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.
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.”
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:
- My dogs started the hike walking in front of me
- Eventually they start walking beside or slightly behind me
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.