Top 10 Things You Hear When Hiking With a Small Dog

As pet parent to two adventurous Dachshunds, I think I’ve heard every comment about small hiking dogs there are.

People think they are being original with these comments but they are not. I hear them over. And over. And over.

I am sure (or hope at least) they don’t mean it, but those comments can feel a little insulting because they imply that my dogs aren’t capable of much.

Why the Small Dog Sterotype Keeps Many Dogs From Enjoying Life to It’s Fullest

Many problems result from the small dog stereotype.

A dog’s physical capabilities and exercise needs are determined more on their breed than their size.

Small dogs often develop behavior problems – chewing, anxiety, lashing out, etc. – because they aren’t given the chance to burn of the energy they need to.

A lack of exercise, combined with “showing our love through food”, has led to an epidemic of obesity in small dogs. Fat dogs often live shorter lives.

Not having strong core muscles, and being obese, can cause back issues in small dog breeds prone to IVDD and impede the healing process.

One of My Top Missions in Life is to Help Break Small Dog Stereotypes

I love teaching other owners how to hike with their small dogs.

My aim is to help small dog owners feel comfortable taking their dogs for a hike to at least see if they enjoy it.

People who never hiked with their small dog before are usually shocked at how much their pint-sized pooch loves following trails through the woods.

They are also shocked at first by all of the comments that they get.

Be Prepared for These Common Comments You’ll Hear When Hiking With Your Small Dog

In order to help people be more prepared for the comments they will hear when they take their small dog hiking, I put together this list.

It’s always good to know what you will hear on the trail so you can formulate a proper or witty response beforehand.

Top 10 Things You Hear When Hiking With a Small Dog

You will hear:

10) “Cute”

People don’t usually say this to big dogs.

It’s typically said in an ” Aww… look at that tough little guy trying so hard” kind of way.

I know they mean well so I just smile, or say thanks if I have the energy or breath, as I huff and puff on by.

9) “Are you sure a little dog like that should be hiking?”

I am not totally sure why – I am guessing it’s merely do to size and stereotypes about size – but many people think that small dogs are not capable of hiking.

Some think it’s dangerous to “force” them to do it (because, surely, that is the only way they will get out on the trails – not because it’s one of their great joys in life).

I usually take the opportunity to introduce these people to my dog’s breed.

In my case, my dogs are Dachshunds that were bred to cover ground flushing out ground vermin like rabbits and badgers.

They are tough and determined little buggers! Hiking is in a Dachshund’s DNA.

8) “Look at that poor little dog”

This is usually muttered under their breath but not always and it’s sometimes followed by “struggling to keep up”.

Yes, small dogs are working hard and panting on the trail… just like almost every other dog.

I think most people that say this are worried that a small dog is being “drug” out on a grueling hike against their will and that it’s not enjoyable for them.

I usually ignore this one because people think I can’t hear then and I don’t want to rain on their parade.

It’s also because I’m not totally sure what to say without sounding overly irritated or snarky… because I feel like being both 🙂

If I do say something, I usually just say, “Oh, he/she’s is not ‘poor’. He/she loves to hike!”

Heather Maple Pass Gretel 2

7) “Awwww… is he/she going to make it?

People think that a small dog equals a “smaller” amount of energy.

As with any dog, building fitness and endurance is important and, if a small dog is conditioned right, they can make it as far or farther than some big dogs.

I usually say something like, “Oh, yes. I think he/she would go on forever if I let him/her.”

6) “Doesn’t he/she get tired?”

I get it. Small dogs have to take what seems like 10 steps for my every one step. Moving more legs does take work.

However, moving 185 lbs of flesh (for example, me) up the trail takes way more energy than moving 12 lbs of flesh (for example, Summit and Gretel) so I think small dogs and their humans are even 🙂

I usually just say something like, “Are you kidding? He/she can out-last me any day.”

5) “Does he/she slow you down?”

Do you not see how fast those little legs are moving and how hard he/she is pulling on the leash? I am not sure why people think a small dog must be a slower hiker than their humans.

I mean, some dogs are I suppose but that’s determined by their drive and energy level, not their size.

I’ve seen more big dogs moseying along on the trail than small dogs.

