What’s The Best Small Dog For Hiking? 4 Breeds That Love The Outdoors

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Out of the 78 small dog breeds accepted by the American Kennel Club, which is the best small dog for hiking? What makes it the best, and are there any environments that small breeds can’t hike in?

Best hiking dog breeds

Generally, most dog owners think of larger, high energy breeds like the Siberian Husky or Australian Cattle Dog (just to name two) when it comes to hiking companions. 

Huskies were bred for endurance work, especially in cold climates, and would make fantastic hiking companions. Labradors would also make great hiking buddies.

best small dog for hiking

What about toy breeds?

Most toy breeds weren’t bred for endurance work and won’t be able to tolerate those cold terrain hikes, though some can. Toy breeds are also very small and often easily injured. 

Brachycephalic breeds, like Pugs, French Bulldogs, or Boston Terriers can easily become winded and overheat over long distances, especially in hot weather. These breeds with ‘shortened skulls’ often experience breathing difficulties and probably shouldn’t be asked to hike for long periods.

Now you have a basic idea of what kind of small breed shouldn’t be taken for anything but short, simple hikes. That being said, what is the best small dog for hiking?

Best Small Dog for Hiking

Now you know brachycephalic breeds (shortened skulls) can experience breathing difficulties, and you know toy breeds tend to be delicate. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t take them for a walk or a simple hike! You’ll just have to be very cautious and go easy on your little one. The Best small dog breed for hiking would be on the heavier, larger end of the small breed scale.

Harnesses are recommended over collars for small breeds because they don’t apply unnecessary pressure on the trachea. In fact, reflective harnesses are always recommended over collars when hiking.

What is a Small Dog?

Sources may differ, but most categorize any breed weighing between 2-22 pounds as small. This would include the toy/miniature breed groups. Some sources will categorize anything weighing less than 30 pounds As small.

Most of your toy breeds are probably too small for anything but simple hikes. Toy breeds usually weigh less than 10 pounds, though some can weigh up to around 15.

This leaves your larger ‘small breeds’! Let’s look at dogs that normally weigh between 15 and 30 pounds. Which would be the best to take hiking with you?

Shiba Inu

Meet the national dog of Japan! Shibas normally weigh between 15 and 25 lbs. and were bred centuries ago for hunting-related tasks. They would flush small game out of the brush and essentially did hike with their human companions.

best small dog for hiking shiba

Though they aren’t the most energetic of all breeds, Shiba Inus are high energy and have quite a prey drive! These little guys would gladly challenge you on those longer hikes. 

You’ll want to make sure your little one is harnessed to a lead, however, or you may lose him.


Though Beagles are often considered medium-sized breeds, many do weigh below 30 pounds and would meet our criteria for the ‘small’ category. Some weigh less than 22 pounds.

You’re going to begin to see some similarities on our list of best small dogs for hiking! 

best small dog for hiking beagle

Beagles were also originally used for small game hunting. This is an ancient breed, so ancient many experts argue as to their exact heritage. However, Beagles (or direct ancestors) were very popular English dogs by the 1500s, favored for hunting hare.

If you’ve ever cared for a Beagle, you know he’ll keep you busy all day long! There aren’t many journeys these guys wouldn’t happily embark on, as long as their owner is at their side.

Though the Beagle’s prey drive probably isn’t quite that of the Shiba above, he is still a hunting dog. Make sure your pup is always leashed by your side on these hikes!

American Eskimo Dog

The American Eskimo Dog comes in three varieties- a toy, miniature and standard. Because toys can be easily injured, we’ll focus on the miniature (10-20 pounds) and standard (25-35 pounds).

Not only is the Eskie great with kids and families, but he’s also very active with a level of energy that will challenge you on the hiking trail. 

american eskimo dog best small dog for hiking

The American Eskimo Dog was actually once called the German Spitz, originating in Germany. The name was in fact changed around 1917 with the coming of WWI. These little guys made their debut in the early 1900s, venturing to America along with German immigration.

The ‘German Spitz’ was originally bred as a hunting companion and avid livestock guardian! Upon arriving in America, they soon became farming companions before ultimately adapting for the show ring.

These dogs are fantastic in cold climates and would gladly accompany you on those cold-weather hikes. These guys absolutely love the snow! Thanks to their thick double coats, those colder temperatures that might keep the Beagle above at bay won’t be a problem for our Eskie.

Cold Weather Hiking Tip: Consider purchasing a set of booties to protect your little one’s paws from sharp ice or rocks! Booties are very common among endurance sled mushers. If you take a look at the Iditarod dogs, many of them will be wearing booties.

Jack Russell Terrier

Any Jack Russell owner will tell you this small dog comes with one huge personality! Jacks are energetic little dogs with a strong passion for work, as long as the job suits them. 

An average weight of 13-18 pounds places the Jack at the lighter end of our list. That doesn’t mean he’s any less capable when compared to the Shiba or Beagle. Jacks have a high prey drive comparable to both of those breeds because they also were bred for hunting.

best small dog for hiking jack russell

This is another fellow you’ll have to keep tethered to your side at all times, safely harnessed to that lead! If he ever escapes on your hikes, we might end up with a bit less wildlife in this world.

The first Jack Russell Terriers were bred by Reverend John Russell in Devonshire, England, for fox hunting in the mid-1800s. They descended from Fox terriers of the time, which would also make great hiking companions!

Warm Weather Hiking Tip: Always make sure to carry plenty of cool, clean, fresh water! You can find water bottles with wide mouths specifically made for dogs at your local pet store.

The day is hottest around mid-day, so plan your hikes in the morning or toward the late afternoon. You don’t want to get caught hiking in the middle of the night though!

In summary – the best small dog for hiking

While these are our top picks for best small dogs to accompany you on a hiking mission – if your dog is fit, full of energy, and a robust breed that doesn’t tire easily – there’s no reason you can’t go on a short hike together first and see if it’s something they enjoy.

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BarkZine is a small team of devoted dog owners – so we understand what it’s like to be obsessed with your pup! We consult with veterinarians and dog behavior experts to bring you the best advice for your furry companions.

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BarkZine is a small team of devoted dog owners – so we understand what it’s like to be obsessed with your pup! We consult with veterinarians and dog behavior experts to bring you the best advice for your furry companions.