As pet parent to two adventurous wiener dogs, I think I’ve heard every comment about small hiking dogs there is. People think they are being original with these comments but they are not. 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.
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. Also, a lack of exercise, combined with “showing our love through food”, has led to an epidemic of obesity in small dogs.
I love helping other small dog owners feel comfortable taking their dogs for a hike to at least see how they like it. People who never hiked with their small dog before are usually shocked at how much their pint-sized pooch likes it. They are also shocked at first by all of the comments that they get.
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.
You will hear:
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 and that it is dangerous to “force” them to do it (because, surely, that is the only way they will get out on the trails. Ha, ha).
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!
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!”
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, Chester 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 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.”
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 there.” 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!”
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 Chester is over 13 years old, we don’t let him hit the trails as hard anymore. There ARE times we carry him so now sometimes that answer would be a lie. In that case, I usually say, “She made it on her own but he’s 13 year old so we shuttled him over the harder parts. He’s been hiking for years, so he’s earned the ride.”
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 mad.
One, to be honest, is because it hurts my pride a little. I am proud that Chester and Gretel 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-worthyness, it hurts a little inside.
The other reason is because 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?