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How to Choose The Best Dog Breed for Hiking Off Leash – Pros and Cons

How to Choose The Best Dog Breed for Hiking Off Leash – Pros and Cons


When looking for the best dog breeds for hiking off leash, there are a few things you should consider.

You’ll want a dog that needs a lot of physical exercise and is up for the challenge. Smaller breeds are amazing, but they may not be able to handle an extremely active lifestyle.

Ultimately, any dog can be great off-leash, but some are better than others. This is especially true if you will be in national parks, where there may be a greater chance of running into another person or other pets.

High Prey vs Low Prey Dogs

Some dogs are great off-leash until they’re distracted or triggered. Dogs with a high prey drive are especially prone to distraction. The sound of wild animals scurrying through brush will be enough to trigger a high prey dog into overdrive.

Low prey dogs are just as smart, but less likely to take off and leave you alone on the trail. Some small dogs make awesome hiking pals, they just may not have the same physical endurance as the large breeds.

Make Sure Your Hiking Dog is Prepared For The Conditions

If you’re going long distances in cold weather, your dog should be able to withstand cold temperatures. The same is true for long hikes in hot weather. 

It’s important to pay attention to the cues your dog gives you on the hike. If he’s getting tired, he may hang his head a little lower to the ground. He might try to take rest breaks more often or even show signs of overheating.

These signs include:

  • heavy panting with mouth opened wider than normal
  • heavy, thick drool from the mouth
  • chest heaving/heavy breathing
  • trying to seek shelter
  • laying on his/her belly (splooting) in an attempt to cool off
  • fatigue

The reality is that dogs, like people, may have certain limitations. Sometimes dogs are great off-leash one day and terrible the next. It all depends on the circumstances at hand.

If you’re looking for the best hiking dogs, we’ve got you covered.

Below, you’ll find a list of dogs that could make good hiking dogs. To make it easier for you, we’ve also listed the pros and cons for each dog. 

Etiquette for Outdoor Adventures With Your Dog

Being allowed to hike with your dog off-leash is a privilege and a joy. There’s nothing better than walking in harmony with our beloved dog.

Hiking creates a true bonding experience that you’ll never forget. You both get great exercise and numerous opportunities for selfies and videos.

Of course, every hiking trail is different. Some trails are very quiet, with few other people around. Other trails are more publicly accessible. In that case, you and your dog will run into other hikers.

No matter what the situation, there are some common-sense etiquette and safety tips you should be aware of.

Here are a few tips on hiking off-leash with your dog 

You probably won’t be the only hiker on the trail with a dog. If you haven’t been hiking with your dog in a while, or it’s your first time, it might be a good idea to remind him/her of good manners.

  • Make sure your dog comes when called, doesn’t stray, and won’t be spooked by other animals.
  • Remember to bring food and water for you and your dog.
  • Bring a collapsible water bowl and a jug for your dog.
  • Be prepared for minor injuries by having a small first aid kit with you.
  • Don’t forget the poop bags!
  • Bring a garbage bag for picking up litter (yours and maybe someone else’s).
  • Bring natural treats for your dog that are not too salty. Salt will just make your dog thirsty.
  • Bring some of your dog’s food to have on hand.
  • If you’re going on a new trail or a particularly difficult one, it doesn’t hurt to bring important medicine (for you or your dog) with you. That way, if you lose your way for a while, you won’t be missing any important medication.
  • Make sure your first aid kit has tweezers or a tick remover and bug spray.
  • Make sure your dog is routinely administered flea and tick medication before the hike.
  • Consider a flea/tick collar for your dog for added protection.
  • Let someone know where you are and when you plan to be back.
  • Bring matches or a lighter in case of an accidental overnight stay in the elements.
  • Bring a small, foldable cooling mat for your dog.

Hiking Supplies That Might Come in Handy On the Trail!

The following are suggestions on products that may come in handy, depending on your situation. These are all affiliate products. All that means is that if you make a purchase by clicking on a link, I may earn a small commission.

This doesn’t cost you any additional money. It does, however, help to keep this blog up and running.

Fitbark

Fitbark is more than just a tool to measure your dog’s fitness. It’s also a GPS tracking system that would come in handy should your dog decide to roam.

Neewa Dog Gear

Neewa Dog Gear has everything you need for dog harnesses, leashes, and tug lines. The link will take you to the website where you can select everything you need based on your dog’s size and activity.

The Best Dog Breeds for Off-Leash Hiking

The list below is by no means inclusive. Just about any dog could be a good hiking dog. You just have to match the hiking trail to the dog’s capabilities.

If you’re new to hiking, consider starting slow and small. Bring your dog on a short hike to gauge how he/she will do on a larger, more difficult trail. You might notice areas where your dog could use a little more training before he/she is ready.

