A small dog, pug, on a hiking trail wearing a body harness for hiking which makes it easy for the owner to help the dog over obstacles.

A Helpful Guide For Hiking With Small Dogs

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When you first think about hiking with a dog, you probably envision a medium to large dog but small dogs love hiking too. Why leave your little buddy at home? They need exercise and love exploring too.

Small dogs can be far more than lapdogs. They can be trailblazers just like you!

If you want to take your small dog on your next hike, there are a few things to consider.

Is Your Small Dog Physically Ready for Hiking

General Health: Whether big or small, your dog should be fit enough for your chosen hike. Visit your vet to make sure your dog is healthy enough for hiking.

Medications and Vaccines: Your dog should be up to date on all vaccines and medications including flea-and-tick treatment.

A small dog on a hiking trail that is well trailed for hikes and on the right length leash required by park rules.

Know the Trail Regulations for Hiking with a Dog

Many park trails whether they be national, state, or local parks do not allow dogs. Do your research ahead of time and double-check regulations at the park’s visitor center if they have one and look for “no dog allowed” signs at the trailhead.

Leashes are required on most public trails. The required leash length can vary. Many times it’s no more than six feet in length.

Obedience Training and Trail Etiquette when Hiking with Small Dogs

Maintain Control

You must maintain control of your dog at all times for the safety of your pet and for others.

Keeping your dog leashed and in a body-harness helps greatly in maintaining control.

Keep Your Dog Calm

The excitement of your dog can aggravate other dogs, spook horses sharing the trail, and alarm other hikers and bikers. Keep your dog calm on the trail.

Yield to Others

Yield to hikers, bikers, and horses sharing the trail. Step to the side of the trail and reassure your dog to keep it confident and calm.

Respect Wildlife

Keep your dog calm and quiet around wildlife. This keeps wildlife, your dog, and you much safer.

Related Content: What To Do If You Encounter a Skunk On Your Hike

Poop Disposal

Pick up your dog’s poop. Do not leave it in a poo bag by the side of the trail with the idea you’ll come back for it. You might miss it on the way back or you might decide on a different trail instead of backtracking… Double bag if you’re concerned the bag might break.

If you’re on a backpacking or camping trip, bury your dog’s feces in a hole 6 – 8 inches deep at least 200 feet off the trail, away from camp, and away from water sources. If you’re using a poo bag, make sure it’s biodegradable.

Pee Etiquette

Most people don’t think anything about where their dog pees on a hike but it’s best to follow a few rules…

  • Prevent your dog from peeing around a water source.
  • Protect plants and trees along the trail. It’s better when your dog pees on a rock along the trail than on plants or their roots. Dog pee can cause plants to die. This includes trees.
  • Also, peeing on rocks is less likely to attract wildlife to the trail or campsite if you’re camping too.

Related Content: Waterfall Safety Tips For Hikers

A woman working to teach her small dog hiking skills.

Develop Your Small Dog’s Hiking Skills

Dogs are animals and they love the outdoors but they aren’t born hikers. Many small dogs have been babied and are far too used to indoor life. It will take time to develop their outdoor skills, build muscle, and toughen up their paws… Consider dog boots if your dog has sensitive feet or allergy issues.

Start small and work your way up to more difficult hikes. Especially if your little buddy has been your lapdog.

If you’re new to hiking, your dog will learn along with you. If you’re advanced, you’ll need to work with them to get them up to speed.

Your pup will need to learn confidence and become more agile to overcome common trail obstacles like rocks, limbs, logs, and small water elements. In the process, you’ll learn their limitations and where your help will be needed for navigating larger obstacles.

Hikes to Look for if Your Small Dog is New to Hiking

  • Flat terrain
  • Wider trails
  • Low elevation
  • Few human distractions
  • Few wildlife distractions
  • Trails that don’t allow bikes or horses
  • Moderate temperature. Not too hot or cold.

If you’re in question about any trail, consider hiking it first without your dog and bring them back on that trail if you think it would be a good one for them.

