Getting out and exploring the outdoors on foot has to be one of our favorite activities. Nothing beats watching the leaves change color in the fall, shuffling through snow-capped forests in winter, admiring flowers blooming in spring, and strolling through dappled sunlight in summer… well almost nothing.
Sharing your experience with a four-legged friend can make it even more rewarding – and the best part is, you know they’re going to love it as much as you. It’s especially nice when you can let your buddy off-leash and let them really stretch their legs (because let’s face it, they need it more than us, especially when you are sick of carrying them).
But, as I’m sure you’re already aware, not all dogs are created equal. In fact, each breed has its own quirks and personality traits. Although this is great because it means you can nearly always find a dog to suit your lifestyle, it does mean that if you’re on the lookout for a furry hiking companion, there are a lot of factors to think about.
Here, we’ve brought you the best dog breeds for hiking off-leash (hint: not a small designer dog) and gone through some things to consider before picking your partner in crime – enjoy!
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The Border Collie is known for their intelligence, in fact, we’re pretty sure they’re smarter than some humans we know… They’re also super energetic creatures, and this combination of intelligence and energy is what makes them excel in their traditional role of a sheepdog.
It also means these dogs are rarely too tired for hiking, and they’re great to let off-leash because they really love to run (trust us, you won’t be able to keep up). It does mean, however, that you’ll have to walk them far and often – if you’re into casual strolls once or twice a month, this might not be the breed for you.
Don’t worry if you enjoy lakeside walks and river crossings either – these dogs make excellent swimmers as long as they’re introduced at a young age.
As long as they’re trained properly, as a herding dog, a Border Collie will respond to your commands (like all good sheepdogs should) and they love to play some fetch along the way. One thing to watch out for is strangers and little children – a Border Collie is not keen on the unfamiliar and prefers to be left to themselves.
They’re rarely violent towards humans but, if your usual hiking routes are fairly packed, you might have to consider finding some new ones.
Labrador Retrievers are one of the most common dog breeds in developed countries and are known for their friendly, lovable nature.
Although they may seem happy to hang around the house (they probably just want to be close to you), they’re strong dogs that need substantial walks to keep them fit and healthy – sadly, chubby Labrador retrievers are becoming an increasingly common sight due to owners not giving their dogs the exercise they need.
You can even let them burn off some energy by going for a swim – their water-repellent coats make them very well suited to swimming.
Originally reared as retriever gun dogs, are very trainable. They’re also exceptionally loyal so, once trained, you can be sure your lab will come running when told.
We also love that they aren’t phased by children, which makes them great family dogs, and they’re always happy to make new friends on hikes – perfect if you like hiking in big groups or along busy paths. They won’t usually make much fuss over other dogs – they usually only have eyes for their owners.
People often think of poodles as pampered dogs with big puffy hair when, in actual fact, they were originally bred as hunting dogs. Traditionally, they have a love of water, although if you want to be sure of a swimming companion, make sure you introduce them to water early on.
Their hunter instincts do mean that they’re likely to get distracted if they get a whiff of a nearby creature…but they’ll come running back once they remember they’ve left you behind or if you can shout them fast enough.
Generally, poodles are fun-loving and get on well with adults, children, and other dogs. They do, however, have a tendency to stand on their back legs when they’re trying to communicate with you (it’s actually a very endearing trait), but it can sometimes spook children so keep an eye out.
Poodles are very versatile dogs – they don’t need giant walks every single day, and they love to curl up on the sofa at home, but when they do go walkies, they really will go that extra mile. With poodles, miniature poodles, and toy poodles (like Cavoodles) to choose from (in descending height order), you can essentially choose how much walking you want to do, but they’re all fairly energetic.
Larger poodles can look after themselves on the trail, but the smaller breeds might need a helping hand if you get to any stepping stones or large styles – they are more convenient in terms of transport though (they can easily sit on your lap in the pub and won’t take up as much room in the car).
A German Shorthaired Pointer is a high-energy dog that is always keen for a long hike (or swim… or run) in the great outdoors. In fact, they love it so much that you should only consider getting one of these dogs if you lead a very active lifestyle – they definitely aren’t a breed that can hang around the house all day.
Originally trained as hunting dogs, they’ll most likely get distracted by any squirrels, mice, or birds you encounter on your hike… but they’re also very trainable and will come back when called.
They’re sociable beings and fun-loving too. They also love to make friends, making them a great companion for family strolls or hikes with friends. Another bonus of the German shorthaired pointer is, surprise surprise, its short coat – it’s way easier to clean than the coat of the German longhaired pointer.
The Australian Shepherd, like any Australian cattle dog, was originally bred to work and, consequently, are always on the lookout for something to keep them busy. This makes them a more than willing hiking (or swimming or running) companion who loves to greet everyone they see along the way. Although they don’t get super excited when they see another dog en route, they won’t be aggressive either.
Australian Shepards respond exceptionally well to commands, in fact, the more commands the better. This means they’ll always come running when called, making them well suited to hiking off-leash. As this breed doesn’t have the shortest hair, cleaning can be a bit of a faff when you get home. Other than that, the Australian Shepherd is a perfect hiking buddy.
