Best Off-Leash Hiking Dogs

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Traits to look for in a good off-leash hiking dog are dogs with a pack mentality, has good training with a good recall and is high-energy to keep up with you on long hikes.

Off-Leash Hiking Dogs

Is there such a thing as the best (or perfect) dog breed for hiking off-leash? As there are definitely traits to look for when it comes to an ideal off-leash hiking dog, sometimes it comes down to your relationship with your dog.

You can have the most unlikely dog, and it turns out that they are your perfect hiking companion.

That being said, if you are going out looking for the ‘right’ off-leash hiking dog, there are some things that you will want to look for.

Whether you’re buying a dog specifically for this task or you want to know if your current dog is up to the task, we’ll go into what to look for in a dog that would be ideal for off-leash hiking.

There is no better way to enjoy outdoor activities than with a dog.

Girl hiking on the edge of a cliff with two dogs off-leashduring a cloudy summer day

It’s important to remember that every dog has certain traits that are specific to each breed.  You must choose a breed that was (a) bred to hike; and (b) responds well to leadership, as your dog must pay attention and respond to you if he’s off-leash.

Finding the right off-leash hiking dog takes some research, training…and, of course, lots of love! So selecting the right breed of dog is very important.  Not only for you and your dog’s safety but to ensure that both you and your canine companion have an enjoyable time together.

What Are the Key Factors To Look For In An Off-Leash Hiking Dog

Now keep in mind, the majority of dogs are suitable to be hiking dogs for the occasional casual hiker, but for more serious hikers, there are specific qualities that you need to look for.

Age

First and foremost, you need to look at the age. You don’t want to take your 10-year-old Golden Retriever on a 10-mile hike.

Puppies under one year of age should not be going on long, strenuous hikes due to the fact that their bodies are still developing, and exercising a puppy too strenuously at too young of an age can cause permanent damage to them.1

On the flip side, older dogs can start to experience pain in their joints, and any strenuous activity can cause more pain and damage to your dog.2

Size

When looking for a good hiking dog, you will want to lean more towards larger dogs. Small dogs with their shorter legs will need to work twice as hard to keep up with you and will tire twice as fast.

However, if you do not plan on going on hikes for long distances, then a dog like a Jack Russell Terrier has been known to be a fantastic hiking buddy.

Physical Traits

You will want to stay away from dogs that have shorter noses or flat faces (i.e. pugs) as any type of strenuous activity will cause them to have more trouble breathing than they typically do.

Socialization

You must have a well-socialized dog.

Your dog needs to be able to respond well to you and follow your commands without question or hesitation.

The more people, pets, and surroundings the dog gets to experience when he is young, the better socialized he will be. If you’re getting a puppy and intend to train him to be an off-leash dog, socializing must be started immediately.

Hikers along the trail will often have their own families or animals with them. The last thing you want is your dog getting into a fight with other hikers or animals.

Pack Mentality

Look for dogs that have a pack mentality. These dogs are more likely to look at you as the leader and listen to your commands.

Energy Level

A dog with an eager mind and lots of energy is ideal. A lazy dog that would prefer lounging on the couch watching TV might not be able to keep up with the pace you set if you are an avid hiker.

Distance

Something to think about:  If you do not plan on walking a long distance every day, then a smaller breed may be what you want.

However, if you love hiking for longer periods of time and spending a lot of time outdoors, then a bigger dog may be ideal, as smaller dogs do not have the stamina that the larger breeds have. They also have to work twice as hard to keep up with you with those shorter legs of theirs.

Training

It’s important that your dog is willing to follow commands along the hike.  Your dog must know basic commands, such as recall, to be able to come back when called.

Socialization

You’ll want a dog that is very social with other people, children, and pets since you will often encounter other people, families, and their pets on the trail.

How to Choose The Right Breed

The ability to be trained is one of the most important things to consider when choosing a breed. However, not everything is related to training or educating a dog. Some dogs were bred to stay close to humans, while some were bred to fetch and hunt animals.

While the latter are very active dogs with great stamina, they must be under constant control so that they don’t take off after some critter. Huskies are a good example of this. Dogs like this will most likely need to be on a leash during a hike.

Lap or companion dogs typically have a great relationship with their owner and will typically stay by your side without a leash. With these types of dogs, the hunting instinct has faded over time, so they feel less or no desire to stray and will be more likely to stay by your side on a hike.

Mixed breed dogs tend to do well for off-leash hiking.

You’ll also want a breed of dog that has great stamina and great athleticism. You don’t want your canine companion to poop out on you halfway through your hike.

Another thing to look for is a dog breed that learns and follows commands quickly and easily.

Some examples of great off-leashing hiking dogs are:

DISCLAIMER

Always have your dog examined by a veterinarian to be sure that they are physically up to any type of intense exercise, such as long hikes or hiking on rough terrain.

