By Maura McAndrew
A camping trip is often the perfect outing to unwind, especially since you can likely bring your dog along. In fact, camping offers just about everything a dog desires—outdoor exploration, delicious food cooked over an open flame and quality time with her favorite human.
While dog camping trips can be fun, it is important that you prepare appropriately. With proper preparation for camping with dogs, you can maximize comfort and safety, minimize stress, and create the most memorable experience with your favorite four-legged canine.
The first step before going camping with dogs is to realistically evaluate if it’s in your pup’s best interest. “Let your dog’s personality guide you,” advises Dr. Jami Stromberg, veterinarian and owner of Brooklyn Park Pet Hospital in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. “Start with short trips close to home, in case your pet is getting stressed.”
Does your dog get anxious in new environments or become reactive to new stimuli easily? If so, she may not enjoy dog camping, Dr. Stromberg notes.
The car ride and the unfamiliar people, animals, sights and sounds at the campground can all cause stress.
Another pet safety concern is your dog’s physical health and age. “Check the weather forecast,” Dr. Stromberg says. “Small dogs and puppies have a harder time staying warm if it is cold or wet, and certain breeds of dogs [short-nosed breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers] and geriatric dogs may not be able to stay cool in hot temperatures.”
If your dog is already suffering from health issues, it’s best not to subject her to the challenges of camping—choose gentler activities close to home.
Your dog may not know she’s going camping, but you can help her mentally prepare for a dog camping trip.
“In order to make the camping trip as low-stress as possible, introduce your dog to all the new and novel camping gear at home first,” explains Mark Ehrman, certified trainer and behavior expert with Canine Counselling by Mark in Sydney, Australia.
Any new object can be scary to dogs, he says, especially if they’re already out of their comfort zone.
“We introduce objects one at a time, from a distance, and let the dog approach them on her own terms,” Ehrman says. “Never force your dog to approach an item or bring the item to the dog.”
For noisy items or those that expand, he recommends first introducing them in their deflated or quiet state to build familiarity slowly. You can also use dog treats, he notes, to encourage closer inspection.
Planning a canine slumber party in your tent? Get your dog used to entering and spending time inside, Ehrman advises. “One approach is to consider this a form of giant crate training,” he says.
“Practice with it first at home before you go camping in the wild. Spend a night in the backyard to make sure she is okay with sleeping inside the tent.”
When camping with dogs, it is smart to plan how you will manage your dog at the campsite ahead of time. First, make sure your chosen campground allows pets, and read up on the rules.
And while it is strongly recommended that you always keep your pup on a dog leash, Ehrman recommends recall dog training as well to prevent your pet from wandering off or bothering other campers.
“If your dog is going to be off-lead, you must ensure that you have taught solid recall, ‘leave' and ‘stay' commands,” Ehrman explains. “Recall is one of the most important commands for any dog when outside of the home, and you can never practice it too much! When camping, it may be a lifesaver to keep your dog away from a dangerous place or wildlife.”
Ehrman also recommends bringing tie-out dog stakes (with a lead, never a chain) and a dog crate or portable dog run to keep your dog safe while you are setting up or using the restroom.
And once you arrive, take your pup on a campground tour before settling in. “There will be lots of new smells, sounds and sights. If you let your dog become familiar with the location and the people first, she will be much more likely to settle down while you set up,” Ehrman explains.
When taking your dog camping, you must also be aware of pet safety and health concerns that may not arise in everyday life at home. In the wilderness we find insects, wildlife, parasites and other dangers, and it’s always best to be prepared.
“Before leaving for your camping trip, make sure that you know whom to call if you have a pet emergency,” Dr. Stromberg says. “Bring the phone numbers of several local veterinary clinics and know their emergency policies ahead of time.”
Before going camping with dogs, also check that your dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date. Dr. Stromberg notes that pet owners may also consider the Lyme vaccine, if ticks are a concern, or the Leptospirosis vaccine, which protects your pet from a serious bacterial infection that can be contracted from exposure to “opossum, raccoons, rodents, foxes or coyotes.”
If you don’t have your dog on monthly heartworm medicine for dogs and flea and tick medicine for dogs, it’s a good idea to start. Ticks—found especially in wooded areas—can infect your dog with Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis, and mosquitos can transmit heartworm disease.
“There are many flea and tick products, including spot-on topicals, collars and oral tablets,” she says. “Your veterinarian can help you choose the best product for your situation.”
It’s best to check with your veterinarian to find the right prescription pet medication rather than trying over-the-counter options that might not work.
When camping, don’t forget to pack for your dog’s needs as well as your own. Beyond “the essentials of food, bowls and poo bags,” Ehrman recommends bringing familiar bedding, an “insect- or pest-proof dog food container,” a light-up collar or night light, dog-safe insect repellant and—of course—dog toys.
Owners of first-time doggy campers may want to pack a “comfort item,” like a blanket or soft toy, to remind them of home. And for dogs that love to roll in the dirt, remember to pack dog shampoo and towels for dogs.
It’s also a good idea to bring dog first aid items. “If your dog will be going swimming or into the woods, consider bringing some gauze and elastic bandage material in case she gets a cut or abrasion,” Dr. Stromberg advises.
With any outdoor dog camping activity, always keep your mind on pet safety first. Dr. Stromberg reminds campers to make sure dogs are on-leash, have clean water and are not kept in overheated environments.
“Never leave your dog in the car during warm weather,” cautions Dr. Stromberg. “Even in the shade with the windows cracked open, the temperature in the car can be 20 degrees or more warmer than it is outside.” And never hesitate to contact your veterinarian for safety advice, Dr. Stromberg adds. They’re there to help.
With proper preparation, camping with dogs is a fantastic opportunity to bond with your pets over a shared love of Mother Nature. If you and your pet are both on board and the weather forecast looks good, why not break the routine and give it a shot? Take time to relax, breathe fresh air and let your pet enjoy some outdoor time with you.