What’s the best dog breed for an active outdoor lifestyle? I don’t want us to get into an argument, which is bound to happen when we talk about the best of anything.
And I admit I’m biased in my conclusion. But most of that bias has come from experience.
I ran across this online article many months ago: 10 Best Dog Breeds for Outdoor Junkies. At least the author narrowed it to ten. But she put my #1 choice in 10th place.
In another online article, Top Dog Breeds for Life Outdoors, my favorite doesn’t even make the list. What??
Here’s why I think the Labrador retriever deserves Best-in-Show for an active outdoor lifestyle…
Labs are known for their great temperaments. That’s why they’ve been at the top of the list as family dogs for decades. They’re easy-going, but game for any adventure you have in mind.
One of the breeds that made both the other lists is the Australian Cattle Dog, also known as the blue heeler. We had one of those. Yes, she was rugged, athletic and a goer. But her personality was nothing like our labs. She was independent, stubborn, sometimes ornery.
We loved her because she was ours, but I’d never get another one or recommend one.
Some of the other dogs on these lists have great personalities too. Let’s keep moving…
Great with People
You’ll meet people everywhere you go when you’re camping, hiking and getting around outdoors. Many of them will want to pet your dog, especially children. Having a dog who will return their affection is a great way to connect with other folks out there.
Many of the other breeds on the two lists above are ones I’ve encountered. They’ve been aloof or even downright stand-offish: Australian cattle dog, malamute, husky, Irish wolfhound, vizsla, German shorthair.
The coolness factor is definitely there with some of them, and some people prefer a one-person dog. But I like having a dog who loves socializing — both in our home and outdoors where we’re bound to meet lots of other people. And, again, especially children.
Aim to Please
Not that our labs have been 100% obedient, but as a breed they’re known to have an aim-to-please attitude. It just makes things more pleasant for everyone.
Some of the breeds listed as favorites aren’t known for this. I don’t have a lot of experience in this category with most of them, except, again the Australian cattle dog (who doesn’t aim to please!). But huskies are also known to be hard-headed.
Lest you think I’m about a power trip, consider the dog is a pack animal who will place him or herself in the hierarchy of authority. When you’ve got your dog with you outdoors — especially off-leash, in strange surroundings or among other people and dogs — you need your dog to know you’re in charge.
Here’s where we get down to business. Yes, labs shed. A lot.
What I’m talking about here is a natural coat that’s impervious to even stinky swamp slime. Believe me, our lab has been in it — many times!
She emerges black with muck (and happy as a clam). But once her coat dries, all that dried muck just falls right off and she looks good as new.
In all the years we’ve been camping with her, no matter what nastiness she’s been jumping in all day long, by the evening she’s laying contentedly by the campfire, looking like she’s just had a bath.
Not only that, because her hair isn’t long enough to pick up burrs, seeds, stickers and whatever else running through the fields, we don’t have to spend hours brushing, cutting off impossible tangles or picking out who-knows-what from a thick coat of hair.
Think about the coats on these breeds: golden retriever, Bernese mountain dog, old English sheepdog, Norwegian elkhound, collie. Mounds of hair and mounds of work to keep it looking decent.
One of the reasons we keep getting labs is our climate. We need a dog that can tolerate the coldest weather for long periods of time, as well as be able to handle hot, humid conditions. The lab is the perfect compromise.
Even though lab hair isn’t as long and thick as others, they were bred to swim in the North Atlantic working with fishermen. They can handle cold!
Consider these dogs named at the top on the other lists with short hair: rottweiler, German shorthair, Rhodesian ridgeback and vizsla. Unless they’re moving, they’re less capable of handling the kind of cold we have here.
And another, bigger group that would be hard-pressed to be much good through a stretch of hot mugginess: Siberian husky, Bernese mountain dog, collie, samoyed, elkhound, great Pyrenees, keeshond, Alaskan malamute.
No matter what the weather — 10-below, raining, hot and sunny, windy — our lab is ready to go wherever and whenever we are…for as long as we’re out there.
Not Too Big or Too Small
One of the things we all understand — those of us rating dog breeds for an active outdoor lifestyle — small dogs don’t cut it!
If you have to worry about your dog being carried off by an eagle or coyote, it’s too small for this lifestyle! Or if you have to carry them in your backpack when you’re hiking, forget it.
I’m not saying they’re not out there. In fact, some friends of ours had to bring their two chihuahuas on a 5-day Boundary Waters canoe trip with us. They made it through intact, but we couldn’t let them out of sight. Not the best breed for this lifestyle!
On the other hand, if you need a horse trailer to bring along some of the giants listed as favs, or they’ll take up half your tent, that’s a red flag to me. Breeds like: Irish wolfhound, great Pyrenees, Bernese mountain dog, mastiff.
Labs are the midway breed. Big enough to handle themselves in the wilderness, not too big where we have to leave other things behind to accommodate.
So that’s why my #1 pick for best dog breed for an active outdoor lifestyle is the Labrador retriever. None of the other breeds have the combination of all these great qualities.
They’re not a designer dog. They won’t attract a ton of attention. But they’re solid, steady, eager, active, friendly, fun and made for all kinds of weather.
OK — it’s open for debate — tell me how your favorite breed can top the lab!
Sharon is the founder and publisher of Active Outdoor Women. She loves getting outside in beautiful places to hike, paddle, camp, snowshoe, ski, ride—and encouraging others to come along! Besides maintaining AOW and her other website, Twin Cities Outdoors, Sharon writes and designs websites, newsletters, blogs, emails, books and other marketing tools for clients.