So, your dog has talked to you about joining you next time you head out on a camping adventure. You love exploring the outdoors, camping, and hiking. You also love bringing your dog along for the ride wherever you go. Maybe you have fond memories of camping with your family as a kid, when the dog came along. It’s time to plan your next outdoor adventure with your faithful companion.
Camping with your dog, whether it’s just the two of you or the whole family, can be a lot of fun for everyone. These are some helpful (and important) tips about camping with dogs for the canine camping champs and the newbies alike.
Why Camping With Dogs Is So Much Fun
Leaving your dog with a sitter or at the kennel while you go on vacation is easier, but it has its drawbacks. Your dog misses you and you worry about them. If you go on trips a lot, it doesn’t feel right leaving them behind. You also miss out on sharing adventures and creating new memories with your dog.
Every dog parent knows the joy of watching the excitement as you pack, ride in the car, and arrive somewhere with the new smells and sights. It’s a big part of why we have dogs—sharing enjoyment of the simple and good things in life.
If you want to go camping and can’t find anyone who wants to go, your dog will be a grateful and enthusiastic companion. If it’s a family trip, bringing the dog adds enjoyment for the kids, making it a better trip overall. Sleeping next to your canine under the stars in the wilderness can also bring an extra peace of mind.
Adventuring in the great outdoors with your pooch is a great way to strengthen your bond, get fresh air and exercise, have fun, and de-stress.
Can I Take My Dog Camping?
If you haven’t yet taken a dog camping, you might be wondering if it’s even possible or allowed.
You can take your dog camping as long as you plan for the right trip for your dog. This will ensure a positive experience for you both. If you don’t plan appropriately, you could end up putting your dog’s life or health in danger. A trip to the veterinarian and consideration of your dog’s breed, age, physical condition, and training is the first step. Researching the rules for specific camping areas and best ways to prepare and pack will help you plan the right adventure your dog.
Older Dogs and Puppies
If you have an older dog, puppy, or a dog with health issues, longer hikes and strenuous backpacking are not the best. They won’t have the stamina for that type of adventure and they’re more likely to get injured or sick. Puppies should be at least 4 months old, with all immunizations before going on a camping or hiking trip. Puppies and older dogs can safely enjoy drive-up camping, with shorter walks or hikes.
Some breeds have physiological characteristics that are not ideal for certain outdoor adventures. Short-muzzled dogs (for example pugs, boxers, Boston terriers) struggle with more extreme heat and physical exertion. Long hikes, backpacking, and hot temperatures can be dangerous for these breeds, putting them at risk of heat stroke or other health emergencies. If it’s a more relaxed time, with short hikes and moderate weather, any dog can probably handle those trips.
Breeds with a tendency to follow scents or with a high prey drive, such as hounds, can be difficult to take camping. They are likely to get excited in a natural environment, faced with wildlife and a host of new smells. While they can be trained to obey your commands, it’s important to remember that they have these temptations that can lead them into dangerous situations in the wild.
If your dog has none of these restrictions, the map is wide open. Read on about how to prepare for the adventure of your dreams with your dog. Wherever you go, look for trails that are easy on your dog’s paws. Shaded trails, with a soft surface, are easier on your dog’s feet.
Places To Go Camping With Dogs
There are seemingly endless camping choices when it comes to camping with dogs. Research the campsites for those that allow dogs, the rules, and any extra fees. It is better to contact the relevant personnel in advance and confirm that it is possible to camp with the dogs. Most places where you go camping, dogs are allowed, so far as you follow the rules for that particular camping area. This includes:
U.S. National Parks
The National Park Service (NPS) is a federal agency that manages our national parks, many of our national monuments, and historical and conservation properties. National parks are generally pet-friendly. NPS allows pets in developed outdoor areas and on many trails and campgrounds. They also allow pets in some of their lodges.
However, some national parks do not welcome dogs. Such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Big Bend National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Zion National Park, and so on. Please contact the park staff before going to the park.
U.S. National Forests
The United States Forest Service (USNF), under the Department of Agriculture, manages all 193 million acres of national forests and 20 national grasslands. All of our national forests allow pets.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM), under the Department of Interior, manages 247.3 million acres of public lands across the country. You’ll find that most BLM lands are located in western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. These public lands offer many types of outdoor activity, including camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and boating.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), within the US Department of the Interior, manages fish, wildlife, and natural habitats. They also manage the National Wildlife Refuge System, which offers 560 wildlife refuges and thousands of small wetlands and other areas. This means over 150 million acres to explore, and most of them allow dogs.
Dog-Friendly Public Lands
All public lands allow service dogs, and most national parks allow pets in the developed areas. The national wildlife refuges, national forests, and wild and scenic rivers also allow pets on designated trails and some backcountry areas certain times of the year.
