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Tips for Stress-Free Dog Camping: A Camping Dog is a Happy Dog

How to Prepare Your Dog for Camping in the Wild


A redheaded woman cradles her less-than-impressed Black Lab in her arms as she stands on a frozen tundra in Glacier National Park in Montana

Camping with Kaya: Glacier National Park - Photo Credit: Paul Engel


 

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Taking your four-legged friend camping can be a great experience for you both.

If you and your dog already enjoy exploring nature together, what better way to do so than to spend a night under the stars with each other? However, there are a few things you need to know before you go camping, and in this guide we’ll cover them all!


A man contemplates his floofy buddy as they sit together on a rock under a tree in Plymouth, California

Contemplating Dog Safety in Plymouth, CA - Photo Credit: Daniel Gutierrez



Keeping Your Dog Safe


When it comes to camping with a furry friend, safety should be the number one priority. In most wilderness areas wildlife roam freely, and even in quieter areas you might have poisonous plants, gushing rapids, or steep, rugged terrain to watch out for.


Like most animals, dogs are curious creatures, and chances are they’re even more excited than you are to explore the campsite and surrounding areas. You can only do so much to protect them, so it’s essential that you have everything you need in case of an emergency. Always be prepared to treat injuries, dehydration, accidents, or encounters with a plant or wild animal.


Here are some useful things to bring along:

  • General first-aid kit – a no-brainer for any camping excursion, pets or no pets. Just remember that your pet medical aid kit may differ a bit from the one you have for yourself. Your kit should include all the basics: bandages, ointments, tweezers, gloves, and shock blankets, along with the following items:

  • Saline solution – if your pup gets sand, skunk spray, dirt, or some other foreign object in their eye, a good wash with saline solution will help soothe them.

  • Anti-sting medication – Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can be used to soothe allergic reactions to insect bites, poisonous plants, and a wide variety of allergens found throughout the wild.

  • Multi-toolperfect for cutting bandages, removing thorns, quills, and splinters, cutting off hangnails, and hundreds of other outdoor emergency situations.

  • Electrolytes – for preventing dehydration. Just make sure you get a brand that is canine-friendly.

 

A grey wiener dog sits comfortably on the grass, surrounded by his humans in Plymouth, California

Pepe isn't Wandering Anywhere: Plymouth, CA - Photo Credit: Jesse Chandler



Preventing Your Dog from Wandering Off


Dogs love wandering about, especially when they’re in an exciting natural environment. If they have never been camping before, the excitement may be even harder to contain.

One way to prevent escapist behavior is to invest in a clip-on lunging rope or retractable leash. This will allow them to roam in a way that feels free of confinement, but still connects them to you in a safe and practical way.


In the event that your dog does decide to go on a solo adventure, you’ll likely need some help to find them. Utilizing a reflective collar or some clip-on lights can be extremely helpful for tracking them down at night.


Letting your dog roam freely might feel tempting (especially if you are in a remote area), but there are many risks to doing so. You are their primary guardian; anything that happens to them or with another animal/person is your responsibility. Keep them close at all times and make sure they stay visible.

 

Two dogs drink from a lake on a rocky shoreline in central Oregon

Kal-El and Kaya Looking Out for Warning Signs in Bend, Oregon - Photo Credit: Paul Engel



Warning Signs to Look Out for


As beautiful as the wild outdoors can be, it can also be dangerous or even life-threatening without the proper preparation and education. Depending on where you are camping, you may be sharing territory with bears, porcupines, snakes, wolves, coyotes, and other animals native to the region.


Furthermore, there may be poisonous plants, extreme weather patterns, or even wildfires to contend with. Here are some common warning signs to look out for in the wild, and what they mean for you and your canine companion.

  • Tracks and droppings – most of the animals you want to avoid will leave tracks, droppings, and other signs of recent nearby activity. Researching the relevant signs of wildlife in advance in the area in which you are camping can help you avoid their territory while hiking or camping. Tracks may also lead to bear nests where they sit and eat, so if you see clusters of sticks on the ground or in a tree a bear could be close.

  • Poison Oak and poisonous berries – Poison Oak can grow just about anywhere, so be on the lookout for any vines or shrubs that have groupings of three oak-shaped leaves (often tinged with a reddish sheen). If you spot poison oak, keep your dog well away until you’ve passed the area. You may also come across potentially hazardous berries. A good rule is to always steer clear of any berries in the wild unless you know exactly what they are and that they cannot harm your pet.