Every dog has genetic traits combined with his/her own unique personality. There are always exceptions to rules and that is true of dogs as well.

best dog breeds for off-leash hikingPin

Border Collie

The Border Collie is one of the best dogs for off-leash hiking. This herding dog has a medium build and a high need for activity. Border Collies are extremely athletic, loyal, and easy to train. In fact, collies can run many miles a day. 

If you are only planning an occasional hike, you will need to ensure that your Border Collie gets adequate exercise elsewhere. Daily exercise and mental stimulation are a must. These dogs are so smart that if he/she doesn’t see you as the pack leader, he will take over that job.

Hiking implies that you will be away from busy streets and highways. This is a good thing because this breed might be inclined to chase moving vehicles, people, and small animals.

You might consider agility training classes for your dog. This will keep him mentally and physically fit on days when you are not on the trail.

Border Collies are one of the best dog breeds for off-leash hiking.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Border collies have an inherent need to move. This dog will trot happily with you while enjoying every minute. This dog is great with agility and will be able to skillfully navigate any terrain.

Walking a dog off-leash engages mental stimulation which helps to tire the dog and fulfil his needs.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

Border collies have minds that are just as active as their bodies. Without a job to do (i.e., catching a stick or a ball) he might actually get a little restless on the trail.

May go into “herding mode” around other people or off-leash pets. This probably won’t be a problem for you, but it could be disruptive to other people traversing the trails.

Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd is a hardy dog, capable of working (or playing) hard all day.

If you are the high-energy athletic type, then this dog might be perfect for you. Just remember, if you’re not hiking every day, you’re going to have to make sure this dog gets as much exercise and play as possible.

This loyal, intelligent breed will be a joy to take off-leash hiking. Try the trail on-leash at first then work your way to off-leash. It’s always a good idea to see how your dog will react to a new trail before letting go of the reigns.

This is especially true if the trail is busy with other people and animals.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

This highly intelligent breed will easily take to proper training. Athletic dogs like the Australian Shepherd a pleasure to have on a long, tough hike.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

If you’re only going for short hikes on an occasional basis, you will need to consider other ways to tire him out. One example would be letting him carry his own specially made backpack with supplies. The added weight will help to slow him down.

Labrador Retriever

The Labrador retriever is a happy-go-lucky dog who really just wants to be with you wherever you are. It just so happens that this dog loves to be outside and has the energy to withstand a long hike

Walking a Labrador Retriever off leash is easier on a mountain trail then on a busy Street. Labrador retrievers are intelligent and high energy but they can become distracted easily.

Your dog will be especially happy with you if you can find a place for him to swim along the trail. If that’s not possible make sure to have plenty of water the keep him cool and hydrated.

Keep your eyes on your Labrador Retriever because they will often pick up a scent and be tempted to follow that trail. Call your dog back, give him some praise, and he’ll be happy to follow you along the rest of the trail.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Labrador retrievers are a happy, intelligent breed. The freedom to experience the hiking trail off-leash will be a sheer joy for the dog and for you.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

This breed can have a moderate to high prey drive and may wander if recall is not good. Labrador retrievers are friendly but nosey. They can also be very food-motivated, which could be good or bad, depending on the situation.

Watch that your dog doesn’t swallow food or litter found on the trail. Labrador retrievers will eat just about anything they can get their mouths on.

Golden Retriever

If you’re walking a puppy of any age, be sure to start him or her out slowly. Over-exercising a puppy can cause serious joint issues. Large breed dogs tend to grow quickly, and their joints may not be up for the task yet.

The adult Golden Retriever shouldn’t have any trouble keeping up on a hiking trail. It’s best to be sure your dog has good recall skills before getting him/her out on a big trail.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Golden retrievers are sheer joy to be around. Their enthusiasm is contagious. They are eager-to-please and love the exercise that a good hike can give them.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

Retrievers were born hunting dogs and have a high prey drive. They are intelligent and can be trained to stay by your side. They may need to be reminded several times, however. This is especially true if they catch a scent and are tempted to bolt.

German Shepherds

German Shepherds are often used in the police force or Westmont military as working dogs. This breed is extremely powerful, intelligent, and capable. They can adapt to any situation.

You really need to be the pack leader if you have a German shepherd. This highly intelligent breed will listen to your every command unless he doesn’t see you as the leader.

As with other strong and active breeds, the German Shepherd needs daily exercise.

It’s not enough to let him play for 20 minutes with a few other dogs in an off-leash park. German shepherds need a lot of physical exercise and mental stimulation.

YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ THESE DOGS ABOUT THE GERMAN SHEPHERD BREED:

Female vs Male German Shepherds: Finding Your Forever Dog

19 Ways to Survive the German Shepherd Puppy Biting Phase

5 Ways to Get German Shepherds and Cats Behaving Like Family

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

German shepherds are incredibly intelligent and strong. These dogs really have what it takes to manage a tough trail. The tougher the trail, the better for this dog.

