The Best Dog Breeds for Long Distance Hiking

Ok, some of you may feel misled by the title when I say this, but if there’s one thing I’ve discovered about dogs and hiking over the years it’s that there is no “perfect” breed. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not about to point you to one particular kind of dog and say, “Yes! Whatever dog you choose in that class or breed will love hiking 2,000 miles with you!” That’s simply not how it works.

panda in my hammock

In the post below I’ve given a.) a brief synopsis of research on best hiking dogs b.) how that research compares to my personal experiences c.) signs your dog may be suited for trail life d.) signs your dog may NOT be suited for trail life and e.) signs that your dog has had enough when you’re already on a long-distance hike.

Not So Black and White

Now, that being said, there are certain breeds that have been bred over the years to work physically-demanding and challenging jobs, like sheep-herding and sled racing and performing water rescues, and therefore are known to be very high energy and active. Those breeds typically fall into the “working group” or “herding group” as defined by the National Dog Show. So, I’m sure now you’re wondering, how does that information translate or relate to hiking dogs? And I’m going to tell you.

If you google “10 Best Hiking Dogs” your top 2 hits wills be a Top 10 Hiking Dog Breeds list by PetMD and a 10 Dog Breeds that Make Perfect Hiking Partners article by the American Kennel Club. However, if you compare the two you’ll find that they have different dog breeds listed and the breeds that do happen to be listed on both are ranked in different spots on both lists. So, basically both lists are subjective. But don’t be discouraged by that! That doesn’t mean there is no good way to know how to choose a canine hiking buddy! There is a way, it just may not sound as black and white as listing a specific breed.

westie

What do I mean by that? I mean that I challenge the paradigm there are perfect breeds and suggest that there are perfect temperaments instead. By definition temperament means, “The emotional character or state of mind of people or animals, as shown in their behavior.”  So, what I mean when I suggest there are perfect temperaments is that there are dogs with perfect personalities and mental qualities for long-distance hiking. And I base that on my own observation and experience with dogs while hiking.

What I Saw on The A.T.

On the Appalachian Trail I saw multiple small breed and terrier mixes, a Border Collie, a black Lab, several Huskies, a Malamute, multiple pit bulls and German Shepherds, a two Golden Retrievers, and a Vizsla. I encountered almost all of them in the first 2-3 weeks of my 5.5 month journey and each dog I met appeared to be in good enough shape to make a long-distance hike successful, yet I only heard of one finishing the trail the same year I did with Panda. Why?

The reasons I heard for hikers getting off the trail with their dog or sending their dog home were somewhat varied, but a common theme was the dog either didn’t enjoy the continuous trekking and/or its body couldn’t handle the continuous stress without losing so much weight it became unhealthy. Other reasons included the hiker becoming ill or the dog becoming too aggressive and territorial around shelters.

Maybe you’re an experienced hiker and would like to add a dog to the mix now, or you and your canine buddy have been on lots of day hikes and you’re wondering if they can handle something long distance. I’m going to give you three lists now: signs that your dog may be suited for trail life, signs that your dog may NOT be suited for trail life, and signs that your dog has had enough.

Signs Your Dog May Be Suited for Trail Life

  • They are very curious and never get tired of exploring your favorite park or day hiking trails.
  • They love being outside! Yes, they may be primarily inside dogs at home, but they love camping and long walks and anything that involves the outdoors.
  • They have boundless amounts of energy. Whether they fall into the working class or hunting class or random-mutt-from-the-local-shelter class, if they are always on the move and can rebound after a 6 or 7 mile day hike like it was nothing, chances are they would enjoy a long adventure.

Signs Your Dog May Not Be Suited for Trail Life

  • They are fairly apathetic about all things new and different. Yes, they enjoy meeting new dogs and chasing cats, but their excitement over the little things on a scale of 1-10 is, who really cares?
  • They are not a fan of being outside. They don’t like to get involved in mud puddles or chasing squirrels or playing tag with other dogs at the dog park and would much rather be lying next to or on the couch.
  • ┬áTheir energy level is something akin to a sloth or excited turtle and it takes them two or more days to recover from a 4+ mile walk. They may make a great cuddle buddy at home, but chances of walking 2,000 miles are slim to none. If their thought bubble most likely reads, “A brisk walk around the neighborhood is more than enough, thank you. Why on earth would you want to walk longer than that every day?” it’s safe to say long-distance hiking isn’t their thing.
  • Their energy level is something akin to a sloth or excited turtle and it takes them two or more days to recover from a 4+ mile walk. They may make a great cuddle buddy at home, but chances of walking 2,000 miles are slim to none. If their thought bubble most likely reads, “A brisk walk around the neighborhood is more than enough, thank you. Why on earth would you want to walk longer than that every day?” it’s safe to say long-distance hiking isn’t their thing.

Signs Your Dog Has Had Enough

  • They become lethargic and don’t want to explore or start walking with you in the mornings.
  • They roll over on their back or try to run away when you go to put their pack on them.
  • They become too thin and have difficulty carrying their pack or stop eating or drinking normally. **If it gets to the point of them not eating or drinking normally stop and see a vet ASAP**  

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, it’s up to you to really know your dog and what they like and dislike, just like children. Ideally, you won’t adopt or buy a dog and take them on a multi-day, 200+ mile trek the following week. That’s just not a good idea for anybody and it’s really unfair to the dog.

I’ve had Panda since she was 6 weeks old and she was 7 yrs old when we thru-hiked the A.T. Our bond made it 10x easier for her to communicate with me and for me to understand her needs on the trail.  Furthermore, I could check every box possible for “Best Trail Dog” and it just so happens she’s a Malamute/Australian Shepherd, but I would never tell someone else with a Malamute/Australian Shepherd that their dog will love long-distance hiking because I don’t know their dog’s personality or temperament. 

Realistically you need to establish a positive, healthy relationship with your dog and be able to recognize signs of both their excitement and unhappiness before embarking on a long journey. Trust me, it will save you a lot of heartache and frustration down the road!

One thought on “The Best Dog Breeds for Long Distance Hiking

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: