Best Dog Breed For Wilderness Survival

If you have ever taken a trip and stayed the night or even spent a day out in the wild, you know that having a dog makes you feel a lot safer. Not all dogs are suited for the wild or can provide the protection that you would need, so you’ll want to consider your dog’s breed before bringing your pet out into the woods. 

So, which is the best dog breed for wilderness survival? Depending on the climate and time of year, two particular breeds excel at wilderness survival: the Belgian Malinois and the Akita. 

Due to the different climates that you may live or adventure in, it is hard to choose just one breed as the best.  Both of these breeds showcase similar traits and skills that will help you while out in the wilderness for short or long periods. In this article, we will be digging deep into these breeds so you can determine, which one is the right one for you. Further, we will be exploring 7 traits a dog should have to be able to survive in the wilderness.

Best Dog Breed For Wilderness Survival

As previously mentioned, one breed doesn’t always suit the situation – especially when the climate comes into play. The difference in fur length plays a huge role in the dog’s temperature maintenance, and short-haired dogs can’t thrive in freezing temperatures and vice versa. 

Thankfully, there are dog breeds that can handle: 

  • Stress 
  • Independence 
  • Intense climates.

These are only the basics. The Belgian Malinois and the Akita are breeds that have 99% of the desired wilderness survival traits, making them the two best dogs for living in the wilderness.  

In truth, you can choose whatever breed you like – but you’ll have to make accommodation for them while out and about. Sometimes this can be overwhelming or near impossible depending on the chosen breed.

The Dog That Would Survive In The Wild: The Belgian Malinois 

First thing you should understand about the Belgian Malinois: they are hardcore survivors. They only overheat when exhausted in extreme heat and only struggle in the cold when it’s under 10 degrees Fahrenheit. 

If you’ve never heard of them before, you can compare it to a German Shepherd. The Belgian Malinois is the same height but weighs a little bit less. They also have shorter fur that is made up of two layers:

  1. A dense undercoat; and
  2. A protective overcoat that is more breathable than a German Shepherd’s.

Belgian Malinois are easy to train as they are less stubborn and not as intelligent as some other breeds. They do happen to be very curious and become deeply engrossed in training.

The downside is that they can also be very energetic, and training at home might not work out, which forces you to hire a professional trainer

Although they are extremely protective of their owner and their family, they do not do well with intimidation. They make excellent watchdogs (perfect for nights out in the middle of nowhere) and can be trained to protect you while you’re sleeping or when you’re being attacked.

dogs that can survive in the wild
The Belgian Malinois is a survivor in the wild.

The Other Dog Breed That Can Survive In The Wild: The Akita

The Akita is a large breed that is not too fond of strangers but is very affectionate with their owners and their family. When appropriately trained, they will only be wary of and threatening to strangers that seem to be dangerous or intimidating. They can also be somewhat territorial when it comes to their home. 

Akitas are large and muscular and have thick fur coats that protect them in the winter. They are best for cooler weather or cold climates as they can quickly overheat if they become overexerted in the summertime or high temperatures. 

Unfortunately, they are more difficult to train and will most likely require a professional trainer to be obedient and get proper socialization. They are excellent watchdogs and guard dogs due to their intelligent, intimidating, and dominant nature. Even so, they are still great with children and are thought to be “naturals” when interacting and living with them. 

Excursions into the wilderness are great for Akitas as their high intelligence will cause them to become bored if they do not have a varied schedule. It is an excellent opportunity for them to be out and about without interacting with other dogs, which can become an issue, and have a high prey drive. 

dogs that would survive in the wild
The Akita make an excellent guard dog

Considerations When Picking A Dog Breed For Wilderness Survival 

You can’t quite bring any dog out into the wilderness with you: you have to evaluate if they’ll be able to survive or if you risk losing them while your out. For the most part, dogs have similar skills and qualities, especially if they have the same build.

What tends to vary is the temperament and fur type and length, both of which play an essential part in surviving in the middle of nowhere. Even so, there is not a specific quality or trait that is more important than others, and all must be taken into consideration when figuring out if the dog will be okay. 

The basic skills and traits can be narrowed down to:

  • Trainability
  • Fur type
  • Body type
  • Temperament 
  • Obedience
  • Sporting 
  • Breed health. 

Typically, if a dog excels in one specific ability, you can deal with them having a lesser affinity for another. You’ll need to make sure that you are prepared to compensate for their shortcomings or make the proper adjustments for your trip outdoors. 

