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Hiking with our dogs is a popular pastime for many people, and dogs of all different backgrounds, breeds, ages, and sizes can enjoy a good hike. While any dog could potentially make a great hiking companion, there are specific breeds that people may seek out for the express purpose of having a hiking dog. This includes the German Shepherd, which is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world.
But do German Shepherds make good hiking companions?
German Shepherds are an athletic, intelligent, and easily trainable dog breed. Due to these exceptional characteristics, they make excellent hiking dogs and can easily traverse a variety of terrains and trails and make for enjoyable companions out on the trail.
Below we will discuss why a German Shepherd would make a good hiking dog, how to tell if your German Shepherd is ready to go hiking, and at what age you can begin hiking with your German Shepherd. We’ll also look at what it takes to train a German Shepherd to go hiking, as well as discuss how to prepare for a hike with your German Shepherd.
What makes a German Shepherd a good hiking dog?
While a lot may depend on your individual German Shepherd and hiking situation, most German Shepherds are excellent hiking dogs. There are many benefits to having a German Shepherd as your hiking companion, but three of the biggest reasons are as follows:
1. They are athletic and enjoy being active.
German Shepherds are known for being an adventurous, courageous, and always on-the-go breed. They are generally highly active and need plenty of physical activity to keep them happy, making them ideal dogs for hiking.
Their athleticism is top notch, too. There’s a reason why they are one of the preferred breeds for police and military units!
German Shepherds, with proper trail conditioning, are capable of hiking for miles and for long periods of time. They tend to be a muscular, sure-footed breed of dog and can handle a variety of different terrains, elevations, and weather conditions.
2. They are easy to train.
One of the biggest reasons many people are drawn to German Shepherds is their trainability. These dogs are highly intelligent, motivated, and willing to please, which makes them a great choice for a hiking dog.
German Shepherds can quickly and easily learn all the necessary skills a dog should know before taking to the hiking trails. They also tend to have a fair amount of common sense, which can come in handy when navigating some difficult trails!
3. They can provide protection.
If you are planning on hiking in a remote area or if most of your hikes will be solo trips with just you and your four-legged companion, a German Shepherd also makes a great visual deterrent to a lot of wildlife or those who may wish you harm.
German Shepherds tend to get a bad rap for their protective demeanor, and just the sight of one may cause a would-be attacker to think twice. For wildlife, having such a large dog with you may scare off some smaller predators, and the German Shepherd’s keen senses may alert you to a potential danger up ahead on the trail.
This breed is also notoriously loyal and there are many stories of German Shepherds coming to the aid of their owners.
At what age can a German Shepherd go hiking?
As with most large breed dogs, you do want to be cautious about how much physical activity you do with a young German Shepherd.
Puppies under 6 months should not go hiking unless on totally flat, level ground and only for short distances and durations, unless directed otherwise by your vet. Puppies older than six months and young adolescents should avoid any hiking or terrain that may cause heavy impacts on their joints as this can disrupt the growth plates.
Because their bones and joints are still forming during this period, any impacts or extensive wear-and-tear on the growing bones can cause a young German Shepherd to develop arthritis, dysplasia, or other bone- and/or joint-related issues later on.
Once your German Shepherd’s growth plates have closed and your dog has pretty much stopped growing (this generally occurs around the age of 9 months to 1 year, though in larger dogs this can be much longer), then you can start taking your German Shepherd hiking for longer distances and in rougher terrain.
When in doubt, consult your veterinarian to determine if the hiking you are planning on doing with your German Shepherd is age-appropriate and physically appropriate for your pup.
How can I tell if my German Shepherd would make a good hiking dog?
Due to the German Shepherd’s athleticism and trainability, chances are your German Shepherd would make a good hiking buddy.
First and foremost, you should make sure your German Shepherd actually enjoys being out on the trail with you. Just because German Shepherds make excellent hiking dogs does not mean that your particular pup enjoys the hiking experience.
But there are a few additional things to consider before taking your pup out on the trails.
Your German Shepherd Will Make A Good Hiking Dog If…
Let’s look 3 factors to consider before you hit the trails.