  • Smoke – a telltale sign that a fire is near. You may also notice birds and other creatures fleeing from crowded natural areas when a fire is approaching. If you see smoke, it’s time to move as fast as possible in the other direction. Fire travels fast, so you’ll need to do the same.

  • Weather signs – a sudden change in weather often causes birds to go quiet as they seek shelter, or for them to fly away in large flocks. If it gets eerily quiet, have a good look at the sky and see if you can spot rain or thunderstorm clouds. Other signs to watch for include a sudden increase in wind, a wind that changes direction or an increase in cloud cover.

  • Snakeskins – snakeskins imply the presence of a live, healthy snake. You need to keep a close watch on your surroundings as snakes are often highly camouflaged to avoid detection. If your dog spots a snake they’ll certainly be interested in making its acquaintance, so keep your eyes open!

You and your dog can avoid most encounters with dangerous wildlife by stomping loudly, staying alert, and always keeping all food (for both human and canine!) in sealed pouches.

 

A floofy Golden Retriever looks immensely pleased with herself and the stick she's been chewing on, surrounded by succulents in the headlands of Stinson Beach in Northern California

Simba's Ready for Sleeping Arrangements in Stinson Beach - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue



Sleeping Arrangements


Considering the many common nocturnal dangers of the great outdoors, most parks have a rule that animal companions share your tent at night. Co-sleeping is one of the best ways for both you and your dog to stay safe while camping—and it will mean you both get to enjoy some extra warmth at night.

 

A dog so surrounded by blankets and sleeping bags in his tent that all you can see is his squished-up, immenseley happy face

Bentley, Made as Comfortable as Possible - Photo Credit: Hoang Nguyen



Making Your Dog Comfortable as Possible


Just like humans, dogs need comfort and warmth to stay happy and healthy, and this is especially true when trekking through the unpredictable wilds. Your pup will need their own bedding, blankets, bowls, and access to food and water through every step of their journey with you.


Depending on the size of your dog and the weather at the time of your trip, ‌ consider investing in a weatherproof jacket or coat for extra warmth for your companion. This can also protect their bodies from scratches, bites, or other surface-level injuries that may occur while hiking.


If you anticipate covering a lot of ground or ground that is harsh, spiky, arid or freezing, a pair of canine booties will also do your dog a world of good.


Bonus tip: If they have a favorite toy that makes them feel safe, bring it along to soothe them in case of anxiety.

 

A pitbull and a poofball square up on a hiking trail, leashed up but curious about each other, in the Middlesex Fells in Massachusetts

Milo wonders who gets the Food, Snacks, and Water First - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue



Food, Snacks, and Water


Plan to pack your pup’s food in an airtight, waterproof container. This will prevent food smells from attracting other animals, and will also prevent rations from becoming waterlogged in case of rain or wading through a river.


The best dog foods for camping are dry kibble or freeze-dried raw foods. They’re lightweight, filling, and can double as easy treats for when your dog is being a good girl or boy.

 

Two hikers and their leashed-up dogs, deep in the forests of Eastern Vermont

Dundee and Jimmy Carter on a Trip with their Humans - Photo Credit: Patrick White



Transitioning from Day Trips to Overnight Trips


Depending on the personality, breed, age, and health of your dog, transitioning from day trips to overnight ones can take some time. You both need to be fit enough to tackle any terrain, and if this means you need to work more on certain muscles, the chances are your dog may need to do the same.


Once you’re fit and ready, you can begin the adjustment process by starting off with full-day trips (preferably close to home), and eventually working your way up to overnight and even multiple-night camping expeditions. What’s important is that your dog has all of its familiar physical and emotional needs being met, just as they would at home. And remember, being over-prepared is always better than being under-prepared.


Be sure to pack everything necessary for a safe, comfortable journey, and remember to give them plenty of love and attention every step of the way!


 

Guest Blogger Donna Jefferson is a writer, editor, and health and wellness enthusiast covering topics on parenting and senior health. Donna leads a fairly active lifestyle, and enjoys sweating it out at the gym or going on hikes with friends during her free time. Look for more of her writing in the weeks and months to come here on the Pathloom Blog!

 

Find a dispersed campsite near National Park land. Learn a new camping recipe, or get tips to enhance your thruhiking. Be among the first to get exclusive stories, trail reports and more from our growing team of experienced campers, backpackers, thru hikers, and fellow adventure lovers.



 

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