I just usually say “Oh, no” or “He/she sure doesn’t. I’m the one that slows HIM/HER down most of the time.”

Chester Climbing the Rock. Seriously, I did not put him up there.
Chester Climbing the Rock. Seriously, I did not put him up there.

4)  “That’s a long way for such little legs”

At this point, people are being more blatantly prejudiced against the vertically challenged.

They don’t even bother disguising their judgement. Ha, ha.

They are simply shocked that little legs are capable of making it so far or so high.

Maybe it’s because they feel like the trail was hard for themselves… and they have long legs… so it must be much tougher for a little dog.

I don’t have a good comeback for this one so I usually just say, “She/he totally loves hiking.”

3) “She/he’s going to need help up there”

Honestly, sometimes small dogs do need a little assistance.

Maybe the stream is too deep for them to cross, the rock is too big for them to safely scramble over, or maybe there is a ledge and it’s too far for them to jump.

Most of the time when people say this though, no help is needed to get “up here.” They’ve just underestimated what a small dog can do with a little grit and determination.

I usually either ignore these comments or try and make the people feel like they are helping by asking, “Is there something dangerous up there?”

Most hiking encounters are too brief for the latter though.

2) “Wow, that little guy made it up here all by himself?

This is sometimes followed by “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Again, people think that a small dog with short legs doesn’t have the energy or ground clearance to make it up a hill, sometimes over streams and rocks.

I just proudly say, “Yes he/she did!”

Chester and Gretel made it to the top of a 14er!

1) “Did you have to carry them up here?”

This is usually the #1 comment that small dog owners will hear when they hike to the top of a mountain. 

People are really surprised when they huff and puff their way to the top of a mountain only to find a small dog up there.

Again, the stereotype comes in to play. They think that a small dog, with short legs, surely could not have made it under their own power.

I usually respond “Nope. Not even once”. Or at least I used to.

Now that I have a senior Dachshund, I don’t let her hit the trails as hard anymore. There ARE times we carry her so now sometimes that answer would be a lie.

In that case, I usually say, “She made it on her own but she’s 12 year old so we shuttled her over the harder parts. She’s been hiking for years, so she’s earned the ride.”

Colorado - Mt. Elbert Climb

Are People Just Trying to Be friendly With These Comments?

Yes, they very well could be. But they don’t unerstand how loaded their comments and questions are.

Honestly, I get a little pissed off when someone underestimates my dogs just because they are small.

A lot of other people – mostly fans of our Facebook page – said it irritates them too. 

I’m actually glad to hear I’m not the only one that gets hot under the collar at all the judgement. No one would say that stuff to a big dog.

I guess there are two main reasons I get irritated.

1) It hurts my pride a little

I am proud that my Dachshunds are in such great shape and are capable of taking on such physical challenges.

Every time someone makes, what I perceive to be, a negative comment about their ability or trail-worthiness, it hurts a little inside.

2) The expectation that small dogs don’t need exercise leads to poor health

There are way to many out of shape and overweight small dogs out there precisely due to the small dog stereotype.

My mission is to change the ideas around what small dogs are capable of and help owners to make their small dogs healthier in the process.

Every stereotypical comment I hear, is one more reminder of how many uneducated people there still are to reach.

One moment I’m feeling like I’m making a difference and then the next moment I feel like I couldn’t possibly make a difference. It’s defeating.

Anyway, do you hike with a small dog? Is your dog a specific breed or a mix? Have I missed any “common comments” on my list?

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. I’ve been hiking with Ptera, my jack russell puppy, since I brought her home over a month ago. And I honestly haven’t gotten more than one of these responses. I get the “cute” comment a lot, but since she is a puppy, I think people mean it sincerely, as she is pretty darn adorable. The comment I get the most is “what kind of dog is that” or “is that a Jack?” which are easy enough to respond to. I think it helps that she is a terrier, and JRTs have a reputation as crazy high energy over the top dogs, so people kind of expect her to be out and doing active stuff. She is even smaller than your dogs (10.5 lbs at her vet visit a week ago), but much leggier, obviously. So I think breed has a lot to do with it when it comes to small dogs. I’d expect a lot more of the skepticism that you receive if I had a Lhasa, or some other dog with a reputation of being nothing but cute.

