Dogs are excellent adventure buddies. Fun, loyal, and always ready for a hike, your pup can make for a fantastic companion on the trail or in the campground.
However, planning a camping trip with your pup can seem overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time taking your furry friend into the backcountry.
Luckily, we’re here to help.
In this article, we’ll offer up 11 top tips for taking a dog camping for the first time to ensure that you’re ready for your upcoming adventures. We’ll cover everything you need to know from planning your trip, making sure you tick everything off your camping checklist to staying safe in the mountains so you can have an amazing trip in the great outdoors.
1. Ensure That Your Pup Is Up-To-Date On Vaccines
Before you even start thinking about your first camping trip, it’s imperative that your pup is up-to-date on all their vaccines and medications. That’s because vaccines provide your dog with a solid line of defense against serious diseases while you’re out and about in the mountains.
Since most dogs don’t get fully vaccinated until they’re about 5 months old, you’ll probably have to wait a bit before you take a new puppy on their first camping trip. Moreover, if you’ve recently adopted a dog from a shelter, be sure to check that they’ve received their second round of all their vaccines before heading outside.
Many vets also recommend getting tick and flea treatment for dogs that spend a lot of time outside. Although there are a lot of different flea and tick medications out there that are available over the counter, we recommend discussing your options with your vet to ensure that you’re getting the best solution for your pet.
That way, you can head out on your camping adventures with the peace of mind you need to know that your pup is protected from serious diseases in the great outdoors.
2. Do A Training Trip In Your Backyard
If your pup has never been on a camping trip before, you might want to consider doing a training expedition in your backyard.
Although most pups love spending time outside, others get a little nervous about camping in a tent for the first time. As a result, they may struggle to sleep at night or they may feel lost on where to sleep, which could put a damper on your hiking plans for the next day.
Therefore, a simple overnight camping trip in your backyard can help introduce your furry friend to the wonders of the outdoors in a comfortable, controlled manner. You can make the experience as fancy or straightforward as you’d like, but getting your pup used to sleeping in a tent before you head to the campground will pay off substantially in the long-term.
3. Search For Dog-Friendly Campsites
Unfortunately, not all campgrounds and campsites are dog-friendly. While some campgrounds will welcome dogs with open arms, others have strict rules about whether or not you can bring your pet (note: service animals are always allowed per ADA regulations).
Therefore, it’s imperative that you select a pet-friendly camping area for your trip before you leave home. That being said, finding dog-friendly campsites isn’t always as easy as you might think.
As a general rule, US National Parks do not allow pets in backcountry areas, except in some roadside campgrounds and developed areas. This means that, even if you are allowed to bring your dog to the campground, your pup likely won’t be allowed to come with you on your daily hikes.
Thus, if you’re looking to camp with your furry friend, we recommend checking out private campgrounds, state parks, and national forests, instead. Although you’ll usually be required to keep your dog on a leash in these places, it’s worth it if it means that you’re able to take your pet with you on hikes each day.
Nevertheless, we always recommend calling the campground host or land manager before your trip to ensure that pets are allowed in your preferred camping destination. You can also use websites like BringFido.com to help locate pet-friendly campsites around the world before your next trip.
4. Pack More Food & Water Than You Think You Need
Camping and hiking are energy-intensive pursuits, both for you and your pup, too! Since your dog will invariably burn a lot of energy on the trail each day, it’s best to pack more food and know the amount of water your furry friend will be needing.
In general, you can expect a dog to need up to about 50% more food each day while you’re outside. Although this number will vary based on your dog’s energy levels at home, you can usually expect your pup to be pretty hungry after a day of adventure.
Of course, if you’re camping with your dog, you’ll want to bring a dedicated food and water bowl on your trip. While you can probably just bring your pup’s normal water bowl to a campground, for backcountry adventures, a collapsible water bowl like the Ruff Products BarkBowl, is a solid choice.
Oh, and it’s also worth bringing extra treats for your pup, just to reinforce good behaviors while you’re outside. If you’re heading out on your first camping trip with your pup, rewarding them for good behaviors with treats can increase the likelihood that they’ll continue to behave well on camping trips in the future.
5. Opt For A Harness & Leash Combo
While you might use the standard collar and leash combo while taking your dog for walks at home, opting for a harness is often the better choice in the mountains.
