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Reader Poll: What Makes a Great Hiking Dog?

Loki and David (PedXing) on Mount Hale
Loki and David (PedXing) on Mount Hale

I’ve had the pleasure of hiking with some great trail dogs in my time, including my friend PedXing’s dog Loki. Dogs that stay with us and don’t go running off after every chipmunk or moose, dogs that don’t bark or jump on other hikers, and dogs that obviously love going for a challenging walk as much as I do.

  • What are the attributes of a great hiking dog?
  • Are there certain breeds that make better trail companions than others?
  • What’s the best way to train dogs to go hiking or backpacking with you?

What makes a great hiking dog? Leave a comment.

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55 comments

  1. A great hiking dog carries his gear, and part of yours… :)

  2. Boder collie, hands down: hot weather, cold weather, snow, rain.
    They just keep truckin. And once they get used to carrying stuff, you can load them up to carry their own gear.
    I can only speak for my dog, but their very subservient and docile nature makes them real work dogs whose greatest aspiration is to please: no barking, no running away, and pure hiking energy. http://crack-monkey.net/photos/stubaital-9.jpg

    • That is an awesome picture!

    • I have to agree about the border collie. we have one too and she’s a wonderful trail mate. Never once have we had a problem outta her except for when her nose takes over, but that’s pretty easy to overcome. I also think that the owner helps make the dog a good trail dog. To train them you have to start early and be stern with them on how to act.

    • I have a border collie and cant agree more the breed being the best hiking dog. My dog Jax is just under a year old and starting hiking with me early on. He was always game for anything (still is). Cold, ice, rocks, streams to forge, he loves it all. He would hike the mountain twice if I let him. They are a tireless breed, you could go for a run before you hike and the dog would love you for it. Great companions too with absolute heart.

  3. A good owner makes a good dog, be trail dog, house dog or buddy dog.

  4. I will be looking for a “trail” dog in the next year. I went to REI’s talk on hiking with dogs, I got some good ideas. I had thought about a Border Collie, I actually dated someone who had 2! It was tough ending the romance, because of the dogs!!! LOL I have 2 dogs already, Boston Terriers, not great trail dogs. The dog I get will have the job of hiking with me and getting along with the Bostons, I would appreciate any and all input!!!! Thanks in advance.

    • I have a Kelpie mix and a austrailian shepard mix. Both are great on the trail. Whatever you get, make sure you take their gear needs even more seriously than you take yours. I recommend checking out:
      http://wolfpacks.com/
      They’re expensive, but worth it. These folks really have it together…and apparently Samoyeds are great trail dogs, too! Good luck…Happy TAILS to you!

  5. @JT, fantastic picture!

    My black lab is only one year old but she is shaping up to be a great hiking companion. She is as strong as an ox with days worth of stamina, listens pretty well (we’re working on fine tuning this!), and seems to love an adventure.

  6. 2pack has it exactly right, above. Almost any dog, including small ones, can be a good and perhaps even great hiking dog if trained and cared for properly. Among the people I hike with are dogs of all shapes and sizes; it’s their owners who make the difference.

    There are some physical things to be mindful of. Long-haired dogs with large paws, such as my Great Pyr mix Polly, often have trouble with ice-balling in the snow. Highly active, smaller-pawed dogs, such as my late hound Tuckerman, can have paw trouble on the nasty rocks in the northern Presidentials. On the other hand, Tuck’s long legs served him exceedingly well on scrambles and bushwhacks.

    Some people might think that a great hiking dog must be off-leash. Polly must remain on-leash on hikes, because her instinct is to follow animal tracks for miles into the wilderness to protect what she considers her flock, and while the leash is sometimes an annoyance for me, it has not prevented her from being a terrific trail dog.

