Do you love to go hiking but don’t think your little dog can manage it? I have two dogs. My border collie dog can hike all day and be very happy with the whole experience. She is a perfect size to scale steep trails and she is agile. I also have a little seven-pound senior chihuahua who loves getting out in nature. He is not nearly as athletic as my bigger dog. But, I still take him out when we are hitting the easier shorter trails. This is what I have learned to safely hike with little dogs.
- Most importantly, start slow. If your little dog has spent most of his day on the couch, don’t start with a 5 or 10-mile hike right out of the gate. Their feet, joints, and ligaments all need to gradually become conditioned to increased exercise. And, if your dog has any health conditions or is a senior, check with your veterinarian to make sure they are cleared to get out for a hike.
- Before heading out, make sure your dog is chipped and is wearing an ID tag just in case they get free from their collar or harness. Dogs go missing every year in the woods. It is not a safe place for little dogs to get lost. Proper identification can help someone get your dog back to you if they run off.
- Teaching a good solid recall comes in handy to prevent them from disappearing if they get loose also.
- Keep you little dogs on a leash. Most trails that are dog-friendly will require any dog to be on a leash. But it is even more important for little dogs to keep them close to you because most hiking trails could have predators like coyotes, fox, or mountain lions in the area. Carry bear spray or pepper spray where appropriate and legal. Snakes are an issue too. Keeping them close to you will keep them safer. You don’t want your dog of any size sniffing the wrong snake. Plus, if they misstep and they are on a leash, they won’t fall off the side of a trail.
- Watch for piles of leaves. Little dogs can disappear in a pile of leaves. Leaves can cover holes and they can twist their ankles just like we can walking through deep piles of leaves. I once was hiking on a trail with Eddie, my little chi and I looked back and he was up to his neck in leaves and not happy about it at all. Trails where you can see the ground surface will be safer.
- Watch for places where your little dog will struggle to make a big jump or leap which could cause joint or ligament problems. Pick them up and help them when necessary to avoid the risk of injury.
- Avoid extremely rocky or steep terrain that can be hard to cross with tiny little feet.
- Carry enough water for yourself and your dog. Bring a collapsible water bowl. Water is important year-round. Don’t hike in the heat of the day during hot weather.
- When you stop for a water break, check their feet. If they start limping, stop immediately and check their feet. Often it is just a pebble or burr stuck in between their toes. If they are limping and you cannot find the cause, pick them up and carry them out. If it is just a pebble and they seem fine afterwards, you can keep going. You also want to make sure that their paw pads aren’t getting burned in the hot months, frozen in the cold months, or just irritated by the hiking itself.
- When passing other people and other dogs on the trail, pull your dog close to you or pick up your little dog and stay a safe distance in case the stranger dog is reactive and lunges at you or your little dog.
- There are many different styles of pet backpacks that can carry a little dog safely when you are enjoying a longer hike. Additionally, these are nice to have to carry your dog off the trail in case of injury or if they just get tired and need a break.
- The most important thing you can do is to pay attention to your little dog. Check in with them to see how they are doing. Dogs tend to be quite stoic. Are they panting excessively or lagging behind? These are huge clues that they are ready for a break or to finish the hike. Knowing when to stop will prevent injury and make the outing much more fun for you and your little dog.