Harnesses, like the Ruffwear Front Range Harness, are a great choice for the vast majority of active dogs. That’s because harnesses make it easier to control your pup on the trail, which is ideal if your dog is known to get a little over-excited about squirrels and other wild animals.
Moreover, harnesses put substantially less pressure on your dog’s sensitive neck area while you walk. Although it might take a while for your dog to adjust to their new harness, making the switch earlier on in their life will pay dividends in their comfort in the long run.
Plus, if you ever plan to take your dog backpacking, getting your pup harness trained from the get-go is a solid idea. Many companies now make dog backpacks (essentially a harness with saddlebags for gear storage) so your pup can carry their own food on the trail. Therefore, training your dog to wear a harness now is helpful for your future backpacking adventures.
6. Bring A Puppy First Aid Kit
Although we hope you never have to use it, a dog first aid kit, like the Adventure Medical Kits Workin’ Dog First Aid Kit, is a must for any adventurous canine. Since your hiking and camping trips will often take you far from the nearest vet, having all the equipment you need to care for your pup while in the great outdoors is essential.
Most purpose-built dog first-aid kits will contain a lot of the same types of materials that you’d find in a human medical kit but with special bandages and tools that are designed for use on animals. Therefore, getting a first aid kit that’s specifically made for pets is imperative if you spend a lot of time outside.
In addition to having a doggy first aid kit, it’s worth taking an online first pet aid course, like this self-paced option from the American Red Cross. For on-the-go pet medical advice, the Red Cross’ pet first aid app is also a great option.
Oh, and before you head outside, don’t forget to make copies of your pet’s medical records to leave in your car. It’s also worth copying down your vet’s phone number and the contact information of any nearby pet hospitals whenever you head outside. That way, you have the information you need to handle any emergencies that may arise on your camping trip.
7. Consider A Larger Tent
Let’s face it: Dogs are really, really good at taking up way too much space in bed relative to their body size.
As a result, even if you have a relatively small dog, like a terrier, it’s worth bringing a larger tent on your camping trips than you’d normally need. That’s because your dog will certainly end up taking over your tent while they snooze, leaving you with just a small sliver of floor space to curl up in at night.
So, you may want to consider “sizing up” your tent or you can also check out other sleeping options for your dog. For example, if you’re camping with your friend and your dog, you may want to think about bringing a 4 person tent instead of a 2 person tent. Dogs have an uncanny ability to take up way more space than they need, so the larger your tent, the more comfortable you’ll be at night.
8. Avoid Leaving Your Pup Alone In Camp
While you might be okay with leaving your dog alone at home for a few hours, leaving your pup on their lonesome at camp is generally regarded as a no-no in the outdoor world.
Why? Well, even the best behaved of dogs can get into trouble when left alone in the great outdoors.
Even if you’ll only be gone for a few minutes, leaving your dog in your tent or tied to a tree outside could be bad news for everyone involved, especially if a wild animal decides to stroll through camp in your absence.
Thus, if you think that you won’t be able to keep an eye on your pet at all times during your adventures, it might be best to leave Fido at home. Pets require just as much attention when you’re outside as they do while you’re at home, so be sure to keep an eye on your dog at all times when out and about.
9. Make It A Puppy Play Date
If you’re taking your new puppy out on a camping trip for the very first time, you may want to consider bringing a well-behaved older dog along for the adventure.
That’s because puppies will often learn good behavior and command simply by chasing after their older canine companions. So, if you’re a bit concerned about your pup’s potential behavior at the campground, consider asking a friend with an older dog to join you on your camping trip.
Plus, puppies often need more physical activity each day than we humans can possibly provide. So, having a fellow canine on hand to play tug of war with can help your dog burn off enough energy each day while you’re outside.
10. Don’t Forget To Do Tick Checks!
Ticks are notoriously problematic for humans and dogs, alike. In dogs, ticks can cause a whole host of different diseases including:
- Lyme disease
- Canine ehrlichiosis
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Canine anaplasmosis
- Canine bartonellosis
- Canine babesiosis
- Canine hepatozoonosis
Unfortunately, these diseases can cause life-long health problems for your pet and some can be fatal if left untreated. Thus, it’s imperative that you do tick checks on your dog throughout your camping trip, just like you’d do for yourself when traveling in known tick territory.
