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Summertime means playtime! And for many of us, it’s an ideal season for camping with our four-legged best friends. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a casual car-camper, these tips for camping with your dog will help you make the most of your summer. Most importantly?
Prepare your dog, research the campsite, get the right gear, and have fun. We’ve got all the details below.
Prepare: Know your dog’s camping personality
Before you embark on a wilderness adventure, it’s important to assess your dog’s camp-readiness. Is she a lounge hound? A relaxed trip to a family-friendly campground might be the best choice. Is she a daring doggy athlete with plenty of outdoor experience? Maybe it’s time to take that weeklong backpacking trip you’ve been thinking about!
Be honest about your dog’s personality, and plan your trip accordingly. If your dog loves the social scene and isn’t skittish about new surroundings, you will plan a very different trip than if your dog prefers your company over dog playmates and needs some encouragement to try new activities. If you’re uncertain how your dog will adapt to camp life, try taking a few day trips and picnics before planning a campout.
Research dog-friendly sites
There’s nothing worse than hitting the road with your four-legged friend, only to arrive at your destination and find a No Dogs Allowed sign. Whatever kind of camping trip you have in mind, be sure to call ahead or research online to find dog-friendly campsites and trails.
Check on leash laws, too; some campsites only welcome restrained pets, whereas others are okay with your dog being off-leash as long as she’s under voice control (and you pick up the poop, of course). You may find that many campsites will have rules that change by season and are more dog-friendly in the off-season than during peak summer.
Refresh your dog’s camp-friendly training
Whether you’re headed for a back-country trek or a campground off the highway, your dog will need a reliable recall command to keep her out of danger (and away from other campers who might not be so into dogs). You should also brush up on the “leave it” command in case you encounter snakes, bears, or other wildlife on the trail.
It’s a good idea to do some outdoor training sessions before your big camping trip; this ASPCA guide to training your dog for outdoor adventures is a great place to start.
Prepare for emergencies
Before you leave on your camping trip, make a laminated card with your dog’s identifying information, vaccination record, and health history, plus all of your contact info. You should also make sure your dog’s microchip info and tags are up-to-date.
Nature can be unpredictable, and so can dogs, so it’s important to be prepared for anything.
The U.S. Forest Service recommends carrying the following dog-specific first aid items, many of which you probably already have at home:
- A bandana for a makeshift muzzle
- Flat-bladed tweezers and a small container of mineral oil for tick removal
- An emergency fold-up blanket (space blanket) for treating shock or cold
- A folding tool that has needle-nose pliers for extracting a large thorn or a porcupine quill
- Booties for protecting injured paws (toddler socks work great!)
- A small first aid book with instructions for treating pets
- The name, phone number, and directions of a nearby veterinarian or pet emergency clinic
Looking for ideas? The Adventure Dog Series Me & My Dog Medical Kit includes all of the recommended items above, plus additional first aid items. Chances are, nothing will happen to your pup, but remember the Boy Scout motto: be prepared. At a minimum, a good pet first aid kit will include antiseptic, bandages, tweezers, and tools to help treat minor injuries.
Gear up (but pack light)
Camping with your dog means being prepared for anything, but you don’t want to overpack and risk having too much to carry, or no room in the RV for your pooch! This camping packing list for your dog will get you started:
1.) Dedicated dog water bottle and collapsible/lightweight food and water bowl
The Ruffwear Quencher Cinch-Top Collapsible Dog Bowl, comes highly recommended by reviewers. This cinch-top bowl/bag combo from Ruffwear is a wise investment because it’s the perfect portable food container to take out on the trail. Just fill it with the amount of kibble you’ll need (remember to feed your dog extra on a tough trail day), cinch the top, toss it in your dog’s pack, and go. The Quencher is also the perfect water vessel; the waterproof liner ensures no leakage, and the larger size holds up to six cups, meaning one bowl full can quench all the dogs in your party.
Depending on where you’re headed on your canine camping excursion, reliably clean water may not be available. We recommend investing in a filter to keep human and pet water safe for consumption.
2.) Dog backpack for day hikes
Doggy backpacks are a wise investment for hiking with your dog, but even if your idea of “hiking” is “hanging out around the campsite all day,” a pack is a useful tool. Your dog’s backpack can help keep them busy and visible at the campsite, and it’s a handy, easily-accessible storage space for the aforementioned poop bags and treats.
The Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack is one of the more popular dog packs out there. It has a comfortable, safe design with a padded harness; sturdy D-ring for leash attachment; and reflective trim for maximum visibility on the trail.
3.) Dog sleeping pad
Keep your pooch cozy at night with a warm, padded sleeping surface. You could let them snuggle up in your own sleeping bag, or set up an inflatable sleeping mat on the ground, but for ultimate dog camping comfort, a doggy sleeping bag is the way to go. The Noblecamper Dog Sleeping Bag features a water-resistant, lightweight material that compresses into a small pouch you can attach to your dog’s backpack.
4.) Collar light
One of the best parts of camping is enjoying the night sky way out in the wilderness, but it can get awfully dark out there. A collar light is an affordable way to keep your dog visible even in the darkest camping site. Illumiseen makes a rechargeable LED collar that can have multiple uses–not just while camping!
Keep in mind, you don’t have to break the bank to get your dog geared up for camping. If you’ll be hiking, check out our hiking gear guide for some helpful essentials. But if you’re just headed out for a relaxing campsite stay, there’s a good chance you already have the “gear” you need at home.
Practice good campsite etiquette
Once you arrive at your campsite, it’s important to be courteous to your fellow campers. Use a leash or that rock-solid recall command to keep your dog out of strangers’ campsites, and be sure to pick up and properly dispose of your dog’s waste.
For optimum safety and enjoyment, your dog should stick near you at all times, and should never be left unsupervised at the campsite, in a vehicle, or on the trail. Remember, weather conditions can change, wildlife can appear, and a host of other unpredictable situations may arise.
Of course, sometimes you may need to confine your pup for safety or convenience (say, while you’re roasting hot dogs over the fire and a certain four-legged friend is determined to snag a sausage of her own). If your dog is crate trained, a portable, lightweight, fabric-walled crate is an invaluable addition to your camp kit!
Camping with your dog is a great way to get away from it all and bond with your best buddy. Far away from glowing screens and a million distractions, you’ll take in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature with a true connoisseur.
Nothing beats snuggling up with a dog in a cozy tent, the scent of campfire still lingering in the air. With a little preparation, you and your dog will be all set to heed the call of the wild and have a blast!