    1. I do think it has to do with breed some. Jack Russells are pretty recognizable dogs and, as you said, they are generally known as high-energy, athletic dogs. And she IS super cute so I am sure that IS the intent of their “cute” comment 🙂 I have a lot of friends with other breeds of small dog like Chihuahuas, Miniature Pinchers, Cairn Terriers, and Yorkies that get the same comments I do all of the time. With the exception of the Cairn and maybe the Pincher, those dogs are more typically seen as lap dogs and they are not well known as dogs with a lot of energy so it makes sense.

  2. People are nuts. I feel sorry for small dogs whose people think their size makes them lap dogs, regardless of their energy level.

    We’ve gotten the flip side of those comments when people spotted our golden retriever Honey riding in my bike cart. Lots of snotty comments about how our dog should be pulling us or how spoiled she is.

    When you don’t own a car and don’t have time to walk six miles to an activity with your dog, the bike cart makes sense.

    I try to tell myself people are just making conversation. And the people who are just jerks, I try to ignore.

    1. I never thought about it that way but yes – when you need to get somewhere, riding a bike is much faster. Sometimes you have to get there with your dog and they can’t ride a bike so… 🙂 I do think you are right that a lot of people are making comments to make a little connection like if someone said, “hello” or “have a nice hike.” As in a lot of situations, a dog is a good conversation starter. People just don’t realize how the “funny” crack they are making can come across… especially when you’ve heard it 1,000 times.

  3. I get the first comment a lot! I tell people I have enough trouble making it up the trail without extra deadweight. I had one guy tell me though that he was using Mr. N as inspiration to make it to the summit. If a six-pound dog can do it…

    1. That one is always nice. I’ve had a couple people, who were struggling up the trail, say, “If that dog can make it so can I” as we pass them on the trail. Those comments feel good because I know we’ve inspired someone. I am sure all 6 lbs of Mr. N is an even bigger inspiration than Chester or Gretel 🙂

  4. Barley and I actually get “is she going to make it” one all the time–take her for a short walk on a sunny day in the 60s and she acts like I’m making her walk across the Sahara and it makes me feel like people think I’m abusing my dog when I know that we have water, we take breaks in the shade, and we keep walks short while my abominable snow pup builds up her spring/summer endurance again. My biggest pet peeve is “who’s walking who” when Barley is very clearly walking beside me with a loose leash–I don’t know why that bothers me so much but I always want to give the person a really snarky response.

    1. I think it’s something they learn at “dog school” – too look pitiful so they get sympathy. Ha, ha. “Really, she likes it!” 🙂

  5. I only hike with one of my dogs (Sawyer). He loves it and the other dogs don’t. Bentley is more a walk the trail at the park or strut around downtown type. Sawyer has climbed Enchanted Rock twice and loved every minute! I rarely get a snarky comment, but if someone says something I usually just smile and keep walking. After all Sawyer’s tail is wagging and his face is happy!

    1. The number of times we have heard every one of these comments is directly correlated to the number of people on the trails around here I am sure. Some of the more popular trails can see hundreds of people on a weekend day! What matters is if your dog is enjoying it or not and you clearly understand that Sawyer does… and the others do not 🙂

  6. After following you for several years, I don’t doubt that your dogs can do anything my dogs can; except maybe reach the counter. But then I saw a video of a small dog making his way up onto the counter so who knows.

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever received a disparaging comment about my dog’s size on a trail, but in my area there isn’t a lot of safe hiking (everything is hot and infested with rattlesnakes) so we don’t do it much with or without the dogs. One thing I’ve noticed with many people who have small dogs is they seem confused as to what “walking” their dog means. I’ve had people tell me they need to “walk” their dog, but what they mean is they mosey around their neighborhood for 5-10 minutes until the dog poops. That’s not a walk! Stop saying you walk your dog!

    The comments that kinda annoy/sadden me about my dog are training comments. When my dog holds a stay, or lays down on command, people always say something like, “your dog is so smart! Mine would never do that!” or “Terriers are so smart. I have a hound/pittie/rescue/whatever stupid excuse/ so mine’s untrainable.” I feel like it’s a lame excuse for them not to work with their dog, and it discounts all the work I put into training my dog by assuming he came that way.

