Thursday, May 30, 2024


Camping With Your Dog

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Dog Activities and Training

Do you love the idea of camping out under the stars?  Lying on the ground with just your sleeping bag to keep you warm?  Or setting up a tent in one of the wilderness areas near you?  Your trip might include hiking, swimming, backpacking, and yes, even your dog!

Little kids camping with their dog

Preparing for your camping trip

The first step in preparing to take your dog camping is the same as the first step for just about any type of activity you will do with your dog:  obedience training.  Your camp neighbors will appreciate it if you keep your dog on your own campsite and keep him or her from barking all night long.  Before you even think about taking your dog on a camping trip, make sure he or she understands the basic commands of come, sit, stay, down, off, and heel.

Not only will this make your people friends happy, it can also keep your dog safe during the trip.  Your dog must be able to return quickly to your side when called to prevent him or her from bears and skunks which might be encountered when camping.

Next, make sure your dog’s vaccines are up to date, particularly his or her rabies shot.  Wild animals such as raccoons may carry the rabies virus and it only takes a second for your dog to become infected if he or she is not properly protected by vaccine.

Ask your vet if there are any special precautions you should take for the area where you will be camping.  For example, if you are going to Colorado, you might worry about Rocky Mountain spotted ticks.  In the northeastern United States, lyme disease from deer ticks might be a concern.

Read our articles on reading your dog’s behavior so you can tell when your dog is starting to get aggressive or submissive.  Spend a few days before you leave observing your dog so you can control him or her better during encounters with other dogs, people, and wild animals.  Noticing how your dog is acting can help you anticipate problems before they blow up.

Check out your dog’s accessories.  That pink diamond-studded collar may be great for parties, but you will want a heavy-duty leash and collar to keep your dog restrained in the wild.  If your dog is susceptible to temperature extremes, consider packing a cooling vest or sweatshirt to keep him or her comfortable.  If you will be doing a lot of hiking, your dog might need boots to protect his or her sensitive foot pads from injury, hot surfaces, and natural pokers like thorns and pine needles.

Make sure you have the proper equipment to keep your dog safe while you travel to your destination.  Check with your airline for requirements as to cage size and durability.  If you will be driving, make sure you have a car harness or crate to keep your dog in his or her seat and out of the driver’s seat.  Never, ever let your dog ride uncrated in the back of a pick-up truck.  Even if you are an excellent driver, some other fool on the road may cause you to swerve, knocking your dog out of the bed of the truck.  Tethering your dog in the back of the truck is also problematic, as a hard turn or near-miss can dump the dog out, causing it to be choked by the restraint.

Check your dog’s tags.  Is the license up to date?  Does the ID tag show the dog’s name, as well as a number at which someone can be reached while you’re away?  You can’t count on your cellular phone working in a camping area.  Your phone may get waterlogged or dropped, or you may be in an area without tower coverage.

Make sure someone knows your itinerary.  Even if you are camping without your dog, it’s a good idea to let someone know where you plan to be.  If you or your dog become injured or don’t return on schedule, at least one person should know where to look for you.

Start Small

Would you consider climbing Mount Everest before you had ever scaled a rock wall at a local park?  Of course not!  As every outdoor enthusiast knows, you start small and work your way up to the biggest challenges.

It’s no different for your dog.  Take short day trips to your local parks to see how your dog reacts to the excitement of being in the great outdoors.  Physically condition your dog by taking short hikes and hiking a little farther each day.  Mentally condition the animal by socializing him or her to the types of things that may be encountered on your vacation.  If you expect to run into other dogs, take your dog to the dog park or day care and make sure the dog isn’t too aggressive to be successful.

Father and son fishing with their dog

If you will be fly fishing, make sure your dog likes playing in running water.  Find a small stream or lake near you and see if the dog will come in with you.  If you’ll be taking the dog to music camp, it’s better to find out now if he or she should be confined to the showers during the evening entertainment, where the dog can sing along without bothering the other campers.

If you will be allowing your dog to carry some of your gear when hiking, try out the backpack during your small day trips.  A healthy dog can carry about 25% of his or her body weight, and the items the dog carries should be unbreakable.  Start your dog out with a small load such as an empty backpack, and build up as he or she becomes more fit.  Make sure the load is evenly balanced on both sides of the dog to prevent muscle strain.  Dogs younger than one year of age should not carry anything, as it can cause damage to their developing joints.

Sleep out in your back yard for a night or two, using the equipment you plan to use on your trip.  If your dog can’t stand the smell of the new tent, you’d probably rather learn that now than when you are 300 miles away from home and unable to sleep for a whole week due to his or her howling.

Get your dog used to the bedding you will be using at the campsite.  You will likely want to put a tarp or some other moisture barrier under the dog bed.  Is that going to freak out your dog?  Let him or her practice sleeping on the bed with the liner to get used to that crinkly sound produced by movements.  Make sure the bed is padded enough to keep the dog warm if you expect cool overnight temperatures where you are traveling.