  7. I have a female jack russel that goes with me on every trip. She doesn’t stay right with me, but she is usually within 10 yds or so. She doesn’t bark alot, isn’t aggressive, and doesn’t bother other people on the trail. I’ve come up on several people that have dogs that they have to hold back as I pass by (seems like there is alot of people in my neck of the woods that think pitbulls are great trail dogs!) I guess they have them for protection?!? I enjoy my dogs’ company and she loves an adventure!

    • Sounds similar to my Australian Cattle dog. Stays 20 to 30 feet ahead of me on open trails, closer if the trail is real narrow. He isn’t happy/silly/friendly to strangers; always focussed on me. Except for the occassional squirrel or deer. But he comes racing back in 10 seconds or so. It was voted the best hiking dog in the world recently.

  8. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Sabrina LaFave-Saletnik and her wonderful dog Terra. Probably quite a few of you are, as Sabrina and Terra are super-experienced White Mountain hikers and just about the friendliest owner-and-dog combo you could ever hope to meet. But now, at eight years old, Terra’s having tendon trouble as a result, Sabrina believes, of climbing too many steep pitches too often. Her Facebook page has quite a conversation about it. It’s a sobering read.

    Our dogs aren’t mountaineers. They’re dogs. Even the most loving dog-owners among us can assume our dogs are capable of more on the trails than they actually are. I know I’ve made that mistaken assumption before.

  9. I am sure everyone is going to tell you they have the perfect dog, and I am no exception. I have a dog that is half boxer and half walker hound. She is very lean, has incredibly long legs from her hound side and stays close – I think because of the boxer in her. Also very agile – this dog can tiptoe across log bridges better than I can. Very short haired, unlike the border collies mentioned above, so little cleanup needed at the end of a long hike and never needs brushing. She’s less than 2 years old, but nearly completely trained and has gone as much as 20 miles in a day with me. She hauls all her gear in her own backpack. The only time she complains is when we stop.
    I came across this dog by luck (and Craigslist), but could not breed a better hiking dog.

  10. To answer your question, I’d say a healthy, disciplined, medium to large sized dog. As for breed, I’d say Labrador Retriever. I bring her every time I go hiking. She loves the swim, loves to walk/smell/explore, and carries her own gear. She’s also a great bear/varmint deterrent, and lets me know if someone is approaching. But she’s the first dog I’ve been able to do this with, so I’m a little biased.

  11. I take my dog hiking with me on a regular basis. It’s the only way to make the wife come along! My Basset Hound is the one who really enjoys going on long hikes with me, she will walk over any terrain, and is not afraid to go the distance. After all, Basset Hounds were bread for stamina and hunting rabbits long distances, so although she isn’t fast (the perfect pace if you ask me, since I don’t like to run or jog) she will stay with me for a 10-12 mile long day hike. They do have short and stubby legs though, so it can sometimes take her a minute to cross over a large log or rock, sometimes we must go around it but she will usually jump right over.

    I think the best way to train a hiking dog is just to take them on as many frequent hikes as possible. The important part is to make the dog feel comfortable. When first starting out, don’t stress them out, and keep the hikes relatively short until they are comfortable being by your side on trails. We have a huge dog park in the area that has about a 2 mile long loop that goes right along side the Ice Age trail and shares a small portion of the Ice Age trail for about a half mile. Having this fenced in area where other dogs are welcome is a good environment to exercise your dog and get it socialized with other dogs.

    As a quick summary, start out with shorter day hikes. Slowly build up to longer hikes and build up the dog’s comfort level. Keep the activities fun and stress free, this is important for you as well as your dog. If you have a public dog park nearby, start there as they will quickly get comfortable off-leash and train them to stay within a few yards.

  12. Siberian Husky. Roald Amundsen found them immensely useful in getting to the South Pole… good eating, too.

  13. I met Ed and Lauky on the trail this summer. Great owner and dog…

  14. 1. What are the attributes of a great hiking dog?
    Gentle, well-mannered, stays close and listens to verbal commands, passive, etc.