    1. Yes. I wrote a blog post on that – a real “walk” vs a sniff around the block. Each have their own purpose but so many people forget that a WALK means going somewhere at getting exercise. I have heard countless people say, “I try to take my dog for a walk but he wants to stop every 50 feet to sniff something so we never get anywhere. How do you do it?” I don’t give them the option to stop… THAT’S how I do it. It’s not hard but it is hard to break a dog of a bad habit of thinking every walk is a sniff fest if they are never taught differently.

      I agree on the training thing too. I admit that Chester and Gretel are not well trained. While Dachshunds are known to be stubborn and sometimes hard to train, I know that their lack of training has nothing to do with their intelligence. They may be stubborn but they are super smart! It’s because I’m lazy in that department. I own up to that 🙂

      1. For some daschund owners a 15 min “sniff” is all our dogs can do. My mini had knee problems that get aggravated on walks so we have to cut off the fun at 15 min tops. I would love to take Russell on hour long walks if I could, but he’s happy and healthy with our shorter walks and thats all that matters to me. Also, regardless of health, a 15 minute walk is better than nothing at all!

        1. I’ve definitely learned that adventure is different for different people and different dogs. I agree that a 15 minute walk is better than nothing. Honestly, some dogs (mine included until Gretel’s rehab program) don’t get even a 15-minute walk every day.

  8. We have a dachshund and an ACD, 12 vs 50 lbs of dog. i often hear “Look, he’s trying so hard to keep up.” Umm, no, he’s not! He has no trouble keeping up, but he does have to be on a leash (in off-leash areas) or I’m sure they’d be neck-and-neck running.

    1. I know my little dogs can run faster than a lot of humans… and probably many dogs too. Those short little legs can sure go! The best part is the flying ears 🙂

  9. I’ve had my share of dogs and never had one with more “go” than my dachshund has. Even I’m kind of amazed. Trails, vacations, neighborhood walks, fetch, backyard agility…go, go, go! I enjoy him and do my best to keep him moving but it’s definitely something prospective owners should be made aware of since it’s so surprising to some. I think all dogs like activity. The ancient dachshund we recently adopted loves trotting around the yard and neighborhood, even after being kept inside for his entire previous life. And if you think dachshunds get annoying comments, you should hear some of the things I heard while walking my bull terrier. Awful.

    1. Unfortunately, most Dachshunds can be “trained” to be lazy house dogs and often the “trouble” they get into because they have pent-up energy from lack of exercise is just attributed to the breed’s stubborn nature. I DO try to educate people about their energy level and the kind of activity they are capable of by sharing our stores and experiences in hopes of inspiring people to get active with their Dachshunds and other small dogs.

      Chester is 13 1/2 and he still has a lot of energy. I bet your “ancient” one is pretty darn cute running around the yard.

  10. These are awesome pictures of your dog! I think it’s great that you take your small dog hiking; all dogs should be able to do fun, outdoor activities. Thanks for sharing this!

  11. I’ve had all of those comments over the years. My favorite was a man from Texas visiting Grand Junction on a very easy trail we’ve done several times telling my husband and I the dogs would need carried the trail is too strenuous. For Bentley, our oldest and IVDD doxie, “yes” he needed help on a couple of boulders, but our agile younger doxie, Chopper, did not as the trail is so flat except a couple of boulders which have been broken up by jeep crawlers over the years.
    The best comment ever was when we were on our kayaks on the Colorado, and a guy yelled over to our boat “are those dachshunds” and I said “yes” he said… awesome my buddy just got one and I’ll let him know there are life jackets their size and they can swim. I’m guessing his “buddy” would have figured it out on his own but glad my two could inspire the idea a little sooner!
    Thanks for sharing, every breed big or small I think has times when people make insensitive comments, I’m sure most people mean it innocently enough.

    1. Oh, I have no doubt that 99.9% of the comments are innocent. However, they are made based on a stereotype and that bothers me. A Dachshund attitude is so wiley though, I am sure it wouldn’t bother them if they could understand. They would be too focused on proving them wrong 🙂

      I think everyone learns most things eventually but, like me in Chester’s early years, it took me 5 years to learn some of the simplest things about Dachshunds. I always think it’s great when you can open someone’s eyes earlier 🙂

  12. We have anot 8 pound mini dachshund and a 70 lb lab. I was suprised when we got Alice the dachshund that she had as much if not more energy then the lab. The make great playmates. And on hikes the lab is full speed ahead but Alice has more long distance endurance.

