I’ve camped with my fluffy friend, Chester, around Steens Mountain in Oregon, along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, in Clingmans Dome, and in Acadia National Park in Maine. Usually, the days are spent hiking while the nights are for cuddling by the fire as we watch the stars.
Chester is a Labrador retriever mix who loves hiking and swimming around the campground.
Like other dogs, he’s always out to explore the nooks and crannies; play with the vast amounts of dirt, and keep hundreds of squirrels in check. I’d say the campsite is dog heaven for my outdoorsy pet.
But camping is not always sunshine and smiles, especially when I fail to make proper arrangements. Camping becomes a trickier affair when your four-legged friend accompanies you. You must conduct extensive research about your campground, bring the right gear, prepare your pet for the trip, and familiarize him/her with the camping environment.
However, over the years, I have learned some tricks that make the camping experience safe, smooth, and worthy. They are:
1. Find a Suitable Camping Site
You should never assume your pup is welcome to any campsite. While several places allow campers to bring their pets, you should consider sites that are pet-friendly; or maybe opt for backcountry camping. When finding a location, you need to factor in your dog’s temperament. If your doggo hates foot traffic, for example, he won’t appreciate the many footsteps near your tent.
You may want to consider a secluded patch of land to avoid annoying him. If you are considering a park, seek advice from park rangers because they have a wealth of information about the places that are dog-friendly, private, and have the best nature trails.
If you are going somewhere other than the park, then this is the time to conduct some extensive research about your new location. Call ahead and do some online digging to get a better understanding of the place you will be visiting and if dogs are allowed. You don’t want to find a No Dogs Allowed sign after you have traveled with your tail-wagger for 150 miles.
After you’ve found a place that allows dogs, look out for these on-site facilities:
- Sufficient space for playing and walking your dog
- Designated dog bathing areas where your animal can cool off when it gets too warm
This is also the time to conduct your trail research. Depending on your hiking plans, you want your dog to hike with minimal difficulty while both of you have fun. Once you are convinced that everything is fine, book your campsite in advance to avoid any surprises and mark the date on your calendar.
2. Organize a Pre-trip Vet Visit and Get Your Medical Records in Order
After you have secured your campsite, it is advisable to visit a veterinarian before heading out. You want to be sure Fido is healthy and fit enough for the trip. You also want to make sure his flea and tick medications are up to date.
Vets should recommend the best preventative tick, fleas, and heartworm medications.
They should also advise on the best vaccines for various diseases and establish the safety of the water around your campsite – especially if the place is new. You may even get help about the nearest accredited veterinarian service in case of an emergency.
Be particularly wary of ticks because once you are outdoors, the chances that a one will cling on your dog are high. There are all kinds of parasites and insects out there, and the only way to keep your dog from their discomfort is by applying flea and tick medication before you hit the road. Let the veterinarian show you how to get off a tick from Fido’s body.
After the checkup and approval, its time to get all the medical documents in order. Fido needs an updated license and ID tag together with any materials that can confirm recent vaccinations. Otherwise, if he is bitten by something and needs urgent medical attention, quarantining may be the only option – if you cannot provide any proof of a rabies shot. Some parks require evidence of rabies protection before your pet is allowed inside their facility. Vaccination records and a certificate of health will likely be asked for if you are planning on crossing a national border or if you take a detour and check into a pet hotel. You may also need to provide proof of rabies and distemper vaccinations.
Copies of the medical records need to go in your glove compartment. You also need to have your vets number somewhere in case some questions need to be answered.
3. Get Your Dog an ID Tag and Microchip/GPS Collar
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having an updated ID tag, microchip, or GPS collar when taking your pooch to unfamiliar territories. I’ve witnessed firsthand devastating incidents where pets get lost in the woods and are handed to animal shelters because their owners failed to find them. Sadly, sometimes these animals get euthanized and disappear from the face of the earth.
Some of these lost dogs are usually equipped with identification collars or tags, but because they spend so much time astray and in harsh weather conditions, their tags slip, or the writing becomes unreadable. It then becomes a problem to trace their owners, and their life hangs on the balance. Save yourself this kind of stress and get a custom ID tag. The tag needs to be current with all your contact information and any critical vaccination info. You can also let the vet microchip your furry goofball.
A microchip contains a radio transmitter that communicates with an electronic device to reveal any information about your dog or your contact details. I recommend it because it eliminates any chances of your dog getting lost forever. GPS collars are great if you are not for the chip idea.
Pets get lost when they are introduced to a scary and new environment, and you don’t want your camping to turn into a search and rescue mission.
4. Evaluate Your Dog’s Camping Personality
Can your hound be left off-leash in public/common areas? Or does he need to be tied because he likes to roam and intrude on the neighbors?
Your agenda is to assess your dog’s camp-readiness and establish whether he/she is ready for the outdoor experience. You need to understand if little Romeo is feisty or relaxed, and whether he is athletic and prepared to climb the park hills.
If you know he is aggressive around other people or animals, don’t take him. Camping is supposed to be a relaxing experience, and no one wants to hear constant or excessive barking from a German Shepherd who is ten tents away. I remember this one time when we were camping along the banks of River Severn in the UK, and there was this annoying mutt that used to bark every morning and evening. He was so irritating.
