One of the most popular things to do during the spring and summer months is to head out camping. Who wouldn't want to when we have so many phenomenal state and national parks? For many of us, going on a weekend getaway isn't complete without our constant canine companions. Dogs can make wonderful hiking and camping companions, but before you let Fido jump into the backseat of the car, there are a few things to consider. This guide will get you started on knowing whether or not your dog is willing and ready for a camping trip, and how to prepare for and stay safe together while away.
Will your dog enjoy camping?
First, consider if your dog is a good candidate for camping. You might want Fido along, but will he really enjoy it? Ask yourself the following:
- Is your dog easily stressed or excitable?
- Does your dog have a high prey to the point of distraction?
- Is your dog highly vocal? - Does your dog dislike being tied or on leash?
- Is your dog difficult to restrain when excited?
- Does your dog have any medical issues?
- Does your dog dislike or get nervous around new people?
- Does your dog tend to wander, or have escape artist tendencies?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you might want to consider if your dog will really enjoy a camping trip. Being outdoors is highly stimulating and for a dog that is used to being indoors, it can be sensory overload and even frightening. Camping also means respecting wildlife and other campers, which means your dog will be on leash or tied up most of the time and will need to keep barking to a minimum. If your dog is very excitable, a barker, afraid of strangers, or likely to get overly wound-up around wildlife, you might consider a different kind of outdoor activity more suited to your dog.
However, it might be that your dog could enjoy camping but needs a little practice in getting ready for the trip. The advice below will help you and your dog prepare for a longer outdoor adventure.
If your dog is a novice at being outdoors but you really want to try out camping, then take a few short hiking trips to get him used to being outside on trails, around wildlife and new people. Work your way up from walking a few short nature trails in your area, to short hikes and half-day hikes, then to full days out on a trail or hanging around in a campground. The experience will get your dog (and you) fit and accustomed to being in stimulating places without going overboard.
It is also important to take time to get your dog used to being tied up or in a crate while you’re nearby, to simulate what it will be like when you’re in a campsite. Your dog might not be used to this, and will need practice in learning that everything is fine and dandy even if he is restrained as you move about.
Also, if you’re tent camping, get your dog used to being zipped up in a tent with you. Some dogs might think this is the height of comfort, but it might make other dogs restless. Practice being in a tent with your dog slowly until he is relaxed and comfortable staying in a small space with you for hours at a time.
Getting ready for the trip
So your dog is an ideal companion for camping and you’re ready and raring to go. Just like preparing for a hiking trip with your dog, there are a few necessities before you head out.
Make sure your dog is up to date on vaccinations, including rabies and distemper, and is up to date on heart worm medication. It’s also a good idea to pack proof of current vaccinations just in case.
Apply flea and tick medication on your dog. These pests pass a variety of diseases along to dogs, including Lyme disease. If you prefer not to use a long-lasting medication like Frontline or Advantage, then pack pest repellant wipes and a tick key, and do a search on your dog a few times a day.
If your dog is not already microchipped, consider getting this done before your trip. If your dog breaks away from the campsite and loses its tags, a microchip can help ensure he still gets home to you when found. Microchips can be scanned by Animal Control or veterinarians, and your information is pulled up on a database so your dog can be returned to you.
Check that the campground (and the specific campsite) where you're headed allows dogs, and check the leash regulations for within the campgrounds and on nearby trails. Different areas will have different rules, from where dogs need to be on leash to the maximum leash length allowed.
Packing list for your dog
- Strong, fitted collar with ID tags to wear at all times
- Sturdy 6-foot leash for walking
- 10-20 foot lead for being tied out
- Harness for hiking or being tied out
- Crate, if your dog is used to being crated
- Stake for tying out your dog if there is nothing else around to use
- Food and water dishes
- Food and water for the length of the stay, plus extra just in case
- Extra special treats to use for moments when you really need your dog’s attention
- Poop bags and, if needed, a smell-proof poop bag container
- Any bedding your dog might need, including a pad or pillow and tarp to go under it.
- Brush and tick key for removing seeds, leaves and other debris or pests that get caught in fur
- Safety light for your dog’s collar or harness for walking at night
- First aid kit. You can find pre-packed kits for sale online.
- A jacket or sweater for camping in cold weather with puppies, older dogs or short-coated dogs
- Contact information for the vet office closest to where you’re camping
Guidelines for staying safe and sane while camping
1. Keep your dog hydrated. Shade and water are two must-haves for a dog during a trip to keep them from overheating. Watch for signs, such as excessive panting, and take plenty of water breaks during activities like hiking. Don’t allow your dog to drink standing water such as from a pond or puddle. Standing water can harbor parasites, bacteria and viruses that can make your dog ill, sometimes even fatally so. Just as you would with yourself, use the water you’ve packed, or purify collected water before giving it to your dog.
2. Make sure your dog is supervised at all times. Most campsites require dogs to be restrained in some way, whether that is tied on a lead, in a crate, or in a portable pen. If you tie out your dog and your dog has a habit of chasing things or bolting, attach the leash to a harness, not a collar. Dogs that charge after wildlife can be seriously harmed if their collar doesn’t break when they reach the end of the rope at full speed. A harness is a way to make sure that if your dog has a wild-thing moment, you minimize the risk of injury.
Keeping a dog restrained is also a way to keep him from mixing with unwanted wildlife such as skunks, porcupines and venomous snakes. If you’re feeling unhappy about having to restrain your dog, just think about how unpleasant it would be if your dog had a run-in with a dangerous critter when you weren't watching.
A crate is a great way to provide your dog with a spot to curl up comfortably, as well as a way to keep him or her within the campground. (Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch)
3. Manage the noise level. Just as loud music disturbs other campers and wildlife, the continuous barking of a dog is annoying and frustrating. If your dog keeps vocalizing, try distracting him by playing tricks-for-treats (which is why you packed the extra special treats!). If it’s nearby people or wildlife that is upsetting him, try putting him in the tent with a treat, to block the view of whatever the trigger is until he calms down.
4. Keep your dog warm at night. Even though your dog has a fur coat, it doesn't make him cold-proof as temperatures drop in the evening. Place his pad or pillow on a tarp to keep it from getting moist from the ground, and provide a sweater or extra blankets if needed. Of course, cuddling is also an option!
If possible, sleep with your dog inside the tent with you. There are many nocturnal critters that you don’t want your dog mixing with, including skunks, raccoons and, depending on your area, bears. Your dog will still know what’s going on outside the tent thanks to his incredible hearing and sense of smell, but you keep the barrier up between him and whatever animals come to explore your campsite in the night. It is a good balance between allowing your dog to be your alarm system, and keeping him out of harm’s way.
5. Watch your dog’s activity level, and make sure he isn't over exerting himself. Plenty of exercise is great, and definitely desired when enjoying camping. While some dogs can go all day without slowing down, many (especially non-working breeds) can't. Yet many dogs don't show how tired they are, and try to keep going even when they really need a break. This is the kind of thing that can lead to heat stroke, exhaustion or other health issues. Pay attention to your dog's energy level and slow down the fun when it seems like he needs some rest.
6. Your dog’s collar should have your usual ID tags and rabies tag attached, but it’s a good idea to also have temporary tags that include your cell phone number and your camp site information, including the dates of your stay, so your dog can be returned if he manages to break away.
7. Check your dog every so often for ticks, cuts or scratches especially on paw pads, and seeds or foxtails in ears and noses.
8. And finally: Have a blast!!