Getting into the great outdoors and spending a few nights there is a great way to get out of the house, disconnect from the stresses of day-to-day life, and appreciate the beauty of nature. When it comes to relaxing outside, there’s no better authority than our dogs. Bringing your dog on a camping trip can be a great experience, and can lead to powerful bonding moments between humans and their animals. However, there’s some preparation needed in order to keep you, your dog, and your fellow campers safe, comfortable, and happy. Read on for our top tips on safely going camping with your dog!
Phase 1: Preparation
If you’ve been on a camping trip before, you’re familiar with the sheer amount of preparation necessary for a successful adventure. There are so many little things that won’t seem so little if you get out there and realize you’ve forgotten it, so getting organized and prepared is a must. This is even more true when it comes to going camping with your dog. Before even looking at campsites, there are some steps you should check off your to-do list, such as:
Ensuring your dog’s shots are up to date
With massive tracts of wild land to explore, and countless things to smell, it’s quite likely your dog will wind up poking its nose where it doesn’t belong. That’s why ensuring they’re up to date at the vet is crucial. It’s very possible your dog will run into other dogs while camping, so it’s important that they’ve had the DHPP (Distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvovirus) vaccinations. These diseases are quite contagious, and can be harmful or even fatal to pets. Your dog should also be up to date on immunizations for other illnesses, such as rabies, bordetella, and leptospirosis. This will not only keep your dog safe, but eliminate the chance of other dogs being infected.
It’s also a good idea to get your dog on a preventative treatment for parasites, such as fleas, mosquitos that can transmit heartworm, and ticks. We recommend having your pet on this treatment year-round, but it’s especially important when taking an extended camping trip. Like humans, dogs can contract Lyme disease from a tick-bite, not to mention potentially bringing a few unwelcome pests home with them, so it’s a good idea to take all the preventative measures possible, for everyone’s comfort and safety.
Ensuring your dog is well trained is an extremely important part of preparing for a camping trip with your canine companion. Even if your dog is fairly well-behaved at home, there’s no telling what will get into them once you’re out there. The unfamiliar environment, and wealth of strange new sights, sounds, and smells, can be downright overwhelming for even the most well-adjusted dogs. That’s why going over the doggy training basics can make such a huge difference in everyone’s enjoyment of your next trip.
A good place to start is making sure your dog is comfortable hanging out in an enclosed area, such as a playpen or a crate. Most campsites require all dogs to be on-leash, and this isn’t exactly easy when you need both hands to set up camp, make dinner, or roll a sleeping bag. You can also tether them with a long lead, but remember that this is no substitute for supervision, and that there’s still lots of trouble for them to get into.
If your dog is a big barker, consider whether bringing them camping is a good call or not. People get outside to enjoy the soothing sounds of nature, not to hear someone else’s dog barking at squirrels at all hours of the day. If you aren’t able to keep your dog’s voice down, they may be best left with a sitter for your trip.
A few other commands that your dog should have down pat before your trip include: Sit, stay, come, quiet, and drop it. Your pup needs to have a strong handle on these commands, or there’s no telling what kind of mischief they’ll get up to. With other campers, who may have dogs or children, not to mention the potentially sensitive flora and fauna in your area, it’s crucial that you can keep your dog under control at all times.
Keeping track of your dog
With so much room to run and play, there’s always the possibility of a dog tearing off into the woods, and you spending the rest of your trip searching for them. Since they’ll have no idea how to get home, it’ll be up to you to track them down. Should this horrible experience of losing your dog happen to you, you’ll be glad you took the time to ensure your dog was properly identified on its collar, and that it has its microchip, so it can be identified if it turns up later. Although this might not help you track them down in the moment, (that’s what all that training was for!) it greatly improves the chances of the two of you being reunited.
Getting your dog used to roughing it
While we may be able to prepare ourselves, mentally and physically, for sleeping on the ground in a tent, our dogs may not yet be up to the task. It’s a good idea to get your dog used to sleeping outdoors, even if that means the two of you spending the night in a tent in the backyard. Even if you can’t make time to spend the night in a tent together beforehand, bringing your dog’s favourite treats, toys, blankets, and other objects will help your pup be more comfortable in the tent, and get excited about roughing it.
Do your research!
Depending on your destination, there are lots of things to be on the lookout for when camping with your dog. It’s important to read up on the area you’re planning to camp, and find out what kinds of plants and animals may cause problems for you and your dog. Parasites, as discussed before, are nearly everywhere, but can be much worse in some areas than others (think a marshland full of mosquitos). On top of that, predators like bears, cougars, coyotes, or snakes can pose a major threat. It’s not overly likely to run into these creatures, but it’s important to be aware of them, and plan accordingly. Additionally, look up if there are any dangerous plants your dog might run into, such as stinging nettles or poison ivy, or perhaps something more exotic.
Other things that will be important to research are the campsite’s dog policy. Are well-behaved dogs allowed to roam off-leash, or must they remain tethered at all times? Most campsites will have information online about their dog policy, or have specific sites that are dog-friendly. If you can’t find the information you need, you can always give the site a call, or try a third party site such as Bring Fido, which can help you find a suitable destination.
