carry in the bottom of my backpack.

  24. Jessica, thanks for the info and from all the other folks commenting. Got my son’s 5yo dachshund/terrier here with me for a couple of months while he is off on a job. I was worried taking him with me on my strolls about 3 -4 miles a day. Up in North Georgia so it’s a little vertical sometimes I think he’s doing just great, but it’s nice to get some support and info on keepin him safe. Nobody wants to kill their kids dog thru exercise! Thanks again, Walter

    1. Ha! Yeah, indeed no one wants to do that. I’m happy to hear you are making sure your son’s pup gets plenty of exercise while he is gone.

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