While you have the tent pitched, see if your dog can get out of it.  If so, you will need to crate him or her at night, or find some other way to keep the dog in the tent while you sleep.


When you are making your pack list, consider what your dog will need.  Some of these items have been mentioned above, and some are important enough that you should have duplicates for all the things that might go wrong.  Be a good boy scout and make sure you are prepared for common camping disasters.  You may not be able to go down the street to a local store if you are in a remote area.  Losing your dog’s water dish may mean the end of the trip if you don’t have a spare.  At a minimum, your list should include the following for your dog:

  • 2 water dishes, or 1 dish and a back-up plan for what to use if it’s lost
  • 1 food dish (the dog can eat off the ground if it gets lost)
  • Food, including a way to suspend it off the ground to keep critters out
  • Fresh water supply
  • 2 heavy-duty collars
  • 2 sturdy leashes, which should be non-retractable and no longer than 4 feet
  • Harness if you will be rock climbing or exposing your dog to other drop-off dangers
  • A tie-out if you will be spending a significant amount of time confined to your campsite
  • Clothing, as necessary to the dog and the environment.  Bring spares in case of an accidental dunking in the river or rolling in something smelly
  • Bedding, including an underlayment for moisture
  • At least one towel or shammy.  You never know what you might have to clean up or dry off.  The super-absorbent Sham-Wow towel shown on those annoying TV commercials really does do a nice job of absorbing the water from your dog’s coat, and the towel dries pretty quickly.
  • A first aid kit, including your dog’s regular medications.  Suggested contents for your first aid kit can be found in the Pet Education Center from Drs. Foster and Smith.
  • A small air horn or other noise maker that can be used to break up dog fights, in case you happen to be camping next to an aggressive dog.
  • Treats, toys, bones, and other things that might make them feel more at home.
  • Poop bags
  • Sunblock if your dog has short hair or areas of exposed skin

You might also consider a dog GPS system in the event your dog wanders off chasing a squirrel or some other critter.  See our review of GPS dog collars in the Dog Den.

During your trip

Check your dog every day for ticks.  Remove ticks by grabbing them close to the dog’s skin with a pair of tweezers and pulling firmly.  Place the ticks in a vial of alcohol to make sure they are killed.

Check your dog’s foot pads every day.  Remove any debris that may be stuck between or in the pads, and use Bag Balm or Vaseline to soothe raw spots.

Keep your dog away from heavy brush.  He or she can pick up the oils from poisonous plants and give you a heck of a case of poison ivy or poison oak when you pet the dog.

Keep your dog away from the droppings of other animals to lessen the chances of infection.  When your own dog leaves a pile, either bag it and dispose of it when you get to a trash can or bury it where it falls.

When you are hiking, make frequent stops to rest and rehydrate.  Make sure your dog has access to clean, fresh water as often as heat and activity levels indicate.  It’s better to give him or her more water than needed rather than risk dehydration.

If you will be swimming or boating on your trip, consider buying a life vest for your dog.  The dog may love the water, but strong currents or long swims may be too much for him or her.

Rinse your dog with a hose when you come back from swimming or hiking.  In addition to helping cool the dog off, you will be removing any potential skin irritants such as sand, salt water, dirt, and plant products.

Where do dogs camp?

All of the National Parks, National Monuments, and National Forests allow you to take your dog to their campsites, but many of them do not allow your dog to come with you on trail hikes.  State parks are usually a little less restrictive.  Private sites should be contacted before your trip to find out their dog policies, as well as any additional fees which may be charged if you bring your pet.  Check the park’s website or contact them directly to get all of your questions answered.

For private parks, make sure to ask how large their dog-allowed area is.  They may say they have an area where dogs can be walked, but if it’s only 3-feet square, how much good will it do you?

Ask about leash rules, as well.  In most cases, you will be told your dog must be leashed at all times on their property.

Try to arrive at your destination early in the day so you can have your pick of campsites.  Look for one that is next to someone who also has a dog or for one that offers some privacy.  Both of these strategies can contribute to not having the neighbors complain about your dog.  The less people complain, the more likely it is that campgrounds will continue to allow dogs to camp with us.

Make sure your campsite includes adequate shade to allow your dog to cool down.

Find out where the closest vet is to your campsite, either by asking at the camp office or by using the AAHA Animal Hospital locator.

For more information on camping with your dog:

Travel with Pets

Summer Health and Safety Guide  Summer Health and Safety Guide

Pet Friendly Campgrounds, Parks and Beaches

Top Ten Tips for Camping With Your Dog

Camping with your pet


5 Responses to “Camping With Your Dog”
  1. Bill says:

    First aid for dogs, just like first aid for humans, is an effective combination of knowledge, supplies and skills, put into action for the benefit of your four-legged friend.

  2. What a great article! I can’t wait to get into the woods with my pooches.

  3. dogs love to sleep on warm dog beds that are padded with soft polystyrene foam.;”


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