Golden Retrievers are among the most popular god breeds in America, and it’s easy to see why. Their child-like personalities are full of optimism and they’re always hoping to please their owners.
This makes them super friendly hiking dogs that love to socialize with other humans as well as other dogs. Their need to please also makes them very responsive to commands, and they’ll generally stick by your side on hikes and not get distracted by rodents and other small mammals.
Originally bred to hunt and retrieve birds from water, these dogs generally love water. This is great because, if you find yourself too tired for walking long distances, you can play a bit of ‘swim and fetch’ with a ball and they’ll use heaps of energy in no time. Although not quite as spritely as Labrador Retrievers, these dogs still need a decent dose of exercise to stay fit and healthy.
Again, due to their light, slightly shaggy, coat, these dogs are a bit of a nightmare to clean once they get covered in mud but, apart from that, they’re a great companion for year-round hiking.
Boxers are a German breed originally used as guard dogs – but don’t let that put you off, most are big teddy bears really.
These muscular hiking dogs are very high-energy and hate being alone, so they make the perfect hiking companion. They’re super friendly with humans of all ages but aren’t so fussed about other dogs. Just keep an eye open when there are young children around – they can sometimes get spooked by the appearance of Boxers.
Also, like poodles, they will stand on their rear legs and paw at you affectionately when trying to communicate (hence ‘Boxers’) and, if people aren’t into dogs, this can scare them a little.
Their short coats make them very easy to clean after a muddy day on the trail, although it does make them susceptible to the cold if they aren’t running around to keep themselves warm – they won’t enjoy on-leash walks in winter.
They aren’t the easiest to train, and may ignore some of your commands if you take a laid-back approach towards training but, when trained properly, they respond just as well as any other dog. Although not natural swimmers, some Boxers will enjoy going for the odd dip.
Bred to work as both pointers and retrievers, Vizslas have above-average intelligence and respond exceptionally well to training, making them great dogs for off-leash hiking.
They are, however, a little on the needy side. They get anxious if left alone for a while, and are prone to going on destructive chewing sprees when under-exercised. If you have the time for daily hikes though, vizslas are extremely loyal and affectionate dogs that love nothing more than exploring the outdoors with their owner.
Despite their fairly large size, these dogs are gentle giants. They need a lot of early socialization at an early age to build up their confidence – if this is done correctly they’ll be super friendly towards humans and other dogs for life. However, if they miss this learning step, they can be prone to erratic behavior out of fear, which is not ideal in an off-leash companion.
Their fairly short coats make them super easy to clean after walking long distances and they love to swim – they even have webbed feet to help them in their watery adventures!
So, there you have it, our top dogs for off-leash hiking. Obviously, there are lots of things to think about when choosing a breed, so let’s take a closer look at the key factors to consider.
This all comes down to how much time have to spare. If you don’t want to go on a long walk every day, then go for a smaller breed. Alternatively, if you love longer hikes and have more time to spend outdoors, then go for a larger more energetic breed.
If you’re going to let your dog off-leash, then it’s crucial it responds to your commands – after all, you can’t have it running across the road or terrorizing every animal it comes across. A lot of this comes down to training during the early years – it’s very hard to correct bad behavior once it’s set in.
Intelligent, affectionate, worker breeds generally respond very well to commands as it’s something to entertain them and please their owner at the same time.
Although some breeds are known for being friendlier than others, dogs, just like humans, are individuals. No matter what breed you go for or how hard you train them, they can still surprise you with their behavior.
If your dog is aggressive towards other people or pets, then you can’t let it off-leash. End of story. This is your call to make, and if you get it wrong it can have terrible consequences for everyone involved, so make sure you think carefully about whether it’s the right decision.
Oh, and don’t forget to always have a first aid kit on hand, in case anything happens to either you or your dog.
Still struggling to make up your mind which breed is right for you? Let’s see if we can help – here are our top three dog breeds for hiking off-leash:
In terms of good old-fashioned friendliness, you can’t beat a good old Labrador Retriever. These dogs are always happy to make new friends on the trail (no matter how many legs they have) and their loyalty and need to please means they have great recall too – just what you need in an off-leash pooch.
Poodles, specifically miniatures, are our top all-round dog breed for hiking off-leash. They have enough energy for a full day’s hiking, but you don’t need to do this kind of hike every day (you’ll probably both be glad of a rest day).
Their size means their legs are plenty long enough for decent hikes, yet you can pick them up when you need to, and traveling with them in the car to get to your hike is no bother at all.
On top of that, they’re good with water and their big brains mean they know exactly what you’re asking of them.
But what are our favorite dogs for off-leash hiking? It has to be Border Collies. These incredibly intelligent creatures respond exceptionally well to training, making them super obedient dogs – perfect for off-leash adventures.
They also have boundless energy and make great companions for even the longest of hikes (or swims). Always happy to meet new people, they’re great for group hikes as well as solo missions – what more could you want in a four-legged friend?!