First, evaluate your dog's readiness for outdoor life. Just like people, some dogs are naturals in the outdoors while others are best suited for the comforts of home. There are three areas to consider before camping with your dog:
Temperament â€” Is your dog able to be chill in the campground, or will he or she bark all day and hassle other campers? How is your pup with other dogs, little kids, and wildlife? An aggressive dog in a campground is a hazard to others and may prompt a lawsuit.
Training â€” It's important that your dog come when called and stay as needed. This is a safety issue when interacting with wildlife. And please don't be the guy who's yelling at his dog all weekend long. I've camped next to him. It wasn't fun.
Physical Ability â€” Lastly, don't overestimate you dog's fitness. Like humans, dogs need to stay in shape. A 10-mile hike could be painful for a sedentary pooch. Also, keep in mind that small breeds will have less endurance than larger dogs, which means you may have to carry your small companion at times.
Once you're confident in your dog's readiness for camping it's time to plan a trip.
Before you go:
Do Some Research â€” Not all campgrounds, parks, or trails allow dogs. Check out all of these to make sure you'll be able to enjoy yourself once you get there. Additionally, if you'll be crossing a border, such as into Canada or Mexico, there will be added considerations.
Vaccines and Healthcare â€” Up to date vaccines are essential due to the potential exposure to other animals. Additionally, some campgrounds require proof of current vaccinations. Pack a copy of vaccine info in case you need to prove they've been done (this is a good idea anytime you travel with a pet).
Pack Smart â€” Camping can be stressful for a dog, especially at first, so pack the comforts of home including food, toys, bowls, bed, and treats. Warm bedding is particularly important if it will be cold. Also, make sure to pack a PFD if you'll be boating or near swift/deep water, medications, leash, and plenty of clean drinking water. Dogs need to drink a lot when it's warm, so carry extra water when camping and hiking. Don't depend on puddles or streams, which could be contaminated.
The extra activity of hiking and outdoor play means your dog will need more food than at home. Also pack some kind of light for your dog's collar, you can buy collar lights from pet retailers, or simply hang a glow stick on the tag ring. When I camp with several other dog owners, we each use a different color so we know which dog is which in the dark.
In the woods:
Control for Safety â€” I already mentioned packing a leash, but I want to expand on the importance of controlling you dog in the wild. It's not uncommon for all of the new sights, sounds and smells to entice a dog to wander off. More than at home, camping is a time to keep you dog on a lead, especially if you leave him or her behind, for even a few minutes. A friend of mine attaches a GPS locator to his dog for added security.
Poo Etiquette â€” Even though woodland creatures poop in the woods, it's not okay to leave your dog's steaming pile unmanaged. Their feces is not native to the environment you're visiting, so handle it like you would your own, and bury it, or pack it out, following Leave No Trace Principals.
First Aid â€” Handling dog injuries is different than treating a human. For example, dogs can't tolerate human pain relievers, but you can ask your vet for a prescription to have on hand. Also, a dog's footpads can get injured on rough trails without the protection of shoes. In this case, you may need bandages and a sock to protect the foot until you can get to the vet. Consider setting up a first aid kit for your pet and be sure to include a guide to managing pet injuries.
Tag Your Dog â€” Add info to your pup's collar stating where you are camping or to call a ranger, this is important if you don't have phone reception in the woods. If you haven't already, add a collar tag with your number too.
When You Get Home â€” Give your dog a bath and check for burrs and ticks. If you do find a tick, check with the vet about how to remove it. Here is more information on protecting your dog - Lyme Disease and Tick Prevention: What You Need to Know.
All of this information may seem daunting, but once you've been through it a time or two, you'll be a pro. Do you have any tips to add? Leave a comment below!