    2. Are there certain breeds that make better trail companions than others?
    I was once asked by a young girl while hiking the Wapack Trail what kind of dog we had.. and before we could say Heinz 57, the little girl asked, “a work dog, a family dog, or..” My wife and I looked at each other and said, “a family dog!”

    3. What’s the best way to train dogs to go hiking or backpacking with you?
    ..to go hiking and backpacking with the dog(s). Also, I find it beneficial to “expose” the pup to many different people and dogs at a young age.

  15. I have an 85lb mutt (part Pitt, maybe part lab? ). I keep him on leash in parks and high traffic areas and slip it on if we pass hikers or other animals. Tyson comes to me immediately if we encounter other animals. I guess he is very protective. Tyson doesn’t bark unless I leave him on a lead and walk out of sight. He does great with the wild ponies and herds of cattle that we camp with in Grayson highlands Virginia.

    Tyson only Carries his weight because he is getting a bit older.

    If he is off leash, he has to herd the group. He will wait in the middle of the trail for the straggling last hiker and wait until he can see them to continue.

    His fault is his food fetish. I have to keep him on a lead if food is out in camp. He will beat the mice and bears to the loot. He has also been know to make his own doggie door in my tent… My fault for leaving him zipped up while I went to the water hole. He sure did look proud of himself when he came treating down to join us!

    I love having my 4-legged buddy along and would miss him more than my human companions. I try my best to ensure he doesn’t bother anyone else along the way.

  16. I have three APBT’s. My older male goes hiking with me all the time. He carries his own food and water. On really cold days I have a jacket for him. He stays on leash during all my hikes.

    During longer hikes I use two products to keep his feet/pads in shape: TUF-FOOT and Musher’s wax.

    Hiking together really develops a special bond.

  17. Any dog that knows how to stay with you and obey your commands without hesitation and doesn’t wander off. Usually herding breeds are easier to train than hunting dogs but there are exceptions and I think with the proper training any breed that can keep up can be the right breed. I just lost my best camping dog ever over Christmas. He was a Great Pyrenees/Aussie mix and by the time I got into backpacking he was too old to do the miles, but he was the best dog in the world to take on a middle of nowhere camping trip. He would have loved backpacking. My Mini Doxie, on the other hand, I have no intention taking backpacking. He’d do the miles no sweat, short legs and all but I have no doubt he’d be miserable since he hates actually sleeping at night and I’m convinced he’d get loose one night thinking he smelled a rabbit and we’d never see him again. But we never intended for him to be a backpacking dog.

    The best way to train them in my opinion is to start as early as possible and make set rules that never change. If it is wrong once it has to be wrong every single time. Usually they get the idea and can be a joy to everyone on the trail.

  18. Hope fully I have stumbled on the perfect breed Saint bernard and African Mastiff. I have Both and individually they make good trail dogs but are limited. Saint bernard doesn’t like the heat but can climb anything he puts his mind to and has loyalty to spare and the Mastiff has to short hair for our winters i live in canada so it gets pretty cold here in the winter. So hopefully the new mix makes up were the two breeds are lacking. Hes only six weeks old right now so only time will tell

    • Jeremy,
      Is your African Mastiff a Boerboel? Does he bother other hikers or other hikers dogs? I live in SoCal and have been considering this breed. Does he go after prey on the trail? How gentle is he and what breeder did you get him from. How old is he and how do you feed him on the trail? TY so much!

  19. I’m a 2 year old Golden Retriever and love to go hiking in all kinds of weather, started hiking when I was just a pup. Lots of great smells on the trail; as intriguing as they are I don’t wander far off the trail or chase the wildlife and I stay close to my human partner. I carry my own food and water in a backpack. I love to swim so hikes along creeks and rivers are my favorites. Sometimes my human is a little slow and he doesn’t cross logs as well as I do but I wait on him. He puts me on a leash when approaching people on the trail because, although I love people, some people are apprehensive when meeting a dog on the trail. I try to be a good ambassador for other trail dogs. Wait….I think he’s getting my backpack out now. Let’s go hiking!

