Family Camping with Dogs
A dog can add an extra element of fun to your camping trip! Their simple joy and goofy behavior can bring humor to any trip.
When our elderly dog arrives at the campsite, she is transformed. Our ordinarily sleepy dog becomes curious and excited – sniffing every bush deeply and eager to explore. The kids love watching her poke around the site, learning about her environment.
If you this is your first time camping with your dog, you are are up for an adventure! Many of team members have successfully camped with dogs, and we have complied their best advice and gear recommendations to keep your dog safe and comfortable!
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Before you go camping with your dog
Perhaps it seems obvious, but before you leave check the campground’s rules and regulations. Some campgrounds prohibit pets while others welcome them. Even pet-friendly campgrounds may require you to keep your dog on a leash, pick up their messes, and take them with you whenever you leave.
Look for activities that your dog will love as much as you do. For example, most dogs prefer hiking beside you to running behind your bike. Beaches, if they allow dogs, can be fun for fur babies and human babies alike.
Also consider your dog’s temperament. Some dogs thrive outdoors and can adjust to change easily. These easy-going pets are ideal to take camping. Other dogs might find camping stressful and may prefer to stay in a doggy care center or with a friend. Obviously, if your dog is aggressive towards other animals or people, don’t bring him to a campground with lots of children and pets.
Keeping Your Dog Safe While Camping
A great camping trip can quickly be ruined if you don’t take a few precautions to protect your dog. While camping, dogs are at risk for overheating, injuries, and wandering off.
Keeping dogs cool when camping
Perhaps one of the greatest dangers posed to dogs camping is overheating. Dogs are prone to overheating and even canine heat stroke. Sadly, some dogs die from this preventable problem.
If your dog is overweight, elderly, or recently ill, then he is more susceptible to heat stroke. Some breeds of dogs, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, have a heightened risk because their short snots reduce the cool effect from panting.
If the weather becomes warm, watch your dog for sites of overheating.
Signs of overheating in dogs
One of the first signs of overheating is panting. Dogs lack sweat glands on their skin and will cool off by panting. While some panting on a hot day is normal, monitor your dog. If he begins panting heavier, make sure he’s in the shade and has enough water to drink.
As the dog’s internal temperature rises, he will become lethargic. He may not respond to your commands or calls and refuse to move from a shady spot.
When your dog becomes severely overheated, his gums may turn bright red or blue. He could vomit or experience diarrhea and even have a seizure or collapse. If you notice any of these symptoms, cool off your dog immediately and call your vet.
How to cool down your dog when camping
There are few quick and effective ways to help your pet stay cool while camping.
First prevent overheating by not leaving your dog in a vehicle, even your RV. The temperature inside a car parked in the sun on a 70-degree day can rise to 120 degrees after 90 minutes.
On hot days, avoid hiking in the middle of the day. Enjoy a sunset hike or an early morning stroll rather than running with your dog at noon.
Just like humans, dogs need more water when its warm. A heavy weight water bowl, like a stainless steel bowl, works well at the campsite. Collapsible water bowls are perfect for hiking and camping.
The Mash N’ Stash is harder to tip, but heavier (better for car camping), and the Collaps-A-Bowl is better for backpacking. My dog, Ripley, is always trying to tip her bowl and bury her food in camp.— Ginny Galbreth, TMM Member
When hiking, let your dog carry their own water.
“I also recommend … a pack for the dog to carry water bottles. It helped slow my big dog down so he wouldn’t dart ahead, and it made sure we had enough water hiking around.”— Victoria, TMM Member
Get your dog wet to cool them off
If there is a stream, lake, or pond near your campsite, let your dog swim to cool off. Alternatively, wrap your dog in a cool (not cold!), damp towel.
You may also place a freezer pack under their mat, but not directly on the dog, to help them cool down.
Dog first aid kit for camping
While hiking or camping, accidents can happen. To care for your dog, bring along a first-aid kit. Victoria’s family brings this all-in-one dog first aid kit with her while camping. (Here is a more basic version from the same brand for half the price.)
Alternatively, you may make your own doggy first aid kit for less. Many of the supplies are comparable to supplies found in human first aid kits and can be purchased fairly inexpensively.
To make your dog his own first aid kit, you’ll need:
A First Aid Guide
This first-aid guide is specifically written for active dogs and could be very helpful on camping adventures.
Bandage the wound with sterile bandages. Have several bandage sizes available for different size wounds. A self-adhering bandage will stick only to itself and not tug on your dog’s fur. This bandage from Chewy tastes bitter and deters your dog from biting it.
Call your vet to ensure that any medication you give your dog is safe. Generally, dogs can tolerate aspirin and the antihistamine Diphenhydramine.
If your dog needs any prescribed medications, remember to bring them along!
An emergency blanket can prevent shock and keep your dog warm in extreme conditions.
A crushable ice pack provides a quick cool compress if your dog has suffered trauma or a contusion.
Pack a pair of tweezers so you can remove splinters from your dog’s paws or embedded ticks.
“Do nightly body checks for ticks, wounds, broken nails, etc. In my Mountainsmith K-9 bag, I also keep tick key, combs, brushes, and some others that always stay in that bag. I made Dog ID cards, laminated and attached them to the bag. That way I always have their info and a quick photo if I needed it, or if they are staying with someone else, they have the info too.”– Jami Rogers, TMM Team Member
How to avoid ticks while camping
Speaking of ticks, make sure your dog’s flea and tick treatment is up to date. Consider spraying a t-shirt or bandana with permethrin for an additional layer of tick protection. (For more information on tick control, check out this article.)
