Traveling with a Small Dog

Small dogs aren’t ‘real’ dogs. That’s the misconception I, like many of you, grew up with. We had four large-breed herding dogs when I grew up and if you told me I was going to own a 10 lb. dachshund mix in my future I would have laughed at you. Like, movie-style spit take, laughed. Enter Oliver.

When I started looking for my own dog I knew they would be commuting to work with me so they would have to be on the ‘smaller side’. I was thinking 30 pounds or so. 30 pounds is still a real dog, right? And then I turned the corner at the adoption event and this scared little guy stared up at me with-straight-from-a-Disney-movie puppy dog eyes and I couldn’t ignore him. He had tiny little legs, a long wiener body and fluffy doodle fur — and, yet, he was somehow perfect.

That evening, I started wondering what I had gotten myself into. How is this guy going to keep up with all of the things I love doing? All the hiking and traveling. There’s no way he’s going to be able to handle it all. The very next day, I took him to my favorite nature preserve just to see how he would do and he literally came alive – just like I do when I’m enjoying the outdoors. “Okay,” I said to myself. “We’re going to be just fine.” Fast forward five years and despite his size, we have traveled coast to coast, hiked the highest peaks in our home state, gone camping, kayaking, canoeing, skijoring and even survived a two week road trip around the Great Lakes.

Person gives a dog a treat as they stand in water

In many ways, adventuring with a little dog is easier. He can fly in the cabin with me. His gear and supplies are smaller, they weigh and (thankfully) cost less. I would be able to easily carry him out if he ever got injured on a hike and I have yet to find something he is physically incapable of. 

Last year, when hiking a high peak in the Adirondacks, I thought I might have to carry him up the ladders of a steep section. I was literally in the middle of bending down to pick him up and he had already scrambled right up, easy-peasy. When he got to the top he was looking down at me as if to say, “What’s taking you so long?” In fact, I’ve gotten quite used to that look over the years. I often use him as an inspiration to myself and others when struggling on the trail: “If his little legs can make it, so can yours (or mine)!”

A dachshund mix dog stands on a rock in a forest wearing an orange jacket

The drawbacks? Well, there aren’t many. 

You have to deal with the “are you sure he’s going to make it?” comments at least once a hike. Small dogs have a harder time regulating their body temperature in cold or wet weather, so I’ve become an expert at packing doggy layers. Unfortunately, small dogs aren’t a deterrent to predators and sometimes can lure them in. (Oliver and I had a pretty creepy encounter with a pack of coyotes once which still gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.) I now carry a bear bell on my pack at all times and never let him hike off leash unless we’re with other people and/or dogs.

A dachshund mix stands in water with a waterfall in the background

Just like with any other dog, you need to research your hikes and adventures ahead of time. Do your best to be prepared for any situation. Know your own dog’s physical limits. Most importantly, have fun out there. There is no bond like the one created exploring the outdoors with your best friend, especially if they have four legs. And if you ever find yourself wondering if a little dog could do it, Oliver and I would be more than happy to meet you on the trail and show you they can!