    • Awesome – sounds like quite a guy!

    • That is exactly it! My Golden Retriever spends every minute of every day wondering when our next hike is going to be. I am fortunate to live near a large park near the river flowing through town, so we hike almost every week, regardless of weather conditions. She loves to swim, but only when I give her permission. She loves to spot the squirrels and rabbits, but will not chase them. She is so good off leash, my son and I regularly have her come with us on short bike rides, and she stays on my son’s heels (since he is the one usually out front.). We love her so much, and half the fun of our hikes and bike rides is to watch her exuberance and excitement. I do shave her before backpacking, but she wears a jacket to protected her from her backpack. I shave her so she dries quickly after a swim, and we can spot ticks before she snuggles up to my son inside his backpack keeping him warm. She also wears boots on her feet. Once we were hiking on pumice dirt trails near Mammoth Mountain. Pumice is a type of volcanic glass. She cut up her paws pretty good. We almost had to cut our ten day vacation short. But the local pet store set us up with these shoes for her and we were able to continue our daily hikes after a one day rest for her to heal.

      It is important to watch your dog while hiking. Check the paws at every rest stop for burs, thorns, or cut pads. check for any limping too. If you take care of your dog, she will take care of you.

  20. What makes a great hiking dog is not so much the breed, only that they are smart enough to train and that the owner is diligent enough to provide it. You just need to take the time to hike with them. Teach them how to behave by taking them with you and then enforcing that behavior on the trail or whatever activity. And making sure they are in decent condition when you go. Just a little conditioning will go a long ways. Don’t expect them to be exuberant 10mi in if they haven’t been out for a walk in the past three months. However, they will get into shape much faster than you will!

  21. People get dogs that fit their personality which carries over to how each of us backpack as individuals. Because of this, I think any dog can be a great trail dog. A breed that My favorite trail dog is an Australian Shepherd.

    One thing I have learned is that in order for dogs to be accepted they have to behave better than everyone else’s kids. People seem to tolerate kids running around out of control but if a dog does it the planet is thrown off its axis and the world comes to an end. To prevent this, “No Dogs Allowed” signs get posted. So I have a few basic things that all my dogs learn.

    1. When I give a command – do it.
    2. Don’t bark at or chase wildlife.
    3. Never walk more than 10ft away from me.
    4. When hikers walk by, get off the trail, stop, and sit until they pass. Without me having to say so.

    When training, I think consistency is the the most important tool. All too often we give our dogs mixed signals. No matter how busy I think my life is, or how late for an appointment I may be, my dogs are my children and they have my full undivided attention until a situation, or command I give is resolved. The following has always worked for me.

    1. Start training young. I start at around 9 weeks and the training never stops.
    2. Never repeat a command, say it once and make them do what you said.They will wait for the tone of our voice to change from a calm command to an angry command before they respond if we keep repeating what we expect them to do. They know how to push our buttons.
    3. No treats. Lots of praise.
    4. I don’t treat them like a pet, but a member of the family (pack). They learn quickly what their responsibility is within the pack.
    5. It is my responsibility to show them how to be respectful so they understand how to relate to the human influenced world surrounding them.

    My dog (I just recently lost my other trail buddy to cancer) and I hike at least 6 miles nearly every day.

    • I’m sorry for your loss. I know how difficult it is. These Aussies steal your heart.

      • Thanks Jim,

        Edison was 11-1/2 years old and going strong until he got pancreatic cancer. I can’t believe how fast he went downhill. He is on the front page of my website. They sure do steal your heart. Jessica just turned 9 and is a black-tri color.