The bottom line here, though, is to do extensive research, and learn everything you can about the area before visiting.
What to bring
In a previous post, we discussed the best ways to prepare your dog for a hike, complete with a packing list. Many of the same principles apply to a camping trip, with a few added items that are a good idea to bring along. Here’s our list of essential supplies for camping with your dog:
- Water and a collapsible bowl
- No matter when or where you go camping, you can count on your dog getting thirsty. It’s important to bring enough water, or ideally, more than enough. Exactly how much depends on the size and breed of your dog, the temperature of the area, and the expected level of intensity of getting to the campsite, as well as any day trips or other activities you have planned. One thing is for certain, you don’t want to run out of water while camping with your dog, for your sake and theirs. As well, do your best to stop your dog from drinking from streams, ponds, and puddles, as this water may pass parasites or pathogens to your pup.
- Food and treats
- For day-to-day sustenance, or for when your dog needs a little pick-me-up (or a convincing bribe).
- Poop bags! (And/or a spade)
- Always make sure to clean up after your dog, either bagging it and properly disposing of it, or, if it’s not possible to pack it out, burying it at least a foot deep, a hundred feet or more from water access points, roadways, or civilization in general.
- Doggy first aid kit
- On top of your normal first aid gear, we recommend adding some dog-safe antihistamines and antiseptics, as well as liquid bandages for paw pads.
- A cozy dog bed
- While your dog might be attached to their cozy bed at home, it’s a good idea to get a second bed that’s designed for camping. These usually are thicker, and provide better insulation for your dog to keep them comfortable through the night. The more comfortable your dog is in the tent, the less likely you are to be woken up by a restless pup in the middle of the night.
- A long leash
- For campsites that only allow tethered dogs, look for a sturdy leash with a good length. You should be able to wrap it around a tree when needed, while still giving your dog a decent amount of room to roam. At the same time, it should be short enough to allow you to keep control of your dog at all times.
- Doggy-dedicated towel
- This will allow you to dry and clean them off before letting them into your tent, keeping whatever dirt, water, or unwelcome critters out of your sleeping area. We recommend bringing a towel that is just for your dog, because, well, who would want to share?
- Dog-friendly sunscreen and bug spray
- These specialty products may prove a little hard to find, but they’re essential for keeping your dog healthy and happy on your camping trip. Sunscreen made for dogs will protect them from harmful UV rays, while special bug spray will protect them from mosquitos, and therefore from heartworm. IMPORTANT: Never use DEET on your dog!
- Your dog’s favourite toy(s)
- A little something to remind them of home, and keep them out of trouble while you brew that first pot of coffee.
- A reflective or illuminated collar
- While not essential, having an LED light or reflective surface on your dog’s collar or jacket can be a big help in tracking them down should they leave your sight.
Phase 2: Arriving to the campsite
Although it’s tempting to get to work straight away on setting up camp, remember that this all might be a bit of a scary or overwhelming experience for your four-legged friend. Keep them calm by giving them a (leashed) tour of the place, and allow them to check everything out under your supervision. This will help put the dog at ease for the rest of the trip, as well as hopefully satisfy their curiosity, and stop them from running off at the first chance they get. You can also help make your pet more comfortable by setting up a relaxing, safe spot for them to hang out while you’re in the campsite. Someplace that’s shady and free of pests or hazards, and allows them to get a good lay of the land.
Phase 3: Enjoying the trip!
You’ve done your due diligence, prepared and planned accordingly, and you and your dog have finally arrived. What to do now? Well, the world is your oyster, but here are a few suggestions on activities to do while camping with your dog:
This one might seem a little obvious, but truthfully, camping is one of the best times to play fetch with your dog. Think about how excited your pet will be to be running wildly in a huge open area, not having to worry about other dogs or people. It’s the little things that make life worthwhile, and we certainly count a round of fetch in the grout outdoors among them.
2. Go for a hike
If your dog is up to the task, we recommend taking a hike while you’re camping! Lots of campsites have great day trips or even overnight hikes in the area, so have a look around in your research phase to see if any trails catch your eye. It can be a good challenge for your dog, and lots of fun for the both of you.
3. Take a dip
If it’s mid-summer, and there’s a beautiful, undisturbed body of water nearby, we probably don’t even have to make this recommendation. And your dog certainly won’t need to be told twice! You may just find yourself wading out there after them.
4. Just take it all in!
Life as a dog is simple, but that simplicity is what we find so wonderful. Even just taking your pal on a little walk around the area, especially if your dog is a breed not predisposed to more challenging hikes, can be a great way to get them excited. After all, it’s only natural that your dog will want to smell, eat, or pee on just about everything, so you may as well join them on the trip, and make sure they don’t get into too much trouble.
Going camping with your dog can be an incredibly fun, exciting, and rewarding experience. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the great outdoors with your best friend, and more often than not, taking a trip with them will lead to powerful bonding moments that neither of you will soon forget. With proper preparation, training, and understanding of how to look after your pet in the wild, anyone can experience the joys of camping with their dog.
For questions about getting your dog camp or hike-ready, or anything else around your animals and their needs, don’t hesitate to contact Hastings Veterinary Hospital today!
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