I am not a smug dog owner who has a perfectly behaved dog, but I know when one is a nuisance, and that mutt was. If that’s not all, he continually embarrassed the owner – who was calling him back – by ignoring her when a pretty leashed Collie walked by. The poor lady had to yell a couple of times and make angry faces before the mischievous dog listened. Of course, you should expect your well-behaved dog to go astray occasionally when he is excited and in unfamiliar surroundings. However, the extent of mischievousness should not be unbearable.
5. Prepare Doggy for the Trip
It doesn’t matter whether Gracie runs for a whole hour in the dog park. She may not be prepared for a 10-mile hike in the Appalachian trail. Therefore, you should not risk giving her a task she can’t handle. First, take her on a few practice hikes before your main camping trip. Choose trails that have a similar terrain to the one you will be exploring.
You may also use this time to familiarize her with the tent, mostly if she is used to sleeping in a bed that is quiet and familiar. Gracie may find the idea of sleeping in a tent nerve-wracking, and you need to let her know it’s okay. Set up a tent in your backyard and spend the night inside with her. If she freaks out, at least you know how to handle the situation, and you will figure out what needs to be done.
She needs all the at-home exposure you can give her, so she doesn’t go bonkers when you are out there in the middle of nowhere. When Chester was new in the game, I used to let him hover around my camping gear and watch while I set up the tent in the backyard. I would also use a flashlight around him when walking in the yard to get him used to the bright light.
Everyone hates a dog that yaps and barks constantly, and if you notice your pet doing that, then you may want to consider refreshing her camp training. Work on your commands because you will need to keep her out of danger and make her understand when to let things go. I’ve been doing some outdoor training sessions before every trip, and they always work wonders.
6. Protect Your Dog
Long live the leash!
It's one of the essential items to bring along if you want to protect your dog from danger. Some places have dangerous wild animals like bears and tigers, which may pose a threat to your beloved dog. Leashing also protects your pet from playing in bushes that may have poisonous plants. To guarantee some security, your dog should at least not have a problem with the leash. After all, leashing is a rule in most campgrounds as it helps in protecting dogs from wandering into danger.
But again, never leave Sandra tied up and unattended. You will be putting her in danger of being attacked by wild animals, and if she gets attacked, she will be unable to defend herself. Tying a dog and leaving it unattended increases the chances of barking and may attract wildlife to your campsite.
When its play time, don’t let her chase deer or other wildlife because wild animals are uncomfortable around an aggressive dog. Some campers think it’s okay to let their dogs bark at birds, but it’s not.
You will regularly have to use your call command and your leash to keep your dog away from fellow campers, especially if your pooch is moody or snappy. In fact, let your dog be near you always and never leave him/her unattended; whether it is in the car or the tent. There are a host of unpredictable things that can happen, from wildlife to harsh weather conditions.
Whenever we’re camping, and my hands are tied, I always use a tie-out on Chester. It gives me a piece of mind that he cannot wander off into the wild or go around chasing wildlife. Mind you; there are squirrels running around and plenty of new things to pee on and smell. A tie-out gives a dog enough space to move around while being within the required area. Carry a crate if your dog is trained to use one.
7. Prepare for Emergencies
Know where you can find the nearest 24-hour vet. Don’t wait until a rattlesnake bites your mutt before you start panicking while you look for a doctor. Nature is always unpredictable, and so are dogs. Also, bring the following dog-specific first aid items:
- Booties for injured claws (Small socks may work fine)
- A portable first aid book for treating dogs
- A bandana that you may use to make a makeshift muzzle
- A fold-up blanked for extreme cold or shock
- Tweezers and mineral oil for ticks
- Needle-nose pliers for porcupine quill or large thorns
I always use sunscreen around Chester’s nose area and spray him with mosquito spray to keep off those little pesky flies.
8. Gear Up with the Necessities
Start with the essentials. To keep yourself organized, print out a checklist of all your crucial items.
The two things I consider the most important are water and food. Carry plenty of water, especially if there won’t be a source of safe drinking water. Fido should not drink still water or salt water. Also, carry enough food in your portable collapsible bowls. Other necessities are:
- Leash, tether, and stake – it doesn’t matter if your dog is comfortable off-leash.
- Dog meds
- Sleeping pad and blanket
- Packable filtration system if you are going to rely on a water source around the site
- Pillow for your dog to sleep on
- The first aid kid mentioned above
- Dog sleeping gear
- Thermal jacket for the cold nights
- Poop bags – Most campers overlook poop bags, but these packets are important to keep the trail clean and to keep off unwanted animals. Picking up after your dog is a general doggie rule and is not only restricted to dog parks. It’s unacceptable to leave your dog’s mess around the trails or campsite
Keep in mind that you don’t want to overpack and have too much luggage to carry around. If you are going to hike or trek into the campsite, then you may consider a dog pack. With the package, your dog can carry its water, food, and treats. Dog packs are also great for carrying smaller items during hikes.
9. Bring Other Important Extras
Those are the essentials. What about the extras?