  22. I think just about any dog would make a good trail companion with proper training. However, I’m partial to Aussies myself. They were bred to be outside working year round in a variety of terrain. Austalian Shepherds are the perfect size and are exceptionally intelligent. They are superb athletes and have the stamina to go all day. They are loyal and protective, but not vicious. They have a great coat for all conditions. I have been fortunate to have had very good dogs over the years. I have been training and backpacking with these dogs for over 30 years now. All of my Aussies are certified therapy dogs and are extremely well trained. As others have mentioned my dogs are treated as family members because they are. They make my time in the outdoors much more enjoyable and I know they enjoy going more than I do. I currently have an 11 year old that still hikes 10-15 miles a day with me and a 2 year old that is learning the ropes. They carry their own packs and are great company. I can’t imagine going without them.

    • I grew up with a dog team and have worked with numerous breeds. Once I first started working with Aussie’s I realized that this was the last breed I was ever going to own. I can’t believe how quickly they learn. All of mine have always stayed on the trail with me and never ran out of control all over the place.

      It’s amusing when we happen upon wildlife and they stop, look back at me to see what we are going to do instead of chasing after it. Especially Edison. He was the best trail dog I ever had. Our bear encounters were fun. He would stop, sit down and look at me and look at the bear as if he wanted to say, “hello.” He was such a kind soul and wanted to meet and learn about every creature he saw. He worked with me at REI in Seattle.

      Happy trails!

  23. hi my dog gearhart , he is a standard poodle, he loves hiking and other hikiers women and kids for sure . he carries his own food and stuff, keeps me warn at nite does not bark . and is agreat buddy out in the woods and the mountians of lake tahoe ca. he is nine years old and we look forward to this year’s hiking

  24. The owner is the most important thing but in my view the Vizsla makes the best choice.

  25. I am hoping someday to get a Rottweiler as my canine hiking buddy :)

  26. At least out here in the Pacific Northwest, the subject of dogs on trails is a very controversial subject.

    The best hiking dog is the dog whose owner (1) keeps him under control at all times, on leash on more populated trails or where required, (2) either packs out or buries the dog’s leavings and (3) makes sure the dog is well socialized and thoroughly obedience-trained, preferably to an advanced level. Above all, the owner should obey the rules for the particular trail at all times. Those who don’t are only hastening the day when dogs will be banned on all trails.

    In the case of 99% of the dogs who cause problems on the trail, in campsites or anywhere else, it’s the owner’s fault. The dog is just being a dog; the responsibility for its behavior is the owner’s!

    The breed doesn’t matter; I’ve even seen hiking Chihuahuas! Pit bulls if properly trained are well-behaved dogs. The instructors at the obedience school my dog and I attended specialized in pit bull rescue, and their dogs were the sweetest and best-mannered dogs I’ve ever met. I of course consider a Lab-Golden Retriever cross originally bred as an assistance dog but relegated to a “second career” as the ideal hiking dog, but that’s because I’m prejudiced in favor of my own beloved hiking buddy!

    Just a note on maturity of the dog, since a 1-year-old Lab was mentioned earlier: larger dogs’ joints do not mature until they are close to 2 years old. That’s particularly a problem with breeds prone to hip dysplasia (Labs, Goldens, German shepherds and others). Larger dogs under 2 years should not be taken on really strenuous trips or given heavy packs to carry. The result may be expensive joint surgery and the shortening of the dog’s useful hiking career at the other end of its life. Be sure to consult your veterinarian! Also, it’s as important to condition the dog as to condition the hiker! Start slow and work up gradually.

  27. My now deceased best friend was the best Hiking companion I ever had. She lived to 15 .5 years and passed just before last Thanksgiving.

    She was a Stratfordshire Terrier/Rhodsian Ridgeback mix. Weighed in at about 70 pounds. Short haired which I feel is a very important attribute as far as keeping her Clean, locating ticks, shedding issues and drying off after a swim, Plus it is not a smelly as a long haired dog manes gets.

    Most people thought “Pit” from the minute they saw her, which on occasion I felt was a good thing. She was very protective of me and her Pack/Family members.. She was a Christmas present from my Girls who stopped hiking with me after discovering Boys and the Mall and would no longer make our monthly treks we me. Unless their Boyfriends came along which was rare thing with todays “Metro” boys..

