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Best Dogs for Hiking

Updated: Jun 25

I wanted to do a post from the perspect of a professional off-leash dog walker of discussing the best dogs to have as hiking companians. This post is mostly about off-leash hiking dogs, but I do quickly touch on good on-leash hiking dogs as well.

I've been hiking with dogs for decades. My first dog Loki was also my first hiking dog. He was a husky/shepherd mix and I adopted him in 2005 in southern California. He went everywhere with me, including to the hiking trails.

Early on he was mostly on-leash, because them were the rules. There were a few spots I brought him where he could go off-leash, but training that stubborn boy was a long process.

I later moved to New Jersey to work with big cats, and along with me Loki came. New Jersey doesn't have any off-leash park options that aren't really boring little dog parks. So for 4 years he didn't go off-leash at all, except at a nearby dog beach.

dog beach in New Jersey
Fisherman's Cove Conservation Area dog beach.

He also went to the beach near where I lived in Winter in the off season.

New Jersey beach husky
Loki at the beach in winter in New Jersey

But I didn't begin hiking in the Bay Area with a dog until Loki and I moved back to the East Bay in 2011. We made it our mission to check out every trail we were legally allowed to. Loki's recall got better over time. He also went from wanting to chase cows to just ignoring them.

I learned a number of tricks for getting an even stubborn husky to recall. One was that when you call them and they don't respond, don't just keep calling them and desensitize them to your voice. Another is to be fun and exited and not angry and yell (your goal is to get your dog to want to come back to you). Another is to give them what they want. Treats work. So does water. Don't go toward them when you're asking them to come. You can stay still, or better yet, back up. Make them come to you. Don't make it a game where you're chasing them. They have four legs. They'll always win. I later learned another trick, which is even more active and that's to run away. If your dog is in the direction you don't want them to be and you want them to return urgently, run the other direction and call them. Make it fun.

There are other ways to work on recall, but that isn't the purpose of this blog. I'll definitely do one on that in the future.

Loki passed away at the age of 16 in 2020.

Loki the husky shepherd mix and myself
Loki and Me

Loki was the original Diablo Dog. He joined me on countless off-leash hikes, just me and him, with significant others, and on group hikes with clients dogs. But would I recommend his breed to hike with? Huskies, malamutes, and mixes? No. In fact I'd put them near the bottom of the list. Particularly if you live in a warm climate. And definitely if you don't have a whole lot of patience and time. Huskies are bred to run, but they're not necessarily bred to listen. An expert once said that the dogs that look more like wolves are also more genetically like wolves. By that I mean, stubborn, smart, and not particularly obedient. That's a husky to a T. I'd give huskies a hiking dog grade of a D generally. I must say that if your dog is going to stay on leash with you, then huskies catapult up to an A.

Later I adopted Maggie the lab. Maggie was a client's dog originally. They felt they weren't giving her the best life she could live and reached out to me about helping them finding a good home for her. Now my staff and I have played the game over the year of "if a client had to give up their dog, who's would you take today?" and Maggie was always at the top of the list. So when the client came to me, I immediately said, "I'll take her." Then I said, actually let me check with my wife. She said yes for a second time.

Maggie the lab with me and my wife
Kim and Maggie and I

Maggie is obedient and sweet. She's smart and silly. Labs are bred to hunt (originally), and to do very specific tasks like retrieve birds. It takes a trainable dog to do that well. Labs are pretty great for all weather because of their short compact fur. And particularly warm weather. They're fairly easy to clean if they get dirty. Some labs aren't going to have the long distance capacity as other breeds. I'd give them an B+ on the hiking dog scale I just made up.

My wife and I later got a cattledog/pyrenees/Aussie mix named Blue Roo. She's still learning, and has an interesting mix of dog breeds, but has taken to hiking.

human lab and aussie mix
Me maggie and roo

Here's my top off leash hiking dog breeds:

  1. Viszla (They have short fur and long legs. They have the nickname "velcro vizslas." You don't have to worry about their recall. They're easy enough to clean up if they get dirty.) A

  2. Rhodesian Ridgeback (They're kinda like a big vizsla. They were originally bred in a hot climate. They have short fur, and they can hike for quite a while. Even then they can overheat.) B+

  3. Labrador retriever (B+)

  4. Golden retriever (Similarly to a lab they listen and stick close and can cover ground with you. Their long fur can mean they'll get hot faster though. Also they can get stuff stuck in their fur, but I've found they clean themselves like cats). B

  5. Australian Cattledog (Like Captain America, they can do this all day. They were bred to chase around cows. They're very trainable, they're fast with tons of stamina and they're good in warm weather. Also their incessant barking won't bother anyone outside-I can say that since I have a cattledog myself...sorry Blue Roo). A+

  6. Australian shepherd/mini aussie (They're great behaviorally for hikes, and have similar drawbacks to goldens). B

  7. Pit bull/mixes (As long as they're a well socialized, well behaved dog they do great on hikes. They listen well and want to please their human). B

  8. Weimaraner (These guys have a similar social demeanor to vizslas. They just want to stick with you. You will want to be bonded to them before trusting them off leash. They have short fur and are good in the heat.) A-

  9. Poodles and poodle mixes (There's a lot of variation in the personalities of "doodles" but they're generally very good hiking partners. Poodles are great. Doodles are generally very good at sticking by you. The one big drawback is that every plant, bur, and foxtail out there will stick to your doodle.) B

  10. Border collie (These guys can keep running. They listen well and want to do right by their human. They're the adult on the trail) A+

  11. Aerdale Terrier (These guys are not super common. They can be a bit stubborn but are pretty obedient.) B+

  12. Springer Spaniel (seeing a theme with the hunting dogs? I wills say that stickers like to stick to their fur) A-

  13. Cockapoo (They'll stay with you) A

  14. Bernese mountain dogs (Not great in the heat, but they're friendly and will stick by your side. That goes for the Greater swiss mountain dogs too, who are more heat resilient) B

Here are some breeds that are good for on-leash hiking

  1. Huskies (They can run all day, but recall isn't their strongsuit. Not great in the heat.) A

  2. Malamutes (See: huskies. Even worse in the heat.) B

  3. German shorthaired pointers (I saw these guys on another list of good dogs to hike with but in my experience off-leash they're just gonna chase any thing that moves. I've seen them do ok with an E collar, but otherwise I don't know. I'd keep them on leash) A-

  4. German shepherds (this is hit or miss. Some are great and listen and friendly, and some need to be the cops of the trails) A to D

Dogs that aren't great for hiking

  1. Pugs (Those smushed faces aren't built for breathing) F

  2. Frenchie (See: pugs) F

  3. Boston terrier (Not as scary as the 1 and 2 on this list, but still not great for hiking) D

  4. Dalmation (They can be wild and stubborn) C-

  5. Formosan mountain dog (or other feral type breeds aren't great because they're still a little wild and skittish. They may run off on ya. A lot) D+

  6. Corgi (Some are more athletic than others. Many are a bit stubborn, and many can't help but herd other dogs picking a fight with them). C

  7. American bulldog (they won't overexert themselves, but you aren't going anywhere.) D

Bull dog and horses
Goose the bulldog and some equestrians

I should note that all of this is from personal experience and I'm basing some of breeds on one or two individuals. Some I'm basing on a whole bunch.

Feel free to let me know if I missed any from any of the lists, or if I'm being too harsh on any of the breeds.


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