    1. Chester and Gretel are certainly long distance doggies. Gretel, like your lab, is definitely more energetic at first and then slows down but she can still go for a long time. Chester, on the other hand, has never been in a hurry to get anywhere fast but he can plug along forever it seems.

  13. Hi, I just found your site searching for a harness. I have a pup who is part Jack Russell, part Beagle, and part Dachshund. She has a broad chest and short legs like a Dachshund, but in her mind, she can jump high! Anyway, I would love to take her hiking when she gets older; however, I am fearful to take her outside at night because she is being stalked by owls right now that live around our house. How do you keep your dogs safe when camping from birds of prey?

    1. Hi Eliza. Honestly, although we have Hawks and Eagles here in Western Washington, I’ve never had the issue of Chester or Gretel being stalked by birds. Maybe that is mostly because we live in the City so they are not by our house and they are always close by me or my husband when we are hiking or camping (they are always on leash). I guess that would be my only tip – to always keep her close to you. In my experience, birds will not swoop down by a person to snatch a dog. It may sound gruesome but if she was on a leash, and a bird is able to get a hold of her, you would likely be able to pull her back to you.

      You didn’t ask this but just FYI – we do have mountain goats, black bears, bobcats, and cougars around here. I’m more worried about those types of predators when we are out hiking or camping. However, in almost all cases, those animals are more fearful of humans than curious about little dogs. Again, keeping the dogs close to me is the way that I protect them. I have toyed with the idea of carrying bear spray (basically pepper spray but more of it in a container) because it will deter all animals. A smaller can of pepper spray might be enough for a bird. However, you would have to be close to the bird to use it and, like I said, they are unlikely to try to catch your dog if you are near.

      1. Thought you should know that capsaicin (the active ingredient in pepper spray) doesn’t actually have an effect on birds. That’s why you can buy spicy bird seed to deter squirrels. It will have a big effect on your dog though.

  14. I love this!!! My 6.5 pound Yorkie just completed all of PCT Section J. He got a lot of attention for his size when we encountered people on the trail…Some fairly insulting really, wondering if he was being abused or if he was capable. Indeed, he was at times carried but he still crushed about 11 miles a day. In fact, one trip highlight was calling “hiker passing” and watching my little Yorkie overtake a GSD that belonged to a particularly snarky owner doing the same section. This dog and his love of activity and the outdoors let me know immediately that he was no lap dog and single handedly forced me to leave obesity behind, lose 50 pounds and see sights I never would have seen otherwise.

    1. What a great story Allie. Thanks for sharing! Last year, before Gretel injured her back, we hiked three days of section J in Washington State from Snoqualmie Pass to Chikamin Peak. Is that one one you hiked? (apparently there is a section J in California too). I did a fair amount of research on little hiking dogs and Yorkies popped up most in hiking forums. I have to admit I was a tad surprised by that too but it makes sense and I have never doubted their capability if I had seen one on the trail.

      I was supposed to hike the whole thing with Gretel this year but those plans came to a halt when she injured her back. It was going to be for a fundraiser and also to help kick-start my own weight loss. She’s doing well now so I am thinking we might be able to make it happen next year.

      1. We were indeed in Washington. We went Snoqualmie to Stevens and took some side trips over the course of 7 days. Brady handled the trail far better than I did and so I am sure your little daucshund could! Only issues we had were (1) an unleashed Akita that could’ve sent us tumbling at Kendall Katwalk, (2) some down trees we couldn’t easily navigate around, and (3) the mountain goats at Alpine Lakes startled Brady at first. The ford at Daniel Creek looked horrendous even if I hadn’t had him with me so we just got around it by hiking down to Cle Elum…In all Brady hiked 61 of our 78 miles himself! This was not even his longest hike. Last summer he did 100 miles on the Appalachian Trail.