    Bailey was her name. Rain or shine, mountain trail, cross country or path. Leaping small Rills or swimming rivers she was there. And she loved to nap while I fished for trout and chasing squirrels she never caught because the leash only went so far..I did let her off once because the Squirrel learned how short that leash was and would tease her..She chased that squirrel for a good half hour… She also hated beer but loved Bourbon and water. And of course after eating her Dinner she would come over to me and act like nobody had fed her and she had the saddest eyes…..There is only one food she did not like…Popcorn! Lol’s.

    Her only Hiking “Quark” was the Dark..She did not like being in a dark tent and would be very restless and nose me awake often and well “hog the covers”. Lol’s. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was until early one morning it came to me..Night Lite! At home we had Night Lites Strategically placed throughout the house. So I lit up my Petzel Tikka on low and faced it into a corner so it would not light up the entire and tent and from that Night on Bailey slept all night long unless something entered our campsite or came to close for her nose..She had a deep throated Bark that I believe scared off many a night time visitor. When we returned home I added her Own Petzel Tikka to her Backpack.

    Since I had her as a young pup, I was able to train her to obey me without much difficulty. Sit, Stay, to walk close by my right leg and a bit to the front. No tugging on the leash because we learned each others pace…But as all young pups are, she tended to follow her nose and you have to let her do it every once in awhile otherwise it will be a constant battle…But I always kept her on a Leash if we were not at home.So we practiced everything with the Leash on.

    The Leash was one of those Retractable kind which was great for climbing up steep trails allowing her and me some room to climb. We started out doing short walks around the Block to build up her endurance as well as toughen up her Pads.

    I love to walk in the evening and we did up to five miles a day on cement, asphalt and rough trail. In all our years of hiking I had to use Pad Protectors only a few times in Southern California on the PCT Trail where there was a lot of broken granite rocks and out in the Mojave Desert due to Cacti and burning sand…You have to watch the inside or the area between her toes if you are hiking in a Pine needle forest..The natural pitch on the ground can cause the Pine needles to stick in there and can cause infection. I checked her Pads every hour when in a Pine Forest.

    I purchased a number of Dog Packs via REI and was very happy with them for the most part except for balancing water bottles. I finally had my wife sew a “Pocket” to the top of the pack where I stored the round 1 qt. Nalgene water Bottle. Which was a problem cause it interferred with the free operation of the Leash so I had her make me a flat pocket while I searched for a Flat bottle. I used an my old Boy Scout Canteen for years, which was replaced when “Bladders” appeared on the Market..An uneven pack can cause “Saddle Sores” just like on a Pack Horse if the weight is not distributed evenly. Bailey’s pack weighed an average of 15 pounds for a week long trip, and occaisonal 18 pounds but not often. I put her food into separate daily ration bags instead of one big bag which made it easier to distrubute the weight evenly. And I also carried some in my Pack as well and some snacks on a pack I attached to my waist belt. When Crossing wide Streams I would carry her pack and let her swim unemcumbered. I used to store a small hand towel in her bag but replaced it with a chamois until the man made material towels came on the market which made it light enough to carry two.

    In her Backpack I carry a full range of Medical gear including Bandages for dogs, Orintments, Stitches and Needles and most importantly the Victorinox “Work Champ” which is a modified “Champ” but smaller with a Locking Blade, a slip free handle, Tweezers, Scissors, Nail File, and used a lot in the Desert “Pliers” which pulled out many thorns and cacti..And her food.

    On the trail I mostly fed her dried but I made “Gravy” almost every night for her with various McCormack type Gravy mixes..The lower the Salt and MSG and Soy the better. Contrary to what the “Experts” say, I found that dry foods with a lot of Corn and Soy was not good for her. I’d look for the feed with the most Animal products as I could and I also supplemented it with freezed dried Beef or chicken chunks. Human “GORP” is not good for Dogs, but you can make Dog “GORP” by combining various treats and biscuits.

