Tips for Camping With Your Dog

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Enjoying the great outdoors with your best four-legged friend

Tips for Camping With Your Dog

Exploring nature with your canine companion can be a relaxing and rewarding experience for both you and your furry buddy. Before you head out the door, keep these expert-approved tips in mind.

Do: know the rules

Acquaint yourself with the rules of the campground where you intend to stay. While most public lands allow dogs, some parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone are very explicit about where dogs may be. Even if you plan to trek or ATV into the back country, you're subject to the rules of public lands. The National Forest Service rolls out a few basic rules that apply throughout the forest lands it oversees:

  • Leave aggressive or noisy dogs home. You and your dog will get invited to leave if she disturbs or threatens others. 
  • Keep your dog with you at all times. Don't leave your dog tied in your campsite or in your car. Twenty-four states have laws that make leaving your dog inside your car on a hot day illegal.
  • Restrain your dog on a leash no more than six feet long in developed areas like roads, public buildings and picnic areas.
  • Pick up after your dog. Dog mess and noise are the two most frequent complaints.

Do: pack your dog a backpack

Taking your dog camping involves a little more than just snapping on a leash and bringing enough food for the weekend. Fortunately, Fido's needs are few and most of what you'll need can fit inside a backpack she can carry herself. Here's what the National Forest Service recommends.

  • Collapsible water and food bowls
  • A folding space blanket for treating shock or cold
  • Booties or toddler socks for protecting sore or injured paws
  • Plenty of plastic bags for cleanup
  • Vaccination and rabies certification
  • A needle nose pliers and tweezers for removing stickers and ticks
  • Your dog's grooming equipment
  • Toys to keep her occupied. Unscented toys are best to prevent attracting unwanted wildlife.

Besides the backpack basics, make sure you have a comfortable place for your dog to sleep at night, plenty of fresh water and a travel crate, pen or other way to contain or restrain your dog safely in camp. Bears consider dog food a tasty treat, so store it with the rest of your food in bear-resistant containers, not in your dog's backpack. Feed your dog away from your tent and put food and bowls away as soon as she's done eating to avoid attracting skunks and bears.

Do: prep your pup

Determine whether your pup needs training or conditioning before your camping trip. If you'll be sitting by the creek with a hook in the water, make sure your dog knows how to stay quietly by your side. When day treks are on the agenda, ensure your pup is in physical condition. Start daily cardio training together each morning a few months in advance to help your dog toughen her paws and build her endurance.

Teach your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, down and come. Well-trained dogs are less likely to cause campsite upsets. The "quiet" command will come in handy if she feels the need to alert you whenever an unfamiliar person or animal comes into sight. "Leave it" is another handy command with campsite uses. From not eating something she finds on the ground to walking away from a skunk or snake, the command is worth adding to your dog's vocabulary.

Don't: let him run wild

Although campsites have strict leash laws, some trails and forests allow dogs off-leash along the trails. Even well-trained dogs can get caught up in the excitement of a new situation, and much can go wrong quickly. If your dog is excitable on-leash whenever a cat or squirrel crosses your path, she's not a good candidate for being off leash in the forest. Skunks, snakes, cliffs, cars, predatory animals and potentially aggressive dogs are just a few dangers that your dog could encounter when off-leash.

Don't: let him drink the water

Although water is one of the heaviest things to tote along on your camping trip, you'll want to bring plenty along for your dog. Keeping her hydrated is the easiest way to keep her from slaking her thirst at the first pond or puddle she sees. Stagnant bodies of water as well as rivers, streams and lakes, might harbor parasitic organisms that can cause symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, skin lesions or lethargy weeks later. Rinse your dog off after swimming and mention any recent water exposure to your vet if you notice your pup seems ill.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.