German shepherds are fantastic at speed and agility. They are strong and able to handle hot and cold weather.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

High prey drive. The owner needs to be 100% sure of the dog’s ability to come when called. The dog also requires a lot of exercise and mental stimulation when not hiking.

It’s a good idea to bring your dog’s favorite treats as a reward for good behavior.

best off leash hiking dogsPin

Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese mountain dog is another good dog breed for hiking off leash. They’re actually quite agile on a rough trail but, like any other dog breed, can overheat when temperatures soar.

Hiking with your dog is a great experience because of the companionship and protection on the trail.

Bernese Mountain Dogs are large breeds who made great companions on the trail. they may appear laid back, but they have a lot of energy and will be eager and happy to walk with you. Bernese Mountain Dogs can be walked off leash especially if he is used to the trail you’re going on.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

These dogs have the patience and stamina to follow you along most any trail. Allow your dog to carry a small pack with a few supplies.

The Bernese Mountain Dog will be an incredible hiker, as long as you don’t make him run.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

Large dogs can overheat quickly in hot weather. The age of the dog will dictate the pace and distance you’ll be able to cover. It’s best to turn around and head home once your dog starts showing signs of fatigue.

Siberian Husky

The Siberian Husky might not be a great dog breed for off-leash walking, especially if this is the first dog you’ve ever owned.

This dog breed has a very high prey drive which can leave small critters or small pets in danger. Allowing this breed off-leash could result in disaster. That said, if you are positive that you have your Siberian under control, go ahead and let him off-leash.

You know your dog best. However, keep in mind that dog breeds with a high prey drive might not even hear your command if you don’t issue it fast enough.

That’s because their minds will already be locked on their potential target.

If you can’t stop your dog in that short window before he natural tendency to hunt comes out, you may find yourself in trouble. This leaves the dog at risk of getting heart and the other animal at risk of death.

The best way to get a Siberian Husky used to walking on a trail is to keep him on a leash in the beginning. practice his recall at home or somewhere safe where he can’t really run too far.(HuskyPuppiesInfo.Com)

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

The best thing about the Siberian Husky is their athletic nature. They have what it takes to keep up with you on the hiking trail.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

Siberian Huskies can pose a danger to people with smaller pets. This includes people walking small dogs or cats. It also takes into account small wild animals like squirrels.

The age, maturity, and health of the dog may play a role in how reactive (prey-driven) he is. Rather than setting a puppy up for failure, wait until he/she is old enough to complete obedience training.

Rhodesian Ridgeback

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is an all-purpose dog, high energy dog. They have a common stripe of backward-growing hair on their backs. On first glance, predators or other people may see this raised patch of fur and consider the dog aggressive.

The truth is, this dog breed makes a good pet. They are not a good first-time pet for new dog owners.

These dogs weigh between 70 and 85 pounds or more. Be prepared for a strong-willed dog with domineering tendencies. This “hound” can be a lot for an inexperienced dog owner.

They are not necessarily the best dog breed for off-leash hiking, however.

If you have one and feel confident in his ability for recall, then by all means take them hiking. Keep him/her on a leash until you are absolutely positive he will listen to your commands.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

This dog has a ton of stamina and will enjoy the freedom that comes with being off-leash.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

You’ll need to be flexible on when and how often your dog is off-leash. Hiking trails can provide many surprises (animals, strangers) that may trigger your dog to misbeave.

Doberman Pinscher

The Doberman Pinscher is a beautiful and intelligent dog. They are fantastic when it comes to obedience training because they are eager to please.

This breed tends to form very strong ties with their families. Dobermans require a lot of exercise. On days when you’re not hiking, you’ll need to get this dog out for a run or a good walk. Swimming is also great exercise for a dog like this.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Hiking with your dog will give him/her the right amount of mental and physical exercise required for a healthy mind and body.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

People are sometimes intimidated by the sight of a Doberman. Be sure to demonstrate how well the dog listens to your commands when walking off-leash.

Shetland Sheepdog

The Shetland Sheepdog is a herding dog who may not do well hiking off leash. That doesn’t mean you can’t take him for a walk, it just means you may have to hold him on a leash while doing it.

The reason is because these dogs are herding dogs with a strong prey drive. They may be more interested in chasing what’s in front of them then listening to your commands. That can get dangerous really fast.

This isn’t to say that the Shetland Sheepdog can’t ever be walked off-leash. You may need to do a lot of training in familiar areas where there is less risk of danger.

In addition, this long-coated dog will probably scoop up a lot of dirt and twigs along the route.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

This breed is a working dog capable of endurance sports like hiking. That said, he may need to be conditioned to build up that stamina over time.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

This breed’s high prey drive may get him into trouble and get another animal hurt or killed.

