UPDATED: April 13, 2020
I love all dogs and do not discriminate based on size. However, it’s a fact that there are differences between small dogs and big dogs.
First, some people wonder if small dogs can hike the same trails that big dogs can. I can assure you that small dogs are indeed capable of hiking long distances, sometimes over rough terrain.
Next, people want to know why they should choose a small dog over a big dog when getting a new hiking companion.
While there are some negatives of hiking with little dogs (I list those too – see below), there are a whole lot of positives.
Advantages of Hiking with Small Dogs
1) It’s easier to avoid tense confrontations with other dogs on the trail
Although dogs of all sizes should be socialized and trained to greet other dogs in a friendly manner, you don’t know what kind of training random dogs on the trail have had.
You also don’t know their history with other dogs and people. Maybe they have just had a bad encounter and are on edge.
In addition, most dogs consider a narrow trail a “confined space”, and it’s not uncommon for them to feel nervous, and act out, when they feel “cornered”.
Although most dogs you meet on the trail will be friendly, you may want to pick your small dog up to avoid any conflict.
If you’re approaching another dog you’re unsure how they might react to your dog, or your dog might react to them, a small dog is easy to pick up to avoid confrontation.
2) There is less poop to pack out
Small dogs equal smaller poops so you don’t have as big of a “stink bomb” to pick up or carry out.
3) They do less environmental damage
There are always some exceptions to this one but, generally, a small dog will “leave a smaller pawprint” on the trail.
Literally, if they go off trail, they will leave smaller footprint – aka. trample less vegetation.
Small dogs often dig smaller holes too (no dog should be allowed to dig holes on the trail but just in case you don’t see it).
If they poop somewhere you don’t see, since their smaller “package” will leave behind less potentially-water-contaminating bacteria.
4) You con’t have to carry as much dog food when backpacking
This one may be a “wash” because small dogs can’t carry their own dog food (see disadvantages below) so you have to carry it for them.
If you’re carrying food, water, and treats for your small dog, you won’t have to carry as much as you would with a big dog.
However, there may be reasons that a big dog can’t carry their own food either – reasons they can’t carry a backpack like risk of overheating, they aren’t fit enough, they aren’t trained to wear a backpack, etc.
Since small dogs eat less than big dogs, the amount of dog food you’d have to carry for your dog on a backpacking trip would be less. And less food means less extra weight.
5) They make great sleeping bag warmers
Whether you’re taking your small dog on a backpacking trip, or you are staying at a campground and just doing day hikes, your furry buddy can probably fit inside your sleeping bag with you.
They act as natural foot or body warmers.
6) They’re easier to carry out in an emergency.
When your dog weighs under 15 lbs, you’ll have a much easier time if you have to carry them out for any reason.
There are many reasons your dog might not be able to hike out on their own including, a paw injury (Case in point), getting stung by a bee and having an allergic reaction, becoming too exhausted to go on (from hypothermia, overheating, or too little training).
One of THE biggest advantages of hiking with small dogs is that you won’t have to face the possibility of leaving your dog in the woods overnight if they get injured.
I’ve heard stories of large dogs getting injured on the trail and the owners having to leave them because they were not prepared to stay the night outdoors and couldn’t carry them out.
7) They’re a great conversation piece on the trail
Most people aren’t used to seeing small dogs out hiking. These people are usually amazed that your little dog “made it that far”.
In fact, it’s more common for people to say something about my Dachshund’s size or ability when we pass them than not. Believe me, I think I’ve heard about every comment there is.
This can sometimes open up to a larger conversation – maybe an opportunity to quickly educate people about the ability of small dogs, maybe about the breed of dog you own, or maybe just a nice pleasant conversation at a common lunch spot.
These are what I think are the primary advantes of hiking with a small dog.
There are others too though including:
- You can use your hand as a water dish because they usually only drink a few ounces at a time.
- If they are afraid of getting their belly wet, they are light enough to pick up and carry across the stream.
- A small dog takes up less space so it’s easier to step aside on the trail to give others room.
- Less fur to groom if they get dirty or muddy
- Will carry less dirt and mud into your car
5 Disadvantages of Hiking with a Small Dog
Of course, there are also disadvantages to hiking with a small dog.
If you want to hike with your little trail buddy, here are some things you should consider:
1) Some obstacles are too much for them
While small dogs have a lot of tenacity, there are just some obstacles they can’t physically overcome because of their small stature.
They typically get tired sooner and can’t go as far in deep, powdery snow.
Even though small dogs have a lot of energy and stamina, there are simply some obstacles that are physically impossible.
They can easily be lifted up ladders or ledges. However, sometimes you would have to navigate the obstacle while carrying them and it may not be possible.
2) Their tendency to push themselves can lead to injury
Almost all dogs will try to push themselves beyond their limits to keep up with you.
However, small dogs usually think they are big dogs trapped in a small body.
That means they can have a tendency to push themselves even more than they can physically handle so you have to watch them closer and be more alert for signs of fatigue and dehydration.
3) Small dogs are more affected by temperature changes
Smaller dogs, especially Dachshunds, are closer to the ground so they catch all the heat radiating off of it and get hotter faster when the sun is out.
They don’t have as much body mass as big dogs so when it is cold they tend to get colder faster (which is why choosing a dog jacket that fits well is important).
Read this article if you’re unsure if your dog needs to wear a jacket when hiking in the winter.
Due to their small size, small dogs don’t naturally generate as much body heat. This is easily remedied with a jacket though.
4) They can’t carry their own stuff
Although you may be able to find a dog backpack for your small dog, they probably won’t be able to carry mutch.
Besides the pack having a small volume, dogs should only carry about 10% of their body weight.
A 10 lb dogs, even when properly conditioned to carry extra weight, should not carry more than 1 lb on their back.
And small dogs prone to Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) and back injuries – like Corgis, Dachshund’s, Chihuahuas, and Shih Tzus – should never be asked to carry anything.
5) They can be more susceptible to predators
Small dogs can easily be mistaken for a rabbit, or other small prey, by eagles, owls, weasels, badgers, bobcats, etc.
In addition, getting bit by a rattlesnake can be deadly for dogs with a small body mass.
Looking For Small Dog Hiking Partner?
I own and hike with Dachshunds. You might be wondering if they are the only small dog breeds that like to hike.
There are many small dog breeds that have a lot of energy but almost any dog can make great hiking companions of trained properly (and their limits are respected)
I wondered that at first too. I didn’t choose a small dog for a hiking companion, he chose me. I hadn’t done any research on which small breed dog I might be able to get to take along on adventures with me.
I’ve learned a lot since that first hike with my Dachshund though.
Probably the most common other small dog breed I see out hiking is the Chihuahua. I’ve also seen several tiny Yorkies out there rocking the adventure lifestyle.
Check out my big list of small dog breeds capable of hiking. You might be surprised which breeds made the list.
Now that I know there are several other breeds that do too, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose a small dog to hike with again. In fact, I would prefer it because of the convenience.
Do you hike with a small dog? Leave a comment if you see any advantages or disadvantages that I missed!