    I trained her to behave on the Trail..The Majority of the time, or 9 out of 10, it was the “Other” Dog Owners Dog(s) on the trail we had a problem with..Because most were allowed to run free. How inconsiderate of others..And how often did those dogs get lost…..That is irresponsible if you ask me. Especially in Rattler or Coyote territory.

    In Camp by ourselves she had a long leash, in Camp with others, it was a short leash..I also buried her body waste like I did mine which is another on the Trail problem. Just like at home some inconsideate and irresponsible Dog Owners enjoy sharing their Dogs fecal matter with others…

    Another area of concern are Pack Horses…Neither the dogs nor the Horses unless they were raised together like each other….Another big reason to keep your Dog on a Leash…Horses have the right of way on the Trail..and you must keep your Dog undercontrol on the side “away” or farthest away from the Horse…You are responsible if the Rider or the Horse gets hurt due to your lack of control over your dog!

    It took about a dozen or so trips for Bailey to get the hang of what we were doing and to relax and enjoy the walk as I did..But don’t expect to just take a City dog on a hike once or twice a year and expect miracles..You have to practice at home first….

    One more tip..Always a two man Tent and..I lined the bottom of the inside of the tent with one of those Sportsman aluminumized blankets. Which did a very good job of preventing her Nails from making holes in the floor of the tent….

  28. Thanks for the kind reference to Loki. Dogs on trail are somewhat controversial, mostly because of problems they can cause, but also because dogs sometimes suffer during hikes (especially long hikes and winter hikes). I think that most of the issues can be laid at the feet of the owners. Some owners fail to control and monitor their dogs, let them off leash when they are not ready to be off leash, take them on trips they are not suited for or aren’t careful about the dogs well being and push on oblivious to cues that the dogs are not doing well.

    My opinions on the questions:

    What are the attributes of a great hiking dog? – They enjoy hiking, they are highly responsive to the people who are responsible for them, don’t interfere with the hike by disappearing (even if the group doesn’t have to wait for the dog to return, the constant calling for the dog can be drag), is not an aggressive or annoying beggar, doesn’t bark or otherwise harass other hikers, and doesn’t get under foot too often. Also, a responsible and responsive owner.

    Are there certain breeds that make better trail companions than others? It’s hard to predict. My last dog was a doberman mix and was a very strong hiker and always well behaved. Loki is a Lab/terrier mix, she isn’t as tough as my last dog, but she is happy and easy on the trail and has a great winter coat.

    What’s the best way to train dogs to go hiking or backpacking with you? I think its best to ease into it, with a gradual acceleration of trip length. Most of the training is basic – follow commands, and pay attention. Since dogs can’t talk, I think it is important to pay attention and be receptive to them. I try to make it clear in my voice, whether I am making a request, a suggestion or a command. Often a dog’s only way of saying they don’t want to do something is not to do it – or to be very slow to comply. Praise, verbal correction and close monitoring are import. If the dog has a problem behavior, very close monitoring is necessary until the behavior disappears. When we first backpacked, Loki barked at hikers we’d meet on the trial – I guess staying out for the night cued her that we were claiming territory. I had to keep close, direct physical control of her – correcting her when she barked until I could completely trust her not to bark at people.

  29. David (aka PedXing)

    For a couple reasons, I disagree strongly with one item on Tim T’s thoughtful lists: “2. Never repeat a command, say it once and make them do what you said.They will wait for the tone of our voice to change from a calm command to an angry command before they respond if we keep repeating what we expect them to do. They know how to push our buttons.”

    I don’t think dogs intentionally push our buttons. Not responding to a calm command is a dogs primary way of saying, “I’d really rather not” and asking “how important is it to you.” I take response to a firmer command, to be “if it matters that much, of course, I’ll do it.” I’ve enjoyed each dog I’ve lived with, but I think my relationships became richer when I realized that initial non-compliance or slow compliance, was not button pushing or a challenge to my authority, but communication going two ways.