Golden Retriever

If you’re looking for a dog that can keep with you on long hikes and loves people, then the Golden Retriever is your dog!

Golden Retrievers are devoted to their family and is a friendly dog that maintains its puppy-ness throughout its whole life.

They have tons of energy and are happiest when they are spending time outside with their family. Goldens need a lot of activity and exercise to be happy. They excel at taking long walks and runs. This is one reason why they would make an incredible hiking buddy.

They have incredible stamina and can weather all types of storms.

However, Golden Retrievers can overheat easily, so in warm weather, you cannot hike for too long.

These guys are very smart and trainable. Their intelligence allows them to learn new things quickly.

Goldens want to please their people, so a good training regimen, along with lots of exercise, is an ideal situation.

They want to please their owners, which makes them responsive to commands and stick by their owners.

They are very, very social and playful dogs and typically love water.

golden retriever off-leash hiking while playing in water

Goldens do not typically get distracted by other animals.

  • Highly intelligent
  • Extremely energetic and learns easily
  • Very strong swimmers
  • Very social dogs

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They are higher energy dogs that need exercise, so they may not be the best hiking buddy for the occasional hiker
  • They do require more grooming than a shorthaired dog and will pick up more ‘debris’ while on a hike.
  • They can overheat more easily than other dogs in the heat, so summer hikes will need to be shorter.

Border Collie

They are known as one of the most intelligent breeds.

They are full of energy. As they were bred to be herding dogs, they love to run and do not tire easily.

However, if regular exercise isn’t your thing and you are only looking for a canine companion for the occasional hike or walk, then this may not be the best breed for you.

Border collies also are excellent swimmers as long as they’re introduced to it at a young age.  So they are an ideal choice if you have to cross any rivers or streams on your hike.

As long as they’re trained properly, a Border Collie will easily respond to your commands.

The thing to keep in mind though is that Border Collies prefer to be left to themselves, so if you are hiking on busy trails, you may need to consider this when choosing the ideal off-leash hiking buddy.

border collie off-leash hiking

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Highly intelligent breed
  • Extremely energetic
  • Highly responsive to commands
  • Very strong swimmers

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They need long and frequent walks, so if you’re not a big outdoorsy type, then this can be a problem
  • They are not fond of children, strangers, and other dogs

Labrador Retriever

As the American all-around dog, the labrador retrievers are wonderful. They are incredibly intelligent and loving and are overall just great dogs.

They have water-repellent coats, so they are the perfect dog to take out in any type of weather.

Being friendly with other people and animals is a key characteristic of being a good hiking companion. These dogs have a ton of energy and love to be outdoors.

Their thick coat and durable paws allow them to hike through any weather condition. Their intelligence makes them easy to train, so recall commands will be easy for this dog.

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Great temperament
  • Bred to be working dogs, so they have incredible stamina
  • Great companion dog
  • Very intelligent

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They need regular and consistent exercise. So not ideal for someone that is not active.

German Shorthaired Pointer

The German Shorthaired Pointer was born for long journeys.  They were bred to be large and tough.  

This breed of dog will stay close to its owner, waiting for the next command. They are perfect for hiking off-leash because they love long hikes and the outdoors.

The German Shorthaired Pointer is intelligent and is able to pick up its owner’s demands quickly. This dog is very friendly and happy to meet new people.

The German Shorthaired Pointers are extremely intelligent, loyal, and are able to learn very quickly.

They’re also great with animals and children, so they will love being on a busy hiking trail meeting all sorts of new friends.

german shorthair off-leash hiking in the snow

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They love long hikes and being outdoors
  • Will stay close to its owner
  • Very intelligent and learns quickly
  • Very loyal
  • Great with children and animals

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • The German Shorthaired Pointer can become destructive if not exercised enough, so do not get this breed unless you are an extremely active person.

Irish Terrier

Although not a common breed, the Irish Terrier is a small and spirited dog. The dog has an easy-going temperament that makes him very adaptable to his surroundings and goings-on around him.

The Irish Terrier adapts very well to being on the trails.  His easy-going personality results in him loving to meet new people on hikes.

The Irish Terrier can be independent at times, so he will need ongoing and regular training to make sure he is able to hike off-leash safely.  However, they do have a pack dog mentality and responds to authority well.

Although Irish Terriers are prone to wandering off from time to time if properly trained, he will come when called.

The Irish Terrier would make an excellent hiking companion with a love for adventure.

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Extremely spirited
  • Easy-going personality
  • Loves to meet new people
  • They have a pack mentality, so they tend to stay with their ‘people.’

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They can be independent-minded at times, so they will need to keep their recall skills sharp.

Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd is a very active dog and is constantly looking for something to do. They crave an active lifestyle. Running alongside you on a hike is a great way to expel that excess energy.

They are extremely social dogs and have a strong pack mentality.  This makes him a great candidate for off-leash hiking with other dogs.

