dog watching campfire

Camping with your dog: the ultimate guide

Summer camping is one of my all-time favorite activities. The only thing better than camping is camping with dogs! Many people hesitate to bring their dog camping. That may be a good idea if your dog has health issues or doesn’t have an outdoorsy personality. But for an energetic dog who enjoys the outdoors, camping can be a real treat. Thor (my black-lab mix) has been on two multi-day backcountry canoe trips where he had the time of his life! Although both trips had some challenges, being well prepared paid off.

Make sure the trip is a good match for your dog

You know your dog best! Before you get into the details, it’s time to be very honest. Ask yourself “will my dog have fun on the trip”? Think about the environment, activities planned, location, and your group of people. Do these all fit in with your dog’s personality? If it’s a canoe or kayak adventure and Fido is terrified of water, this could stress him out. A dog who hates getting a little dirty or who is anxious without their complete routine will not have a good time.

It’s also important to consider your dog’s outdoor skills and experience. Does your dog enjoy long hikes? Are they fit? If you are trekking for miles, you will want this to be a big “yes”! If you booked a drive-up type of campsite and you are more interested in socializing a “no” might be okay. Either way, you will want to make sure your dog has a reliable response to basic commands. Make sure they have good recall if you are planning to allow them off-leash. If other dogs will be joining, make sure your dog is sociable.

thor rocks

Check the rules and regulations for pets on your campsite. Here in Canada, most provincial parks allow dogs in backcountry camping. Some car camping areas do not allow dogs. Headed towards the beach? Make sure to check that it’s a “dog beach” that allows dogs off-leash. I know Thor would be pretty disappointed and cranky if everyone was swimming and he was stuck to his tie out! Labs sure do love a good swim.

Your constant companion

Dogs should never be alone on a campsite, even if you have left for a quick day hike or paddle. Weather can change at the drop of a hat, and wildlife can make a surprise appearance at any time. Camping with dogs is an added responsibility. You will need to pack and carry extra items. Keeping them safe, fed, and happy will be a little different then it is at home. If your idea of camping is abandoning all responsibility, camping with dogs may not be for you!

Dogs need attention. In an unfamiliar situation, abandonment fears and anxieties can come up. To give you a bit of background: my dog Thor was a stray frequenting a downtown park until a police officer rescued him. This officer brought him to the local Humane Society which is where I adopted him. As you can imagine, the first night of a camping trip is confusing for him. He requires a lot of reassurance. On my last trip, he also drank some lake water. To put it mildly, this did not agree with his digestive system. He required monitoring and support to get him through. His usual confident and friendly demeanor returned quickly after he was feeling better.

thor camping

Your dog may need some encouragement adjusting, or experience some moodiness. Make sure you are able to comfort them at all times. It’s important to ensure all the people in your group are flexible and understanding. Will others share this responsibility? This may be something you need to discuss in advance with your group. Especially if your camping crew does not have much experience with dogs. 

It is also possible that your dog may get sick or become injured. You need to have an emergency back-up plan in case. Before the camping trip, find a veterinary clinic nearby, and plan how you would get your pet there if you needed to. Pack a doggy first aid kit, and make sure all their id’s and microchip are up to date.

Equipment

What to pack? The ultimate camping question. Keep it light and stick to essentials. I always like to bring an extra day of food for Thor. No matter where we go! This summer it came in handy on the three hour drive home when a tire blew on our car. We had to stay overnight in a hotel. I was very relieved that I had come prepared with extra dog food!

Check that all your gear is in good working order if you haven’t used it in a while. Thor has a cooling mat that he only uses when we are visiting somewhere. He knows it’s his “travel mat” so I bought that camping with his favourite blanket. I also like to bring a tie out with 25 foot cable and a collar light whenever I bring Thor somewhere overnight. I always bring a dog sweater and rain jacket too.

cozy dog laying on pillows in tent

Bedding is a must for comfort and you should also decide if your dog will sleep in your tent. I gave Thor the option to come into the tent if he wants to. For my last camping trip, he slept on his mat outside of the tent. It was pretty hot, so he had a bit of a breeze out there. There are also doggy tents available through many pet supply stores and that’s a great idea, if you have the space to carry it.

Plan your gear according to your activities. For more hikes you might need a hands-free leash, and for boat rides bring a life jacket. Of course you will also need a couple of dog toys, dog bowls and an endless supply of doggie treats! You should also decide if you would like your dog to carry his or her own items in a backpack. Many dogs feel proud doing this.

Check out this video for more camping with dogs packing ideas:

Weather preparedness

Everything is easy on a mild summer day. Check the forecast before you head out, and make sure you have a plan for rain. How will you keep yourself and your pup busy if you are stuck in a tent for most of the day? Can you hang some tarps to make another shelter and get a fire going at least? This may be the case if the weather takes a turn. Have some dog toys on hand to entertain your pal and don’t forget the doggy raincoat.

If it is very hot, make sure your campsite has adequate shade where your dog can retreat too. Always check your dog for signs of heatstroke and don’t push them to be too active when the temperatures soar. If you have a cooler, feed your dog some ice chips. I also like to tie a wet bandana around Thor’s neck to keep him cool on hot summer days. The poor guy has black fur and is a sun magnet.

thor winter

Be flexible

Travel and camping never goes exactly according to plan! Abandon the expectations you have of your dog; this is a completely different environment then at home. Be patient, even if your dog jumps out of the boat.

Yep, that happened at the very beginning of my canoe trip. Everything was okay! The rest of the time in the canoe, I praised Thor and gave him treats for sitting. He has since become the prince of canoeing. Reward or praise your dog for good behaviour, even if it is something they have mastered.

Don’t be surprised if your dog is a bit frightened, or acts a little hesitant on the campsite. Be ready to get them excited! Show your dog that this is a fun time by playing with them. If you are comfortable with your dog going off-leash, let them explore and find a favourite corner. A campsite on a tiny island is perfect for this. On the last day, before we left our campsite, Thor dug up a bully stick I didn’t even realize he had buried. He had practically moved in.

Summary

Camping with dogs can be a great experience if you are prepared. This means ensuring all activities planned to suit the personality of your dog. Plan for any possible emergencies and weather conditions.  Always check in advance with your camping partner or group to make sure they will welcome your furry friend. Set the expectation that you will have to divide your attention between them and your furry friend.  Pack in advance, light but without missing any essentials, and don’t forget the dog treats!

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