These items come second, and you should only consider them if you still have enough space. They are:
- Extra towels and blankets for chilly nights, a swim, or unexpected messes. Towels come handy after Chester swims and I don’t want him to get into his sleeping bag wet. There are also times when he will decide to dive into muddy swamps, and I always have a towel allocated for that kind of a mess.
- A pop-up tent or canopy for the extra shade. Dogs sometimes get overheat when they are exposed to too much sunlight.
- Outdoor toys. For example, frisbee, tennis ball (and thrower), or your dog’s favorite toy. A favorite toy will help in easing the animal’s anxiety and will make the animal comfortable away from home.
- Chew toys. I occasionally bring chew toys to keep Chester occupied when I am busy enjoying the company of friends or preparing dinner. I need to emphasize that a bone is not a chewing toy. It can cause other health dangers and attract wildlife.
- Reflective leash/collar for night time
10. Familiarize Your Dog with The Camping Environment
Whenever I arrive at my camping site, the first thing I always do is to take care of Chester. I leash him and walk the perimeter of our camping site so he can check everything out and get used to the place. I will then tie him on my 15-foot cable to give him enough room to move around before I pitch a tent. Meanwhile, I set up his food and water dishes (and check them frequently) and erect his pop-up canopy if the place lacks natural shade.
Once he’s comfortable, I will proceed to set up the tent while making sure he watches. I will also spread out most of my gear and let him have a glimpse at everything because I never want him startled by a headlamp. I see dogs getting terrified by bright lights all the time.
Transitioning into the sights and sounds of nature may need a bit of work for dogs that are used to urban settings. Therefore, it is always crucial to get your animal accustomed to the woods so that sleeping can be more comfortable for both of you. I’ve seen cases where dogs get shy, and the only way to solve this is to make a “den” or “fort” where they can get away from everything. Typically, you can fold a blanket and create a comfortable bedding in one corner of your tent or on a cot, and that will do the trick.
11. Decide on Sleeping Arrangements
Your last decision is going to be your sleeping arrangement. Is your dog going to spend the night in a crate inside the tent, or will it cuddle with you in your sleeping bag?
Pooches need something soft to sleep on. A soft blanket or a sleeping bag will do. However, colder temperatures mean more warmth will be required. Usually, the rules require that you co-sleep with your dog; either in the tent or car. Get your dog his sleeping gear and let him sleep beside you. It is safer, warmer, and more comfortable.
As I mentioned, you must never leave your pooch alone in a tent. Sometimes, the temperatures inside a tent can soar and become uncomfortable. If this happens, and you are away, your dog will likely panic and hurt himself while trying to fight his way out. Locking a dog inside a tent, in your absence, may also increase the dog’s urge to claw himself out because he feels anxious.
Since you will likely be spending the night beside your dog, you need to make sure your tent is large enough to accommodate both of you, especially because dogs sometimes decide to sleep diagonally. Just assume your dog is another human\ who needs extra space.
Let him sleep as close to you as possible; obviously inside his sleeping compartment. If you are spending the night in your RV, let his basket be as close to you as possible. Distance only increases anxiety and feelings of insecurity. A trick that works is to make your dog’s sleeping area resemble what he uses back at home.
12. Let Your Dog Exercise and Don’t Overfeed Him
A tired dog is an obedient dog. While you are going to be using the leash often, take your dog for long hikes during the day to prepare him for a peaceful evening. Hiking is exciting and tiring at the same time, and it will reduce his fussing and barking.
You may be tempted to think it’s not necessary to walk Penny because she’s outside most of the time, but dogs need their walking routines. Otherwise, you will have yourself a restless pet. Take her for her morning and evening walks and allow her to do her business out of the campsite. While at it, carry your poop bag and pick after her as you would back home.
When planning your outdoor activities, you also need to include Penny because she is not part of your team. Look for dog-friendly adventures around the campsite and keep her busy while your other human activities are underway. When Penny is well exercised, she will reduce the unnecessary barking and will be ready to curl up in your tent after sunset.
I firmly believe it is essential to consider the dog you are bringing to a camp before you subject it to any exercise. Without a doubt, a Basset Hound or a 90-pound lab will be a poor choice for backpacking on a rough and sloppy terrain. Come on; it’s not a weight-loss program.
Still, on the weight vibe, watch out for her food intake. While there may be lots of extra hot dogs and BBQ meat, but don’t throw everything at her. In fact, avoid giving her food she wouldn’t have back home. Usually, Chester will not use words, but he will let his gas do the talking. You should try to feed your pet less of whatever she gets at home. I try to maintain Chester’s home diet as much as possible to reduce smelly situations; of course, some bites will be sneaked under the camping table, but it is not enough to cause worry.
Somewhere within the day (especially in the evenings), you will need to find time to check your dog for thorns, burrs, foxtails, or ticks.
At the end of it all, have fun
Camping with your dog is the best way of bonding with your best buddy. It’s a chance to get away from the distractions of the urban settings and to take in the smells, sights, and sounds of nature without disruptions. You only need some bit of preparation, and if you get it right, you and your pooch are guaranteed to have a blast.