Closer to Home
If you’re looking for opportunities closer to home, seek wildlife refuges or regional parks in urban and surrounding areas. Many cities have trail systems within the city or close enough for a day trip. Most regions have drive-up wooded campgrounds within close driving distance of any city or town for weekend getaways.
Get Prepared Before You Go
Once you decide on your destination, you can begin preparing for that trip. You’ll want to plan the activities, so that you know how to prepare in advance and ensure a positive experience for you and your dog.
Choose a Campsite
Keep in mind that some activities are better enjoyed alone and some are excellent for dogs. Long hikes and backpacking excursions are ideal with a dog who’s fit and has the go-ahead from the veterinarian. Plan hiking distances with trail features that your dog will be able to handle.
Find the campground website for the rules about dogs and for information about wildlife and other possible dangers. Read up on how to best prepare yourself and your dog to stay safe in situations where you might encounter a lion, bear, rattlesnake, coyote or other wild animal, as well as dangerous insects and plants.
Safety and Health
Make sure identification tags are updated on your dog’s collar, and that microchip data is current. These measures become more important in an unfamiliar area and while traveling.
Wherever you plan to go, a pre-trip visit to the veterinarian is important. This ensures that your dog is in good health, current on vaccinations and preventive medications for heartworm, fleas, ticks and other treatments necessary for a camping trip. If you have a puppy, older dog, or dog with possible physical challenges, consult with the vet about what to be aware of to safeguard your dog’s well-being.
Look up the veterinary clinic nearest to your campground ahead of time and keep the phone number and address on paper with you. In the event that your dog becomes injured or sick while on your adventure, you will need to know where to take them for medical assistance, and without delay.
Know Your Dog
Familiarity with your dog’s breed gives some good insight into challenges and natural drives, which is important when in a wilderness setting.
Consider how your dog interacts with other people and animals. If you have a friendly dog, you’ll want to ensure he/she isn’t bothering other campers. If you have an aggressive dog, you’ll need to watch for this behavior toward other dogs and people while camping, so that you can correct it. If he/she has a tendency to chase or bark at wildlife, you will want to plan the right kind of setting to minimize barking.
A dog that listens and responds as trained is safest in the wilderness and makes for much smoother camping together. Brush up on their training and teach them some new tricks before you go. This and leashing are even more important for dogs with a tendency to follow their noses.
If you plan to camp a lot with your dog in an area with snakes, consider snake training for dogs so that they learn to leave snakes alone. This is effective in reducing risk of bites.
Acclimate Your Dog
Acclimate your dog to sleeping, playing and eating outdoors ahead of time with practice at home. Help your dog get in top physical shape with longer walks and hikes at home. This also helps toughen the pads on their paws for hikes and more rugged surfaces.
Check the Weather
Check the weather forecast and conditions for the area you’ll be visiting. Knowing the temperature ranges, precipitation, and other conditions will help you with knowing what to pack for your dog, or whether another time of year is more ideal. You’ll need to plan where your dog will sleep, whether you’ll bring a dog bed or sleeping bag and if he/she will sleep in your tent or his/her own tent.
When at Camp
Once you are at camp, a few guidelines will make your stay smooth and problem-free.
- Don’t forget to apply mosquito, flea and tick treatment as soon as you arrive.
- Keep in mind that while camping, your dog is your constant companion. Don’t plan to leave your pup tied up to a tether, in your car or tent, alone at camp while you head out on a day hike or canoeing.
- Keep him/her on a leash even while at your campsite. This keeps your dog safe, and helps other campers and animals feel safe. A tether gives your dog more room to move around safely. Set up your dog’s spot for hanging out in the shade, away from any plants, camping gear, fuel/chemicals that may be poisonous.
- Clean up dog poop appropriately. Use poop pick-up bags and dispose of the waste in the bins provided. If in a remote area, bury it or pack it out.
- Try co-sleeping with your dog. Rather than setting up a separate tent or leaving him/her outside for the night, let him/her come into your tent. Consider an attachable dog sleeping bag. You’ll both have a sense of comfort and stay warmer when it’s cold if you sleep together.
How to Introduce Your Dog to a Campground or Other New Environment
Take your dog for a walk on-leash as soon as you arrive to the campground. They’ll need to stretch their legs after the long drive, and pee. The walk will allow them to get accustomed to the smells and sounds of the area. Give your dog a chance to stop and smell often while on the walk around the campsite.
As you set up camp, make sure to confine or leash your dog with a tether nearby, within sight. Find a shady spot without dangers nearby (sticks, poison ivy, camping supplies that could be harmful.) Once camp is set up, make a comfortable space for your dog to be while outside of the tent with you, and their sleeping quarters.
Follow the Rules of the Campsite
There are some rules that are common at all campgrounds to keep the experience a good one for everyone visiting. Be sure to check online or call the ranger office ahead of time to check for any specific rules for your destination. In addition to the rules, there is a set of unwritten rules, common courtesy, that campers with dogs abide by.