Trail Hazards for Small Dogs

You have to watch your dog closely when you’re hiking. Your dog can’t easily tell you when something is wrong and they can innocently get into trouble while they explore.


Know your dog’s limitations.

Just like you, your little dog can overexert itself when hiking. Pay attention to your dog’s breathing and heart rate. Is your dog wobbly, limping, laying down, lagging behind or other sign that you might attribute to tiredness? My dog’s head and tail drop low.

If your dog is showing signs of overexertion, take more breaks or longer breaks that include water and a snack for energy. Don’t forget those snacks! Dogs need snacks for energy just like we do.

A cold, small dog sitting on a hiking trail wrapped in a plaid blanket for warmth.


Pay attention to predator warning signs at trailheads.

I used to live in an area where smaller dogs were occasionally snatched on hikes by wolves. Whether it’s a wolf, bear, skunk, alligator, snake, or another animal, your six-foot length leash is a great protection device that helps you maintain control over your dog in dangerous situations.

Related Content: What To Do If You Encounter a Skunk On Your Hike


Pay attention to insect warning signs. It’s common to see tick warning signs in my area of the country.

Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and more carry disease, and other insects like chiggers cause extreme itching and discomfort. Make sure your dog is up to date on its medications and do a thorough tick check after your hike.


Don’t let your dog chew on or eat plants along the trail. They could be poisonous to your dog or cause digestive discomfort.

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac don’t often cause rashes in dogs but they can. Their fur usually protects them from the oils in these plants that cause outbreaks. Unfortunately, any oil from these plants can be transferred from their fur to you.

Burrs, nettles, foxtails, and thorns can be of great discomfort to your dog and a hassle to remove when tangled in their fur. Check for these after the hike and during the hike if your little hiking buddy shows signs of discomfort on the trail.


Heat and Cold: Small dogs are subject to the weather just like we are, though they can get hotter faster than us, especially if the trail is hot. They are closer to the trail surface than we are and their paws are coming in direct contact with the trail. Small dogs can also get colder faster. They have a much lower body mass.

You can find great dog jackets, rain jackets, coats, boots, cooling vests, and cooling collars that will help your dog regulate its temperature on hikes.

Precipitation: Pay attention to the weather. No matter the precipitation. You need to be prepared. It can be hard for your small dog to hike in the rain, sleet, hail, and snow.

Water Safety


Is your little buddy a swimmer?

  • Cold even cool bodies of water can give your dog a chill. If you let your dog swim in colder water, be prepared to warm up your dog afterward.
  • Bring your dog’s PDF if you’re going to let it swim. Especially, if you’re around moving water.
  • Do not let your small dog cross or play in stronger moving currents.
  • Pick up your dog and cross creeks with them.
  • Dogs are at health risk from waterborne diseases.

Waterborne Parasites and Disease

Dogs are susceptible to parasites that can be found in water sources along your hike. It’s best not to let your dog drink untreated water. If you’re carrying your water, carry for your dog too.

Related Content: Giardiasis: Risk, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Getting Lost

 Your dog should have a collar with ID tags and your cell number. Consider getting your dog chipped when it’s at the vet too.

Hiking Gear for Your Small Dog

When hiking with your dog, you’ll want a pack that will hold your gear and your dog’s too. They can carry enough water for you and your pup.

  • Dog first-aid kit and add a pair of nail clippers and a file
  • Leash and body harness with a handle to help them over obstacles
  • Water and collapsible water bowl
  • Food and treats
  • Biodegradable poop bags
  • Dog jacket
  • Dog coat
  • Cooling vest
  • Dog PDF
  • Dog boots
  • Safety light for hikes later in the day or at night
  • Collar with tags
  • Comb for removing burrs, nettles, foxtails, and thorns
  • Towel for drying and cleaning them off at the car
  • Seat cover for your vehicle
A woman hiking with her small dog on a trail in the Hollywood hills. The image text says... Hiking With Small Dogs.
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