I live in Seattle, a city that now officially has more dogs than children.
When I first started hiking with Chester over 10 years ago, encountering other small dogs (typically classified as being under 25 lbs.) on the trail was VERY rare. I know that part of the reason Chester got so much attention when we were out hiking was because he’s a “funny looking” Dachshund. However, for most people, it’s because they were blown away that a small dog could keep up with me.
Over the years, I’ve seen the trend of hiking with dogs explode. I mean, it was probably never NOT a popular activity but hiking in general has gone mainstream. More people on the trails means more dogs. That also means there is an increased chance of seeing small dogs hiking alongside their owners. I have been seeing more for sure.
Before I started this blog, I remember telling my friends about my adventures with Chester. Both on trail and off, I was met with skepticism that Chester was a small dog capable of hiking long distances without any help from me. They would always say things like “You took Chester WHERE?”, “You didn’t have to carry him at all??”, and many other “shocked” questions and comments about hiking with a small dog. (This was the inspiration for the blog name).
Through my experiences, I started to learn that people didn’t think small dogs were capable of being great adventure companions or that they could be active for long periods. I was disappointed because I know that inactivity leads to excess weight and poor health. Also, small dogs are still dogs. They need the mental stimulation of chasing smells and experiencing new things just like any other. I was frustrated that people didn’t understand their little dog NEEDED to be active.
To be honest though, Chester was my first dog as an adult. I wanted a big dog who could hike with me. I ended up with Chester. Not “knowing any better” about small dogs, I had to make the best of what I had. I took him hiking and camping with me often and he loved it. I didn’t know any other small dog, or Dachshund, owners so, based on people’s shocked reactions, I started to wonder if his ability and drive to climb mountains was just a fluke.
Then I adopted Gretel. I was worried that she wouldn’t like hiking but I wasn’t going to mess around trying to figure that out. The day after I adopted her, my hubby and I took her on a 4-mile hike. Uphill. In the snow. (not kidding) And she loved it! That day, I became convinced that my purpose was to get the message out – small dogs need and deserve plenty of exercise too and make great adventure buddies. I decided to start this blog to help other people learn what their small dogs were capable of.
I’m happy that, today, I see more small dogs hiking on the trails than I used to. On some hikes, we even see more small dogs that big dogs. I like to think that I had something to do with it (in reality, that’s probably not the case but…).
I’m not positive why the trend is increasing. Like I said, I’m sure it has a lot to do with more people hiking, and more people hiking with their dogs, in general. I think it also has to do with the trend of small dog ownership growing. When I was a kid, I didn’t know anyone that thought much of small dogs. They talked about them like they weren’t “real dogs”. Thankfully, those attitudes are changing.
UPDATE: Since publishing this article, I’ve had people from other areas of the country say they still see more big dogs out on the trail than small. Now I’m wondering 1) Even though those people are still seeing proportionally more big dogs than small, do they still see more small dogs hiking than they did years ago? and 2) How much geographic area and urbanization (the Seattle area is very urban) affects an owner’s “dog size” preference.
Small Dogs Are Becoming More Popular
Dog ownership in general is on the rise but the percentage of small dogs to bigger dogs is also growing. Packaged Facts’ Pet Owner Survey indicates that a higher percentage of U.S. households have small dogs (under 25 lbs.) than medium dogs (25-40 lbs.) or large dogs (40+ lbs.), with the figures being 52%, 32%, and 42%, respectively.
What’s driving this trend? Aging baby boomers may prefer small dogs because they are easier to travel with once they retire and many assisted living facilities now allow people to move in with their small dogs. Smaller dogs also fit well in apartments and urban settings so they are desirable to both Millennials who don’t own a house yet and baby boomers who have chosen to downsize. Small dogs are also cheaper to feed.
Like me, people are ending up with small dogs – whether it be due to lifestyle choice or circumstance – but they don’t want to miss out on the “regular” things that owners of bigger dogs do with their pups. They are choosing small dog breeds that can hike, run, or participate in sports like agility so that they can be active with them.
Also, in general, people are treating pets like family these days and that means sharing all family outings with them. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to do that and if it means that they DO have to carry their small dog when they get tired, they are ok with that (instead of leaving them home because they felt inconvenienced or embarrassed). Hiking with small dog is different than hiking with a big dog in many ways but they’re just that – different. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. In fact, there are many advantages to hiking with a small dog.
Can You Help Me?
I’m hoping that the trend of hiking with small dogs will continue to grow. And I want to help people make it happen. My main challenge right now is figuring out what is holding people back from hiking with their small dogs. I know in most situations, the owner is just not a hiker and doesn’t have any interest in getting into it.
But what about those people that are curious about hiking but not yet ready to try it? Or those that do hike but, for whatever reason, don’t take their small dog with them? Does either of these scenarios describe you? If so, what’s holding you back? I would love to help so leave a comment below!