1. Your GSD Has No Major Health Issues
If your German Shepherd is relatively healthy and is not suffering from any joint or bone issues, hip or elbow dysplasia, obesity, malnutrition, or a balance disorder, then they are probably OK to go on regular hikes with you.
If you have a German Shepherd who does have a health condition, or who is older, then it’s best to check with your veterinarian first before engaging in any lengthy or difficult hikes.
If you do opt to take your German Shepherd on a lengthier or more challenging hike, then make sure to properly condition them first before attempting the hike (just like you would for yourself!).
2. Your German Shepherd Has No Major Behavior Issues
A German Shepherd who is fearful, aggressive, or who has little to no obedience training is probably not the best choice for a hiking dog, unless you have the option to hike in a secluded area with them where it is unlikely you will encounter another dog or person.
If you do have a reactive German Shepherd and you choose to go hiking with them, they should be kept on-leash at all times and if you see an approaching dog who is off-leash, you should call to the other dog’s owner to let them know you have a reactive dog.
Putting a visible vest on your German Shepherd indicating that he is fearful or reactive can also provide a visual deterrent to those who may try to approach him, and a well-fitting basket muzzle can be used as an extra precaution to ensure that your dog and the dogs and people in his vicinity are kept safe while still allowing him the freedom to pant, bark, drink water, and otherwise enjoy a nice day out on the trails.
3. They Have Completed Basic Behavior Training
Part of being a responsible dog owner is ensuring that your
German Shepherd is safe out on the trails, whether on-leash or off-leash. Completing a basic obedience course helps set both you and your German Shepherd up for success when encountering other individuals (or wildlife!) while enjoying the great outdoors. It will also help if they approach a dog and just because your GSD might get along with dogs their size they need to be ready to meet smaller pups too.
Your German Shepherd should have basic manners for leash walking and should be responsive to your cues if you see an approaching person, dog, mountain biker, horseback rider, or any other person, object, or animal you may encounter on the trail.
If you opt to have your German Shepherd off-leash throughout the hike, make sure you have instilled a good, solid Recall so that you know your dog will return to you on cue no matter what. Teaching your German Shepherd Stay or Wait can help if you need to pause on the trail for any reason, and an understanding of the Leave It and Drop It cues are also a good idea if you are concerned your German Shepherd may eat something they are not supposed to.
How Do I Train my German Shepherd to Go Hiking with Me?
Thankfully, training your German Shepherd to go hiking with you doesn’t take a whole lot of extra work as long as your dog has completed basic obedience training.
The most important thing for your German Shepherd to be sufficient in is leash training. If your German Shepherd has no leash training, then he will likely be pulling you down the trail and it won’t be fun for anyone involved (except for your German Shepherd, of course!).
Proper leash training helps keep both you and your German Shepherd safe and makes the hiking experience more enjoyable for everyone on the trail.
But what about if I want to let my German Shepherd off leash while out on the trail?
There are times when it may be nice to let your German Shepherd off her leash and let her explore the wilderness with you. The decision to let your German Shepherd off leash while hiking is a personal one, and there are a few factors to consider before letting your German Shepherd off leash while hiking.
1. Consider Off-Leash Laws & Restrictions
The most important thing to think about is what the off-leash laws are in the area you are hiking in.
In many states and federally owned parks, dogs are required to be on leash at all times for safety reasons (for both the dog and the public), as well as to prevent any impact to the vegetation and wildlife on the trails.
Before letting your German Shepherd off leash, check the signage at the entrance to the hiking trail and make sure there are no restrictions to letting your pup off leash.
2. How Much Control You Have Over Your German Shepherd
Another thing to consider before letting your German Shepherd off leash while out on the trail is how reliable your dog’s recall is and whether you have good verbal control over them in the event you must quickly call them back to you.
While your dog may be friendly, many other dogs out on the trail may not be and your loose German Shepherd approaching an unfriendly, leashed dog may not go over so well. In many areas, the owner of the off-leash dog (regardless of leash laws) will be held liable if any damage occurs.
It’s also important to note that certain people are afraid of dogs, and a big German Shepherd approaching them may cause someone to panic. Depending on the area you are in, this could potentially pose a threat to the safety of your German Shepherd if a panicked person thought your dog was attempting to “attack” them.
