Camping with your dog can be an exciting adventure that allows you to enjoy the outdoors with your best friend. With a little planning, you can easily set yourself and your pup up for a successful camping trip. Let’s take a look at some items to consider before you head out.
Before You Go
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” When you bring your dog camping, you must plan for the comfort and safety of your dog, as well as that of other campers.
Health and Safety Check
It’s a good idea to take your dog to the veterinarian before traveling to ensure that his vaccinations are up to date and that he is generally healthy. This is also a good opportunity to ask your vet about the tick, flea, and heartworm prevention. If your dog hasn’t already been microchipped, do it before taking him on a camping adventure, and make sure that your current cell phone number is listed on his tag.
Additionally, be prepared for emergencies on the trip by packing a copy of your dog’s vaccinations and medical records and a pet first aid kit. Depending on your destination, you may also need to pack pet sunscreen, bug spray, and paw and snout balm. Keep a recent photo of your dog on your phone to show other campers if your dog should happen to get away from you. If your pup takes medication, bring enough for the trip plus a couple days’ extra supply. When traveling more than an hour from home, search beforehand for nearby emergency vets, just in case.
Find a Pet-Friendly Destination
Call ahead or check online to see whether dogs are allowed in the campground you are planning to stay at. Most established campgrounds allow dogs, although sometimes there is an extra fee, many backcountry camping destinations do not allow pets. Many national parks do allow pets in campgrounds, but sometimes the hiking trails or water features are off-limits. This handy guide allows you to check the rules for each national park easily.
Keep in mind that your dog will be your constant companion on the trip, so if you want to hike, swim, or do other activities outside of the campground, you will need to check if dogs are allowed on trails and in the water as well. Lands owned by the U.S Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are for the most part dog-friendly and allow you to backpack and backcountry camp with your dogs.
Unfortunately, there is no universal rule for when and where dogs are allowed, so you will need to check with the management of each destination individually.
Do a Trial Run
If your dog has never been camping before, introduce him to the gear beforehand, so he’s not overwhelmed in the new situation. Set up the tent as he watches and allows him to explore and sniff around, or introduce your pet to your camper or RV in advance. Give him a treat or other reward, so he makes a positive association. Introduce him slowly to any other specialized camping gear that he’s not used to, like headlamps, light on his collar, collapsible food bowls, his sleeping bag, etc.
Make a Packing List of Dog Supplies
First and foremost on the list should be your dog’s food and his food and water bowls. Bring the same food he eats at home to avoid an upset tummy. If this means you will be bringing fresh food that needs to refrigerated, plans to bring a cooler.
As with medications, bring enough food for the whole trip plus a few days’ extras. Keep in mind also that if your dog will be more active than usual while camping, he may need larger portions to maintain his weight. If you are in a developed campground, there will most likely be a fresh water tap, but check in advance and pack some water just in case. In the backcountry, you will need to pack in enough water for you and your dog for the duration of the trip.
Pack his treats and some toys too. If your dog is a chewer, bring a couple heavy duty to chew toys to have around camp so he can entertain himself while you are setting up camp, cooking, etc. If there is an area where your dog can be off leash, bring his favorite ball or fetch toy as well.
Next, pack your dog’s leash and harness if he wears one. If you are staying at a campground that requires your dog to be leashed, consider bringing a length of sturdy clothesline that you can tie between two trees or other stationary items. You can then attach your dog’s leash to the line in a way that it can slide along freely, allowing your dog to explore and move about the campsite while still being safely tethered.
If you are backpacking, consider investing in a dog backpack so your pup can carry his supplies. Wearing a backpack or harness can also help dogs stay focused while hiking, as they will feel like they are ‘working’ and will be less likely to expend extra energy by running ahead or going off-trail.
Your dog needs to be comfortable in camp, just like you. Pack a pad or blanket to lay out for him near the campfire so he can lounge comfortably, and a bed, doggy sleeping bag, or a few blankets to keep in the tent or camper. This way you won’t have to drag a dirty or damp outdoor bed into your sleeping area at night. Bring a few extra towels, just in case your dog goes swimming, or you have to bathe him.
Finally, don’t forget the doggy bags. The Leave No Trace principles apply to your pets as well, and dog feces are not only a smelly nuisance for other campers but can present serious health hazards for local wildlife.
You’ve prepared your dog, packed everything you’ll need, and you’re finally on your way to the campground! Here are a few tips to help you both have a good time once you get there.
Never Leave Your Dog Alone
Even if your dog is tethered, you should never leave him alone in camp. You never know who might come by, like unfriendly dogs from a neighboring camp, a tempting squirrel that causes your dog to bark and become agitated, or worse, a skunk. Your dog should never be left in a locked car or camper, as the temperature can quickly become dangerous or even fatally hot inside. Luckily, you have already researched which trails your dog is allowed on, so he can accompany you on all your daytime adventures outside of camp!
Find or Provide Shade
If you are camping in a warm location, your dog will need to stay cool, so choose a campsite that has adequate shade. If no shade is available, manufacture some with a tarp or canopy and place your dog’s bed and water bowl underneath it.
Always Have Water Out
Keep your dog’s water bowl topped off and check it frequently for pine needles, leaves, and other detritus. He will be having so much fun camping and adventuring that he will need to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. On the other hand, don’t leave your dog’s food out except at mealtimes. Most dogs eat their meals quickly and then lick the bowl clean so this isn’t an issue, but if you have a nibbler, allow your dog to eat for a few minutes every couple hours and store the food in the car in between feedings to keep critters out of your camp.
Check Frequently for Ticks, Burrs, and Thorns
If you are camping in an area where any of these pesky things might be a problem, check your dog’s entire body at least once a day. If not promptly removed, a tick can cause Lyme disease or other afflictions, and burrs and thorns can become deeply embedded and cause infections. For fluffy or long-coated breeds, bring a brush or comb with you to make this process easier.
Tire Your Dog Out During the Day
Tired dogs are more obedient and mellow, which will make your evenings more enjoyable in a campground. If your dog is bored or has too much energy at the end of the day, he is more likely to bark or act unruly, which is frustrating for you and annoying for your neighbors. Take long hikes, let your dog swim to his heart’s content, or play marathon games of fetch or tug. After all, you’re there to have fun with your dog!
Scoop the Poop
As we mentioned before, the Leave No Trace principles apply to your dog too. It can be tempting to justify leaving your dog’s waste in nature by thinking that other animals poop out there, but those animals are part of the delicate ecological balance while your dog is not. His feces can contain parasites and bacteria that could cause serious illness or death for wildlife. Plus, if you are in a developed campground, it is only polite to other campers and the management to clean up after your dog and be a good steward of dog ownership.
Now that you know how to camp with your dog successfully get out there and have fun, and don’t forget to take adorable pictures of you and your pup camping!