Keep your dog on a leash when camping
Dogs can become confused when away from home and prone to wander. The best way to avoid losing your best friend is to keep him on a leash or in a pen.
This also reduces the chances that your dog will find himself facing the business end of a skunk!
Bring a Good Quality Leash and Harness for Your Dog
A good quality harness and leash is ideal for walking your dog. We use an Easy Walk harness to gently guide our dog and stop her from pulling against us.
Victoria’s favorite leash is the Quantum Leash, a reflective training leash that can be worn multiple ways. If my dog were young enough to jog with me, I would want this leash!
Jami Roger prefers the Stunt Puppy Dry Collars and Leashes. These miracle collars don’t pick up dirt or moisture and area stink-free buckle collar! To the collar, she adds the Road ID Dog Tag, which does not jingle like traditional dog tags. The leash uses a clasp resists clogging, even in the sandiest of environments.
At night, Jami attaches the Nite Ize SpotLit to their dog’s collar. It has two setting, flash and glow. With the glow setting, her dog can play fetch after dark!
Tie-Outs, Kennels, and Pens
It’s impractical to always be holding your dog’s leash, so plan for a way to corral your dog at your site. Bring a way to tether your dog or have a pen for them.
Tethers and Tie-Outs
Tie-Outs have some distinct advantages. They are easy to set up and inexpensive. Unfortunately, tie-outs also have a way of tangling up your dog and tripping family members. If you are in the market for a tie-out, this one seems to be a good buy. A retractable tie-out like this one costs more but won’t tangle as easily.
Pens and Kennels
Pens and Kennels provide a portable home for your dog. Some pens are portable play yards, giving your puppy safe to roam without getting tangled up in the tie-out. Others simply provide a safe sleeping space. If you are camping in an area without trees, consider a shaded pen, which provides your dog a place to stay cool in the heat of the day. This playpen is collapsible and would pack well. This smaller packable crate gives your dog his own tiny tent.
Don’t Forget Training Treats and Snacks
If your dog starts to wander, dog treats can be a delicious way to tempt him back to your site!
“And don’t forget to adjust your dogs food amount if they are more active on your trip”— Jami Rogers, TMM Member
If Boating, Pack a Doggy Life Vest
Our dog dislikes canoes, but she HATES being left behind. She demands that we take her, even as she quivers with excitement and fear during the boating trip.
Life vests designed for dogs will help them survive a boating accident and keep them afloat if they decide to jump overboard.
Keeping Everyone Comfortable and (Mostly) Clean
Now that you can keep your pup safe while camp, it’s time to make everyone comfortable.
Before you leave, consider where you want your dog to sleep. Is she snuggling with you in your bed? Then make sure your air mattress or pad is durable enough to withstand scratches from her nails. If your dog gets his own sleeping accommodations, make sure that his bed or kennel is easy to pack.
In the tent or RV
Some families enjoy having their dogs in their tents. If this is you, give your dog a cozy area of the tent and make him feel at home.
Our family brings our dog’s sleeping mat from home, but travel beds pack more easily! This fun, inflatable dog bed kept Victoria’s pit bull comfortable while camping.
“Since our dogs’ kennels are in the vestibule, they have hanging water buckets in them. One night (dog was in the tent this night since we only had one at this time), I heard a little noise out in the vestibule and some scratching around, but it stopped and I went back to sleep. In the morning I woke up to find a dead mouse in Reece’s water bucket. “— Jami Rogers, TMM Member
Even if your dog is sleeping inside with you, he might want a water-resistant pad or mat for lounging outdoors.
Outside the tent or RV
If you’d rather keep your dog outside of your tent, Emily has a great suggestion.
We got a new tent this year (North Face Wawona) with a huge front vestibule (really it’s just a second room with no floor), which is just wonderful for having a dog because he can come inside at night without actually coming into the tent proper and bringing dirt, ticks hair inside. We bought this elevated dog bed to keep him off the muddy ground if it rained (which it did… a lot… every time we went camping).
While we were camping (out in the woods on private land, not a campground) someone walked by in the middle of the night not far off (probably coon hunting). Abe went on high alert and after a couple barks poked his head under the side of the tent and slept the rest of the night with his body in and his head out. He’s very committed to his protection detail.— Emily Christensen, TMM Member
Keeping dogs clean when camping
I don’t know about your dog, but mine can stink! She loves the perfume of dead chipmunk and don’t even get me started about her odor after rainstorms. She might love her unique nature scents, but I do not.
To reduce the funk, we have begun traveling with several dog towels and Burt’s Bees Shampoo spray. Doggy wipes are also a great way to keep your dog clean. In addition to ordinary dog towels, Jami uses a Norwex dog towel and dog mitt to keep her pup clean. Both of these absorb a lot of water and pack small.
When it’s time to go home, a waterproof car seat cover can prevent your adorably muddy camp dog from soiling your car.
Most campgrounds require owners to clean up after their pet’s messes, so don’t forget to pack the extra dog bags and a scoop. This small and lightweight poop scoop will keep your hands out of the mess.
Embrace the Unexpected
When you bring your dog along, expect an adventure — even if it’s not the adventure you planned! On our most recent camping trip, my kids taught our dog to pick wild blueberries! She became so distracted by the berries, we had trouble convincing her to hike. Moments like these make the added hassle of bringing a dog camping worthwhile.
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