        When I first got Brady he weighed 1 pound. I purchased him because I believed that a tiny guy would fit my sedentary lifestyle. I quickly learned I was wrong. No amount of 45 minute strolls through the park were enough for him. I actually believed he had ADHD. Our vet suggested I take him on “more challenging” walks. I took him out to Tiger Mountain and he literally raced to Poo Poo Point…I puked three times. I am not kidding. Over the course of the next year we went on many an adventure. He gained 5 pounds and I lost 50, reversed my diabetes and got off blood pressure medication. In sum, the tiny dog people often laugh out and doubt changed my life. For this reason I admit I too am at times a little hurt by the comments Brady draws on the trails but I am always more then a little proud when a skeptic sees what he can do. I LOVE your blog!

        1. Well, I’m glad we met Allie 🙂 Do you belong to my Adventurewiener Club? If not, you can find it on Meetup. Our monthly walk is around Green Lake but we do other events around the area including some hikes in the summer and fall. It’s fun to go with a group of Dachshunds. Honestly though, the hikes are easier than what Brady is probably used to. You can always message me through my blog’s Facebook page is you ever want to try and go for a hike together though. You can find it here if you don’t already follow:

          I wish you guys many more exciting adventures together!

  15. My Rocky, a pug, has hiked in the Adirondacks. People are surprised but the little dude loves it. Due to vision issues, we’re keeping the hiking to village streets for him. Still, he’s always up for a 5 mile walk. Most people I know don’t do that.

    1. My previous Dachshund Chester had to stick to shorter walks and hikes once he started having health issues too. Still, he was just so happy to be out, as I’m sure Rocky is.

  16. Our dachshund Sherlock does a daily walk of 3 to 6 miles in our local parks, and by far the most common comment is “Are you sure he will make it?”. Its awesome to hear that its not just us getting these comments.
    He absolutely loves walking and lets us know if we’re being lazy. Thanks so much for the blog, its my new favourite hangout!

  17. Just read your article after taking my 3-year-old jack russell for a hike. We take her to walks around the neighborhood almost everyday and then let her run around the house whenever she’s home, but it was her first hike this morning. I’m not sure if she’s just not used to the slope or she was too distracted with which way to go because I carried her a few times as soon as she she stays in one place for more than a minute. But she sure hiked enthusiastically for most of the entire trail. She can be ‘cute’ when she’s resting but I’m really proud of her first hike. Small dog with big energy!

    1. Yay. I’m so happy to hear that you took her out on the trail and that she seemed to like it (and that it did a good job of tiring her out!). It’s always good to be cautious, especially when a dog is new to hiking, but the little stops were likely because she was so distracted by the sights and smells. If you want to read more about teaching her to hike, and what to look out for, read this article: It’s written for Dachshunds but most of it is relevant for all small dogs.

  18. This is a little off-topic, but once we saw a guy carrying a BASSET HOUND up a rather challenging waterfall hike. The dog was clearly old, and we kinda think he might’ve been doing it as a “goodbye” to a dog who’d enjoyed that hike many times in the past. The man was struggling, but he was doing it for his dog.

    1. That’s sweet that he would do that for his dog no matter what the motivation was. At 35+ lbs, a Basset Hound would get really heavy really fast.

  19. I cannot wait to bring my babies(Dachshund and Jack Russell) for a hike. They are only 14weeks and 15 weeks old. Both are very active and enjoys walk in the park.

    1. You have a few months to wait (they should be at least 10-11 months before any real hikes) but you can still carry them on hikes so they get used to the sights and smells. I did that for my Summit and then set her down to sniff and walk around on breaks.

  20. I had 2 dachshunds and a chihuahua hike and camp with me in the mountains around Santa Fe NM and southern Colorado. Lake Kathrine and Santa Fe Baldy and so on. All under their own power and they loved it. They didn’t stop until it was time to go to bed! I was definitely more tired than they were.

  21. I took a chihuahua, two dachshunds, and two other dogs camping and hiking in the mountains in southern Colorado and New Mexico. Lake Kathrine, Santa Fe Baldy, and more are examples. They enjoyed having everything under their own power. They continued until it was time for bed. Without a doubt, I was more worn out than they were.

    1. I get that. My Dachshund are good to go again after a 10 minute nap no matter how long the hike was. Myself? Sometimes I need an enture day of rest. Ha, ha.

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