1. Trainability 

Trainability is a fundamental trait required for a dog that can survive in the wild. You cannot bring an untrained or stubborn dog out into the wilderness and expect them not to run off

The dog has to be trainable, even if it is difficult. Otherwise, your dog will not stick around to help you out. You’ll need to make sure that your dog follows your commands and does not resist your lead.

They’ll also need to understand specific basic commands and respond to them from you or your entire group such as:

  • Sit 
  • Stay
  • Down
  • Come
  • No
  • Heel.

In addition to the basic commands, they’ll need to understand more complicated instructions while out in the wilderness:

  • Watch
  • Attack
  • Search
  • Drop (let go)
  • Speak
  • Fetch. 

These commands will help protect you and them while out in the wild. It can also provide a secure and respected bond between owner and dog. 

TIP: Do not punish your dog if it does not attempt what you’re telling it to do, instead positively reinforce the behavior you want by using a reward system. 

2. Fur Type

The fur type of dog is rather straightforward and self-explanatory.

It is the coat and the length of fur that determines how the dog’s body temperature will function in the climate you will be venturing into. You’ll need to be wary of extreme temperatures and double-check to see if your dog will be able to handle them. 

In general, cold climates are better for dogs with thick fur and warm climates are better for dogs with short fur. Whether the dog has a double coat or not will affect how well they can handle certain temperatures. 

dog breeds that can survive in the wild
Akita pup in thick snow. Look how thick their coat is to withstand the cold.

TIP: Some double-coated dogs can withstand a wide variety of temperatures, both hot and cold. They make a great companion for those who travel to a variety of places or go out all year round. 

3. Body Type

The body type of the dog is pretty straightforward like fur type. The exception is that it may be harder to discern body type due to the differences in body shape of each breed. Body types vary from tall to short, fat to skinny, and everything in between. 

When it comes to wilderness survival, you mainly want to have a dog that is muscular but lean. One that has a lot of stamina to travel from place to place but has enough muscle build to defend you if you’re in a bad situation. They also have to have good endurance to keep up with you if you move campsites each day or like to walk the trails. 

Another option is to have a very muscular dog with endurance. Muscular dogs are excellent methods of protection and can be better if you’re in a sketchy area or staying in an unfamiliar location. The main problem is that they may not be able to keep up if you travel fast, but they should still be able to walk throughout the day. 

TIP: Most dogs can be trained to handle long periods exposed to the weather as well as to build up stamina and endurance. If you put in the work, you can get great results. 

4. Temperament

Ninety percent of the time you choose a dog based on how well they can get along with you and your family. That’s not always a criteria when searching for dogs that would survive in the wild. You need a dog that will bond with you, but not necessarily your family. 

Dogs that are only loyal to their owners offer a little extra when it comes to protection but can be an unwelcome addition to a family. They can pose a threat to your significant other or children if they are deemed intimidating or dangerous by the dog. 

Your best bet is to choose a dog breed that can be trained to socialize safely with others while keeping their guard up. You can even find a breed that is protective of you but is still good with children (if you have children). 

TIP: Be aware that some breeds have a natural dislike of children and people and may not adjust – even with training. If you choose a breed and are unsure, check with a local trainer to see if they have any experience training them and what behavior they typically have. 

5. Obedience

Trainability and obedience go hand in hand. You may be able to train them to do something, but it doesn’t matter much if they rarely want to do it when you give the command. Obedience is necessary when out in the wilderness. Otherwise, both you and your dog can find yourselves in a sticky situation. 

An obedient dog is not too hard to find; it’s the training process that can make it difficult. That’s why obedience can’t be found in many protective, loyal, and friendly breeds, and you want a dog with one or all of these traits

To give you an idea of how to determine how obedient your dog is and if they are an excellent choice to bring out into the wilderness, you can try teaching the basic command “heel” and measuring their response:

  1. Start with your dog standing next to you. Hold a squeaky toy or treat in your right hand and the leash in your left hand. 
  2. Adjust your hands so that the toy or treat is slightly in front of your dog’s head. 
  3. Encourage your dog to look at the treat or squeaky toy as you say “heel” and step forward. 
  4. Your dog should walk beside you as they follow the toy or treat. 
  5. Make sure to keep their attention focused on what you hold in your hand. 
  6. If they get distracted while you are walking, squeeze the toy or wave the treat; praise them once you have their attention again. 
  7. Give your dog praise every time they look up at you or “check up” on you while walking. 
  8. Once you have gotten their attention for about 20 to 30 seconds, give them the toy or treat and lots of praise and affection. 
  9. Take a break and play, then try again. 