Alaskan Malamute

The Alaskan Malamute is a highly energetic working dog. It’s not unusual for this dog to become stubborn, which is not a trait you want on the hiking trail.

This independent thinker may not be a great choice for a first-time or novice dog owners. These guys are athletic hikers who need a lot of exercise. The breed is designed for endurance, not for speed.

The Alaskan Malamute will be a great hiking companion and a source of protection out on the trail. Whether you choose to let him off-leash is up to you. The decision should be based on recent behavior at off-leash dog parks (for example).

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Alaskan Malamutes can be trained to walk off-leash, it’s just not an easy task for an inexperienced dog owner.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

This breed has a mind of his own. If not properly trained, he may decide to go off in his own direction without you. For the most part, with good training at a young age, the breed makes a good hiking companion.

Australian Cattle Dogs

Australian Cattle Dogs are well suited for hard hiking trails. They have a high energy level that can be more easily tamed after a day of hiking.

This dog has a thick double coat that keeps him warm in cold weather. That said, he also does well in warmer weather when hiking.

Your Australian Cattle dog will really enjoy the hard work and mental stimulation that comes with hiking. This dog is best suited to highly athletic individuals capable of putting the dog through his paces. If his energy isn’t burned off, this dog can become very destructive and unhappy.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Hiking different trails will help your dog keep mentally and physically fit. This breed is very loyal, loving, and intelligent. Although they may be difficult to manage in the beginning, the bond and trust that develops through hiking is worth it.

best off leash hiking dogPin

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

This dog has a very high prey drive and can be stubborn and independent.

German Shorthaired Pointer

The German Shorthaired Pointer is a hunting dog with a 15-year lifespan. It can weigh up to 70 lbs and has a body designed for running. This breed does not like to be left alone and would much rather go on a hiking adventure with you.

Let him! As long as your dog has been trained with basic commands, including recall, he should make a perfectly fine dog breed for off-leash hiking.

The German Shorthaired Pointer is a people pleaser. However, the can also be hyperactive if not let out to exercise regularly.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

This breed is easy to maintain and clean, so there is no real concern over the condition of his coat at the end of a long hike.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

This breed does have a high-prey drive that could be dangerous for other off-leash pets and wildlife.

Jack Russell Terrier

Small dog breeds may not make good off-leash hiking dogs. Dogs like the Jack Russell Terrier have funny little minds of their own. Their independent nature could cause them to “cut off” the sound of your voice as a way to ignore your calls.

The Jack Russell Terrier is a happy, curious dog that is a joy to be with. This dog will provide you with countless laughs and companionship.

None of this is to say that you can’t take your dog off-leash. However, you may want to alternate between being on-leash and off-leash depending on where you are on the trail.

They’re not necessarily made for long, tough hikes, but they do love the outdoors. Keeping small dogs on-leash is often the better choice.

Of course, you know your dog best. If your dog is well-trained and you feel comfortable, you can’t let him off leash without strict supervision. Jack Russell terriers are active dogs. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to channel that energy in the way you want.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Small dogs like the Jack Russell terrier enjoy a good adventure. Having the freedom to be off-leash will go a long way in giving him the mental and physical stimulation he needs.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

Even the best trained Jack Russell can be overcome with curiosity and run. Never let a Jack Russell off-leash if there is a risk of running into traffic or getting into trouble in the woods. Small, private trails might be best for this dog.

Portuguese Water Dog

The Portuguese water dog is a highly intelligent breed that loves to learn complicated tricks. They are loyal and loving dogs who love spending time outdoors. This breed walks well off-leash in groups and with other dogs.

The Portuguese water dog makes a great companion out on the trail.

OFF-LEASH HIKING PROS:

Portuguese water dogs are excellent swimmers with a lot of energy. They don’t have a strong prey drive which makes them ideal for off-leash hiking.

OFF-LEASH HIKING CONS:

This breed can easily become bored, even on a trail. It’s important to engage your dog with talk, commands, and positive reinforcement to keep his mind as active as his body.

Signing Off With Words of Wisdom

The recommendations made above are generalizations. Every breed has unique traits that either make him a great dog for off-leash hiking or not. Ultimately, the decision is yours and you know your dog better than anyone.

Smaller dogs tend to have a low prey drive. That makes them better candidates for off-leash walking. However, their size may not be compatible with tough terrain.

Avoid heading out in extreme temperatures or when a storm is forecast (thunder, blizzard, torrential rain, etc.).

Hiking is an amazing, breathtaking experience that is only made better by the presence of your best friend…your dog. Spend a little time preplanning the hike while thinking of any contingency plans you may need to make.

The end of a long hike brings rewards that humans and dogs can both relate to: food, drink, and bed.

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