The Best Small Dog for Hiking Adventures

Are you looking for the best small dog for hiking as a new companion to join you on your adventures? Exploring the great outdoors takes some hardiness, so it’s understandable that you would want a tough sidekick by your side.


If you’re anything like me, you’re in the research phase. You’re likely holed up in your bedroom googling questions like: “which are the best dogs to take hiking?” and “are small dogs good for hiking?”


For reference, the answer to that second one is a big yes!


Many people overlook smaller dogs when looking for a travel buddy, but I’ve been on plenty of trips where my little dogs have given the larger members of our pack a run for their money on the trail. Trust me – there is nothing quite like a Jack Russell on a mission. 


Table of Contents

What Makes A Good Hiking Companion?

So, what exactly makes a dog a ‘good’ hiking companion? After all, you might be thinking, can’t any old dog take a walk?


woman feeding small dog during hikeWhile that might be true, it takes a special kind of dog to take a hike. Especially if you’re hoping to tackle some slightly more advanced routes… not that you’ll be hiking the Appalachian trail with a dog (yet!). 


To find your perfect companion, it’s important to pay attention to breed characteristics rather than to the size of the dog. The best dogs to take hiking have boundless energy, often having been bred to hunt or perform a job. Learned obedience and recall ability can be life-saving when hiking, so a high level of intelligence and the ability to work together is also important. 


Why Are Small Dogs Good for Hiking?

There’s no end to the reasons why small dogs are good for hiking. 


From personal experience, here are my favorite reasons to hike with a small dog:


  • They’re easy to carry! Occasionally, any dog will have a rough day while you’re out and about. This can happen on a short walk or a multi-day hike and it’s something that you need to be prepared for.
  • The bonus of a small dog in this situation? Unlike the larger members of my pack, I can simply pick up my little Jack Russell and pop her in an easy-to-carry doggy backpack or carrier. When she’s ready, she can rejoin the walk!
  • When my bigger dogs get tired, we’re all in it together. This can really drag out the length of the hike and can lead to some awkward situations getting back to the car if they decide to call it quits.
  • On the topic of multi-day hikes… small dogs are great overnight companions! If you enjoy a more slow-paced experience, a smaller breed is perfect for you. Small dogs require less gear when camping and are far easier to pack for. This means less for you to carry each day. Win!
  • small dog running on grassEnjoying the outdoors does not necessarily mean you have a large space at home. Many small dog breeds that like hiking can happily live in a smaller home or apartment, provided you’re taking them out for exercise frequently enough. They’re often a little easier to cuddle when you get back, too.
  • A small car is no problem. While I adore my big dogs, they often give my vehicle the appearance of a clown car. When I head out with just my little one in tow, it’s so simple to slot in her crate as well as all of my own hiking supplies. 


Ten Small Dog Breeds That Like To Hike

Welcoming a new pet into your family is a difficult decision, no matter the reason why, but it can be especially stressful when you have a specific role in mind for them.


To ease the strain, we’ve compiled a list of the ten best small dog breeds to take hiking. In this list, we’ll look at traits such as athleticism, obedience, endurance, personality, and behavior.


1. Jack Russell Terriers

Jack Russell Terrier is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


Jack Russell Terriers are known for their punchy personalities, intelligence, and independence. Originally bred to hunt foxes, they are incredibly brave and will eagerly take on any challenge. Pair this with their athleticism and endless bouts of energy, and these qualities make them fantastic hiking dogs.


Like I mentioned before, however, there really is nothing like a Jack Russell on a mission! Their bravery can borderline on aggression, so you will need to supervise them closely around other animals before they bite off more than they can chew.


I’ve seen my own little angel scale rock formations that I wouldn’t attempt myself and try to face off with snakes. While it’s this plucky Jack Russell nature that makes her so loveable, she can quickly fall into sticky situations and strays towards disobedience when lacking stimulation.  


Anyone adopting a Jack Russell will need to be prepared to commit to regular training sessions and ensure they’re kept on their toes… before they begin looking for a way to keep you on yours!


2. Beagles

A beagle is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


Beagles are one of the more gentle breeds on this list, but that doesn’t mean they should be underestimated in their role as a rambunctious outdoor companion. They are also known for their stamina, determination, and obedience skills.


Traditionally hunting dogs, Beagles now fill a variety of jobs in society across the globe. While they’re still the leaders of the hunt, you’ll also see them following their nose across the airport. Their keen sense of smell is their strongest asset, so if you have an interest in hiking and tracking then a Beagle will be a great addition to your family!


Unfortunately, this determination to track down any scent of interest can also be their downfall. Unless thoroughly trained, Beagles can be hard to recall and are often best as on-leash hiking companions.


3. Daschunds

Daschunds are one of the best small dogs for hiking.


If your ideal hiking partner is someone who will never give up on a trek, no matter the obstacle, then you are looking for a Dachshund!


These tiny powerhouses may have little legs, but their stubbornness and determination are unmatched by any other breed. Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers by entering their burrows and dragging them out.


To do this, they had to be able to think quickly and put up a fight. They now have strong, athletic bodies and are very independent as a result.


All of these qualities make them fantastic hikers, who are well-equipped to deal with any variety of environments and circumstances. Their natural curiosity for the world around them also just makes them so much fun to have alongside!


While their unique shape and shorter legs mean they tire more quickly than other small dog breeds, stopping for adequate rest periods or bringing along a dog-friendly carry pack would easily fix this. Take care also not to overextend them on mountainous trails or through frequently taking the stairs. This can be very hard on their backs.