Here’s a useful video to teach your dog how to heel as well.

Teach your dog how to heel

You should try this for a week and then see how well they respond to it the next week. The exercise is less about doing the activity correctly but attempting to do it when told

TIP: Intelligence is important, but you should still consider a dog if it is not the brightest yet still manages to follow you when commanded. If your dog listens and wants to please you, these are helpful qualities in the wild, right?

Best Dog Breed For Wilderness Survival 2
Walking in the wilderness with an Akita

6. Sporting

Sporting is a set of skills bred into a group of dogs that have been developed over centuries. The dogs have been bred to take part in:

  • Chase and kill
  • Fishing 
  • Field activities 
  • Flush and retrieve game.

Not all dogs can accomplish all skills. Most can only do one or two – but they excel at those one or two tasks. 

The best sporting dogs are made up of one of four breeds, either

  • Spaniels
  • Pointers
  • Retrievers 
  • Setters. 

These breeds have superior survival instincts in both water and woods. Additionally, they have greater agility and natural traits (water-resistant fur, webbed feet, etc.) that put them above all others. 

Generally, sporting dogs rely on chasing-killing-retrieving instead of protection to help you survive in the wilderness. They can hunt for themselves, help you hunt, or track animals to determine a good hunting or trap area. 

TIP: Mutts typically make very well-rounded hunting dogs, especially when they have the physical features to back up their traits. Unfortunately, you will also be taking a wild guess if they have unconfirmed parentage. 

7. Breed Health

While a dog’s health generally depends on the individual, some breeds are predisposed to certain diseases or health issues due to their genetic makeup. These can be illnesses that develop over time or physical issues such as knee problems. 

These common afflictions can include:

  • Cancer
  • Obesity 
  • Heart disease 
  • Arthritis 
  • Allergies.

Some (or multiple) afflictions can affect a breed and cause their health to deteriorate quickly. Or it may label them as an unsuitable breed to bring out into the wild. 

In general, the breeds that have the most problems, and therefore should not be used for wilderness survival are:

  • Siberian Husky
  • Chihuahua 
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Border Collie.

These dogs are still wonderful dogs to have around, but aging and ealth issues could get in the way of a lifetime of wilderness trips. If you have these dog breeds and they are young and healthy, then go for it.

If you stay out for long periods of time and your dog is unhealthy, you may run out of their medication or experience symptoms caused by an underlying health issue, and in the wilderness, there is no vet nearby. Don’t risk it! If your dog is old or not in good health, please leave them at home.

TIP: Mixed breed dogs are a gamble. They could have a combination of the parents’ health problems, or the problems could have been bred out. Either way, you wouldn’t know for sure until the problem arises. 

Choosing The Best Breed for Wilderness Survival

All dogs can survive outdoors, unassisted for a period of time – some longer than others. Finding a dog that will be able to keep up with you while out in the wilderness may be difficult, but not impossible. 

Although you can choose any dog you want, try and find one that has the best potential to survive in the wilderness, such as the Akita or the Belgian Malinois. Aim for success and not for agony, which is what the dog will experience if they’re not meant for wilderness survival. 

Where To Next?

If you’re into the wilderness with your canine companion, there are a number of epic hikes throughout the U.S.A. Consider the monster Appalachian Trail, over 2,000 miles of nature. If you don’t have the 3-6 months you need to cover this epic hike, what about something shorter?

We’ve written a couple of guides so you know where the best dog-friendly hiking, backpacking and camping is across the U.S. We’ll be building up the number of guides as we go but here’s what we have right now for you.

Name and link to the articleState covered
Can You Hike With Dogs In National Parks?Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Utah, Maine and Virginia
Top Rated Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails Near Grand Lake CoColorado
Hiking With Dogs Off-Leash in Colorado (15 Epic Hikes)Colorado

If your outdoor dog adventures extend beyond hiking, have a read of these articles:


Michelle loves enjoying the outdoors with her dogs. She grew in a big house near the beach with German Shepherds. Nowadays, Michelle has down-sized her dogs to poodles, proving small dogs can enjoy the outdoors too! Her dogs enjoy playing fetch, swimming, and long walks. Michelle and her dogs enjoy escaping the city limits to hike, camp, and swim.

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