Keep Your Dog Under Control
Keep your dog in sight, and under control, at all times. Even if you are at camp, don’t let your dog wander around at the campsite. A leash keeps your dog, other people and dogs safe, and protects the wildlife, flora and fauna. When there’s a risk of he/she jumping on other hikers on trails, keep his/her leash shortened to 6 feet or less. It’s also wise not to let your dog adopt other campers and families at the campsite—even if some of them like the company, not everyone does.
Yield on the Trails
Yield to other hikers and riders on the trail by stepping off the trail and having your dog “heel” as others pass. This keeps everyone safer. As a courtesy, tell people you meet on the trail that your dog is friendly, to communicate openly and to reassure your dog. While you know your dog is friendly, other campers and hikers don’t know your dog.
Don’t Take Too Many Dogs
Limit the number of dogs per camping space and on the trails. Two dogs require at least two people to manage them on hikes. More than two is probably too many to responsibly manage, no matter how many people are helping.
The “leave no trace” rule applies to dog poop. Clean up after your dog. Bring poop bags and carry it out, or a shovel for overnight backpacking. You’ll need to bury poop at least 200 feet away from the trail and water sources, without a bag, and 8 inches deep.
Keep It Quiet
Don’t let your dog bark uncontrollably. This becomes a nuisance to wildlife and other campers. If your dog is barking a lot, he/she may need a walk off-site to settle down. It could be that the campsite is not the best setting for your dog if he/she doesn’t obey commands.
Respect Dog-Restricted Areas
Keep your dog out of restricted swimming and children’s areas.
Activities To Do When Camping With Dogs
Being in a new place with the scents, sounds, and activity around them at the campground is an adventure for any dog. Setting up a safe area with a tether at your campsite will allow your dog to roam during the times you are at home base. Planning activities will make it an adventure of a lifetime for your canine and you.
Hiking and Trail Running
Select hikes for your dog’s age, ability, and temperament/breed. For older dogs, puppies, and dogs with physiological limitations, trails with level topography are best. It’s also a good idea to plan for short distances–any distance you go, you and your dog also will have to return. For small dogs, a dog carrier backpack allows you longer hikes. Other dogs enjoy a more challenging hike with more of a workout. Make sure to keep your dog leashed at all times, according to rules.
Bring poop bags and carry it out, or a shovel for overnight backpacking. You’ll need to bury poop at least 200 feet away from the trail and water sources, without a bag, and 8 inches deep. Pack enough food and water for you and your dog, depending on the length of the hike. Keep in mind that in an emergency you may need to carry your dog. Bring the dog first aid kit. Some dog gear can be especially handy, such as collapsible water bowl, backpack for your dog, and dog shoes.
If your dog is a water lover, taking him/her out in the canoe or raft will be a special treat. Plan ahead to ensure your dog feels comfortable and safe psychologically and physically. This means making sure the bottom of the canoe allows traction for your dog so he/she isn’t sliding around. A platform inside a canoe allows your dog to see out and avoid getting soaked with water. Be sure to bring a towel and dog floatation device for safety. Never leash your dog to the boat.
Another fun activity for water-loving dogs is swimming. If your dog is a swimmer or a breed that is known for it, look for an adventure that has water features.
The Most Common Dangers and Threats to Dogs While Hiking
Keeping your dog safe while camping means watching their environment and their behavior and condition. There are some precautions you’ll need to take. These are some of the most common dangers to dogs in the wilderness.
Freezing or hot temperatures, snow and ice, and dehydration can be dangerous. Stay in the shade when it’s hot and keep enough water on hand.
Watch your dog’s breathing and heart rate after hikes.
Avoid cliffs, steep trails, and unstable surfaces. Use a harness or doggie backpack with handle.
Rough surfaces and rocks can injure paws. Pack booties and watch for limping.
Wildlife and Insects
Ticks, mosquitos, scorpions, snakes, coyotes, bears, lions are all potential threats. Find out which ones to watch for at your campground.
Poison oak, poison ivy, sumac, mushrooms, and hemlock and prickly plants (burrs, foxtails, thorns, and cacti) can hurt your dog. Make sure your dog isn’t grazing.
Drinking water contaminated with Leptospirosis, coccidia, or giardia can make your dog sick. Watch for diarrhea, vomiting, weakness. If here there are cattle or campers, don’t let her drink from lakes or streams and stay away from stagnant water.
Remember that your pooch is a domestic animal and won’t necessarily know how to survive in the wild.
What to Pack for a Camping Trip With Your Dog
Knowing what to pack is an important part of planning your camping adventure with your dog. When it comes to packing, there are some essentials for camping, and some items that are nice to have with you. What you bring depends on the type of trip you’re going on, the activities you plan, your dog, and your personal choices.