Finally, wildlife and dangerous plants also exist out on the trails, so instilling a good Recall in your German Shepherd before letting them loose will help keep them safe from unexpected encounters on the trail.
3. Consideration of the Terrain
When hiking with your German Shepherd, before letting them off-leash scout out your surroundings and make sure you are hiking in an area where it is safe to let your dog loose.
If you are in rocky, mountainous terrain with steep cliff drop offs or in a desert environment where there is cactus, rattlesnakes, or other dangers, then it’s probably safest to keep your German Shepherd on leash for the duration of the hike, or at least until you get to a safer area.
Can German Shepherds go on multi-day hiking trips?
German Shepherds can go on multi-day hiking trips, provided they have received appropriate physical conditioning and endurance training.
If you are considering taking your German Shepherd on a multi-day hiking and camping excursion, it is important to make sure your German Shepherd is physically fit to complete the journey. You can work on conditioning your German Shepherd by taking them on frequent walks or hikes and gradually increase the duration, distance, and terrain.
It’s also important to include hiking sessions at different times of the day to acclimate your German Shepherd to the variation in temperatures. Depending on how difficult your multi-day hike will be and what condition your German Shepherd is currently in, this type of conditioning training could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months before your pup would be considered fit and ready to complete a multi-day hiking journey.
If you are bringing your German Shepherd with you on a multi-day hike, then make sure you have enough supplies to last for the entirety of the trip, including some extra food and water just in case. You should also have a dog first aid kit on you and treat your German Shepherd with a good flea and tick medication prior to embarking on the trip.
How far can a German Shepherd hike in one day?
An adult German Shepherd in good physical condition can go for 25 to 40 miles per day at an easy pace.
This is provided the temperatures are not too extreme, the dog receives frequent rest breaks and water breaks (including the occasional swim), the terrain is relatively flat with no steep inclines, declines, or uneven spots, and the dog receives periodic caloric boosters such as an energy treat or supplement during the hike.
This distance may vary based on the individual dog and environmental conditions, and a dog should never be pushed past a comfortable distance if they are in obvious discomfort, or it is dangerous for them to continue.
What do I need to bring with me while hiking with my German Shepherd?
When hiking with your German Shepherd, there are a few key things to take with you and I’ve included the specific products I recommend in each category:
- A good quality leash is probably the most important thing to have on hand. You’ll also want to make sure you have a reliable collar and there are a lot of options here.
- If you are still working on leash training your German Shepherd, a harness or head halter can also be valuable while out on the trails.
- A dog-specific water bottle or collapsible water dish are also necessities.
Of course, you’ll also needpoop bags.
- Don’t forget the a dog first aid kit either.
- If you are going on a longer journey, a dog backpack may also be a good idea.
- It can also be nice to bring a brush with you and brushing your GSD on the trail is a great way to reduce shedding in your home.
How do I keep my German Shepherd safe while hiking?
When hiking with your German Shepherd, it’s important to keep in mind his physical and mental state throughout the duration of the hike. If you notice him lagging behind or panting heavily, it’s probably best to take a break.
If your German Shepherd is injured at any point during the hike, you may need to turn back completely. It’s also wise to keep a dog first aid kit on hand so you can take care of any minor injuries or allergic reactions to something out on the trail.
It’s also important for you to keep an eye on the temperature and weather conditions. In extremely hot or cold temperatures, you may need to take more frequent and lengthier breaks and provide more water for your German Shepherd. While GSDs are better in warmer weather than shorter-nosed dogs like Rottweilers.
You should also keep an eye on your pup to make sure her paws are in good condition and are not exposed to extreme temperatures or sharp objects on the ground. Being aware of others out on the trail, as well as knowing what wildlife and potentially dangerous plants are in the area, will also help keep you and your German Shepherd safe while out hiking.
Hiking with your dog is one of the most enjoyable outdoor activities you can do, and a German Shepherd makes a fantastic hiking companion. It’s also a great way to build a stronger bond with your GSD. Whether you are doing a shorter day hike or a lengthy weekend hiking trip, this intelligent, athletic breed can keep up with you and does well in a variety of terrain and temperatures.
With proper trail conditioning and obedience training, you and your German Shepherd can enjoy many fun miles on the trails!