4. Miniature Pinschers

A miniature pinscher is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


Despite their small size, Miniature Pinschers are renowned for being very poor apartment dogs. Even with frequent physical exercise, they have miraculously high energy levels and a natural curiosity that makes them the perfect addition to any active or adventurous family.


They are fairly dominant and territorial by nature, qualities that made their traditional job of protecting the family farm from vermin a breeze. These days, it means if anyone unsavory is lurking around your rest spot or campsite, you’ll quickly know about it!


Like with any dog (or person), the Miniature Pinschers’ best attributes can quickly become their worst. Their territorial nature means they will lean towards being the dominant member of their household. While I love them dearly, I wouldn’t recommend them to a dog owner who lacks confidence, or to anybody who doesn’t have the time for a regular training schedule.


5. Miniature Schnauzers

A miniature schnauzer is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


Miniature Schnauzers are a little bit larger than most dogs on this list. Their stocky builds and strong legs mean that they are designed for outdoor adventures.


These clever, dependable working dogs originate from Germany and are known for their alert personalities and boundless energy levels. Schnauzers love being a part of the pack and will happily join you on any outing, making them one of the most loyal hiking companions you could hope for.


Like all active dog breeds, the Miniature Schnauzer will require plenty of challenges and frequent exercise to keep them from growing bored.


6. West Highland Terriers

A west highland terrier is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


Affectionately known as Westies, these little terriers are known for their kind temperaments and intelligent nature.


The harsh conditions of the Scottish Highlands, their ancestral homeland, mean that they were bred to be hardy little things. In fact, I’ve often heard them referred to as “big dogs in a little dog’s body”, and I would certainly agree!


They are stubborn and determined, meaning they won’t hesitate to tackle a longer trail with appropriate rest breaks. Like all terriers, however, Westies will struggle to resist chasing small animals and vermin while out on the trail. It’s for this reason that they are best as on-leash companions.


Don’t let this discourage you though! West Highland Terriers are still one of the best small dog breeds for hiking.


7. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

A pembroke welsh corgi is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


I am a massive lover of these gentle, curious, and clever dogs. They have to be one of the best dogs to take hiking, in my humble opinion!


Bred to navigate the mountainous terrain and rocky hillsides of Wales with ease, it’s these traits that make them excellent hiking dogs. As a former Corgi-mum, trust me when I say that these deceptively adorable lap dogs are ready to tackle any challenge that may approach them.


Their easy-going nature and desire to please also make them a pleasure to train, meaning taking them out on the trail is a more relaxing experience for everyone involved.


While she may no longer be with us, stories of the many hiking adventures I had with my Corgi still pop up around the dinner table. Those little legs quickly surpassed several Shepherds, Collies, and Retrievers at an almost show-off-like pace.


However, take caution not to overextend this easy-going breed. Corgis aren’t known for keeping to their limits and while they might be willing to take on any obstacle, steep hikes and stairs can put them at risk for long-term back problems if they’re too exposed to them too frequently.


8. Norfolk Terriers

A norfolk terrier is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


Fearless, affectionate, and tenacious. This little terrier will happily accompany you anywhere, with no height being too great for them to scale.


The small stature of the Norfolk Terrier masks an otherwise agile frame and thick, sturdy legs. They also sport a wiry coat that was bred to withstand brambles and thorns. Perfect for that thick terrain you’ve been thinking of tackling!


Despite their knack for roughing it out, they will still require the same care any dog needs while hiking. Schedule appropriate rest stops and be sure to always have enough water on hand, as they will cross their own limits if not frequently reminded of them.


Keep in mind also that the Norfolk Terrier can be highly stubborn. Any owner will need to be prepared to match their energy levels and attitude to produce results when training.


9. Shetland Sheepdog

A shetland sheepdog is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


Okay, so while the Shetland Sheepdog is on the larger side of the small dog sliding scale, the American Kennel Club still classifies them as small dogs. Thank goodness – there is no way we could have left them off of this list!


These gorgeous watchdogs are known for their eagerness to please, trainability, and endurance. Like most herding dogs they are incredibly active, often bordering on restlessness, and require extensive exercise and mental training to keep them engaged.


A Shetland Sheepdog will be chomping at the bit to tackle a new challenge with you, and you can bet that they’ll hold you accountable the entire way. They might even beat you to the end!


10. Smooth Fox Terrier

A smooth fox terrier is one of the best small dogs for hiking.


The Smooth Fox Terrier is confident, agile, and fast. Some might even say overconfident, depending on who you ask.


These little dogs leave a massive impact with their quick feet, strong legs, and even stronger minds. Despite their compact size, they have some of the longest legs on this list.


Even the most average Smooth Fox Terrier will be highly skilled at jumping, scaling, and running. This makes them great companions if you prefer to head off the beaten track when hiking! They will always be up for the adventure and won’t hesitate to tackle rock scrabbling if given your approval.


If you choose to welcome a Fox Terrier into your home, you’ll need to make sure your yard is properly sized and equipped. They can become quite the Houdini when presented with the opportunity, so check that your fence is adequately sized in both directions. They’re just as prone to scaling a fence as they are to digging straight underneath it.


Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking that one of these small dogs that like to hike might be right for you, then your next step is to hit your local trail! Keep an eye on the dogs you pass, their temperaments, and how they seem to be handling your local environment.


The best small dogs for hiking are the ones that like to hike. This goes for bigger dogs, too! While you can narrow this down by breed, getting out and meeting some dogs is the best way to find your perfect pup.


Jenni C.
Jenni C.

Jenni and her dog Bailey take every opportunity to go adventuring together. Now their family of pups has grown to 7. Their favorite places to visit are freshwater lakes and mountains.