We all know how important it is to have adequate sustenance while adventuring. You need to keep your energy levels up when you’re hiking, backpacking, rowing a canoe. When it’s cold, you need more food.
Adequate food for your dog on a camping trip is equally crucial. Just like we do, dogs need more food while camping. In addition to usual food amounts, you should pack one additional cup per meal for each 20 pounds of your dog’s weight. During high-activity times, bring a high-protein dry food with adequate fat levels to keep your pooch going. If you’re going on an extended camping trip, consider taking a high-protein dehydrated dog food, which weighs less but gives your dog the energy he/she will need.
Keep in mind that your dog’s energy levels and food needs will be similar to yours. If you’re hungry, your dog probably is too. Give her/him a small amount an hour before hiking, and small portions throughout the day to sustain energy. Especially if you’re super active that day and when it’s cold, you’ll both need more food.
Take enough water for you and your dog. For large dogs, one half to a full ounce of water per pound per day should be enough, and for small dogs 1.5 ounces per pound per day. A golden retriever, for example, needs half a gallon of water per day. You’ll need to adjust the amounts depending on the weather and temperature outside. When you need water, offer your dog water.
Remember that it’s best to keep your dog away from standing water and other water sources, as they may be contaminated.
Nobody wants to end up needing one, but we always need to have a first aid kit handy, especially when exploring the great outdoors while camping and hiking. Your dog needs a specialized first aid pack, too.
A visit to the veterinarian ahead of time will provide your dog with any medications and vaccinations that are important to get before leaving on your trip. Make sure to bring any medications your dog needs, contact information and address for the veterinarian closest to your campsite.
Your dog-specific first aid kit should include:
- Heavy and liquid bandage types.
- Vetrap non-stick pet bandaging (this type will stick over the fur).
- Pet-friendly antiseptic.
- Antibiotic ointment.
- Tweezers and swabs.
- Blood-clotting powder.
- Saline solution.
- Tecnu for poison plants.
- Heatstroke prevention kit: a handkerchief to wet and tie around the neck or femoral artery on inner thigh, alcohol pads or instant ice packs to apply to paws to cool off.
Equipment To Pack
You don’t want to end up having to head home early because you weren’t prepared. Having the right equipment while camping will help keep you and your dog safe and comfortable while you are exploring. You’ll want to make sure your dog will be warm enough when it’s cold, cool enough when it’s hot, securely and safely restrained, comfortable, safe, and healthy during excursions.
- A good, well-fitted collar or harness.
- Up-to-date ID tags for collar and microchip with current data.
- Seatbelt or restraint for dog kennel for the car ride.
- Extendable leash of the right strength for your dog’s weight and strength.
- Biodegradable poop bags to keep with the dog at all times for clean-up.
- Dog bedding (bed, blanket, air mattress from home is best for familiarity and comfort).
- Tarp to go underneath bedding to keep it dry.
- Padding to put under dog bed, for warmth. In really cold weather, place something warm over you’re your dog at night.
- Dog sleeping accommodations (bag, tent, pad, crate).
- A tether and stake for the leash. A tie-out cable secured between two trees or stakes to allow your dog to move around while secured is best. One that has springs to allow extra give when they bolt is also preferable.
- An absorbent dog towel, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
- Booties or socks. You can even make your own.
- Non-DEET dog mosquito repellent.
- A tick key for removing ticks easily.
- A brush.
- Paw salve for your dog’s dry, cracked pads.
- Floatation device/life jacket for water adventures.
- A dog carrier backpack for hiking with small dogs.
- Dicky bag that you can attach to your belt to hold poop bags while you hike or walk.
- Dog tent or dog sleeping bag that attaches to yours is good to have, especially in cold weather.
- A platform for the canoe floor, so your dog can see over the edge of the boat and to stay dry.
- Favorite toys and comfort items like blankets!
- An LED collar or glow stick or flashlight for your dog’s collar so you can see your dog in the dark.
How to Fit and Load a Dog’s Pack
For hiking and backpacking, you’ll want to have a properly fitted pack for your dog, to carry his/her food and water supplies. You needs to fit the pack so that the harness is secure but not so tight that it chafes. If you can remove the saddlebags first, this will help with checking for the fit. You should be able to fit two fingers under it. Pack the bags with your dog’s food, treats and water, bowls, and any other supplies. Some packs have built-in water bladders.
Make sure that the two sides have equal weight. The total load should be no more than one-third of your dog’s weight. Weigh the bag before the hiking trip to make sure it’s balanced and that it’s not too heavy for your dog.
Canine Adventure Awaits!
With a little planning and the right gear, you can explore the joy that is camping with dogs. Pick the destination that’s right for you and your dog companion and start preparing for this exciting journey.
A whole new world of wilderness exploration awaits, with your canine by your side. It’ll be an adventure of a lifetime!
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