How far your dog can hike will vary significantly based on multiple factors, including her age, breed, and fitness level, as well as the length and difficulty of the hike. The easy trail at your local nature center is a far cry from hiking a 14er—a mountain with a peak above 14,000 feet. If you’re considering adding regular treks with your dog to your outdoor adventures, research, preparation, and training are critical before hitting the trail.
How Far Can My Dog Hike in a Day?
A healthy bird dog who hunts every weekend can hike upwards of 10 miles with ease, while an energetic, but short-legged French Bulldog probably can’t hike many more than two miles. When you begin contemplating hikes with your dog, it’s time to take an honest look at yourself, at her, and where you’d like to venture.
The best dog breeds for hiking include Vizslas, Labrador Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Huskies, among others. However, these breeds aren’t automatically trail ready. Naturally athletic dogs must work up to long, challenging hikes over time.
If your best friend isn’t especially sporty, don’t worry—you can still enjoy hiking with her. Two mountaineering Dachshunds named Gretel and Summit gained an Instagram following for their outsized trail cred. When training for hikes with short-legged and toy dogs it’s important to build their stamina over time and bear in mind their physical limitations.
Whatever your dog’s breed, her age, weight, and physical fitness will inform your trail choices. All dogs lose some of their strength, stamina, and agility as they age, and olders dogs often develop joint problems. If your dog is overweight, stick to easier trails until she drops some weight and her fitness level improves. Avoid hiking long, challenging trails with a puppy, because overexertion can damage her growing bones and joints. Finally, brachycephalic dog breeds—Pugs, Chows, and Bulldogs, for example—are best kept to the short and easy path because their flat muzzles can cause breathing problems and lead to overheating.
Research Dog-Friendly Hikes
Beyond the easy trail at your local nature center, it’s important to “know before you go” when hiking with your dog. Many national and state parks don’t allow dogs on many of their trails. Make sure you’re headed to dog-friendly national parks so your adventures aren’t exercises in frustration. With minimal research, you can also discover the best dog-friendly state parks, and get tips and advice for specific trails.
Train Your Dog to Hike
Before training your dog to hike, schedule a checkup. Your veterinarian can tell you if she’s healthy enough for hiking, and ensure she is up to date on her vaccinations and flea and tick preventives.
Next up, assess your dog’s obedience and reconsider hiking as a shared pastime if she ignores most of your commands. Hiking safely with your dog requires that she is leash trained, knows her trail etiquette, comes to you when called, and is calm in unfamiliar situations, such as encountering deer crossing the trail, or traversing a brook.
As with all dog training, when you work on increasing your dog’s strength and stamina, patience is critical. Take it slow and don’t force your dog to hike longer or harder trails before she’s ready. She’ll do her level best to stick by your side and could hurt herself. Spend a few weeks enjoying the easy trails before adding extra miles incrementally. Each time you increase the length or difficulty of a hike, evaluate her closely for signs she’s approaching the limits of her endurance.
Can My Dog Hike in the Snow?
Yes. Most dogs can manage a hike in the snow, though how far will vary based on breed and physical fitness. Arctic breeds, such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and Samoyeds, evolved for frosty adventures and can hike in the snow for miles when healthy. Most robust, double-coated dog breeds can handle medium to long hikes in the powder.
Breeds with single coats and low body fat don’t have the insulation they need to stay warm in the snow for very long. Think of lean dogs with close, short fur, such as Boxers, Whippets, and Doberman Pinschers. Toy and short-legged breeds can’t manage the snow once it piles up beyond a few inches. These breeds usually prefer brief walks in the snow, and require the extra warmth of a dog jacket when outside for more than a few minutes.
Also pay attention to rain and heat when you plan hiking trips with your dog. Avoid hiking in heavy rains, which can create slick conditions on the trail. Hikes in light rain are enjoyable, but outfit your dog with a waterproof jacket to keep her core warm. On hot and humid days, it’s best to skip long hikes because of the risk of overheating. If you do hike in the heat, it’s critical to bring enough water to keep you and your dog hydrated.
Can My Dog Hike a Mountain?
Yes. Many dogs can hike up a mountain, and it’s the pinnacle of outdoor adventuring for lots of avid hikers and their best friends. Factors to consider before hiking a mountain with your dog include her fitness level, the weather, the ruggedness of the terrain, and the steepness of the ascent. Peaks that require mountaineering gear are not realistic for most people hiking with their dogs. But most mountains offer easy (Class 1) trails that make great hiking options for you and your dog. When hiking a mountain, always bring abundant drinking water for yourself and your dog. Train her to wear a pack so you have backup supplies, and put booties on her to protect her paws from craggy rocks that can easily cut her pads.
Here are some questions to help guide your decision to hike a mountain with your dog, or to stick to the lowlands.
Can My Dog Hike a 14er?
14ers are mountains with a peak elevation above 14,000 feet, and they’re risky for people and dogs. The US has 96 of these mountains, the bulk of which are in Colorado. Elevation sickness is an issue, as is the weather, which is prone to dramatic shifts the higher up you hike. Technical 14ers are a definite no-go for dogs, but there are easy (Class 1) trails you and your dog can hike on many 14ers. Summiting is another story and possible only for a rarified few dogs.
Can My Dog Hike Mount Marcy?
Mount Marcy is one of the most dog-friendly High Peaks in New York State, and healthy, experienced canine hikers can manage this mountain in Lake Placid. The primary trailhead leads to a popular trail for avid hikers and their dogs. It’s 7.4 miles to the summit, with some steep climbing over open rock near the top.
Can My Dog Hike Mount Washington?
Most people opt to drive their best friends to the top of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, but there are plenty of dog-friendly trails lower down the slopes. Dogs are welcome to hike many of the trails in Mt. Washington State Park.
We’ve highlighted these mountains because they’re our neighbors in the Northeast, but all mountain ranges across the US offer at least a few dog-friendly trails.
Clearly, questions about hiking with your dog don’t have simple answers. Just remember the most important factor is the furry one sitting next to you on the couch. Take a good look at your dog and she’ll let you know how far—and high—your hiking adventures should take you.