Australian Shepherds are a very loyal breed, and they love people. They are both intelligent and eager to please their owner.

They are also extremely intelligent, so teaching them obedience at a young age will benefit you greatly on the trails.  They listen and take direction very well.  They are crazy smart, eager to please, and extremely agile.

This breed makes a great hiking partner if you can keep them stimulated.

They have great stamina and can handle all sorts of terrains.  

With the combination of great strength and extreme intelligence, they make a great candidate for off-leash activities.

australian shepherd sitting in a field

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Extremely active
  • Very social and has a strong pack mentality
  • Intelligent and wants to please
  • Extremely agile

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They needs a lot of activity and stimulation. If you are not an extremely active person, than this dog is not the dog for you.

The Hungarian Vizsla

Vizslas are extremely smart and love to learn. However, they do need proper training and socialization. If they are not properly socialized, they can become very timid.

Vizsla’s are nicknamed ‘velcro dogs’ because they love to be by your side, which makes for a great off-leash hiking dog.

Vizslas also love the water, so they are great for hiking on trails with water.

This breed was originally bred as a hunting dog, so they need a lot of daily activity to keep their energy level down. It is recommended that they get at least 2 hours of off-leash exercise a day.

Vizsla’s are commonly known as ‘velcro dogs’ because they love to be by your side. Vizsla’s crave human companionship, so they are more likely to stick by your side on the trails.

hungarian vizsla running in the woods

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Extremely active
  • Very intelligent
  • Loves the water

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They need a lot of activity and stimulation. If you are not an extremely active person that this dog is not a good dog for you.
  • Due to their extremely short coat, they would not do well on long hikes in cold weather.

Boxer

When you hear the word Boxer, you think of a big goofy, silly dog! However, there are several traits that the Boxer has that would make them a great off-leash hiking dog.

Boxers are extremely intelligent and learn very quickly, which means that they typically can learn to be off-leash fairly easily.

Boxers love the outdoors and are very happy just running and bouncing along.

Boxers are also extremely social, and they get along great with other animals and people.

They are a tough breed with great stamina, so they can go on those long hikes with you.

Between their intelligence and stamina, they would make a great hiking buddy.

boxer running in a field with a stick in his mouth

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Extremely intelligent and learns quickly
  • Loves the outdoors
  • Very social

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Can be stubborn at times
  • Very energetic, so you need to exercise them daily – the casual walk won’t cut it

German Shepherd

Although the German Shepherd makes the list, I would say that they are towards the bottom of the list.

German Shepherds have many traits that would make them a great off-leash hiking breed; they do have some traits that would need to be broken before attempting this.

German Shepherds are strong, intelligent, determined, curious, protective, and obedient. When trained properly, they learn very quickly but really excel at being a guard dog.

However, I would not attempt to do any type of off-leash activity with your German Sheperd unless they are well-trained. Since German Shepherds are loyal and intelligent, training them to be off-leash is definitely doable, but again roper training is needed.

German Shepherds are very eager to please, so again, with the right training, they can make a great off-leash hiking companion.

In order to help solidify this, you will want to make sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise daily, as they may develop an interest in running away if they do not receive the proper exercise.

german shepherd running on a trail off-leash

Positive traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • Intelligent, curious, and obedient
  • When properly trained, they learn very quickly

Negative traits for an off-leash hiking dog:

  • They can be over-protective, which can be dangerous in certain conditions
  • Has a dominating trait
  • Can be aggressive towards other animals if not socialized properly
  1. Are You Over-Exercising Your Puppy? (Find Out Here)
  2. How Far Can a Dog Hike In a Day?

Do Siberian Huskies Make Good Off-Leash Hiking Dogs?

As they were raised to be sled dogs, they have the physical stamina to go on hiking trips; however, the general consensus is that they should not be left off-leash. There are always exceptions to the rule, but typically it is not recommended. Huskies are built for running fast, for long periods of time. They also have a very strong prey drive. Huskies are also difficult to train due to their stubbornness. That combination makes them a bad candidate for off-leash anything. My advice…keep them on a leash!

Is The Rhodesian Ridgeback A Good Off-Leash Hiking Dog?

The general consensus is that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is not a contender for off-leash activities. They have an abnormally high prey drive, so keeping them under control off-leash is going to be very difficult, and other animals could be at risk if they are let loose. Can they be off-leash at all? Yes, if trained properly and in the right circumstances; however, off-leash hiking would not be recommended.

Do Bernese Mountain Dogs Make Good Off-Leash Hiking Dogs?

Yes and no. This breed, assuming it has been physically conditioned properly, can go on hikes but with certain caveats. Bernese Mountain Dogs cannot go for long hikes in warmer weather. It is recommended that you do not hike with your Bernese if the temperature is above 70F. They also need to stick to easy trails so as not to put too much stress on their body. If your Bernese is well-trained and you are confident that they will listen, they can be off-leash.

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