  30. A rottweiller. Over the years I have hiked/backpacked with several of these magnificent dogs. They are well behaved, easily trained, can carry their load well, and are excellent companions overall. They are great guard dogs. And that can be a problem. They will bark at noise at night and of course wake you up. You have to ensure that their needs are met, have a good surface to sleep on, a blanket or quilt, and ensure they don’t get injured on the hike, and if they do, you have the stuff to take care of it. I think the idea of packing out a dogs stool to be kind of dumb. who does that ? They are not appropriate in all backcountry situations. And they can only be a good hiking buddy for a while, then old age sets in and you have to leave them home. My current Rott misses it but his hips are to bad these days to take him, and on my recent backpack trip on the Lone Star trail hike, I missed having his compainonship. Also, many trail don’t allow dogs…. a shame. When I go out I look for solitude, and so stay away from others.
    I have a lab puppy as well. But she doesn’t seem to me to be a good hiking companion. Not all dogs or breeds are good for this IMO.

  31. Christopher Zingg

    I have Dogo Argentino and he is very good on day hikes and through hikes. He carries his own pack. Doesn’t bark and is built for long distance hikes. Very sweet loving dog. I never go hiking with out him.

  32. My grandson likes me to hike with hot dogs. I freeze them and can get two or three in a Ziploc snack bag where they will keep a couple days. He thinks they are gourmet fare, if not loyal companions.

  33. Border Collie is the BEST dog, period. Especially for deep back country multi day hikes. Not only are they excellent hiking companions, they will guard the campsite and let you know if there’s any funny business going on. Very loyal dogs, extreme energy, live to work and please their masters, without a doubt the most intelligent breed on the planet. However, the breed isn’t for everyone. If you’re a couch potato don’t even think about it.

  34. I would say the best hiking dog is the one that fits your personality and hiking style. A breed of dog that is perfect for one person will be a nightmare to someone else. The beauty is that any dog can be trained as a great trail dog.

    My personal preference is an Australian Shepherd. Both of mine were raised backpacking and are mellow, don’t chance wildlife, nor wander out of my sight. They know to step off the trail and sit down when hikers and other dogs pass and I don’t have to say anything. They are very good at quietly alerting me of any activity around our camp. Being in the herding class, they are an incredibly smart breed that is easy to train.

  35. how about breeds such as anatolian shepherd or other shepherd breeds/livestock-guarding ones? love such breeds,especially the anatolian which is big ,storng, though lean and with endurance. However i hear its difficult to train these dog breeds because they were bred to live without the constant presence of humans as they were alone protecting the herd so they need to take decisions to act independently,i dont think anyone can doubt that fact, though do you guys and gals belive a breed like that which i love to have can be a good hiking companion? (with proper training of course !!!)

    • We have an 8 wk old Great Pyrenees-Anatolian Shepherd cross, a little girl who has affectionately earned her name Moose with her conversational grunting and the expectation of her eventual adult size. My boyfriend and I are both avid hikers and can’t wait to see how she does on the trails. We’ve read a lot about how these independent livestock guardian dogs can be very stubborn and tough to train, but most of those sites and blogs haven’t mentioned how intelligent the breed is. Its an interesting balance that brings new (often hilarious) challenges every day, but she’s picking up the basics very, very well. We took her on her first hike a few days ago behind Kyle’s parents’ place in MO, and she seemed to have a great time, stayed with us the whole way. We’re definitely thinking she’ll make a great trail companion, and would love any suggestions for training and introducing Moose to hiking.

      Thanks,
      Katlin

  36. Just a Caution:
    Please check with your vet! Puppies under one year are highly discouraged from long walks let alone hikes. Less than a mile up to a year as their tendons/bones are still growing and it puts too much stress on them.

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