How to choose your perfect hiking dog
There’s lots of general advice around for choosing the perfect pet, but when you’re looking for the best canine companion to join you on hikes and rambles there are some important factors to take into account.
Dog size matters
Countryside rambles with a dog will almost always bring youto a stile. Choose a dog you can lift over an awkward stile on your own withouthelp, or a dog that’s small enough to go under a stile.
Most large dogs are happy to bound over stiles when they’reyoung and fit, but doggie middle age (4-7 years for large breeds) is when back problems, hip problems and other illnesses affecting mobility tend to show up. Lifting a large dog over a stile can easily spoil your walk, at best you get covered in mud and at worst you can damage your own back. And lifting a dog the size of an adult Labrador is a 2-person job, unless you’re a weight lifter.
Average weights for adult dogs will help you see how heavy they can be. For example: German Shepherds, Golden retrievers, Weimeramers, Boxers and Labradors will typically weigh somewhere in the 30-40kg range. If your dog gets overweight, you may need to add several kilos more.
If your dog hurts himself on your walk and you have to carry him back to the car, how long could you carry 40kg for without straining yourself?
Your dog must be on a lead around livestock. This is no problem as long as your dog is good on the lead and doesn’t pull. Unfortunately, you are more likely to get one arm longer than the other, or develop shoulder problems when your 40kg dog drags you over fields. Just google ‘dog pulling’ to see how many people are desperately looking for a solution to their pulling dogs. I got this result: About 36,600,000 results (0.34 seconds). If you weigh 65k and your dog weighs 40k, then the pair of you will be ploughing up a field – with you acting as the plough.
So when your dog is a pain to do walks with, then the fun will go out of it and you’ll probably be less likely to want to go long walkies. Bad result for your lifestyle preference, and the dog gets less exercise and starts piling on the pounds.
If you’re already in this situation, there are solutions.You could join a dog-walking group where other walkers are nice enough to helpyou get your dog over stiles, this will probably cost you a few pints in the pub afterwards! Some dog-trainers may be willing to work with you to get your dog to walk on-lead without pulling. Or you may just abandon the long walkies idea for a dog sport like agility or obedience. You can find walk routes with no stiles, there are plenty of these on the Driving with Dogs site, or another solution is to use canal towpaths or bridleways and (often on-lead) cyclepaths.
These are the breeds that are often said to be ideal foractive lifestyles, and include Border Collies, Spaniels, Beagles and Viszlas.
You can see from the average weights that most people will be able to swing one of these dogs over a stile when the need arises. They also tend to have a longer lifespan than the large dogs, and will have a longer ‘active’ period before reaching senior-dog age.
Border collie, Springer Spaniel, Viszla –average weightaround 20kg. Cocker Spaniel, Beagle – average weight around 12kg.
Many cross-breeds are medium sized, although it’s not always easy to guess how heavy they are going to be if you get a rescue puppy and the parents are unknown.
These dogs, and mongrel crosses from them such as Sprollies, Cockerpoos, Border Jacks and all the other inventive names, make fabulous walking companions. You do need to put in the work to teach them good recall, lead manners and overall obedience but once that’s sorted, your dog is perfect. Or is it?
These dogs are often descended from working dogs. They’ve been bred to have high energy, intelligence and stamina, not just at weekends when you’re probably keen to get out and walk, but every day, 24/7. So what happens Monday to Friday? Options available to bored dogs when you’re at workinclude: chewing – shoes, bike tyres, skirting boards; indoor digging – your bed,cushions, sofas, carpets; tail-chasing, barking, soiling and a range of stress behaviour patterns and compulsions.
Some people think that small dogs don’t cut it in the image stakes, and are just hand-bag dogs or yappy fashion accessories. I’ve been guilty of a bit of breed prejudice like that too. But after watching some of the little dogs in our walking group, they tick a lot of the boxes for the perfect canine hiking pal.
Average weights for small dogs range from 1kg (for a tiny Chihuahua) to terriers at around 7kg. Breeds to look for include:
Chihuahua, Jack Russell, Mini Schnauzer, Terriers (Norfolk,Patterdale, Cairn, etc), Toy poodle, Bichon Frise and many more. A dog this size will go under a stile, and is easy to lift over. Middle age comes relatively late, and they live a long time. Even if their lead training isn’t perfect, they weigh so much less than you that pulling on the lead is unlikely to cause you discomfort. In their senior years, you can pop them into a modified backpack and carry them if necessary.
Although small, these dogs need as much mental stimulation as the medium-sized dogs. Terriers and poodles are bred to be dogs with jobs, so you can’t skimp on the Monday to Friday activity programme. And terriers can be hard to train if you’re not prepared for their breed characteristics. But on long walks, these little dogs can more than hold their own for stamina and we’ve seen this time and time again in the Explore by Paw group dog walks. And their owners tend to be the ones looking clean, relaxed and ever so slightly smug at the end of the walks – and first into the pub as well!
And if you’re wondering, the Driving with Dogs dog Jem is a14kg Border Collie/Jack Russell cross. He’s 10 years old and still enjoying long walks most days and taking stiles in his stride!