Tick checks are usually quick and easy processes that you can do with your pet in your tent each night. If you need some guidance on how to do a tick check on your furry friend, check out this video from Zetland Vets, which does just that:
As you can see in the video, if you find a tick, you’ll need to remove it. Although you can remove a tick with tweezers, doing so increases the likelihood that the tick’s head will stay attached to your pet and embedded in their skin. When this happens, it also increases the chances that your pet will contract a tick-borne illness, so it’s best to avoid using tweezers whenever possible.
Instead, as the vets from Zetland Vets suggested, you may want to consider getting a tick remover tool, like the TickCheck Premium Tick Remover Kit. These kits make removing ticks from your pet (or yourself!) quick and easy, so you can spend more time enjoying your camping trip and less time worrying about tick-borne diseases.
Additionally, if you find a tick on your pup, you’ll want to monitor them for any signs of illness, like malaise, vomiting, diarrhea, and nose bleeds. While most dogs get ticks on a fairly regular basis without getting sick, early identification of these diseases is critical for successful treatment.
11. Opt For Doggie Boots In Cold Weather
Finally, if you plan on going winter camping with your canine, you may want to consider getting a pair of dog boots to protect their paws. Even if you have a dog, like a husky, that’s known for running around in the snow, dog boots are a must for all wintertime adventures.
In fact, even the Iditarod (and most other major dog sled races) require that all mushers carry 2 sets of booties for all their dogs. That’s because boots, like the Ruffwear Polar Trex, can protect your dog’s paws from getting scraped up on ice, snow, rocks, and other debris.
Indeed, while dog paws usually don’t get frostbitten like our skin might, dogs can cut or injure their paws surprisingly easily. As you can imagine, an injured paw is less than ideal when you’re deep in the backcountry.
Plus, dog boots also prevent ice from building up around your dog’s paws in the winter months. Since most pups have quite a lot of fur in between their paw pads, snow and moisture that accumulates on their feet can quickly turn into painful balls of ice in cold conditions.
Alternatively, you can also use dog boots in the summer months to protect your dog’s paws while camping in the summer, too. Surfaces, like rocks and asphalt in the mid-summer heat, can easily get hot enough to burn your dog’s paws, so boots might be helpful if your pup is prone to injury.
The key with dog boots, however, is to introduce them to your pet slowly. Trying to strap boots on to your pup for the first time when you arrive in camp is bound to end in disaster. Since dogs aren’t used to wearing shoes, you’ll want to let your pup try out their new boots at home and on short walks near your house before you venture out into the mountains.
How To Find Dog-Friendly Campsites?
Most campgrounds and public lands will clearly tell you whether their campsites are dog-friendly before you book your stay. Additionally, we recommend calling the campground host to verify that your pup is allowed at the campsite and to determine if you need to pay an extra fee for camping with your dog.
Furthermore, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to find dog-friendly campsites, we recommend checking out BringFido.com. On BringFido.com, you can search for pet-friendly campgrounds around the world.
Why Camping With Dogs Is So Much Fun?
Camping with dogs is so much fun because pups make for excellent adventure companions. Most dogs love to run around outside, so going camping with your furry friend can be an exciting time for everyone involved.
When Is It Okay To Take Your Dog Off Leash?
We generally do not recommend taking your dog off-leash while camping unless you are inside your tent. That’s because most campgrounds have strict leash rules that require your pet to be on a leash at all times.
Additionally, even in backcountry locales, most land managers require dogs to be leashed as you hike. Even the most well-trained of pups can run amok and scare wildlife on the trail, so it’s best to keep your dog on a leash while outside.
Do Dogs Get Cold Camping?
Some dogs do get cold while camping, though this depends quite a lot on your dog’s breed. While some breeds, such as huskies and Alaskan malamutes, generally don’t get cold because of their thick double coats, pups with shorter fur and smaller bodies, like pit bulls, do tend to get cold quite quickly.
Do I Need To Pack Out Dog Poop While Camping?
In general, yes, you do need to pack out dog poop while camping. Therefore, you’ll want to bring poop bags with you while you’re outside. Alternatively, Leave No Trace guidelines often allow you to bury dog poop 200 feet (60m) from trails and water, just like you would with human waste.