Hanging out near a campfire and exploring the wilderness with your four-legged friend is an adventurous bonding experience—and most dogs make great camping buddies! Just make sure you do some planning before you whisk your dog away to the nearest campsite. And if your pup has never been camping or hiking before, you’ll need to take some extra steps to keep him healthy, happy, and calm in this new environment.
Before You Book Your Trip
Choose the Right Campsite
Do some research and make sure you’re booking a trip to a dog-friendly campsite. Even if the campsite is dog friendly, it will likely have certain rules, such as specific areas in which dogs are allowed and where you need to dispose of their waste. Once you choose your campsite, make note of a nearby vet in case of emergency.
Schedule a Health Check
The Lyme disease vaccine, rabies vaccine, and flea, tick, and heartworm preventive treatments are all extremely important for dogs, especially those entering the woods. Check with your vet to make sure these are up to date, and ask for a health certificate and any other important documentation; these are usually a requirement if you’ll be crossing state lines.
Practice Important Commands
The two most important commands for camping (and perhaps in general) are the recall and leave it. Coming when called and dropping things on command will help your dog avoid potentially dangerous situations. Being in control of your dog in an unpredictable environment will keep him safe.
Condition Your Dog
First you’ll need to make sure your dog is in shape. Gradually increase the length of his walks if you plan to hike a long distance, but keep in mind that you will need to take it slower and shorter for an older dog, and stop if he’s getting too tired. If you feel tired and thirsty, your dog is likely even more tired and thirsty. Take him on some walks through wooded areas to get him used to the camping atmosphere. Being in a tent will also be strange for him—set up a tent in your backyard and sit inside with your dog for about an hour each day so he gets comfortable with it. Reward him whenever he comes into the tent.
No matter how short and safe you think your camping trip will be, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do on any camping adventure:
- Always let someone know where you’re going before you leave—if something happens to you, people will know where to look and that your dog is there.
- Do not drink from any natural bodies of water; bacteria in the water could make you and your dog sick.
- Keep your dog at a safe distance from the campfire and any sharp tools.
- Check yourself and your dog for ticks daily, as well as for any sharp thorns and foxtails that could be lodged in his coat or paw pads.
- Never eat or leave food inside your tent. Put all food (including dog food) in the metal bear box that’s provided at many campsites, or hang your packed food in a tree at least 100 yards away from your tent. If you’re not in bear country, you can stash the food in your vehicle.
- Choose a campsite with some shade so you and your dog can avoid sun exposure and cool off when needed.
- Keep your dog on leash at all times and never leave him unattended—you don’t want him to get lost or injured. Have him sleep with you inside your tent or cabin.
Your dog supply list will vary depending on which season you plan to take your trip—some extra blankets are useful in the winter, while a cooling mat will relieve your dog in the summer heat. You never know what situation you and your pup will face, so it’s always best to overprepare. Start by setting aside a “doggy duffle bag” so you know where all your dog’s supplies are in case of emergency. These should include:
- A favorite toy
- Booties for long hikes, rough terrain, or snow
- Bottled water
- Collapsible water dish to take on hikes
- Dog food portioned into baggies for each meal
- Dog-friendly sunscreen
- Doggy wipes
- First-aid kit
- Food and water bowls
- Health records
- ID tag engraved with your cell phone number
- Life vest for water sports
- Nearby vet location and phone number
- Tarp to put under your dog’s bed
- Tick removal tool
- Two harnesses and leashes
- Waste bags
Your dog will need to adjust to entirely different surroundings on a camping trip, so be prepared and help him stay calm and comfortable. Doing so will ensure that you and your canine camping companion will safely enjoy Mother Nature’s beauty together on many more adventures to come.