For those who spend a lot of time in the Great Outdoors, you may be wondering if it's a good idea to bring your dog on a camping trip. The good news is that most dogs would be more than happy to enjoy an adventure in the wilderness with you.
But, of course, there are some things to consider before you pack up the car and head to your campsite if you plan to bring your four-legged friend. Here are some ideas to make your camping trip safe (and fun!) with Fido in tow.
1. Plan Ahead
When planning a camping trip for you and your four-legged buddy, you'll want to be sure to check off a few important boxes on the to-do list before you hit the road. For starters, you'll want to reserve your campsite early (particularly during peak travel or vacation times) and double check the pet policies and any rules that apply to canine visitors. You should also plan a travel route that incorporates opportunities to pull over and allow your dog to use relieve himself and get a little exercise.
2. Invest in the Right Gear
Most avid campers will tell you that the right gear can make all the difference, and the same rule applies to your canine companion. If you haven't already, you may want to invest in high-quality gear for your dog that can help ensure a successful camping trip, whether it's a sturdy and properly-fitted harness or a set of durable food and water bowls.
3. Make Sure Your Dog Has ID
Much like any other time you leave your home—especially for an extended period of time like a trip or vacation—you should always be sure your dog's collar tag and microchip registration are up-to-date. While most dogs love the outdoors, it can be all too easy for them to get overwhelmed with all the sights and smells of the woods and wander off to explore or take chase after a squirrel or rabbit.
When you're out in the woods, you may not always get the best cell service, so you may also want to consider adding the phone number of your veterinarian or another emergency contact to a tag on your dog's collar just in case you can't be immediately reached.
There's also new technology such as GPS dog trackers and collars that can help you find your dog if they have a tendency to wander off.
4. Visit the Vet
Speaking of your veterinarian, it's always a good idea to schedule an appointment before you embark on any sort of trip with your dog. You'll want to be sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations (especially if the campground is requiring them for entry) as well as ensure that your pup isn't dealing with any potential health issues that could make it unsafe for them to go camping. Your vet can also trim your dog's nails to help prevent them from getting caught on anything outdoors.
5. Don't Forget the Food
It can be tempting to share that yummy campfire food with your pup (especially as he or she stares at you with longing eyes), but you'll want to try to keep your dog's diet as normal as possible during your trip in order to prevent stomach upset like diarrhea or vomiting—not to mention more dangerous conditions like pancreatitis. A plain piece of cooked chicken or fish with no added salt or other spices is probably fine, but fatty trimmings and any other oily food can be harmful to your dog.
It's also extremely important to be sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times and a shaded area to rest—particularly if you're camping in the summer months—to prevent heat stroke. And if you think you can just rely on a pond or stream to give your dog a refreshing drink, think again. The water may contain algae and/or parasites that can be harmful to dogs.
Be extra careful with corn cobs and other camping favorites like s'mores, as consuming these can actually be fatal for dogs—corn cobs can cause life-threatening intestinal blockages, while the chocolate in everyone's favorite campfire dessert is toxic to canines.
6. Bring Emergency Supplies
If you're an avid camper, your backpack probably already contains some basic first aid supplies, from bandages for cuts and scrapes to moleskin for blistered feet. But when bringing your pooch camping, you'll also want to prepare for any emergencies that may be specific to canines.
For example, if your dog is already on medication, you'll want to be sure you bring that with you. And if you have a breed that's a particularly active and high-energy, you may also want to consider supplies such as gauze, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, or surgical tape in case of any physical injuries. Other potential emergency items might include antibiotic ointment, vet wrap, or foot balm to help protect their paws.
7. Know How to Remain Calm
You can pack all of the first aid supplies you could ever possibly need, but if you don't know how to remain calm and react in an emergency situation—and actually use those supplies appropriately—then they aren't going to be particularly useful. If your dog has been injured, it's going to be crucial to remain as level-headed as possible and address the situation immediately, whether it's an animal bite or your pup is exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke. Dogs are very intuitive and will be able to sense if you're panicking, which will make them more likely to act out.
If you feel your emergency response skills could use some improvement, be sure to check local outdoor supply stores to see if they're offering wilderness first aid classes. Organizations like the Red Cross—and even some community colleges—also offer courses that are specific to teaching first aid for your dog.
8. Watch Out for Wildlife
When you go on a camping trip, encountering various critters in the woods is par for the course. But you don't necessarily want your pup coming nose-to-nose with a porcupine or skunk, and you definitely want to avoid a run-in with a larger, more dangerous animal like a bear, wolf, or poisonous snake. Even if your dog has free rein on your own property, you should pack that long leash and keep them close to prevent any tangles with wild animals.
9. Stay Close
In addition to a long leash, keep in mind that your pet should really never be out of your sight while camping (or during travel in general). Your dog may be the life of the party at home but could experience a complete behavior change and become skittish, withdrawn, or even aggressive when exposed to a new environment, so never make assumptions as to how your dog will behave around other people or animals. For their safety, it's best to keep your dog close at all times, including at the campsite as well as in the car and during any outdoor activities.
10. Pack the Extra Blankets
While it's easy for humans to quickly dry off after a dip in the lake, if your four-legged friend is a swimming enthusiast, you'll want to be sure to have plenty of extra towels and blankets on hand to dry them off (and keep them warm as the temperature drops in the evening hours). Towels and rags can also be used in emergency situations, and they can certainly come in handy in case of an unexpected downpour.
It's also a good idea to take a dog life jacket, especially if you plan on taking your dog canoeing or kayaking out onto a body of water. Your dog may be good to swim in a pool, but with a large body of water, new experiences in that environment, and the possibility to no nearby shore, they would be safer wearing a flotation device.
11. Beat the Bugs
If your dog is not already on a monthly flea and tick preventive, now's definitely the time to pay a visit to your veterinarian. The last thing you want are unwanted travelers latching onto your pet. Your first-aid kit likely already has tweezers, but you may also want to grab a tick removal tool, such as the Tick Twister, which can help you remove a tick from your dog. Also be sure to educate yourself on how to properly inspect your pup for ticks, and learn the symptoms of tick-borne illness.
12. Stick to Your Routine
Much like children may exhibit behavioral changes when their schedule is off, your dog has also grown accustomed to a particular routine and may not respond well to having it thrown out of whack with a weekend- or week-long camping trip. While some dogs are laid-back and happy to go with the flow, others may not be, so you'll want to try to stick to their regular feeding and walk schedule and be on the lookout for any signs of distress in your pooch, which may include panting, pacing, or even trembling. You may also want to watch the weather forecast and avoid camping during holidays with fireworks like Memorial Day or July 4th if your dog is terrified of thunderstorms or fireworks.
It can also help to pack their comfortable dog bed and maybe even bring a familiar toy or blanket, all of which may be enough to make your dog feel at ease in a new environment for a few nights.
Practice sleeping outside before your big camping trip: pitch a tent and cozy up with your dog in the backyard for a night or two.