Hiking With A Small Dog: How-To Guide

hiking with a small dog

When I got my Havanese pup, Gooby (pictured below), I knew that one of the things we would have to do together was figuring out how to hike with a small dog. Havanese are bred as companions or lap dogs, and mine is no exception–he loves being with me and hates being left behind. But since he was a puppy, I wasn’t sure if hiking was the best activity for him. So two years later, from personal experience, speaking with the vet, and a bit of research – I’ve got my answers. So if you were curious about hiking with a small dog, here’s everything you need to know.

havanese hiking
Gooby on a sunset stroll.

Can I Take a Small Dog on A Hike?

The first thing to consider when thinking about taking your small dog on a hike is their physical fitness and energy levels. Small dogs tend to have high energy levels, which is great for hikes since they’ll be able to keep up with you. However, this also means they can get tired easily, so it’s important to ensure your hike is the right length and difficulty for them. If you’re not sure, start with an easy hike and see how they do. Here’s what to look out for on your first hike:

What To Look Out For On Your First Hike?

So on your first hike with your dog, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, since your dog is small, it may have a harder time navigating rougher terrain. Be mindful of this and try to stick to trails that are well-maintained and not too rocky or muddy. As far as elevation, try and stick to hikes that don’t have a lot of drastic changes in elevation.

Second, watch out for wildlife. Small dogs can be especially vulnerable to predators, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and make sure your dog is always within sight. I’m in an area known for its growing coyote population, and so I never hike without Gooby on a leash.

And finally, make sure you bring plenty of water for both of you and take breaks often to avoid dehydration. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and keep going when you’re having fun, but it’s important to listen to your body–and your dog’s–and

Lastly, keep an eye on the weather. Small dogs can overheat easily, so hikes in hot weather should be avoided. Again, here in Texas, it’s not uncommon for the temperature to rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so any hikes we go on have to be either very early in the morning or later in the evening when it’s cooler.

Now that we’ve gone over some of the things to consider before taking your small dog hiking, let’s talk about how to prepare them for the hike.

How to Prepare Your Small Dog For a Hike

The most important thing you can do to prepare your small dog for a hike is to get them used to walking on a leash. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if your dog isn’t used to being on a leash, it may have a hard time adjusting to it on the hike. So start by taking them on short walks around the block, gradually increasing the distance as they get used to it. And to add to this, most wildlife look at dogs as natural predators. So if your small dog is off-leash, it’ll look like an easy target.

Another thing to consider is their paw pads. Walking on pavement or concrete can be tough on their paw pads, so if you’re hiking on a trail with a lot of rocks, make sure their paw pads are tough enough to handle it. You can do this by gradually increasing the amount of time they spend walking on rougher terrain or by the use of booties.

Third, make sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations. This is important not just for their safety but for the safety of other hikers and their dogs as well. You don’t want your dog to get sick–or make someone else or their dog sick on the hike.

And finally, it’s always a good idea to bring along some snacks for your small dog. Not only will this help them stay energized, but it can also help them stay hydrated if they’re not a big fan of water.

Can Small Dogs Hike Long Distances?

Speaking from experience, my Havanese, Gooby, can only handle a few miles before he gives in. He can do short ones just fine, but he starts to get too tired over a couple of miles and needs to be held. So I stick to hikes that are two miles or less when we go together. For reference, he weighs 15 lbs, and we hike at a pretty leisurely pace. And since our hikes are relatively flat, they take a little over an hour to complete.

Now, that’s not to say that all small dogs can only hike short distances. A lot of it has to do with their individual energy levels and level of fitness. Some small dogs can hike much longer distances than others with no problem. It really just depends on the dog.

Gooby (post-haircut) on a mid-morning stroll.

How Many Miles Can a Small Dog Walk in A Day?

That being said, every dog is different, and some small dogs may be able to handle longer hikes than others. If you’re unsure about how far your dog can go, start with a short hike and see how they do. If they seem to be struggling, turn around and head back.

What it comes down to is a matter of trial and error. You’ll never really know how far your dog can hike until you try it. Certain breeds of small dogs, such as Jack Russell Terriers and Miniature Poodles, are known for their high energy levels and stamina, so they may be able to handle longer hikes than other breeds. But like I said, it really just depends on the individual dog.

What To Bring On The Hike

Now that we’ve gone over some of the things to consider before taking your small dog hiking, let’s talk about what to bring:

First and foremost, you’ll need a leash. This is non-negotiable. Not only is it important for keeping your dog safe, but it’s also required by law in most trails.

Second, you’ll need a collar or harness. Again, this is for safety reasons. A collar should only be used if your dog is comfortable with it and it fits properly. A harness may be better if your dog pulls on the leash or seems uncomfortable. We use a full-body harness, and leash control seems to me much easier with it.

Recommendation: We have been using the PetSafe Easy Walk Harness (Small Size), and it’s been fantastic. We’ve tried many other harnesses in the past, but he’s been super comfortable in this one. It comes in many different sizes and is adjustable so that you can get the size just right.

Third, you’ll need water and a bowl for your dog. It’s important to keep them hydrated, especially if it’s hot out. At first, we just poured water from our water bottles into our hands and let Gooby lap it up. But we quickly realized that this was inefficient and a little gross, so now we have MalsiPree Dog Water Bottle. Essentially, it’s a water bottle with a built-in bowl. You just push a button, and water comes out, which fills up the bowl. It’s super easy to use and doesn’t require us to get our hands dirty (or wet).

Fourth, you may bring snacks for your dog. Gooby wasn’t a big fan of treats while out on walks, but I know every dog is different. Plus, it’s always good to have some in case your dog starts to get tired and needs a little pick-me-up – and water isn’t doing the trick.

And last but not least, you’ll need poop bags. This one is pretty self-explanatory. You don’t want to leave your dog’s waste behind, so be sure to bring enough bags to clean up after them.


Taking your small dog on a hike can be a great way to bond and explore the great outdoors together. Before heading out, consider your dog’s fitness level, energy level, and overall comfort. And don’t forget the essentials: a leash, collar or harness, water, snacks, and poop bags. You and your furry friend can have a fun and safe hike together with just a bit of planning.

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