How to choose your perfect hiking dog
There’s lots of general advice around for choosing theperfect pet, but when you’re looking for the best canine companion to join youon 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 backproblems, 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 getcovered in mud and at worst you can damage your own back. And lifting a dog thesize 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 heavythey can be. For example: GermanShepherds, Golden retrievers, Weimeramers, Boxers and Labradors will typicallyweigh somewhere in the 30-40kg range. Ifyour dog gets overweight, you may need to add several kilos more.
If your dog hurts himself on your walk and you have to carryhim back to the car, how long could you carry 40kg for without strainingyourself?
Your dog must be on a lead around livestock. This is noproblem 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 shoulderproblems when your 40kg dog drags you over fields. Just google ‘dog pulling’ tosee how many people are desperately looking for a solution to their pullingdogs. I got this result: About 36,600,000 results (0.34 seconds). If you weigh 65k and your dog weighs 40k, thenthe pair of you will be ploughing up a field – with you acting as the plough.
So when your dog is a pain to do long walks with, then thefun will go out of it and you’ll probably be less likely to want to go longwalkies. Bad result for your lifestyle preference, and the dog gets lessexercise 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 thepub afterwards! Some dog-trainers may be willing to work with you to get yourdog to walk on-lead without pulling. Or you may just abandon the long walkiesidea for a dog sport like agility or obedience. You can find walk routes withno stiles, there are around 40 of these on the Driving with Dogs site, oranother 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 willbe able to swing one of these dogs over a stile when the need arises. They alsotend 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 alwayseasy to guess how heavy they are going to be if you get a rescue puppy and theparents are unknown.
These dogs, and mongrel crosses from them such as Sprollies,Cockerpoos, Border Jacks and all the other inventive names, make fabulouswalking 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’vebeen bred to have high energy, intelligence and stamina, not just at weekendswhen you’re probably keen to get out and walk, but every day, 24/7. So whathappens 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 stressbehaviour patterns and compulsions.
Many people think that small dogs don’t cut it in the imagestakes, and are just hand-bag dogs or yappy fashion accessories. I’ve beenguilty of a bit of breed prejudice like that too. But after watching some ofthe little dogs in our walking group, they tick a lot of the boxes for theperfect canine hiking pal.
Average weights for small dogs range from 1kg (for a tinyChihuahua) 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 iseasy 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 youthat pulling on the lead is unlikely to cause you discomfort. In their senioryears, you can pop them into a modified backpack and carry them if necessary.
Although small, these dogs need as much mental stimulationas 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 canbe hard to train if you’re not prepared for their breed characteristics. But onlong walks, these little dogs can more than hold their own for stamina and we’veseen this time and time again in the Explore by Paw group dog walks. And theirowners tend to be the ones looking clean, relaxed and ever so slightly smug atthe 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 enjoyinglong walks most days and taking stiles in his stride!
Author: Lezli Rees, January 2015 for www.drivingwithdogs.co.uk