This post is full of tips to help make camping safe, fun, and enjoyable for you and your dog. Along the way, I’ll tell you a bit about my dog, Moose, and his first camping trip at Kouchibouguac National Park.
If you haven’t been introduced, Moose is a super friendly and exuberant Labrador retriever. He just turned one-and-a-half years old. I’ve been excited to bring him camping, but our past attempts didn’t go so well – more about that later!
Here are my tips:
Find Dog Friendly Campgrounds
Before booking your camping trip, check to make sure the campground is dog friendly. Some campgrounds do not allow dogs, but many do so long as you follow their rules and restrictions.
Evaluate Your Dog’s Health
Ask yourself, is my dog in good enough health to go on this trip? When in doubt, consult your veterinarian. You might need to modify your trip to account for your dog’s age, activity level, and physical health. Always err on the side of caution.
Vaccinations, Medications, and Identification Tags
Make sure your dog is up to date on vaccinations, flea and tick medications.
Add an identification tag to your dog’s collar in case they become lost. If you want to be extra cautious, microchip your dog.
Leave Your Dog’s Info in Your Trip Plan
Trip plans let somebody know where you are going, what you are doing, and when to expect you back. In my trip plan, I leave information about my dog including: breed, colour, temperament, vet information, and any medications he is taking.
Is My Dog Ready? Do a Test Run
Do a camping “test run” with your dog before your big trip. A test run can show you what you might need to work on.
I did a test run with Moose when he was 7 months old. I set up a tent in the backyard and introduced him to it slowly with lots of praise and treats. It seemed to be going well…until Moose decided the tent was a big chew toy! I turned my back for a minute and, in that time, Moose tore two big holes in my tent. I patched them and we tried again a few days later with similar results.
That season, I went camping alone. I’m sure we could have made it work with lots of training, but I decided it would be better to wait until he was a little older.
Not Ready? Give it Some Time.
Don’t be discouraged if your dog did badly in your test run. If they are a puppy, they may need a little more time. If they’re an older dog, see this as a training opportunity and seek out a dog trainer if things get overwhelming.
One year later, Moose is still a puppy, but he’s he’s out of his “chewing phase.” Before our trip to Kouchibouguac, I reintroduced him to the tent. He was calm and only interested in smelling it. We were ready!
Don’t Go Too Far on Your First Trips
Don’t take your dog out on a long expedition for their first trip. Take it slow and allow them to adjust to this new lifestyle.
A Good Dog is a Tired Dog
Lots of exercise will keep your dog settled during the day and night. A good dog is a tired dog, so they say.
A favourite toy can help your dog feel more at home and occupy them during down times.
Adjust Your Expectations
If this is your dog’s first, second, or third camping trip, adjust your expectations. This is a new experience for your dog. You’re taking them out of the comfort and security of home and putting them into an unknown place.
My dog walks well around our neighbourhood, but throw him into a new place and he can pull like a truck. This is just curiosity getting the best of him. It’s up to me to manage my expectations. Am I frustrated? Absolutely! But, it’s better to meet my dog where he’s at in that moment.
Pack Two Towels
Your dog is going to get dirty. Bring two dog towels. Use one for outdoors and the other for inside the tent. Keep the outdoor towel hung up under a tarp.
Most parks require your dog to be on leash at all times. I use a hands-free leash that attaches to a waist belt.
At camp, I tether my dog to a line that I run between two trees. I use a carabiner to attach the leash to the line. You might have to detangle your dog a few times, but it was well worth it to be hands free.
Don’t Leave Your Dog Alone
Most campgrounds ask that you never leave your dog unattended. Left alone, your dog could panic, get hurt, and disturb wildlife or other campers.
If you are going canoe camping, give your dog some practice beforehand and invest in a dog life jacket.
Never tie your dog into the boat. While this might seem like a good way to prevent them from jumping out, if you ever capsize, they could easily drown.
Dog Food Weighs…A Lot!
If you have a big dog, you’ll have to carry in a lot of food. Moose needed 9 cups of food for 2 1/2 days of camping. This ended up adding 2.5lbs to my pack! That might not seem like a lot, but every pound counts when you are carrying all your camping gear on your back.
Next trip, I’ll be investing in a pack for my dog to carry his own food. An adult dog can safely carry 25% of their weight. But, don’t expect your dog to go from zero to 25%. Start small and work your way up. Keep in mind, 25% is a ballpark number, consult your veterinarian about what’s right for your dog.
If your dog gets hurt in the wilderness, you’re going to want a way to get them out. A dog emergency carry harness can help you carry a heavy dog. Mountain Dogware and Fido Pro are two well reviewed brands. Also, consider adding a dog first aid kit to your pack.
Stagnant Water and Poisonous Plants
Be cautious around stagnant water. Giardia and blue-green algae can make your dog very sick and even lead to death. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with local poisonous plants like poison ivy and poison oak.
Watch for Signs of Overheating and Freezing
Watch your dog for signs of overheating and freezing. In moderate and cold weather, your dog will need a sleeping pad and bag – just like you! Have filtered water on hand for hot days.
Nighttime Noises and Sleeping Arrangements
If your dog is freaked out by nighttime noises try playing a podcast, music, or white noise before they fall asleep.
Basic training in sit, stay, heel, leave it, and be quiet will reduce your stress levels. If your dog is aggressive with people or other dogs, it might be best to leave them at home with a trusted friend or family member.
Just Have Fun!
Enjoy yourself and this new experience. Camping is a great way to bond and build trust with your dog.