Once spring breaks and the warmer temperatures start to come back, it’s time to have fun in the sun! And for those of us with a four-legged friend, it’s the perfect time to pack up our camping gear and hit the trails.
Camping with dogs is a fun experience, but it can be pretty intimidating if you’ve never done it before. There’s a lot to think about, but we’ve got all the details to make sure you’re ready to take your fur baby to the campground this summer.
Find a Dog Friendly Campsite
There’s nothing worse than driving to a campsite just to find a “No Dogs Allowed” sign. Thankfully, most campgrounds do allow dogs on their premises, including most National Parks, but it can still be hit or miss. To save yourself some headache, it’s always worth doing research online or calling ahead to find out if you can bring your pooch with you. Just remember that not all campgrounds are adequately staffed, so it can be difficult to connect with a real person if you try calling. Some websites don’t have dog related info either, so on certain occasions, you may have no choice but to drive to the campsite and check it out for yourself. If there are no signs indicating that dogs aren’t allowed, it’s safe to assume you can bring yours.
Once you’ve determined that you can bring your dog, check the leash laws for that location. Some campsites only accept restrained pets, while others are fine with dogs being off-leash, as long as they respond to verbal commands. Some places have rules that change depending on the season as well – dogs may need to be restrained during the summer, but can roam freely during the shoulder months.
Refresh Your Dog’s Training
Wherever you decide to camp, it’s important to make sure your dog will respond to commands. In particular, a recall command is vital for keeping your pet away from other campers who might not like dogs, or preventing them from getting too close to danger.
Sit and down are also useful when you’re preoccupied and don’t want your dog roaming around. It’s also a way for them to politely greet other campers in the area who might want to say hi.
And since we all know that dogs like to get into everything (and eat anything they can find), drop it and leave it are also important commands to teach them. It helps keep them safe if they’re tempted to dig into something that could be bad for them to eat. You can also use “leave it” as a method for telling them to back away from dangerous animals, like snakes or bears.
Know Your Dog’s Personality
As much as we love them, it’s undeniable that there are some dogs that don’t have a personality suitable for camping. Or at the very least, you may have to sacrifice some of the things that you want to do in order to accommodate their needs.
Does your pooch like to lounge around? A highly active camping or backpacking trip probably isn’t the best choice. Are they athletic and adventurous? Sitting around at a campsite for a few days might not give them enough opportunity to burn all their energy.
There’s also the matter of how bold or cautious your dog is as well. If they have trouble opening up to new experiences, you might want to ease them into the camping vibe by bringing them on a few picnics first. Otherwise, if they’re more adventurous with lots of outdoor experience, it might be time to plan that weekend backpacking trip!
Remember to be Courteous
We briefly mentioned it before, but you really want to take extra precaution against your dog bothering other campers. Keep them on a leash at all times, or make sure you have a rock-solid recall command, to prevent them from interrupting the enjoyment of others.
Ideally, your pet will always be by your side. If that’s hard to accomplish, you at least need to keep your eye on them while they’re running around to make sure they stay safe. Weather can change quickly, and various animals might make an appearance that could threaten your dog. For the sake of everyone involved, it’s best if you keep a tight rein on how much freedom they’re allowed to have.
And of course, we could hardly talk about etiquette without mentioning…you guessed it…dog poop. It’s just another reason why you want your pet to stay close to your side, otherwise it can be difficult to know where they’ve done their business. Cleaning up after your dog will help campers who come after you have an enjoyable experience, without stepping in any stinky surprises.
Camping Gear for Dogs
Just like you need certain gear when you go camping, you dog will also need a few items for a safe and comfortable trip. Here are few things that you’ll want to make sure you have before you set off for the campground:
Your dog will probably be sleeping with you, so you’ll need a “dog camping” tent that’s large enough to accommodate the extra body. Especially if you have a medium or large size dog, it’s safe to think of them as another human, in terms of how much space they’ll take up. If it’s just you and your pet, a 2 person tent should suffice. But if you’re bringing your significant other or a friend as well, you’ll want to upgrade to a 3 person tent (or 4 person tent, depending on how much space you want inside).
Pro tip: Your dog’s nails will put holes in your tent floor, if you aren’t careful. Spread out a blanket first, before you let them enter the shelter. This also makes it easier to clean up any dirt that they track in.
Just like you, your dog will appreciate a comfortable place to sleep at night. There are various dog beds and sleeping bags that you can choose from, but I’ve found many of them to be lacking in important areas. For example, some dog beds can be quite heavy, which is not what you want to deal with if it can be avoided. Especially if you’re planning a backpacking trip where weight becomes even more important.
Others just aren’t very comfortable for your dog to sleep on, preventing them from getting a good night’s rest. Which means you’ll also have trouble sleeping, if you constantly feel them stirring.
I’m not saying all dog camping products are bad, but I haven’t had the most success with them. Instead, I’ve discovered that most dogs will appreciate lying on the same sleeping pads that we do. Grab an inflatable air mattress and throw a blanket on top – I guarantee your dog will love it, and it will be a lot easier for you to carry around too!
Food and Bowls
Of course, we can’t forget to talk about one of the most important parts of camping. Keeping your dog well fed will give them the energy they need to tackle the day’s activities, but it’s not exactly convenient to bring a whole bag of dog food. Consider checking out kibble carriers, which are containers of various shapes and sizes that make it easy to transport dog food. However, if you don’t feel like purchasing another piece of gear, there’s no reason why you can’t pack the food inside a clear plastic container that you might have at home already.
As far as dog bowls go, you’ll want something that’s easy to transport and won’t break easily. Metal or plastic bowls are great for this purpose. If you’re backpacking with your dog, I’d suggest getting a bowl made from a flexible material that collapses to save space.
There’s no reason for you to carry all the gear, if you’ve got a big, strong dog as a companion! Grab a doggy backpack for your 4-legged friend, so that they can carry some of their own supplies on longer treks. It’ll take a burden off your shoulders (literally), and it will make them feel better knowing they have a task to accomplish.
Odds and Ends
Lights: Get your pup an LED collar, and don’t forget your own headlamp and flashlight. It’ll make nighttime potty breaks much easier and safer, allowing you to keep track of them wherever they go.
First-aid: Accidents do happen, especially when you’re living outdoors where things are more unpredictable. Bring all the first-aid gear you normally would, and don’t forget to grab your pet’s medical records, a recent photo of them in case they get lost, and contact info for you and your vet.
In the event that they eat something poisonous, it’s also important to have some hydrogen peroxide on hand to induce vomiting. And don’t forget to bring Benadryl for allergies, and self-cling bandaging tape for injuries.
Poop bags: You know you’ll need them. Make sure you bring an adequate supply – better to have too many than too few!
Treats: Always reward your dog for good behavior. Like poop bags, you’ll probably want to bring more of these than you think you’ll need.
Do a Trial Run
It’s always best to go camping with your dogs in the backyard before tossing them into the real thing right away. How well do they take to tent life? Does the wind rustling through the fabric scare them? Are their sleeping arrangements comfortable enough? These are important questions to answer before you attempt to camp for real.
Likewise, you’ll want to give them time to break in their own gear, like a doggy backpack. Give them a chance to get used to wearing all that extra weight, instead of tossing them into the deep end at the trailhead. It’s best to sort out these things while you’re still at home, when you can easily soothe their anxiety if they can’t handle the change very well.